Scientific evidence indicates that humans were hunting animals for meat 2 million years ago. While most humans aren’t reliant on hunting as a food source and means of survival anymore, many people still hunt today. Some of the animals that are hunted are small while some are very large, the latter are referred to as big game. In this article we take a look at 29 North American animals that are considered “big game” and are hunted between specific dates each year.
Some people hunt to harvest the animal’s meat and parts, other people hunt for sport. Not only that, hunting is one of the most critical parts of wildlife population control. Many experts that if humans stopped hunting, animal populations would rapidly increase, food would become scarce, and many would ultimately end up starving.
What is the North American 29?
The North American 29 refers to the big game animals that can be legally hunted there. Many serious and casual hunters seek to attain the North American 29 by killing one of each other following species you’re about to see.
Let’s have a look at these North American animals that are considered Big Game.
29 North American big game animals
Here’s a list of 29 big game that can be hunted in the United States starting with the most hunted animal, the white-tailed deer.
1. Whitetail deer
- Scientific name: Odocoileus virginianus
- Adult weight: 150-310 pounds
- Hunted annually: 5.8 million
One of at least 6 types of deer in North America, whitetail deer are fast sprinters, can leap up to 10 feet high, and are excellent swimmers when escaping predators. They also have good eyesight and hearing, so hunters need to be quiet and patient. You can find them thriving in various habitats in southern Canada and throughout the U.S. except for the southwest, Hawaii, and Alaska.
2. Black bear
- Scientific name: Ursus americanus
- Adult weight: 130-660 pounds
- Hunted annually: 50,000
Black bears can only be found in North America and are the most widely distributed and smallest bear species in the continent. They live in forests from Canada to Mexico, including at least 41 U.S. states. These curious and intelligent animals are among the least aggressive bear species around people.
3. Roosevelt elk
- Scientific name: Cervus canadensis roosevelti
- Adult weight: 700-1200 pounds
- Elk hunted annually in Oregon and Washington: 49,100
Named after Theodore Roosevelt, the Roosevelt elk is the largest of the 4 North American elk subspecies. They have impressive antlers weighing 40 pounds that they grow and shed every year. These elk are native to the Oregon and Washington rainforests and were introduced to Kodiak, Alaska, in 1928. They are hunted from from September into January throughout much of their range.
Overall elk are highly hunted species. In Colorado alone, 35,230 elk were harvested in 2020 with 208,212 hunting licenses sold.
4. Grizzly bear
- Scientific name: Ursus arctos horribilis
- Adult weight: 180-1,700 pounds
- Hunted annually: 51
Grizzly bears are a subspecies of brown bears and get their names from their grizzled and silver-tipped. While they generally have no interest in harming humans, they are among the most aggressive bear species.
You can find grizzly bears in western Canada, Alaska, and portions of the northwestern U.S, including the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. To maintain healthy population levels, legal hunting of grizzly bears have been limited in certain states.
- Scientific name: Puma concolor
- Adult weight: 64-220 pounds
- Hunted annually: up to 3,000
Cougars, commonly known as mountain lions, are mostly solitary and secretive, preferring to avoid contact with people. They are one of the Western Hemisphere’s most widely distributed land mammals, ranging from northwestern Canada to South America.
Highly adaptable, you can find them roaming in coniferous mountain forests, swamps, dry brush, grasslands, deserts, and urban jungles.
6. Coues deer
- Scientific name: Odocoileus virginianus
- Adult weight: 60-100 pounds
- Deer hunted annually: over 6 million
Coues deer live in the mountains and desert of Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. They are elfin deer and the smallest whitetails, standing only 32-34 inches at the shoulder.
However, despite their size they are one of the most aggressive deer during the rut. These deer are a subspecies of whitetail deer and hunting statistics often combine coues deer into the whitetail deer total harvest numbers.
7. Alaska brown bear
- Scientific name: Ursus arctos gyas
- Adult weight: 180-1,300 pounds
- Hunted annually: 1,100
The Alaska brown bear is large, curious, and skilled at finding food. They use their long claws to catch fish or small mammals, dig for food, and pick berries from trees.
You can find most of these bears throughout Alaska, especially in the southern coastal region of Alaska, where there’s an abundance of spawning salmon as food.
8. Mule deer
- Scientific name: Odocoileus hemionus
- Adult weight: 120-350 pounds
- Hunted annually in the U.S: 190,000
Mule deer get their name from the large ears that look like those of mules. These stocky and stout deers are powerfully built but generally quite calm outside the rut season when males fight for dominance to breed.
Native to western North America, you can find these deer on the west coast, southwest states, western Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. They have also been introduced to Kauai, Hawaii.
