Skip to main content

Completing the Lewis & Clark Whitetail Slam: Part 2

Not many can say they've tagged out on big whitetails from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Atlantic.

Completing the Lewis & Clark Whitetail Slam: Part 2
Part 2 of chronicling the author’s coast-to-coast slam takes readers into familiar whitetail territory. This big 9-point came from the author’s first-ever Missouri hunt in 2007. (Photo by Gordon Whittington)

Killing your way across the continent sounds like some fictional Hollywood script. Yet shooting a respectable whitetail buck in each state of a chain from the Pacific to the Atlantic is not only possible, it’s been done. I know because I did it.

How rare is this feat? No one officially tracks such things, so your guess is as good as mine. But I doubt it’s been achieved often, simply because the obscure requirements run counter to how most deer hunters operate. Few whitetailers will hunt another state or province unless they feel there’s a legitimate chance to shoot bigger deer there, and not every state is a hotspot.

But there’s something to be said for hunting certain places just to have experienced them. Over time, if you visit enough scattered places and tag enough bucks along the way, an interesting map of your deer career can take shape. It certainly did with mine.

CHOOSING THE ROUTE

Last month, I noted that the western links in my personal coast-to-coast slam were Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. (I could have used Montana instead of Wyoming, as on my first nonresident whitetail hunt in 1983 I shot a 5x5 there). My path from Wyoming was into South Dakota, where I concluded Part 1 with a mention of nice whitetails taken while hunting with Two Rivers Outfitters.

From South Dakota, eastbound options really open up. Every state bordering it to the east, north or south has good hunting, and I’ve tried them all. (That’s not to say I’ve tagged bucks in all, however; I missed nice ones in North Dakota and Minnesota, and the one time I hunted Nebraska I never got a shot). Iowa ended up being my link.

IOWA

For nearly a decade after North American Whitetail was founded, the Hawkeye State wasn’t an option for nonresidents. However, Iowa finally began offering limited deer tags by zone, opening the door to one of the continent’s top trophy producers.

In 2005, I drew an archery tag for Unit 4. I’d be hunting with my friend Steve Bailey, who was working with Thunder Valley Outfitters to promote Renzo’s Decoys. These were lightweight, cardboard silhouettes. Having tinkered with full-bodied buck decoys for nearly a decade, I was eager to see if Renzo’s might pull a buck into range.

gordon-lewisclark-iowa
During an archery hunt in 2005, the author arrowed this mature 8-pointer in Iowa for NAW TV. He lured the buck into range with a cardboard silhouette decoy. (Photo by Gordon Whittington)

It worked. With North American Whitetail TV cameraman Mike Clerkin above me in a tree on a picked soybean field, the second morning I shot a nice 8-pointer. He walked out of a ditch and crossed that open field to investigate our decoy setup, and my Mathews Icon thrust a Muzzy through his heart.

This buck was far smaller than the Iowa beasts regularly featured in NAW. Still, Mike and I were elated. That farm had just been picked clean of crops, while 200 acres of beans and corn stood unpicked on an off-limits farm next door. We felt fortunate to have tagged out. And get this: When we returned to the truck and cranked it up, the radio station was playing a popular tune by Alison Krauss: “The Lucky One.” How fitting.

ILLINOIS/MISSOURI

My November 2003 muzzleloader hunt with early NAW contributor Les Davenport offered a glimpse into what gun season in Illinois is like. Illinois has a lot of big deer but also a lot of hunters, and come gun season, nearly every patch of timber is dotted with fluorescent orange.

In preparation for the opener, we hung a couple stands in a creek-bottom funnel between two farms that would be getting pressured. Sure enough, before shooting light on opening day, hunters on an adjacent tract bumped some whitetails right to the tree in which cameraman Mike Clerkin and I sat, hoping to capture my first-ever hunt for this new venture called North American Whitetail TV.

One of the deer was a nice non-typical, and he was sufficiently enchanted with one of the does to hang around. When legal light arrived I got a shot at him through the timber, and my .50-caliber Thompson/Center Encore did its job.

