The North American 29

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Or are there actually 40 species of big game on our continent? It all depends on which list you use.

Photo above: A massive old muskox bull. Photographed in Greenland, this is (of course) a Greenland muskox. Canada has both Greenland and barren ground varieties, visually indistinguishable, but the barren ground muskoxen get bigger.

In the early 1950s, about the time I was born, New York ad executive Grancel Fitz became the first person to take all known varieties of North American big game. Quite a feat, especially in Fitz’s day, when air travel was in its infancy.

Who knows what fuels our dreams when we’re young? I was young when I read about this, thought it was cool, and decided it was something I should accomplish. In the 1980s I was making good progress; I dared believe I might pull it off by the time I was forty.

Not even close. Polar bear hunting was coming and going, and I didn’t have a desert bighorn. I was fifty, just back from the Persian Gulf, when I ponied up a year’s worth of combat pay to hunt a desert sheep in Sonora. That left the polar bear, still open in Canada’s Arctic, but with importation getting iffier. I was in my mid-sixties when I finally choked it up and shot a beautiful white bear, completing a half-century quest. If anyone cares, my polar bear is life-size mounted in the conference room of the Leupold distributor in western Canada. I need to visit him.

Today we reckon at least twenty-nine varieties of North American big game. Grancel Fitz, instrumental in developing Boone and Crockett’s measuring system, worked off a different list than we do now. In his day, jaguar hunting was open in Mexico, as were both Atlantic and Pacific walrus hunting. The Central Canada barren ground caribou category did not exist, nor did we recognize Sitka blacktail or the then-protected tule elk.

Grancel Fitz Dall 1935 The North American 29
Grancel Fitz with a fine Dall ram in 1935. Fitz was first to use a baseball term for taking all four North American wild sheep. Years later, he was the first person to take “all” North American big game species, as known in his day.

So, the “complete” list of North American big game has changed. Delete this, add that, but during my lifetime North American big game has been resilient, a testament to our North American Model of wildlife conservation, largely instituted by Theodore Roosevelt during his presidency, and initiated by he and his friends when they founded the Boone and Crockett Club in 1888.

We all know northern Quebec’s great caribou herds have crashed, with nonresident caribou hunting now closed. I recently saw a report that suggested Quebec-Labrador caribou hunting might be closed for fifty years.

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Because of that caribou, this is one of few times in my life when hunting all of the North American big game species has not been a possible dream. The first time was when Mexico closed jaguar hunting. Importing a legally-taken jaguar into the US has not been possible since 1971, but hunting for them continued in Mexico for a few more years. I remember reading my colleague Jon Sundra’s story, “Last Cat from Campeche.” I’ve even seen his cat, mounted in a mutual friend’s house in Mexico (for the same reason my polar bear remains in Canada).

Jaguars are increasing in Mexico and reoccupying their former range. From a pure management standpoint, funds from a handful of hunting permits could do much for conservation. But the jaguar is such an iconic and politicized animal that I doubt there will be another legally taken North American jaguar.

Sport hunting for Pacific walrus in Alaska has been closed since 1979 and seem unlikely to open again, despite a population exceeding 200,000. The Atlantic walrus is somewhat smaller in both body and tusk. Its numbers are also smaller, but stable, and limited hunting has been conducted in Canada’s Nunavut for some years.

Over the last forty years, we have essentially removed the jaguar and Pacific walrus from our list of huntable North American big-game animals. Now must we do the same with the Quebec-Labrador caribou?

52 The North American 29
Boddington and Dwight van Brunt with Dwight’s awesome desert mule deer. Although antlers get nearly as large as Rocky Mountain muleys, the desert mule deer is a distinct subspecies, smaller in body and paler in color.

Since the days of Grancel Fitz, twenty-nine has been the traditional magic number for North American big game. Within their world hunting awards system, Safari Club International (SCI) offers recognition for the “North American 29.” The Grand Slam Club/Ovis (GSC/O) “Super Slam” award is presented for taking twenty-nine North American big-game animals. So, for those of us who like to organize our dreams, there is more than one list to choose from.

The Super Slam list is traditional: Four bears (black, grizzly, Alaska brown, and polar); five deer (whitetail, Coues, mule, Sitka and Columbian blacktail); three elk (Rocky Mountain, Roosevelt, tule); five caribou (mountain, woodland, Quebec-Labrador, barren ground, Central Canada barren ground); three moose (Canada, Alaska-Yukon, Shiras); four sheep (Dall, Stone or Fannin, Rocky Mountain or California bighorn, desert bighorn). Plus: cougar, bison, muskox, mountain goat, and pronghorn.

