Total Public Hunting Land Acres Available by State for USFS, BLM & State Owned Lands

I researched data about public land for various states to see where public land was as part of some DIY hunt planning.  I have heard that certain tags are easy to get in some nearby states, so I thought I would check it out. I am generally only interested in hunting the Intermountain West because that is close to home for me and that’s also where most of the public land is found, but I included all states in my research.

public land ownership map

Finding accurate data of public land distribution between Federal and State agencies, including Forest Service and BLM lands, was challenging. So I did some research & gathered the data state-by-state & published it in the tables below.

Before the internet, a search like this would start with an encyclopedia or a trip to the library.  It might have taken a long time to find what you wanted, but once found, you would write the number down and that would be the end of that. But now, you can find all kinds of information on the internet in seconds. I must have found 10 different results in about 10 minutes, once I figured out how to tweak my key word search to eliminate all the search results trying to sell real estate.

But what I found was 10 different results with 10 different answers. Very little of the information agreed and much of the land acreage data differed by as much as  10-15%  from one result to another. It was very difficult to find the land acreage data at different places that was even close to agree. So I took it as a challenge and dug a little deeper until I found the data I wanted.

Table 1. shows what I believe to be the most accurate data available for the total land area of each state, the acreage of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands within each state and the amount of State owned lands within each state. The table is ranked by the total public land available to hunt. Note that numbers are reported in thousands, so the 365,210 (x 1,000) acres of total land area in Alaska means 365,210,000 acres.

Table 1. Total Public Hunting Land Acres Available by State

State Total Land Acres (x1000) USFS Acres (x1000) BLM Acres (x1000) State Owned Acres (x1000) Total Land Open to Hunt (x1000) % of State Open to Hunt Acres Per Person to Hunt
Alaska  365,210 21,974 73,000 105,200 271,174 74.3 381.8
Nevada    70,260   5,826 47,800       126  53,752 76.5  19.9
California    99,699 20,653 15,300    2,243  38,197 38.3   1.0
Idaho    52,892 20,459 11,600    2,748  34,807 65.8  22.2
Oregon    61,432 15,656 16,100    2,996  34,752 56.6   9.1
Utah    52,589   8,111 22,800    3,825  34,736 66.1  12.6
Arizona    72,700 11,255 12,200    9,084  32,539 44.8   5.1
New Mexico    77,631   9,327 13,400    8,700  31,427 40.5  15.3
Wyoming    62,140   9,238 18,300    3,865  31,403 50.5  55.7
Montana    93,149 16,886  7,983    5,196  30,065 32.3  30.4
Colorado    66,331 14,509  8,300       550  23,397 35.3   4.7
Washington    42,532  9,202    400    3,865  13,467 31.7   2.0
State Total Land Acres (x1000) USFS Acres (x1000) BLM Acres (x1000) State Owned Acres (x1000) Total Land Open to Hunt (x1000) % of State Open to Hunt Acres Per Person to Hunt
Minnesota    50,961  2,838       0    5,379   8,217 16.1   1.5
Michigan    36,185  2,857       0    4,489   7,346 20.3   0.7
Florida    34,320  1,147       0    4,737   5,884 17.1   0.3
Wisconsin    34,661  1,521       0    3,646   5,167 14.9   3.1
Pennsylvania    28,635     513       0    3,657   4,170 14.6   0.3
New York    30,161        0       0    3,824   3,824 12.7   0.2
Arkansas    33,303  2,579       0       653   3,232   9.7   1.1
Missouri    43,995  1,495       0    1,030   2,525   5.7   0.4
South Dakota    48,519  2,012    274        90   2,376   4.9   2.9
Tennessee    26,390    634       0    1,722   2,356   8.9   0.4
Virginia    25,274  1,659       0       347   2,006   7.9   0.3
North Dakota    44,161  1,106     58       812   1,976   4.5   2.9
Texas  167,188   755     11       825   1,591   1.0   0.1
West Virginia    15,384  1,033       0       449   1,482   9.6   0.8
North Carolina    31,115  1,244       0       136   1,380   4.4   0.1
Louisiana    27,650   604       0       745   1,349   4.9   0.3
Mississippi    30,031  1,159       0       109   1,268   4.2   0.4
Georgia    36,809   865       0       350   1,215   3.3   0.1
Alabama    32,413   665       0       396   1,061   3.3   0.2
State Total Land Acres (x1000) USFS Acres (x1000) BLM Acres (x1000) State Owned Acres (x1000) Total Land Open to Hunt (x1000) % of State Open to Hunt Acres Per Person to Hunt
New Hampshire     5,730   827       0       164    991  17.3   0.8
Maine    19,739    53       0       889    942   4.8   0.7
Oklahoma    43,901   397    100       435    932   2.1   0.2
South Carolina    19,239   613       0       206    819   4.3   0.2
Kentucky    25,271   693       0       111    804   3.2   0.2
New Jersey     4,707      0       0       740    740  15.7   0.1
Nebraska    49,167   352    100       247    699   1.4   0.4
Illinois    35,532   292       0       406    698   2.0   0.1
Ohio    26,151   229       0       422    651   2.5   0.1
Indiana    22,929   196       0       306    502   2.2   0.1
Vermont     5,899   368       0         95    463   7.9   0.7
Kansas    52,326   108       0       312    420   0.8   0.1
Maryland     6,213      0       0       344    344   5.5   0.1
Iowa    35,749      0       0       266    266   0.7   0.1
Massachusetts     4,992      0       0       232    232   4.6   0.0
Connecticut     3,099      0       0       173    173   5.6   0.0
Delaware     1,247      0       0         61    61   4.9   0.1
Rhode Island        662      0       0         60    60   9.0   0.1
Hawaii     4,110      0       0         24    24   0.6   0.0
Total 2,260,380 191,938 247,726 189,285 697,921 30.9   2.3
Top 12 States 1,116,564 163,096 247,183 148,399 558,678 50.0   7.9
Top 11 w/o AK   751,353 141,122 174,183   43,199 358,504 47.7   5.1
Remaining 38 1,143,817   28,842       543   38,886   68,271  6.0   0.3


