The DIY Guide to Hunting Big Bucks Out of State

The DIY Guide to Hunting Big Bucks Out of State

"You're an idiot."

Those were the words from a commenter on my personal blog when I made the claim that "anyone can kill a deer like they see on TV."

While it's true that not everyone will kill big, mature bucks, it is possible for anyone to do it. Certainly it's not a gimme, but anyone willing to make the necessary sacrifices, endure incredible amounts of hard work and remain 100 percent dedicated can do it.

For many people, the biggest obstacle is location. You can't kill bucks that aren't there. For that reason, I head out of state every year to pursue the big ones on their turf.


If you're hoping to kill a mature buck similar to those you've seen on TV or in magazines like North American Whitetail, there are ways to maximize your chances. Here's how you can successfully hunt and kill mature bucks out of state, DIY-style.


Why Go Out Of State?


As I said earlier, location is a big challenge. You can't kill bucks that aren't there. For some of us living outside the big buck "hot spots," this significantly hinders our ability to consistently hunt big deer. That's why I highly recommend exploring opportunities out of state. Despite what you may think, you can kill mature bucks out of state without having to hunt with an outfitter or spend tons of money.

By heading to greener pastures out of your own home territory, you can find hunting areas with better quality deer and less hunting pressure.

Picking Your Location


Once you've decided to head out of state, your next task is to select a location. When making this decision, I take several factors into consideration: distance from my home, quality of deer in that area, cost of license, ease of acquiring a license, availability of land (public/private) and hunting pressure.

If you're looking for "cheap" out-of-state big buck experiences without the need for license lotteries or preference points, you may want to consider states such as Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana, all four having over-the-counter licenses available for less than $300.

Once you've picked a state, it's time to determine an area of focus. You may already know where you want to go based on things you've heard, local friends, etc. But if you haven't yet, it's time to do some research. If you want to focus on public land, review all public hunting land available using the state's DNR website, which should have maps and other information regarding public hunting and access programs.


If you're going to focus on private land, the process will be a little different. If I don't already have a general region within a state I know I want to hunt, I may consult record books or state harvest records to determine what counties have the highest number of older age class or larger antlered bucks. Once you have a county chosen, it's time to pull out your maps.

You'll first need an aerial map (online maps like Google Maps or Google Earth are great for this). I typically look for large sections of timber, swamps, river systems, ridges and timbered fingers reaching into agricultural fields. Once you've found a few general areas within your county of choice that look good, you can next pull out a plat map.

Plat maps show property borders and owner information, and they can be purchased from most county offices. Another option is to use the county GIS online map, if available. This will show the same information, but is free to access online and will have the ability to overlap an aerial map over the parcel information.

Compare your aerial map focus areas to the plat map, and start picking out the parcels that look best. Now put together a list of 10-20 properties with landowner names and their addresses.

Gaining Access

Once you have this list, it's time for a trip. Head to your destination of choice in the spring and get ready to knock on some doors. A friend of mine has had great luck asking for shed hunting permission first on his target properties, which often gets you in the door and gives you a chance to scout the property. Once you've knocked on all the doors you had listed, go back and scout or shed hunt those properties you received access for. Finally, return to the properties you're still interested in and ask for hunting permission.

Hopefully, if you've visited enough properties, you'll eventually end up with a few "yes" responses. It's not always easy, but it's worth your time and effort when you get the green light.

Scouting

Now that you have a property to hunt, it's time to make preparations to hunt it. Given the likely distance from your home, you're going to need to be especially efficient in your scouting and preparation efforts. That said, I first recommend using aerial and topographic maps to identify cover related or topographical features that should indicate good deer activity.

These could be likely feeding or bedding areas, funnels, ridgelines, saddles, etc. Mark these on your maps, and then when you finally make a trip back down to the properties, focus your scouting time on these pre-identified hot spots.

If you can, use your scouting trip to hang stands or cameras. When it comes to DIY out-of-state trips, I try to fit as much as possible into each visit.

Hunting

Finally, after finding an out-of-state spot to hunt, locking down a property or two and getting in some light scouting, it's time to hunt. When it comes to out-of-state DIY hunts, I have a few high-level suggestions.

First, be efficient with your hunting trips. Since your trips will likely be limited and for short periods of time, be sure to make efficient use of your trips by planning them to coincide with optimal conditions. For me that means I try to make the trip down to my out-of-state spots either when the rut is kicking or if cold fronts are hitting.

Secondly, don't pass on the first day what you would shoot on your last. Even the best planned out-of-state hunting trips are a challenge, and opportunities may not always be plenty. For that reason, whenever an opportunity presents itself, take it. If you'd shoot a buck on your last day, you probably should consider taking it when the opportunity is available.

