By Bernie Barringer
Ever since the advent of outdoor TV, hunters across the US have become more aware of the hunting possibilities for chasing whitetails in other states. It has become common knowledge in the past two decades that there are places where whitetail hunters see big bucks most every day that would be the buck of a lifetime in Michigan, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas or the Southeast. Midwestern states like Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri have earned a deserved reputation as destination states where hunters can go and have a chance at shooting a mature whitetail. There are some sleepers too, such as North Dakota, Tennessee, and Nebraska.
Hordes of hunters are applying to hunt these Midwestern meccas of whitetail hunting each year, but for many people, shelling out $3,500- $4,500 for a guided hunt, plus licenses and tips, is way over the top. Not even a consideration. Can a person hunt those places on a Do-it-Yourself basis? The answer is a resounding “YES!” But you better know what you are doing before you jump in the truck and head off towards Whitetail Heaven. Here are some tips that will dramatically increase your odds of success.
Know what you are getting into
Start by researching the states and familiarize yourself with their tag allocation process. It will take you three years of applying to draw a tag for the good zones in Iowa. Kansas and Illinois also have drawings for tags, but allow much more nonresident hunters so you can draw most every year in those states. States like Wisconsin, North Dakota and Missouri are still bargains with low prices tags and over-the-counter tag purchasing. Pricing varies a lot. By the time you buy two years of preference points for Iowa, the most sought after trophy state, and then purchase all the licenses and tags required, you will have about $700 invested before you ever leave the driveway. See the attached database for a huge head start in learning this part of the equation.
Do your homework
Today’s technology offers some amazing shortcuts to learning how and where to hunt. Google Earth and Bing Maps offer aerial photos of public hunting lands. The various States’ Departments of Natural Resources offer websites with lots of resources. Websites like bowhuntingroad.com offers lots of free resources and advice for the travelling hunter. Interactive forums like archerytalk.com give you a chance to ask questions of people within that state and others who have hunted there as nonresidents.
Those resources give you a great head start on finding a general area to hunt, and the aerial maps even help you narrow down specific stand sites that look good from the air, but you have to get out on the ground to really determine for sure if that is where you want to be. And that’s the final step to finding a great place to hunt… setting up in the right location.
The right spot
Once you have used all those resources and have decided where you are going to hunt, it’s time to burn the shoe leather and learn the land. You should have a checklist of places to examine and maps in your pocket. Now get out and look them over. Some public hunting areas get quite a bit of hunting pressure, but once you get a mile from the road, that pressure drops of drastically. Most hunters won’t lug a treestand that far, and they are afraid of the work of getting a big buck out. The bucks seem to know that and if you are willing to work harder than the average guy you can get away from the crowds.
Learn to travel light. Lightweight stands and equipment are important keys to reducing your workload. Don’t load down your back pack and choose light items to carry such as smaller binoculars and the Havalon line of knives which are much lighter than standard hunting knives.
Put trail cameras out to inventory the buck population so you know what you are working with. Check for rubs, scrapes and trails, and gather as much information as you can before putting your treestands out. I like to spend the first day doing more looking than sitting. I may even spend the first evening and morning in a new area just glassing or sitting in an observation stand. Later, I can sit on stand a lot longer if I have confidence that I am in the right spot. It takes time to find the exact right spot.
You will find that the first time you go to a new area, you spend more time learning, but as you continue to go back year after year, you will have a much better chance of bagging a mature buck. You have built a storehouse of knowledge about the area to draw from in your daily where-to-hunt-today decision-making process.
Cut costs where you can
One of the keys to making this work is to keep the costs down. Some motels will give you a weekly rate and often small-town motels in rural Midwestern states are pretty cheap. I like to pull a travel trailer so I have everything with me including cooking equipment.
It’s amazing how much you can cook in a motel room or camper if you think about it. A crockpot with a hot meal waiting for you at the end of a cold day is a welcome sight. Before leaving home, I freeze the entire contents of the meals in plastic containers, then pull one out in the morning and drop the whole frozen mass into the crockpot set on low heat when I leave in the morning. When the evening comes I arrive to find a hot meal ready and waiting for me. With a microwave and a toaster, you can make all kinds of meals.
Another way to cut costs if to go with a buddy who can help split the bills for motels and fuel costs. Make sure you get someone who is motivated and enthusiastic. You don’t what someone who you have to shake out of bed in the morning who will drag down your energy.
Above all, just do it. If you are happy to watch those guys killing big bucks on the Sportsman Channel, that’s fine, but if you really want to have a chance to put one on the back of your pickup truck, it is time to start researching and make it happen!