Recommended


gordon-lewisclark-illinois
Illinois is certainly a “big-buck” state, but the Prairie State also has heavy hunting pressure. Sitting between two pressured properties helped the author take this big non-typical. (Photo by Gordon Whittington)

My first hunt in Missouri took place four years later, during the 2007 November gun season. Mike was again my cameraman. We hunted from a tower blind in a CRP field owned by Joe Ream of Blackbird Creek Outfitters.

On the season’s second morning, we watched two mature bucks move down a drainage linking a distant cornfield to an off-limits woods. The deer were too far for a good shot, so Mike and I ran down a nearby treeline to cut the distance. As we got within 220 yards of the deer, a big 9-pointer stopped and looked our way. A 150-grain Hornady round from my T/C Icon prematurely ended his “rutcation.”

KENTUCKY

Like Missouri, Kentucky offers solid opportunity for rifle hunting the rut with over-the-counter tags. Many nonresidents use outfitters, but my first hunt in the Bluegrass State was via a self-acquired lease. That was in 1999, four years before we began hunting for TV.

In January, I’d checked out a farm in the western part of the state. It bordered the Ohio River, with southeastern Illinois clearly visible beyond the steady barge traffic. While there wasn’t much good cover on the place, I’d elected to lease it for fall.

Several nonresident friends agreed to join me on a hunt on opening weekend of gun season, despite the fact we’d done no real scouting or set up any trail cameras. What’s more, I couldn’t even be back there in time for opening morning. I told my guys to just pick out whichever spots they liked after arrival on the eve of the opener.

When I arrived on opening afternoon, I learned a number of deer had been seen that morning, but no shooters. I still had to buy my tag in town, so I again told the guys to hunt wherever they wanted. No one wanted to try the small thicket behind the farmer’s house, so I said I’d sit there. A tornado several years prior had left it a nasty mess of blowdowns and brush.

gordon-lewisclark-kentucky
Taken from a property along the Ohio river, this buck is the author’s first from Kentucky. When the famed Corps of Discovery headed west, they used the river on part of the journey. (Photo by Gordon Whittington)

After returning from town with my tag, I parked in the farmer’s driveway and walked around his house. I’d scarcely passed the yard when several does jumped out of a nearby patch of brush and bounded out of sight. I decided to climb the closest tree.

As I was starting to hang the stand, a deer blew loudly. It was a mature buck that had stayed bedded between me and the house after the does had spooked. Had I not stopped I’m sure he’d have held his ground, but now he was nervously bouncing down the brushy slope. The property line was only a few leaps farther to the west.

Keeping an eye on the buck, I hit my True Talker grunt call and frantically pulled my rifle up the tree. For whatever reason – the heavy cover, my grunting or both – the big 8-pointer stopped and looked my way. Within a few more seconds I’d chambered a cartridge into my 7mm Rem. Mag., found the buck in my scope and shot him dead in his tracks.

Upon reaching the 5 1/2-year-old deer, I marveled that I’d somehow weaved a bullet through all that brush. Then I looked uphill at the half-hung stand and noticed something: a pencil-thin, frayed twig just a few feet from the deer. My bullet had passed through the center without snapping it and then had slammed the buck in the shoulder. Some deer are just meant to be.

VIRGINIA

The whitetail’s scientific name, Odocoileus virginianus, roughly translates as “Virginia deer.” With my interest in history, and knowing Virginia is a good state for deer hunting on over-the-counter tags, for years I hoped my whitetail journey would one day lead me there.

My first hunt in the state, with Mike again manning the video camera, was at Primland, a 15,000-acre mountain resort in Patrick County. That was in 2007, and it resulted in a great opportunity to take a trophy. Sadly, when he walked across the ridgetop acorn flat that windy morning, I never even touched him with my muzzleloader bullet. The charge ignited, but the bullet went astray. I later realized I’d failed to seat it properly: a classic rookie error.