Final Thoughts

While "TV-quality" bucks won't be killed by everyone, they are possible for anyone.

If you have dreams of hunting big bucks but feel hampered by your location, don't settle for the status quo. You can make your dreams a reality with a few gallons of gas, a willingness to travel and a good plan.

1. Oklahoma

Public Land: 8
Trophy Production: 8
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 10
Reputation: 10
TOTAL: 45

This might come as a bit of a surprise because it doesn\'t get the same press as other states, but Oklahoma has just about everything you could ask for as a deer hunter. With 1.7 million acres of well-managed public land, low hunting pressure (between 0-4 hunters per square mile), a top-20 ranking on B&C\'s list for trophy producing states and tons of cheap licenses to go around ($45 resident, $280 non-resident), you can\'t beat Oklahoma. Not only does the state have a healthy deer population of around 500,000, there are also quite a few trophies that come out of the Sooner State. We call that a formula for whitetail greatness.

2. Wisconsin

Public Land: 10
Trophy Production: 10
Harvest Numbers: 10
Hunter Density: 5
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 44

Wisconsin probably isn\'t the state most people think of when it comes to great whitetail hunting, but it certainly has the pedigree to back up a No. 2 ranking on our list. Wisconsin consistently runs among the highest deer harvest numbers in the country, has a rich stock of public hunting land and ranks No. 1 over the last decade in B&C trophy production. It has produced over 700 trophies in the last decade, which is nearly 100 more than the runner up (Illinois). The only knock against it is a high hunter density — Wisconsin has the fourth highest hunter density in the U.S. — which contributes to hunting pressure.

3. Missouri

Public Land: 8
Trophy Production: 8
Harvest Numbers: 10
Hunter Density: 8
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 43

Like the other top two states on our list, Missouri is often overlooked as a true whitetail powerhouse, but maybe that\'s why it\'s so good. The state boasts of 2 million acres of quality public hunting land and is ranked No. 6 in B&C trophy production over the last decade. Annual harvest numbers are just over 300,000, and hunter density remains fairly low, especially for the Midwest (5-8 hunters per sq. mile). With a deer population of 1.3 million and a history for producing mammoth bucks, Missouri is certainly near the front of the pack.

4. Kentucky

Public Land: 8
Trophy Production: 9
Harvest Numbers: 8
Hunter Density: 9
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 43

If ever there was a sleeper state, it\'s Kentucky. The state is probably best known for its bourbon and NCAA basketball teams, but those who\'ve hunted the Bluegrass State know what a hidden treasure it is for whitetail hunting. Kentucky offers generous seasons, reasonably priced tags and has over 1.5 million acres of public land to hunt. It placed fourth on B&C\'s trophy list and rakes in about 140,000 deer kills annually. Low hunter density (5-8 hunters per sq. mile), a deer population of almost 1 million and perhaps the best opportunity to arrow a buck in velvet all make Kentucky a whitetail hunter\'s paradise.

5. Arkansas

Public Land: 10
Trophy Production: 6
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 8
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 42

One of the most impressive features in Arkansas for whitetail hunters is the mind boggling amount of public land available for hunting. The state has roughly 6.4 million acres of accessible land, which is more than a lot of other Midwestern states combined. Harvest numbers are also great (almost 200,000), while trophy production ranks in the top 20 in B&C\'s record books. Tags are readily available over the counter (260,000 sold annually), while hunter density remains low (5-8 hunters per sq. mile).

6. Idaho

Public Land: 10
Trophy Production: 4
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 10
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 42

OK, so this might be one of the biggest upsets on the list. How can Idaho possibly outrank the likes of Kansas or Iowa? Well, let\'s take a look at the facts. Idaho has almost 1 million acres of public land in the northern part of the state alone (about two-thirds of the state is public land), which is where the state record typical whitetail was killed in 2005 (186 4/8 B&C). Kansas and Iowa, on the other hand, have little to no public land access, which means you\'ll pay high dollar for even a chance to hunt. And have fun getting an out-of-state license in Iowa. In Idaho, licenses are plentiful and sold over the counter for bargain prices ($12.75 resident, $154 non-resident), while whitetail hunters have a 40 percent success rate statewide. There is a whitetail population of about 200,000, which is definitely among the best in the West. Hunter density is ridiculously low (9.5 deer to hunter ratio), making this a DIY honey hole.

