Most hunters start out by hunting small game like squirrels and rabbits or birds like doves or quail. And, as they prove to their fathers or mentors that they are qualified and trustworthy enough, they graduate to bigger game like white-tailed deer, wild pigs and even black bear. Most hunters never get tired of hunting any game animals, partially because they’re all delicious, but mostly because the experience of being in the field or woods never gets old.

However, if you read enough hunting magazines and books or watch outdoor television, eventually you’ll want to try something new. Maybe you’ll head to Canada for caribou or even take a trip to Africa for kudu and gemsbok. But those kinds of hunts can get pretty expensive. Even going after big game, especially elk, mountain goats or big-horned sheep, here in the U.S. can be expensive.

So, we thought we would take a look at five animals here in the U.S. that don’t cost an arm and a leg to hunt, but they do offer unique and interesting opportunities to extend your hunting.

 

1. AlligatorAlligator

Less than 50 years ago, the American alligator was on the endangered species list. But, by 1987 it had fully recovered, and now there are millions of alligators across the southeastern U.S. Best of all, you can hunt them in many states. Not only do you get great trophies from the skin and skulls, but alligator meat is also delicious fried or in a number of Cajun dishes. Alligator hunting is becoming popular, with many state records taken this year alone. Depending on state regulations, you can hunt alligators with rifles, bow and arrow, or even with fishing tackle! State hunting tags are generally inexpensive, and guided hunts cost a couple of thousand dollars or less most of the time.

 

2. JavelinaJavelina

Everybody who has ever seen a javelina immediately thinks “wild pig.” The javelina is also known as the “collared peccary,” and it and other members of the peccary family may be kissing cousins to the pig family, but they aren’t pigs. Big javelinas will weigh about 50-60 pounds, but they have a set of four canine teeth that grow long and sharp. Packs of javelina have been known to chase hunters, and they can slice up dogs badly with their sharp teeth. A shoulder mount or skull mount is a fine trophy, and their pelts make attractive little rugs. They can be found in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as throughout Mexico and Central America. Hunting tags are free or cheap depending on the state, and even guided hunts or hunts on private land only run a few hundred dollars per day.

 

3. Chachalaca

No, no, we’re not talking about any of the boom shaka-laka songs! We’re talking about an actual game bird that hardly anybody knows about, the chachalaca. To hunt them, you’ll have to travel to one of four South Texas counties. But, once you get there, you’ll be able to hunt on public land. Though not as plentiful as mourning doves in their habitat, with feathers that make good camouflage, chachalaca are not hard to find, for one reason: They’re loud! Chachalacas don’t have pretty feathers to match pheasants or turkeys, but you’ll be hunting them to say you did — and of course because they’re delicious. Some people say they taste like…chicken.

 

4. PigeonsBand Tailed Pigeon

We’ve seen so many pictures of thousands of pigeons in city squares that some people have started calling pigeons “flying rats.” But pigeons, or “rock doves,” have been prized game birds for hundreds of years around the world. Although they don’t get a lot of press, hunters in California, Texas, Idaho, and around the U.S. find pigeon hunting fun and challenging. You can hunt pigeons any time of the year, and there are no bag limits because they are an “introduced species,” meaning they are not native to North America. Mourning doves are known for being delicious, and their cousin the pigeon is great table fare also — and much larger. While shotgun hunting around grain fields or feedlots is the normal method, some hunters use a high-powered air rifle to keep sharp for big game hunting season.

 

5. PorcupinePorcupine

Yes, those waddling, pokey porcupines are supposed to be really good eating. Don’t believe it? See for yourself. Finding a porcupine to harvest is the hard part because they stay hidden in the trees. Shooting one is the easy part, because they’re slow and unless they’re near a burrow they can’t really escape. Porcupines range over the entire western portion of the U.S. and as far south as Texas. As everyone knows, porcupines can fight back, so use a heavy pair of leather gloves when you’re skinning one. While not a traditional trophy, porcupine quills can also be used for a number of craft projects. The skulls look nice, too, and would be a challenge for guests to identify … say next to your beaver skull.

 What non-traditional game do you enjoy hunting? If you think it deserves a spot on this list, leave your suggestion in a comment. Regardless of the game you’re hunting, always be prepared to go on the defense and protect yourself. Read: When Animals Turn the Tables and Attack Hunters.

One of the hardest things for a hunter to do is explain to a non-hunter how you can love and respect animals for their beauty and grace … but also kill and eat them. Stalking a deer through crunchy leaves, calling in a big tom turkey at the end of the season, and facing down a charging Cape buffalo are all difficult tasks. Helping to keep hunting a protected right, in a society that understands it less and less, is a tough responsibility that we all need to think about diligently.

However, there has been a disturbing trend developing in the last decade or so of using war or “battlefield” terminology to name products and talk about hunting. I don’t feel any “rage” when I’m hunting a big buck, and I don’t want to “eliminate” a flock of mallards over my decoys. But, those words turn up in the first few advertisements I looked through in my hunting magazines. Using words like “killzone,” “ambush” and “ruthless” to describe hunting or hunting products tells non-hunters that we see ourselves as violent people who are waging war on animals.

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We all know that there are certain aspects of hunting that are necessary, but not something we exactly celebrate — blood and guts being the primary one. Killing is a natural part of our world, and it’s an everyday part of every wild animal’s world. But, to people who don’t join us in our pursuit — and who might, in fact, try to restrict hunting because they don’t agree with us — using words that portray violence or “war” on animals is going to work against us in the long run. We need to use words, images and thoughts that respect animals and show that we are normal, even non-violent people. Hunting is a family-oriented activity, and always has been, because the tradition of hunting comes from providing the daily food for families.

Some of the crossover of battlefield language comes from using common tools — speaking of rifles, of course. Guns can be used three ways: defensively for self-protection; aggressively during war (or by criminals); and for hunting or target shooting, which is neither aggressive nor defensive. At Hunter Ed, we never call a firearm a “weapon” because we are not attacking or defending when we are hunting. Our hunting AR-15s come from a military pedigree, and so do our bolt-action rifles. Perhaps we’ve incorporated the military language as a result of that. If so, we need to think a little harder about what we’re saying. The general public already has a tough time understanding that ARs are useful for hunting and target shooting, so the more we keep them from being seen as “violent,” the better for us as hunters.

Remembering our roots, as hunters, is really helpful in reminding us of how to talk and think about hunting. In Europe, when a hunter is successful, he or she will put a sprig of grass or a green branch in the animal’s mouth, sending it off with a “last meal” as a sign of respect. Native American hunters offered prayers of thanks and sprinkled cornmeal or tobacco around an animal’s mouth; these were very valuable resources and showed a “trade” for the animal’s life. Today, many American hunters have adapted those traditions and made some of them their own.

At the core of all this tradition is respect for animals and even acknowledging a little bit of regret when we take one of their lives. As long as we think of animals as special, we won’t talk about them — in advertisements or on Facebook or in hunting videos — as if they are our enemies or our victims. Hunting is a right, but it’s also a privilege, an honor, and a responsibility. We should never, ever forget that.