Skip to main content

Completing the Lewis & Clark Whitetail Slam: Part 1

A whitetail journey from coast to coast results in a very unique hunting slam.

Completing the Lewis & Clark Whitetail Slam: Part 1
(Photos courtesy of Gordon Whittington)

In ways now obvious, 1982’s first-ever issue of North American Whitetail made a lasting impression on the hunting world. It rolled back the curtain on a whitetail scene bigger and more diverse than most of us hunters had ever imagined. And it ushered in a new lifestyle: that of the whitetail nomad. Many hunters suddenly started to venture farther from home each season. Some hardcores even went so far as to relocate, uprooting themselves and their families in search of the better hunting they now knew existed elsewhere.

I recall those early days clearly — not just as a contributor to NAW, but also as one of these nomads. The same factors that perhaps made you want to hunt Ohio, Montana or some other trophy hotspot attracted me, too. And so, I began my annual pursuit of whitetails in places I otherwise never would have visited.

Those decades of autumn travel helped me make NAW a better source of practical information on hunting and managing deer for a geographically broad base of readers, just as similar hunts now are helping newer members of our staff. Many of my hunts also provided unique content for these pages and, starting in 2003, NAW TV. But beyond all that, these wanderings ultimately let me to achieve something else: one of the rarest whitetail “slams” of all.

HUNTING BENCHMARKS

Best known among the various hunting slams is the so-called Super Slam of all 27 North American big-game species recognized by the Boone & Crockett Club. Bowhunting has its own version of that. There also are slams including all species of native wild sheep. And then there’s the wild turkey. Many hunters who passionately pursue gobblers have completed slams of each available subspecies. Some, in fact, do so annually.

In light of all this, it’s curious that our most familiar big-game animal has largely been left on the sidelines. Except for the “Whitetail Slam” idea put forth a decade ago by bowhunting personality Tom Miranda and endorsed by my friend Dr. James C. Kroll (“Dr. Deer”), there’s little talk of slams involving this species. Tom’s concept focused on multi-state/province regions correlated to native subspecies ranges, encouraging hunters to appreciate the diversity of various deer locations, not just a buck’s antler score or body weight.

Any hunting slam is simply a personal milestone. Its parameters can be as individual as the person involved. In my case, it was based purely on geography, but in a way somewhat different from Miranda’s slam. Mine included respectable whitetail bucks in connected states from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Atlantic: literally a slam of transcontinental proportions.

ONE OCEAN TO THE OTHER

A whitetail range map reveals many possible routes to achieve this unofficial slam. Most U.S. states and Canadian provinces allow whitetail hunting, and even quite a few states in Mexico do. Yet as we delve into the details, we find obstacles extending beyond the sheer number of hunts required to tag bucks from coast to coast.

First and foremost, the Pacific end of the chain is largely unfamiliar, even to most whitetail nomads. At best, Alaska has only a handful of these deer. California has none. So within the U.S., that leaves Washington and Oregon as the only viable options.

From there, unless you loop northward to pick up a buck in British Columbia (guide required for Americans), the itinerary must include Idaho; it’s the only whitetail state linking the Pacific Northwest to those eastward. From there, your options expand to Montana and Wyoming. By the time you have the Great Plains in sight, there are even more options on your way to the East Coast.

I realize the Gulf of Mexico is technically part of the Atlantic, so yes, you could turn south instead of east and slightly shorten your route to saltwater. Alternately, by including the Coues whitetail, you could include a kill in the Mexican state of Sonora as part of a more southerly march to the Gulf. You might even more quickly go coast to coast by taking “jungle” whitetails in Central America, but doing so takes scaling a tall wall of logistics and legalities.

Due to the size of Canada’s provinces, a coast-to-coast slam traversing the southern part of that country is certainly doable. It would take only five bucks: one each from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Since Hudson Bay is technically part of the Atlantic, kills in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would shorten the quest.

Completing this transcontinental slam might sound hard to you, or it might sound easy. I found it to be both. It took me a long time to achieve, but that’s partly because I didn’t originally set out to do it. On a hunt-by-hunt basis, no superhuman effort or skill was required. It was just whitetail hunting, though in wide-ranging habitats and conditions. The common denominator was that in each instance, I was pursuing free-ranging bucks. Beyond that, no two hunts were quite the same.

Recommended


PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Washington and Oregon remain obscure parts of the whitetail world. These deer aren’t found everywhere, and most of those taken are shot by residents. Blacktails and mule deer are far more popular and common targets. However, nonresidents can tap into some unique whitetail opportunities in both states. I say that as one of the few hunters who live in neither state but have taken whitetails in both.

My Oregon buck, an 8-pointer of the once-endangered Columbian subspecies, I shot in early October 2006 on an afternoon hunt over a water hole in the Umpqua River valley. I was rifle hunting with Western Oregon Outfitters. Columbians aren’t big in body or antler, but their sheer rarity makes each one a trophy. My deer is the smallest whitetail I’ve ever had mounted but also among my most prized.

gordon-lewisclark-washington-buck
A whitetail range map reveals many possible routes to achieve a coast-to-coast slam. Certainly, it’s possible to do in Canada if you hunt your way across the provinces, moving east from British Columbia to Quebec, or vice versa. However, if you’re determined to start in the U.S., either Washington or Oregon is where you’ll want to begin. The author arrowed this fine post-rut buck in Washington in December 2011. (Photos courtesy of Gordon Whittington)

Had I not scored in Oregon, my December 2011 kill in southeastern Washington would have checked the Pacific box. I arrowed that post-rut 10-pointer from a tree stand at the base of an ice-shrouded mountain while hunting with Wild Country Guide Service.