7. Texas

Public Land: 2
Trophy Production: 7
Harvest Numbers: 10
Hunter Density: 10
Reputation: 12
TOTAL: 41

When you think of Texas, you think big — big belt buckles, big cowboy hats and big trucks. As with everything else, whitetail populations and harvest numbers are bigger in Texas, too. Harvest numbers are annually around 600,000 — no, that\'s not a typo — and there is a deer population of about 4 million statewide. Texas has also produced over 200 B&C trophy entries in the last decade (No. 10 overall) and it has a low hunter density (0-4 hunters per sq. mile). The only reason Texas doesn\'t rank higher on our list is lack of public land for hunting. About 97 percent of Texas is privately owned, which means it\'s pretty much private or bust. Whitetail combo hunts are fairly cheap, however, and licenses plentiful (1.1 million licenses sold a year).

8. Indiana

Public Land: 8
Trophy Production: 8
Harvest Numbers: 8
Hunter Density: 6
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 38

Indiana is also a bit of a surprise at the No. 8 spot on our list. The Hoosier State has great public land access (1 million acres), a booming whitetail population (950,000) and great prices on tags ($24 resident, $150 non-resident). Roughly 275,000 tags are sold annually, providing hunters with plenty of quality opportunities. When it comes to trophy deer, Indiana ranks No. 7 in B&C\'s record books over the last decade with over 350 entries, so there are quite a few bruisers to go around. The only real knock against Indiana is hunter density — it ranks ninth in density among whitetail states (10.8 hunters per sq. mile).

9. Ohio

Public Land: 7
Trophy Production: 9
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 5
Reputation: 8
TOTAL: 38

Ohio comes in at the No. 9 spot on our list as a big time trophy-producing whitetail state with solid harvest numbers and lots of public land access. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of public land opportunities to choose from, a healthy whitetail population of about 750,000 and plenty of licenses to snatch up (about 420,000 annually). On top of that, Ohio is the No. 3 overall B&C trophy producer in the last decade with nearly 450 entries. Though regions vary, most of the state allows you to take four deer. There were 217,000 deer harvested in 2012, which just shows how much opportunity there really is. The biggest drawback is hunter density — Ohio is the fifth most dense whitetail state (12.3 hunters per sq. mile) in the U.S.

10. Illinois

Public Land: 1
Trophy Production: 9
Harvest Numbers: 8
Hunter Density: 8
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 37

I\'m going to try to calm the Illinois crowd down a bit with some logic and a few facts, because they\'re probably feeling a little bit like Brady Quinn at the NFL draft right about now. Yes, Illinois is a top trophy producer (No. 2 for B&C trophy entries in the last decade), has big harvest numbers (181,451 annually) and has a legendary image in the whitetail world. But here\'s the thing: the state is virtually all private land. With a total land mass of 37 million acres, less than 1 percent is available for public land hunters. And if you do want to go the outfitter route, you\'re going to pay through the nose for it. Illinois is a great place to hunt whitetail if you\'ve got wads of cash, own your own land or know the right people, but that doesn\'t fit the description of most whitetail hunters.

11. Virginia

Public Land: 9
Trophy Production: 5
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 6
Reputation: 8
TOTAL: 37

Virginia may well be the best deer hunting location on the East Coast. It ranks in the top 20 in B&C trophy entries and has over 2 million acres of public hunting land (about 10 percent of the state is open to the public). Harvest numbers are massive (250,000), with a deer population of about 1 million and 72,000 licenses sold each year. The one setback — and the reason it doesn\'t rank higher — is a fairly high hunter density (10.9 hunters per sq. mile), which means hunting pressure can definitely be elevated in some areas.

12. Kansas

Public Land: 2
Trophy Production: 8
Harvest Numbers: 8
Hunter Density: 10
Reputation: 9
TOTAL: 37

I can already feel the scorn coming from Kansas right about now. Here\'s a helpful suggestion: sometimes writing an angry letter and tearing it up helps. Just a thought. Like so many other notable whitetail states, Kansas scored poorly on public land access. That said, Kansas has a strong whitetail population (600,000), about 100,000 deer killed each year and a low hunter density (0-4 hunters per sq. mile). It ranks 8th in B&C trophy production, which doesn\'t always justify the heavy price tag of out-of-state licenses ($419), and that\'s before we start talking about outfitter fees.

13. Mississippi

Public Land: 8
Trophy Production: 6
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 6
Reputation: 8
TOTAL: 37

Mississippi may be one of the most progressively managed states when it comes to whitetail hunting, which is why it ranks in the top 15. There are about 2 million acres of public land, 280,000 deer killed annually and huge trophy production in recent years. About 50 percent of Mississippi\'s trophies have been killed since 2000 — a testimony to wise management. Deer herds are at about 1.75 million, with about 222,000 licenses sold annually. The state is a bit thick with hunters (10.2 hunters per sq. mile), and out-of-state licenses can be relatively pricey ($300).

