February 10, 2016
Bucket lists have become the rage with everyone jotting down hopeful adventures they'd like to experience before their eulogy. If you're a hunter, forget the hot air balloon ride or a trip to Antarctica. Start planning your bucket list of hopeful whitetail hunts. Besides, you won't find much to hunt in Antarctica and they frown upon shooting from balloons. Here are some ideas to get your creative, bucket-list juices flowing.
Iowa in November | Archery
Whether it's the Drurys, Lakoskys or Kiskys, giant Iowa bucks show up routinely on outdoor television. You likely won't get a personal invite from the fab bunch, but you can still book a hunt with dozens of reputable outfitters that operate in the southern tier of the state. Great genetics, abundant food, ample escape cover, temperate winters and a conservative harvest all add up to giant buck potential.
Iowa is divided into zones and many allow you to draw a muzzleloader tag every year, but archery tags only come around every three to five years with preference points. I've hunted several times with outfitter Aaron Volkmar who owns Tails of the Hunt Outfitters in southwest Iowa. My last Iowa archery hunt was filled with daily buck action. I ended up tagging a mature 8x6 buck with my Mathews bow that met my bucket-list highlight reel.
Kansas in September | Muzzleloader
If you're looking for a September adventure that doesn't include the rigors of a backcountry bowhunt for elk, consider muzzleloader hunting Kansas whitetails. Kansas saves two weeks in late September for muzzleloader whitetail hunters. You get a rare firearm opportunity to hunt bucks that are patternable and following a bachelor-group existence.
Kansas licenses are fairly easy to obtain, but drawing a muzzleloader tag cancels your options for archery or firearm licenses. Kansas holds its own for giant bucks and ensures this tradition with a conservative harvest that allows many bucks to reach maturity.
Cabela's Outdoor Adventures service has vetted Kansas outfitters that can make a September smoke hunt possible. If you're a do-it-yourself hunter then begin scouting. Kansas has more than 300,000 acres of public land open to hunting and approximately 1 million acres open annually in a Walk-In program. I sent smoke flying from my CVA muzzleloader and tipped over one of my best 4x4s ever in the Land of Oz.
Anticosti Island in December | Any Weapon
Have you ever dreamed of hunting whitetails on an ocean beach? You won't need sunscreen, but Anticosti Island, off the coast of Quebec, maintains a healthy population of Northland whitetails that uniquely migrate to the beach in December. Outfitters like Sepaq Anticosti provide complete hunting packages for two deer at affordable prices for any hunter in North America. Hunts can be tailored for a DIY mindset or completely guided.
Any-weapon's hunts run from mid-September through mid-December. Each season has its attributes, but the December hunt after the rut may be the most action-packed. If snow piles up and cold invades the island deer mass migrate to ocean-front beaches. Expect lots of sightings.
I was on a December Hunt testing Hornady's new Precision Hunter ammunition when I encountered a typical island buck. Surprisingly, after the shot, as the buck tried to escape, it shed not one, but both antlers. What a bucket-list ending and an easy way to travel with a trophy!
Wyoming in November | Muzzleloader
Western states hold notoriety for their mule deer populations, but dig a little deeper and you discover whitetails are holding their own in the West. States like Montana, Idaho and Colorado offer public land and relatively easy licensing options for whitetails. My home state of Wyoming is 50 percent publicly owned and prime territory for a DIY whitetail hunt.
Traditionally ranked as the best whitetail hunting in the state, Wyoming's Black Hills National Forest has 175,000 acres to roam in addition to BLM and state tracts scattered in the area. Be especially aware of BLM parcels as they account for 18 million acres throughout the state. Wyoming is divided into units, but oftentimes whitetail tags are the black sheep of the family and readily available in the first draw.
If you do decide to hunt the Black Hills region, you have a solid chance at a 140-class or better buck and success runs at 50 percent or more. Applications are due in March, but you can pick up leftovers in some units. My son and I tag-teamed on a CVA muzzleloader buck this fall. I ran camera and he made gun. Hunting with your kids is always on the bucket list.
Texas in January | Rifle
Who hasn't dreamed of a whitetail hunt in South Texas where the mesquite swallows up bucks in the blink of an eye? Much of Texas is privately owned, so getting permission can be difficult without a pile of Franklins in hand.
Don't knock capitalism. Instead, research some of the great deals many outfitters advertise for cull hunts. Texas is the birthplace of modern deer management and many properties are in need of hunters to trim herds to help with annual harvest quotas. Bucks and does are on the hit list and some cull buck hunts can actually produce taxidermy rewards. Even the famous King Ranch advertises cull hunts with some eye-popping, Walmart pricing.
The great advantage of hunting Texas is that the season runs well into January after many states shut down. Plus, weather tends to be a bit warmer as you near the Southern border. You also have the option to shoot two deer, both of which can be bucks.
I've hunted Texas on several occasions. My favorite hunt ended after shooting two cull bucks and a biologist aged the last buck to fall at 8 ½ years. There are few places in North America where deer live to that ripe age and it helped complete a bucket-list dream.