So far, so good: that’s twenty-nine. There are also four auxiliaries: jaguar (if taken before 1972); Pacific walrus (taken before 1980); Atlantic walrus; and wolf. Wolves have long been hunted as big game (with seasons and licenses) in Alaska and various Canadian provinces, and they now are hunted in several Western states. The wolf is a problem creature in multiple ways, but in this case it messes up the magic number. Interestingly, in their Super Slam, GSC/O solves two problems with the wolf: it may be substituted for the now unavailable Quebec-Labrador caribou.

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SCI’s “North American 29” list includes all the same animals, but adds eleven more, for a total of forty possibilities. Any twenty-nine within this list (including at least three sheep) qualify for the award. SCI’s additional animals include jaguar (darted or pre-1972), both walruses, and wolf; they also add Fannin (a natural hybrid between Dall and Stone) as a fifth sheep. SCI also adds several subspecies they track in their record book. These include: continental (inland) and coastal (Pacific) black bear; both eastern and western Canada moose; Arctic Islands caribou; desert and Tiburon Island mule deer; and alligator.

The two approaches show that it’s not a simple subject, complicated over time by more knowledge, hunting closures, and new opportunities. Maybe it’s a good thing that no such list can ever be quite perfect. Traditionally, we have always separated the Coues whitetail, based on a taxonomic error that considered it a full separate species. The Coues deer is just one of thirty-eight recognized whitetail subspecies, and twenty-nine of them occur above the Panama Canal. I love my whitetail hunting, but I’m glad I don’t feel compelled to hunt a couple dozen varieties! There are also two distinct muskoxen, Greenland and barren ground; and two bison: plains bison and the gigantic wood bison. All offer hunting opportunities, but we rarely separate them.

77 The North American 29
A wide Quebec-Labrador caribou taken in 2001. Once over a million strong, numbers have dropped to a few thousand, with all nonresident sport hunting closed.

There is now yet another list, or new challenge. GSC/O has ascending levels for mountain hunters: Super 20, 30, even 40, for sheep and goats, but the Super Slam was North America’s pinnacle. My old friend Rex Baker felt this inadequate for our continent, so he cooked up a new list and award, the Rex Baker Super 40. Similar to SCI’s North American 29, Rex’s list is forty-four species deep, any forty required. Included are most of SCI’s additional animals, with a few differences.

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[Click Here to Shop .308 Winchester Ammo]What we can do is provide a framework to understand what average conditions might look like, and whether those are reasonably viable for a shot from the average shooter to harvest a black bear in the fewest number of shots possible, i.e., ethically. Let’s dive right in. In the question of “Is the .308 Winchester within the ideal range of suitable calibers for black bear hunting?” our answer is: Yes, the .308 Winchester is A GOOD CHOICE for black bear hunting, under average conditions, from a mid-range distance, with a medium grain expanding bullet, and with correct shot placement.Let’s look at those assumptions a bit closer in the following table. Assumption Value Caliber .308 Winchester Animal Species Black Bear Muzzle Energy 2620 foot-pounds Animal Weight 340 lbs Shot Distance 150 yardsWhat is the average muzzle energy for a .308 Winchester? In this case, we have assumed the average muzzle energy for a .308 Winchester round is approximately 2620 foot-pounds. What is the average weight of an adult male black bear? Here we have leaned conservative by taking the average weight of a male individual of the species, since females generally weigh less and require less stopping power. In this case, the average weight of an adult male black bear is approximately 340 lbs. [Click Here to Shop .308 Winchester Ammo]What is the distance this species is typically hunted from? Distance, of course, plays an important role in the viability of a given caliber in black bear hunting. The kinetic energy of the projectile drops dramatically the further downrange it travels primarily due to energy lost in the form of heat generated by friction against the air itself. This phenonemon is known as drag or air resistance. Thus, a caliber that is effective from 50 yards may not have enough stopping power from 200 yards. With that said, we have assumed the average hunting distance for black bear to be approximately 150 yards. What about the other assumptions? We have three other primary assumptions being made here. First, the average bullet weight is encapsulated in the average muzzle energy for the .308 Winchester. The second important assumption is ‘slightly-suboptimal’ to ‘optimal’ shot placement. That is to say, we assume the black bear being harvested is shot directly or nearly directly in the vitals (heart and/or lungs). The third assumption is that a projectile with appropriate terminal ballistics is being used, which for hunting usually means an expanding bullet.Various calibersA common thread you may encounter in online forums is anecdote after anecdote of large animals being brought down by small caliber bullets, or small animals surviving large caliber bullets. Of course those stories exist, and they are not disputed here. A 22LR cartridge can fell a bull elephant under the right conditions, and a newborn squirrel can survive a 50 BMG round under other specific conditions. Again, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether .308 Winchester is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest black bear - and to this question, the response again is yes, the .308 Winchester is A GOOD CHOICE for black bear hunting. [Click Here to Shop .308 Winchester Ammo]This article does not serve as the final say, but simply as a starting point for beginner hunters, as well as a venue for further discussion. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and share stories from your own experience in the comments section below. Disclaimer: the information above is purely for illustrative purposes and should not be taken as permission to use a particular caliber, a statement of the legality or safety of using certain calibers, or legal advice in any way. You must read and understand your own local laws before hunting black bear to know whether your caliber of choice is a legal option.Foundry Outdoors is your trusted home for buying archery, camping, fishing, hunting, shooting sports, and outdoor gear online.We offer cheap ammo and bulk ammo deals on the most popular ammo calibers. We have a variety of deals on Rifle Ammo, Handgun Ammo, Shotgun Ammo & Rimfire Ammo, as well as ammo for target practice, plinking, hunting, or shooting competitions. Our website lists special deals on 9mm Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 45-70 Ammo, 6.5 Creedmoor ammo, 300 Blackout Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 5.56 Ammo, Underwood Ammo, Buffalo Bore Ammo and more special deals on bulk ammo.We offer a 100% Authenticity Guarantee on all products sold on our website. Please email us if you have questions about any of our product listings. Leave a commentComments have to be approved before showing up Your Name * Your Email * Your Comment * Post Comment