Although I tagged these bucks on guided hunts, there’s some DIY opportunity in the Pacific Northwest. It’s probably easier to experience on the Washington side, given that archery tags are sold over the counter and there are decent numbers of animals on mountainous public land in the eastern end of the state.

Oregon’s Columbian whitetails are a tough draw, making a landowner tag via an outfitter your best bet there. However, fair numbers of mountain whitetails (Northwest subspecies) inhabit public forestlands in Oregon’s northeastern corner.

IDAHO

Even back in the early years of NAW, cofounder Dick Idol was espousing Idaho as a sleeper whitetail hotspot. Eventually, I had to see for myself.

gordon-lewisclark-idaho-scenery
Idaho remains a sleeper state for great whitetail hunting. On his whitetail tour across the U.S., the author stopped there in 1994 to hunt a cattle ranch (by permission) in the Clearwater River valley. (Photos courtesy of Gordon Whittington)

Following a deerless DIY trip to the heavily forested Panhandle in 1992, two years later I tried hunting a cattle ranch (by permission) in the Clearwater River valley. The property had a ridgetop alfalfa field adjacent to rugged, timbered slopes. While I wasn’t yet using trail cameras for hunting, fresh sign and a few distant visuals confirmed that deer were using the field.

The situation looked favorable, but the downside was timing: late October. Although rifle season was in, the rut wasn’t. With the weather still warm, daytime buck movement was slow. After a few days of stand-hunting, rattling and glassing with no luck, I decided to ease through the timber next to the alfalfa.

Sure enough, I hadn’t gone far before a nice 9-pointer stood from his bed 75 yards through the timber and stared at me. I raised my 7mm Rem. Mag. and tumbled him. Dragging that deer through a maze of jagged blowdowns gave me new appreciation for what dark-timber elk hunters face.

gordon-lewisclark-idaho-buck
The property had a ridgetop alfalfa field adjacent to rugged, timbered slopes. It was there he took this nice 9-pointer. (Photos courtesy of Gordon Whittington)

Northern and Central Idaho have plenty of public land with whitetails, and thousands of nonresident permits are sold each year. Wolves and lions have recently hurt deer numbers, but hunters still get some fine bucks. The fact mine lived within only a couple miles of where the Lewis & Clark expedition once camped on the Clearwater only added to that DIY experience.

WYOMING

I first hunted Wyoming in 2008 with Trophies Plus Outfitters, and it was the quickest and easiest of all hunts in my slam. On the first morning guide Skip Peterson took me to a secluded grain field, and within an hour after sunup a long-browed 8-pointer was wearing my tag. This November rut hunt occurred on a ranch just south of the Montana border in northeastern Wyoming.

I’ve had other memorable whitetail expeditions in that corner of the Cowboy State, including a November 2014 rifle hunt that featured –21 degrees F temperatures, and a September 2016 crossbow hunt that was much milder. What both those hunts near Devils Tower had in common was great scenery and beautiful whitetails. No wonder nonresidents tags have become harder to draw, especially for gun season.

SOUTH DAKOTA

For generations, most westbound big-game hunters treated South Dakota simply as a rest stop. They’d pull off the highway just long enough to fuel up and grab a bite, then resume heading toward the glamorous species and spectacular scenery of the Rockies.

Eventually, though, a few of us whitetail nomads began to wonder if South Dakota’s prairies, fields and creeks might be home to something way bigger than pheasants. Sure enough, they were — and NAW was among the first to point out the potential.

In November 2007, I hunted near Midland with what was then a pretty new operation: Two Rivers Outfitters. Despite insanely high winds that set off a cross-country tumbleweed stampede, I shot a nice 5x5 as he was sniffing around a doe in a creek-bottom thicket. When NAW TV aired that hunt the following summer, Two Rivers was flooded with calls from viewers wanting to sample South Dakota for themselves.

On that first hunt, I saw two bucks bigger than the one I shot. Upon my return a year later, I tagged one bigger still. That 7x8 was looking for a doe along the Bad River but found a Hornady .280 Rem. round instead. It was another example of just how deceptively good wide-open whitetail habitat can be.

COMING NEXT MONTH

On this trek we’ve now made it halfway across the continent. Still ahead lie what for many of you are more familiar whitetail territories: the Corn Belt, the Ohio River valley and the steep ridges of Appalachia. I hope you’ll join me for Part 2, in which I’ll push on toward the completion of a memorable achievement.




GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Ripcord Arrow Rests Rejuvenates Lineup with Three New Models

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Don't Sleep on Conventional Trail Cameras

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Browning Trail Cameras Announces Cellular Innovation for 2024

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

ATA 2024 Core SR First Look from Bowtech

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Browning OVIX Camo: Ultimate Concealment for Any Time, Any Place

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Air Venturi Avenge-X Classic PCP Air Rifle Reviewed

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Primos Edge Carbon Fiber Tripod Shooting Sticks

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Bowhunting Aoudad in Texas with Browning OVIX Camo

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Bowtech CP30: A Better Bow Made For The Whitetailer

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Browning's Exclusive OVIX Camo Gives You Complete Concealment

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Learn

Year-Round Deer Scouting with Moultrie Mobile Edge Cellular Trail Cams

As a whitetail hunter and landowner dedicated to pursuing great bucks each season, North American Whitetail's Blake Garl...
Gear

Start to Finish Success for Ultimate Season Bucks

North American Whitetail Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the North American Whitetail App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top North American Whitetail stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All North American Whitetail subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now

Never Miss a Thing.

Get the Newsletter

Get the top North American Whitetail stories delivered right to your inbox.

By signing up, I acknowledge that my email address is valid, and have read and accept the Terms of Use