9. Columbian blacktail deer
- Scientific name: Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
- Adult weight: 150-200
Columbian blacktail deer are members of the mule deer family and are impressively fast. They can cover long distances at a 40 mph pace or sprint up to 60 mph when chased by predators.
These deer live in western North America, from coastal British Columbia to the Pacific Northwest down to northern California. There’s also an introduced population in Kauai, Hawaii.
10. Bighorn sheep
- Scientific name: Ovis canadensis
- Adult weight: 160-350 pounds
- Hunted annually in the U.S: under 1,000
Bighorn sheep live in the mountain regions from southern Canada down to New Mexico, the Sonoran desert, and Mexico. They are known for their remarkable climbing skills, using their split hooves with rough bottoms for grip and balance. These sheep also have large horns that weigh up to 30 pounds, curl back over their ears, and are used for head-to-head combat.
11. American elk
- Scientific name: Cervus elaphus
- Adult weight: 375-1,100 pounds
- Elks hunted annually in the U.S and Canada: 155,000
American elk have stunning antlers and can be aggressive and defensive when threatened. They are one of the biggest deer species worldwide.
You can find them in mountainous areas, deciduous woodlands, boreal forests, upland moors, and grasslands throughout North America, but more so in the western states.
12. Stone sheep
- Scientific name: Ovis dalli stonei
- Adult weight: 150-220 pounds
Stone sheep are a subspecies of thinhorn sheep with both rams and ewes growing curved horns. They are chunkier and larger than Dall sheep, with heavier and darker colored horns. You can find them in Northern British Columbia to the southern Yukon Territory and parts of Alaska. They prefer alpine habitats, including glacier edges below the permanent snow line.
13. Pronghorn Antelope
- Scientific name: Antilocapra Americana
- Adult weight: 75-140 pounds
- Hunted annually in Wyoming: over 40,000
Pronghorn antelope live only in North America, mainly in southern Canada, northern Mexico, and western U.S. states such as Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Great Plains area.
Wyoming is one of the top states for pronghorn antelope hunting and the state issues up to 70,000 total hunting licenses for pronghorn antelopes each fall. These animals get their name from the branched, prominent horns. While they are very fast and can run up to 65 mph, they aren’t very good jumpers and will most likely climb under a fence.
14. Rocky Mountain goat
- Scientific name: Oreamnos americanus
- Adult weight: 180-385 pounds
- Hunted annually in the U.S: over 1,500
Rocky Mountain goats are sociable animals well adapted to climbing rocky and steep mountain slopes. They prefer high-altitude environments that protect them from predators, sometimes above 13,000 feet.
You can find them in the Rocky Mountains, Cascade Range, and North America’s Western Cordillera regions from Idaho and Montana to British Columbia and southeastern Alaska.
15. Dall sheep
- Scientific name: Ovis dalli dalli
- Adult weight: 130-300 pounds
- Hunted annually in Alaska: around 900
Dall sheep live in the mountain ranges of Alaska and western Canada. Their off-white color and thick winter coats help them survive the harsh climates of mountain peaks and wind-swept exposed cliffs. They are known for their large, curled horns and headbutting among males.
16. Desert bighorn sheep
- Scientific name: Ovis canadensis nelsoni
- Adult weight: 115-280 pounds
Desert bighorn sheep are stocky and heavy-bodied and also known for the head-to-head combat between males. You can find them in the western-most part of the Sonoran Desert, on the desert slopes of the Peninsular Ranges as well as northwestern Mexico. Their ability to adapt to limited water sources in the desert lets them live up to 15 years in the wild.
17. Tule elk
- Scientific name: Cervus canadensis nannodes
- Adult weight: 370-550 pounds
- Elks hunted annually in California: around 200
Tule elk are the smallest elk subspecies in North America. You can find them only in California, from the marshlands and grasslands of the Central Valley to the grassy hills of the coast.
They get their name from the sedge species, tule, that is native to the freshwater marches where they feed. The hunting season for these elks runs from July to December.
18. Polar bear
- Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
- Adult weight: 330-550 pounds
- Hunted annually: 991
Polar bears are the largest land-dwelling carnivore on the planet and are capable of swimming for hours in cold waters. The record identified is of a polar bear swimming for 232 continuous hours.
You can find them on the ice-covered waters of the Arctic. They rely on the sea ice to rest, breed, and access seals- their primary food source. Canada is the only Arctic state that allows non-native people to hunt polar bears legally.
19. Canada moose (western and eastern)
- Scientific name: Alces alces andersoni and Alces alces Americana
- Adult weight: 600-1,590 pounds
- Moose hunted annually in Canada: over 3,000
Western Canada moose are a key symbol of Canada’s native wildlife. These large animals can consume up to 9,770 calories a day of terrestrial vegetation such as tree shoots and aquatic plants.
