The DIY Guide to Hunting Big Bucks Out of State
April 15, 2014
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.