Did I learn anything? Yes.

The Western States have Most of the Public Hunting Land

I knew most of the public land was in the Western States and Alaska, but look at the totals for the Top 12 States (all Western States) compared to the Remaining 38 States. To start with, the total land area of the Top 11 States plus Alaska are almost as large as the rest of the 38 states combined (49.3% of the total). Without Alaska, the Top 11 states make up 33% of the total land area of the U.S.

caption for pic 85% of all USFS lands and 99.9% of BLM land are found in the Western States (includes AK).

public land map western u.s.

85% of all USFS lands and 99.9% of BLM land are found in the Western States (includes AK).

85% of all USFS lands and 99.9% of BLM land are found in the Top 12 states. 73.5% of USFS lands and 70.3% of BLM lands are found in the Top 11 states excluding Alaska. The majority of State owned lands are also found in the West. 79.5% of state lands are in the Top 12 states.

89% of combined public lands that I assume to be available to public hunting are found in the Top 12 states and even with out Alaska, the Top 11 states have 57.3% the total land available for public hunting.  According to my calculations, 31% of the the total U.S. land area is available for public hunting, 50.2% of the total area is in the Top 12 states and 48% of the Top 11 States. Only 6% of the total land area of the remaining 38 states is available for public hunting.

The hunt-able acres per person is 2.1 acres nationwide, with 7.9 acres per person in the Top 12 States and 5.2 acres the Top 11 States. Less than 1/3 acre (0.3 acres) is available per hunter in the remaining 38 states.

Ignoring Alaska for the moment, based on the amount of Public land, especially USFS lands and low populations, states like Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have higher ratios of land to hunt per person (55.7,30.4 & 22.2 acres respectively) than popular hunting states like Arizona and Colorado (5.1 acres each). Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon are in the middle with 19.9, 15.3, 12.6 & 9.1 acres respectively). I was surprised that Washington state has only 2 acres of hunt-able public land per person. And then there is California.

California always seems to Stand Alone

California can not be ignored for hunting because of it’s 20 million acres of National Forests and 15 million acres of BLM lands. Over a third (38%) of the state appears to be available for public hunting, but we also can’t ignore California’s huge population (37 million) which drops the hunt-able acres to 1 acre per person. If you hunt in California, just hope everyone in L.A. stays home. My last trip to California was not a hunting trip, but we saw some amazing country. I also have to admit that I’ve never been so glad to get back home from a trip. There were just too many people for me.

Alaska

Alaska Togiak Wilderness

Alaska Togiak Wilderness

Who hasn’t dreamed of hunting in Alaska. Alaska has over 271 million acres of public Land, including 71 million acres of Land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). There is an additional 119 million acres of National Park Service (NPS) Lands in Alaska and some hunting is also allowed there. Based on the amount of public land and the low population (710,231), I calculated there are almost 382 acres for each person to hunt. All I can say is wow! But there is a reason for that.

When I lived in the East, I used to wonder why states like Wyoming had so few people until I drove across the entire state on I-80 when I moved to the West. It’s hard to make a living in sagebrush and people tend to like having water on a regular basis.  Now that there seems to be Natural Gas deposits under that sagebrush and wind farms are popping up everywhere, more people can make a living there. I don’t want to be the one costs anyone a job, but this “drill baby drill” kick we seem to be on doesn’t seem so great when you have to look at it everyday. Places that used to be virtual wilderness areas; not real Wilderness designations by Congress, but places that only a few cowboys, sheep herders or hunters would go through once or twice a year, now have well maintained roads with heavy equipment traveling there on a daily basis.