They live in boreal forests and mixed deciduous forests in western Canadian provinces, the Canadian Arctic, and states such as northern Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, and Michigan’s upper peninsula.
If you’re going for the Super Slam of North American Big Game, the western Canada moose and eastern Canada moose are typically combined under the category “Canada moose.”
The eastern Canada moose weighs less than the western subspecies and can be found throughout eastern Canada, northern New York state, and New England.
20. Central Canada barren-ground caribou
- Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus
- Adult weight: 250-450 pounds
Central Canada barren-ground caribou are medium-sized reindeer species with long legs and large antlers. They live on the tundra in Alaska and Canada, including the arctic islands, mainland northwest territories (NEWT), northeastern Alberta, and northern Manitoba. They migrate twice a year in large herds of hundreds or thousands from the treeless tundra in the spring to the treeline in the fall.
21. Sitka blacktail deer
- Scientific name: Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis
- Adult weight: 80-200 pounds
- Hunted annually in Alaska: around 5,000
Sitka blacktail deer are stockier, smaller, and have shorter faces than other blacktail deer species. Although native to the coastal rainforests of north-coastal British Columbia and southeast Alaska, their range has expanded recently, including to the Kodiak and Afognak Islands. Their excellent swimming abilities are one reason for their migration to islands.
22. Quebec/Labrador caribou
- Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus caribou
- Adult weight: 200-400 pounds
- Caribou hunted annually in Quebec: over 1,500
You can find the Quebec/Labrador caribou in eastern Canada in the provinces they are named after. They migrate in massive herds south to forested areas for the winter, where they eat buds and leaves from dwarf trees on the snow-covered grounds. These caribou have impressive antlers that spread wider than any other subspecies.
23. Alaska Yukon moose
- Scientific name: Alces alces gigas
- Adult weight: 800-1,600 pounds
- Moose hunted annually in Alaska: over 7,000
Alaska Yukon moose are the largest moose growing up to 6 feet tall with antlers around 60 inches wide. You can find them in southeast Alaska to the Arctic slope and western Yukon region. They are fast, agile, and very dangerous and aggressive animals.
24. Barren-ground caribou
- Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus granti
- Adult weight: 150-330 pounds
- Caribou hunted annually in Alaska: 22,000
Barren-ground caribou are medium-sized, lighter colored, and one of the most widespread and abundant caribou subspecies. You can find them in Alaska and across northern mainland Canada, from the Baffin Island to northwestern Yukon. They are migratory and can walk thousands of miles in large herds between their summer and winter ranges.
25. Shiras moose
- Scientific name: Alces alces shirasi
- Adult weight: 600-1,200 pounds
- Moose hunted annually in Colorado: around 350
Shiras moose are generally the smaller moose subspecies, with the smallest antlers. They are native to the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada and considered one of Colorado’s largest big game animal. While they may look docile from a distance, these animals are fierce and can be very aggressive when threatened. .
26. Woodland Caribou
- Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus caribou
- Adult weight: 300-400 pounds
- Caribou hunted annually in Newfoundland: under 575
You can find woodland caribou among rocky ridges, bogs, and forested hills of Newfoundlands and other eastern Canada forested areas. They have narrower antlers with shorter points compared to other subspecies. Instead of “bulls” the male woodland caribou is often referred to as “stags.” While they have the same scientific classification as the Quebec/Labrador and mountain caribou, they are different in range and size.
27. Mountain caribou
- Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus caribou
- Adult weight: 400-600 pounds
Mountain caribou are the largest caribou subspecies with long, wide antlers and long tines. They live in the steep mountain slopes of British Columbia, Alberta, the northwest territories (NWT), and the southern Yukon territory. While they spend most of their time on steep mountain slopes covered with spruce, firs, and other conifers, they will migrate downhill for the winter.
- Scientific name: Bison bison
- Adult weight: 790-2,200 pounds
- Hunted annually in the U.S: 700
Bison used to roam most of North America, however, isolated populations exist today in parks and preserves. They are one of the largest mammals in North America as well as nomadic and non-territorial.
U.S states with tightly managed bison hunting seasons are Montana, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Alaska. However, the largest free-ranging populations are in Yellowstone National Park and Canada’s Mackenzie Sanctuary, Slave River lowlands, and Wood Buffalo National Park.
- Scientific name: Ovibos moschatus
- Adult weight: 400-900 pounds
- Hunted annually in Alaska: 100
Muskox thrives in the frozen Arctic habitat, roaming the tundra and searching for mosses, lichens, and roots that sustain them. You can primarily find them in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic of the northwest territories (NWT) and Nunavut. They have short curling horns and 2 layers of protection for the cold: long, coarse outer hair and fine wool, called qiviut, underneath.