Interested in hunting in Idaho? Don’t worry, getting started is not as complicated as it might seem at first glance. Idaho’s hunting rules can seem intimidating to a beginner because they’re so comprehensive. Hunters can pursue dozens of different game animals and birds in many places and different times of year, as well as by several hunting methods (rifle, bow, shotgun, muzzleloader, etc.)
That means lots of rules, but don’t be overwhelmed, or let it discourage you from enjoying this exciting and rewarding Idaho tradition.
In order to hunt in Idaho, you need a hunting license. They are available at Idaho Fish and Game offices, license vendors (sporting goods stores, tackle shops, department stores, etc.), online, or by calling (800) 554-8685.
A license alone allows you to hunt many species, particularly small game and many upland game birds.
For example, a hunting license is all you need for cottontail rabbits, forest grouse, California and bobwhite quail, chukar and gray partridge, pheasants (an additional permits is required where pheasants are stocked), red squirrel and more.
Want more hunting opportunities?
Hunting turkeys, which is popular for beginners, also requires a separate tag that can be purchased at the same places you buy licenses.
You can add more bird hunting opportunity by buying a federal migratory game bird validation, which allows you to hunt mourning doves and other migratory bird species. You can also buy a federal waterfowl stamp (required for ages 16 and older), which allows you to hunt ducks, geese and other waterfowl.
Big game hunting
In addition to a hunting license, you need a separate permit, commonly known as a tag, for each big game species, such deer, elk, bear, mountain lion, etc.
If you plan to hunt big game with archery equipment or a muzzleloader, you will need permits for those weapons, as well, and you may also need a bowhunter-education course.
Hunter education requirement
If you were born on or after Jan. 1, 1975, you are required to pass a hunter-education course, except for one-time participation in the Hunting Passport program (see below). Hunter-education courses are available through classroom instruction and online courses. However…
If you’ve never bought a hunting license in Idaho, or any other state, and you’re 8 years of age or older, you can participate in Idaho’s “Hunting Passport” program. It allows you to a buy a hunting license and hunt one year for the discounted price of $1.75, even if you have not taken hunter education. You must hunt with a mentor, who must be age 18 or older and possess a valid Idaho hunting license.
Where to go hunting
You’re in luck in Idaho. There’s a place to hunt nearby regardless of where you live. Nearly two-thirds of Idaho is public land, which provides some excellent and accessible places to hunt.
Idaho Fish and Game has increased that vast amount of land by securing even more places to hunt.
Wildlife Management Areas: Fish and Game owns and/or manages 32 Wildlife Management Areas in Idaho that range from 275 acres to 85,000 acres. WMAs are often good places to start hunting. It is free to hunt there, except in limited cases, such as where pheasants are stocked, which requires a WMA permit.
Idaho Endowment Lands: Fish and Game has secured continued access for hunting, fish, trapping and other recreation on about 2.3 million acres of state endowment lands. While most Idaho endowment lands have traditionally been open to hunting, fishing, trapping and other recreation, state endowment lands are managed to provide revenues for public schools, universities, prisons and state hospitals, and by paying an annual lease, Fish and Game keeps those lands open to hunters and anglers.
Large land tracts leases: Fish and Game recently entered into lease agreements with a group of corporations that own commercial timberlands, mostly in the Clearwater and Panhandle areas. The leases secured about 867,000 acres for hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing and other activities. Fish and Game pays about $1 per acre annually for the leases.
Access Yes! leases: Fish and Game also leases smaller tracts from willing landowners through this program, which currently provides more than 300,00 acres for hunting and fishing access, as well as access to public lands that would otherwise be blocked to public access. Exact acreage varies annually depending on how much land is enrolled.
When to go hunting
Most folks think of fall as hunting season, but in reality, you can hunt year round in Idaho. But most of the action occurs late summer through winter, which includes big game, upland game, upland bird and waterfowl seasons, then many hunters turn to turkey and bear hunting in the spring. You can see all the hunting seasons at idfg.idaho.gov/rules.