May 23, 2014
I suppose it stands to reason that after nearly 20 do-it-yourself, out-of-state whitetail bowhunts, I have some favorite places.
Most of them qualify not because of the bucks I've bagged there, but because of the hunting opportunities and overall enjoyment of the experience. For example, living as I do in northern Minnesota, where temperatures commonly dip below 0 in November, I find sitting in a Kansas tree stand in 60-degree weather at that time to be quite refreshing.
While I've driven home from all but one of these states with a buck in the truck, the reasons I've picked them have more to do with cost, availability of tags, the amount of available land to hunt for free and the opportunity to shoot a mature buck.
If you're wanting to head out of state on a DIY whitetail expedition in 2014, now's the time to start planning. Pick a destination from the following list and commit to go, and I'll help you get started:
You might wonder why Iowa
isn't listed higher. There's a good amount of public land, trophy potential is probably the best of any state, and the people are friendly and helpful. The big problems lie in getting a tag — and paying for it.
You must apply during May each year. Preference points are $50 per year, and in some zones you might need as many as three preference points to draw an archery tag. Of course, that means you can bowhunt there only every four years, at most. Some of the better zones will allow you to draw with just two preference points, but don't bank on it.
So what's the tab on this? With two points and all of the required tags and licenses, your bill will come to $651. That's a lot of coin for one buck and one doe. Is it worth it? Only you can decide that. All I can tell you is that I've drawn every third year, and I'll keep on applying.
deer permits are limited, and there's an April application period. However, most zones don't sell out in the lottery, resulting in leftover permits going on sale (first come, first served) in the summer. Your chances of drawing a tag each year are nearly 100 percent.
While you often can buy a leftover permit if you miss out on your first-choice unit, I favor applying in spring. Licenses and fees total $395.
It's no secret Kansas has big bucks, but the number of them on public land has slowly diminished over the last decade as nonresident pressure has increased. Regardless, this state is still a very good bet for early-season and rut bowhunters, as rifle season opens after Thanksgiving. There's a good amount of public land, and you often can get free hunting permission from farmers. But most premium land has been leased by outfitters.
Of all of the states on this list, Kentucky
is the one I haven't yet hunted. But it ranks No. 3 partly because it has so much going for it as a DIY destination. It's been on my to-do list for some time, and it appears I'll finally get there in 2014.
The western part of the state has gigantic tracts of public land that get a fair amount of bowhunting pressure, but nothing approaching the hunter presence you see on public land in Illinois, for example.
Nonresident hunting licenses and deer tags are available over the counter and are a bargain at $190. Kentucky has really been on the rise in producing quality deer, and I look forward to getting a piece of the action. Perhaps you should, too.
My top pick might surprise some people, but I love Missouri
as a DIY whitetail destination. And there are several reasons.
First, you can buy permits over the counter, and they are a pretty good value. For $225, a nonresident gets an either-sex archery tag, an antlerless-only tag and two turkey tags. Just show up, buy a permit and hunt.
The northern tier of counties along the Iowa border and the Missouri River bottoms in the central part of the state offer great opportunities to shoot good bucks. These areas have an abundance of public land, including some large tracts that are restricted to bowhunting only.
An additional plus is that motels in this region's small towns tend to be very reasonably priced. You even can camp for free on most public lands.
This often-overlooked state
can be boom or bust. Natural mortality, in the form of winterkill and/or epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), has created a roller-coaster ride for deer populations in this state.
I love early season here; the bow opener is noon on the Friday nearest Sept. 1, when many bucks are still in velvet. But the November rut can be good, too.
And there's ample space. Hundreds of thousands of acres of Army Corps of Engineers, state and county lands surround expansive Lake Sakakawea, and almost all of these tracts are open to public hunting. The state's Private Land Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS) program is geared mainly toward bird hunters, but there's also a lot of great deer hunting on these lands.
Nonresident deer permits are $215. Availability is unlimited, but be advised: You can't just buy one when you arrive. You must send for it and receive it in the mail, so plan ahead.
South-central and eastern Montana's
river bottoms provide opportunities to see dozens of whitetails every day, and getting permission to bowhunt private land isn't hard. You probably won't see a Boone & Crockett buck, but your chances of getting within bow range of one scoring 130-140 are as good as anywhere else. Many landowners see deer eating their crops every evening and thus welcome hunters. Just ask.
Montana would be my No. 1 DIY whitetail bowhunting state if not for the cost and short supply of tags. You need to apply between Jan. 1 and March 15, and a permit with all the fees will set you back $572. (Even at that price, demand exceeds supply. You'll draw every other year in most areas, so you might consider buying a $20 preference point the first year and then send in the entire amount the following year.)
Your other option for deer hunting in Montana is to buy what's called a 'combination ' license, which lets you take both deer and elk. The good news is that you can get one of these licenses each year. The bad news is that it will set you back (gulp!) $960.
When it comes to putting together a DIY whitetail bowhunt, the more planning you do, the better your odds. And that certainly applies to the states on this list. In fact, with several of them having lotteries with early application periods, it's high time to start working out the details of a 2014 hunt. Come fall, the payoff for that preparation could be big.