14. Nebraska

Public Land: 8
Trophy Production: 6
Harvest Numbers: 6
Hunter Density: 8
Reputation: 8
TOTAL: 36

Although the state is sometimes better known for upland bird hunting, Cornhusker football and College World Series baseball, Nebraska is also a hotbed for some fantastic whitetail hunting. There\'s quite a bit of public land to go around (1 million acres), a strong deer population (350,000) and decent trophy deer opportunities (Nebraska ranks No. 11 in B&C trophy production over the last decade). Harvest numbers are solid each year (60,548) and there are some old deer in the state (Wesley O\'Brien\'s state record non-typical, killed in 2009, was 284 B&C).

15. Minnesota

Public Land: 8
Trophy Production: 6
Harvest Numbers: 8
Hunter Density: 6
Reputation: 7
TOTAL: 35

Though some may not believe it, Minnesota has more to offer than famously stereotypical northern accents, ice hockey and freezing cold winters. Eleven percent of the land in Minnesota is publicly owned, which means there is a lot of great access for deer hunters. The state ranks 9th in B&C trophy production, averages about 200,000 deer kills a year and has a relatively low to moderate hunter density (5-8 hunters per sq. mile). There are about 1 million deer statewide, though a high number of licenses (800,000) and pressure during gun season are definitely setbacks.

16. Georgia

Public Land: 5
Trophy Production: 5
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 8
Reputation: 8
TOTAL: 35

Along with states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Georgia is a top state for deer kills each year. About 410,000 deer were killed in 2012, which comes out of a population of about 1.2 million. Roughly 300,000 licenses are sold annually, so there is a fair amount of pressure in some areas, especially when a state that size has only 1 million acres of public land available for hunting. Still, Georgia has plenty of deer, easy access to tags and a great success rate.

17. Iowa

Public Land: 1
Trophy Production: 9
Harvest Numbers: 8
Hunter Density: 9
Reputation: 6
TOTAL: 33

When it comes to whitetail hunting, Iowa is probably one of the first states we think of. And rightly so. It\'s got great trophy production (No. 4 in B&C trophy entries over the last decade) and a reputation for producing big bucks every year. Unfortunately, Iowa has almost nothing to offer by way of public land, and the draw system is painful to say the least. Harvest numbers are solid (120,000 annually) and hunter density is low (6.7 hunters per sq. mile), which means that Iowa is a mixed bag. It can be great, depending on who you ask.

18. Pennsylvania

Public Land: 9
Trophy Production: 6
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 1
Reputation: 8
TOTAL: 33

There\'s a lot of great things to say about Pennsylvania, including the insane number of deer harvested there each year (336,000). The state has about 4 million acres of public land and ranks in the top 20 for B&C trophy entries in the last decade. Only a few states produce more deer kills than Pennsylvania annually. A solid deer population (1.2 million) and abundant licenses (800,000) make for an opportunity-rich deer hunting experience. Why doesn\'t Pennsylvania rank higher, you ask? It has the highest hunter density in the U.S. (20.5 hunters per sq. mile) and can be a nightmare come opening morning of deer season.

19. South Dakota

Public Land: 9
Trophy Production: 5
Harvest Numbers: 5
Hunter Density: 8
Reputation: 5
TOTAL: 32

South Dakota may be the pheasant hunting Mecca of the U.S., but it also has some great deer hunting. With a whopping 5 million acres of public land, an extremely low hunter density (0-4 hunters per sq. mile) and 250,000 whitetails to chase across the state, South Dakota easily makes this list. About 70,000 whitetails are harvested each year, and it ranks in the top 20 for B&C entries in the last decade. The problem is a complicated licensing system and the difficulty of trying to hunt with a rifle as a non-resident.

20. New York

Public Land: 6
Trophy Production: 5
Harvest Numbers: 9
Hunter Density: 2
Reputation: 6
TOTAL: 28

New York is mainly known by outsiders for what comes out of the Big Apple and its anti-gun, anti-soda mayor, but as residents will tell you, there\'s a whole lot more to the state than that. For one, there are great whitetail hunting opportunities. New York has a deer population of about 1 million, provides plenty of licenses each year (800,000) and has produced some trophy deer in the last decade (it ranks in the top 20). The problem can be access, which also translates into higher hunting pressure. New York also has the third highest hunter density in the U.S. (15.1 hunters per sq. mile), which doesn\'t help with the problem.

Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.

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