Had I shot that buck, my transcontinental slam would have been completed 16 years ago. But at the time I wasn’t even thinking about any such quest. Over a decade passed before I decided to try another place in Virginia. In 2019, I traveled to the farm country northeast of Richmond for a blackpowder hunt with Chip Watkins of Monquin Creek Outfitters. Cameraman Jake Miller and I saw a couple beautiful bucks there, including one with a nice drop tine, but both were beyond my comfortable range. I wanted to try there again in 2020, but the COVID craziness foiled all hunting plans, breaking my personal 59-year streak of pursuing whitetails. And 2021 wasn’t much better. But as the 2022 season approached, I was ready to head back to Old Dominion.

gordon-lewisclark-virginia
A mature whitetail from Virginia ultimately completed the author’s coast-to-coast slam. Amazingly, he shot the buck from a tree stand placed just over three miles from where Meriwether Lewis was born. (Photo by Gordon Whittington)

A gracious invitation to hunt a small property near Charlottesville came from Facebook friend Gary Helmuth. He and friends had hunted and managed the suburban tract for several years, mainly shooting does to control deer damage. Gary said there were nice bucks on the place, so I drove up for the mid-November gun opener.

Hunting from a pop-up blind around an old pasture with trees, I saw a lot of cruising bucks the first couple days. However, none was mature enough to interest me. So before daybreak on the third morning, with the skies clear and the temperature in the low 20s, Gary led me to a ladder stand on the edge of a large block of mature pines.

I saw some bucks and does early that morning, but again no shooters. Then, a little after 9:00, a mature 8-pointer eased through, looking for love. A .270 Win. Hornady round from my Browning X-Bolt Hunter ended his search for a mate – and mine for a transcontinental slam.

For the first time since before we started taping NAW TV in 2003, I’d shot a whitetail buck with no cameraman present. So instead of thinking about shooting video of recovering the deer, I was free to focus on him and reflect on the moment. The slam was complete, nearly four decades after that first out-of-state whitetail hunt.

COMMON DENOMINATORS

Since completing the slam, I’ve pondered what, if anything, its hunts had in common. There was no uniformity in gear or tactics. Yet the whitetail itself was a reassuring constant. From Oregon and Washington to Virginia, the landscape and climate vary greatly, but the deer behaved similarly. They’d adapted to a different world.

If there’s any other unifying element to this slam, it’s an angle you’d never imagine being part of our story. It has to do with Meriwether Lewis and his legendary Corps of Discovery, which traversed the unsettled western half of the U.S. in 1804-6. Lewis was a hunter, and he and his crew ate plenty of venison on their 8,000-mile journey from Pennsylvania to the Pacific and back to St. Louis.

But what strikes me is how closely my personal whitetail slam mirrored the route of the intrepid explorers. My first Kentucky buck was shot within sight of the Ohio River, which the Corps of Discovery traveled en route west. My Missouri buck and that decoyed Iowa buck fell near small tributaries of the Missouri River, the expedition’s route across the Great Plains and into the mountains of Montana. My South Dakota bucks I tagged near the Bad River, 50 air miles west of where it hits the Missouri. Lewis and Clark established Fort Pierre at that junction.

My 1983 Montana buck lived on the Musselshell River, perhaps 100 miles or so south of the upper Missouri. I later tagged my Idaho whitetail on a timbered ridge overlooking the Clearwater River, just a few miles from where the expedition established major camps. My Washington buck came from a small mountain range within 45 miles of the Columbia River. And my Oregon whitetail was of the Columbian subspecies, which was first documented by the expedition as they neared the Columbia’s mouth.

Yet the closest Lewis connection to this long deer story is found in Virginia, the final link in my whitetail chain. Gary Helmuth works at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and traveling to the hunting area each day we drove past founding father Thomas Jefferson’s storied home at Monticello. Jefferson of course not only founded the university but was the visionary who sent Lewis and company on their expedition to the Pacific. Visiting Jefferson’s homeland only tightened the connection I felt to American history via my whitetail travels.

Still, only after I’d shot my Virginia buck and returned to Georgia did I learn of the most amazing historical connection to the Lewis and Clark expedition. I tagged my trophy in Albemarle County, which I later discovered was the first home of Meriwether Lewis. In fact, the ladder stand from which I’d shot my buck is just over three miles from Locust Hill Estate, where Lewis was born in 1774.

Was my buck I shot a descendant of those roaming the woods near his birthplace 249 years ago? I have no idea. I just know it’s yet another intriguing angle to my winding tale: the whitetail story of a lifetime.




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