Back to Alaska. Yes, there are reasons that so few people live in Alaska. It’s a hard climate to live in and there are few job opportunities outside of the biggest cities. The state still has very few roads and it is very expensive to buy things that have to be imported. I know people that live in Alaska and they say it’s hard to find good hunting and fishing the without spending lots of time and money trying to get away from the towns and the crowds. Maybe they are just spoiled and the rest of us would be happy as clams hunting and fishing in the areas they reject.

Yes, I would love to hunt and fish Alaska, but for the money it would take for a single trip, I could make 3 or 4 trips to other Western States. Alaska might be one of those remote places that your first trip should be guided since it is so far away and so expensive. I will still dream about it, but will concentrate on trips that that I can realistically do.

Some Big States Have very Little Public Hunting Land

I knew Texas was a large state with a lack of public land; 1.5 million acres, which is only 1% of the state, but I was also surprised to see other states such as Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma also have very little public land. I guess most of the big Kansas and Iowa white-tails that everyone is chasing in the hunting shows must be on private land. All three states; Texas, Kansas and Iowa have only 0.1 acre per person of public land to hunt. I had to look very hard to find that Texas has 11,000 acres of BLM land that is available for public hunting.

Small States offer Hunting Too

I never even thought about anyone hunting Rhode Island except for waterfowl, but believe it or not, they have deer and turkey hunting (archery, shotgun and muzzleloader seasons). Rhode Island even allows non-resident hunting.

I knew people hunted wild pigs and goats in Hawaii, but they also hunt Mouflon Sheep, Feral Sheep (and hybrids), Axis Deer and Black-tail Deer.
And in case you didn’t know, wild cattle and brush-tailed wallabies are protected on the Hawaiian Islands.

Data Sources for Table 1.

  • Source for USFS land data http: //www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/statab/sec24.pdf; see Table No. 1147. National Forest System Land—State and Other Area: 1998 -
  • Source for 2010 U.S. and State Population data: http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-01.pdf
  • Source for BLM Land data: http://www.blm.gov/public_land_statistics/pls11/pls2011.pdf
  • Source for Land area by State: http://www.census.gov/geo/www/2010census/statearea_intpt.html
  • Additional report used for more accurate BLM data for Texas, (http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/nm/field_offices/amarillo/amfo_planning/amfo_eas.Par.58167.File.dat/Cholla%20Grubbing%20EA%20DOI-BLM-NM-060-2012-001.pdf
  • Additional report used for more accurate BLM data for North Dakota: http://www.blm.gov/mt/st/en/fo/north_dakota_field.html
  • Additional report used for more accurate BLM data for South Dakota: http://www.blm.gov/mt/st/en/fo/south_dakota_field.html)
  • Source for State Owned Lands; http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/2004/articles6/state_by_state_government_land_o.htm
  • Alaska data includes 71 million acres of USFWS lands that allow hunting (http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/factsht/land_own.pdf)

Data Assumptions and Calculations For Table 1.

  • Hunt-able acres are assumed to be the total of all USFS, BLM and State Lands.
  • Not all USFS, BLM and State lands allow hunting – Some of the lands included in the table include areas such as administrative, campgrounds and parking areas etc that do not allow hunting, but this amount is assumed to be small.
  • The table does not include all public lands. There are many FWS and NPS lands that allow public hunting, while others do not. FWS & NPS lands were omitted for all states except for Alaska, since hunting in these lands is generally allowed in Alaska.
  • The Total Land area for each State omits surface water that may be included in the boundaries for each state. This is not a big deal for some states, but it greatly changes the total area of many states; 13 states have at least 12% water area within their boundaries (examples: Delaware (58% water), Michigan (41.3% water), Wisconsin (17.1% water), Alaska (14.1% water), N.Y. (13.4% water) and Connecticut (12.6% Water)).
  • The problem with many sources for USFS lands, is the inclusion of state or private lands included within the boundaries of a National Forest. The data in the table provides only USFS acres and has omitted the enclosed state and private lands.
  • I used2010 population data to calculate the number of hunt-able acres per person (per capita) by using my estimate for total hunt-able acres for each state divided by the population. I realize this is not a perfect indicator of how much hunting pressure an area might get. There is no doubt that public lands close to large population areas get more visitors than more remote areas.

Q: Have you hunting on public lands in your state? USFS, BLM and/or State lands?  Have you traveled out-of-state to access public land for hunting? What has been your experience? Please let us know by commenting below.

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Comments

  1. john podebradsky says:

    Amazing amount of public land out west. Even more amazing is that millions of these acres are landlocked by private land and are not accessible to the public !

    • John I totally agree. Public land should have public access right of ways. I can see why private land owners disagrees, but it should also be legal to cross from public to public across the corners in checkerboard areas.

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