Many whitetail hunters do not have the opportunity to bag a mature whitetail where they hunt. They watch outdoor TV or longingly view photos of big bucks online and in magazines, wishing they could someday hunt where these bucks live.
Well if that’s you, I would like you to know that you can hunt these types of bucks.
I have done it, and increasing number of hunters are taking the plunge every year. It can be a little intimidating at first, but if you have a spirit of adventure, you can have the opportunity to hunt where the hunting is really good. Here’s a quick step-by-step guideline on how to get started.
Choose a State
Your first task is to familiarize yourself with the process of acquiring a tag. Some states have drawings and some states offer over-the-counter (OTC) tags.
You could hunt an OTC state this year, just show up and buy a license and start hunting. Many top Midwestern states offer OTC tags. Some of the most sought after tags, such as archery tags in Iowa and Kansas, require a drawing.
Most desirable zones in Iowa require 2-3 years of applying before you draw. In most Kansas zones, you will draw every other year and often every year.
One of the most important factors in deciding where to go is the amount of public hunting land. Some states have more than others, and some OTC states can have lots of public land, but it gets quite a bit of hunting pressure.
Iowa has limited land, but the number of hunters is lower. Missouri has loads of public land, but you will not be alone because hunters from across the US travel there for the rut each year. Illinois is well known for its hunting pressure on public land, but some big bucks are shot there every year.
Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma offer good amounts of public land with low pressure. Ohio and Indiana fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Do your research and choose one that works for you. My book “The Freelance Bowhunter” offers explanations on the hunting opportunities in 16 destination states.
Choose an Area
Once you decide which state you want to hunt, you need to narrow it down to the specific area within that state. You’ll need a couple properties to hunt and at least one backup.
In 20 years of traveling out of state on annual bowhunts, I have learned not to overlook small properties. Big properties allow you a chance to get back off the roads away from other hunters, but those little 40- to 80-acre parcels can be hidden gems that are overlooked by out-of-state hunters.
Make sure you are going to an area that has the caliber of buck you want. Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett record books can be invaluable in determining which counties and areas of the state produce the most big bucks.
These records are a good indicator of the trophy potential. I break the P&Y stats out by county in my book or you can do the research yourself.
Four main sources of information will get you the details you need on a property you are looking at. State game agency websites offer lists and often maps of all public hunting lands in the state.
Aerial photos such as those found on Google Earth are invaluable for looking over a property. Internet hunting forums can provide valuable information. Most hunters are good people and will answer your questions accurately if they are willing to give out information.
Finally, it’s worth your effort to make a few phone calls. Public land managers, biologists and conservation officers have detailed knowledge of the properties and can offer insights as to the deer population, the potential for a mature buck, the locations of food plots, hunting pressure, even which areas offer the best potential for shooting a whitetail.
Some public hunting lands are more suited to upland bird hunters or waterfowl hunters than deer hunters, but it pays to research them all. I’ve found some hidden gems on land that is mostly hunted by orange clad shotgun carriers. Look them over well before you decide.
Choose specific Locations
Now that you have the state picked out and the area within the state, you can dig right in and start looking at potential stand locations.
I use aerial photos to start a list of potential sites that I may want to hunt. Beware that some places look really good on a computer screen but the terrain features can be different when you arrive.
Conversely, I have seen features that look terrific from my home computer, then when I set foot in the areas, I discovered they were all torn up with rubs, scrapes and trails. Sometimes what looks good from home really is.
Once you arrive, plan to scout more than hunt for the first couple days. Get some scouting cameras out, walk the areas out and see where the movement and activity is located.
When hunting public land far from home, you have to hunt more aggressively than you would when you have all season to get it done. Spray yourself down with Scent Killer to minimize intrusion and start walking. Don’t get into a stand until you have some confidence that you are in a great spot.
Just Do It
It can seem intimidating, even overwhelming, to get in the truck and travel hundreds of miles to a new area to hunt. But you will never know what will happen until you try it.
At the very least, you will see some new country and learn a lot about hunting whitetails. At the other end of the spectrum, you might just shoot a buck like you’ve never seen at home.