Jaguar and Pacific walrus are dropped, since both are closed and few hunters still active hunted them. The bear category adds glacier bear, a color phase hunted on a black bear tag; and barren ground grizzly, hunted in Nunavut. Gray wolf is on the list, plus alligator and Atlantic walrus.

Rex’s other “new” animals are especially interesting. His sheep category separates Fannin and California bighorn, and adds aoudad, the first time a non-native animal has been included in such a listing. I tend to agree because free-range aoudad are widespread and offer a real sheep hunt. Also new to the list are wolverine and Canadian lynx. Like wolves, they are often trapped, but also can be hunted by a licensed hunter as big game. Then comes the zinger: Among the deer, both gray-brown and red brocket are added. Distinctly different, definitely North American, hunted in southern Mexico, and desperately in need of recognition. The more common gray-brown brocket is tough; the red brocket is a serious quest.

18 The North American 29
Increasingly, hunters are starting to think of eastern and western Canada moose as distinct varieties. This fine bull is from Newfoundland, so an eastern Canada moose but, whatever you call it, it’s Boddington’s best Canada moose.

Rex Baker is one of the world’s greatest living hunters. He won the Weatherby award fifteen years before I did, and I didn’t think there was much out there that Rex hadn’t hunted. When he cooked this up, he didn’t quite have forty of his forty-four choices. One he was missing was a red brocket. I didn’t have one, either. Rex finally got his in March 2022; I got one a week later. For Rex and me, it was our fourth hunt for this pesky little deer. For Rex, this completed his own forty-animal quest.

As for me, I’m close. I never hunted barren ground grizzly or California bighorn. I was booked for Atlantic walrus in 2020, but it got Covid-cancelled, and I haven’t gotten it done yet. I also don’t have a wolverine. I’ve seen several, but never when the season was open. I have no idea how to hunt one on purpose.

Hey, forty distinct Norh American animals is hard! I thought that red brocket turned the trick, but I was wrong. In 1995, out of Yakutat, Alaska, on my third hunt for a glacier bear, I took a big, navy-blue bear. I believed it was of that color phase, turning dark with maturity. So, for twenty-seven years, I’ve given myself credit for having a glacier bear, but Rex’s committee rejected it as not light-colored enough. So, that challenge is still out there!

rex baker red brocker rotated The North American 29
Rex Baker with a fine red brocket, one of the most difficult North American prizes. This was Baker’s fourth attempt, completing the forty-animal challenge that he created. Boddington got a red brocket a week later, also his fourth hunt.
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>