We all have the same dream. We’re out in our stands, the day is still very early. A twig snaps just off to the side. Was that a squirrel? Our heart rate starts to escalate, and we take a deep breath to steady our nerves, when out of the mist of our subconscious “he” steps out – the monster buck we’ve been after for years.
While we all share the same love of hunting, and delicious venison is a big part of why we pursue whitetails, the drive to tie your tag to a true trophy buck can’t be denied.
What makes a trophy buck? The argument can be made for a buck’s score based on antler scoring systems like those from Boone and Crockett, or Pope & Young. But what really defines a trophy is you. So for the sake of our discussion here, let’s look at the states that give you the best chance of tagging a buck you’ll happily call a trophy.
How can a state make this list? There are a few factors that are important at this time of year. Number one is tag availability. No point planning a hunt if you needed to put in for a tag last spring. (FYI: If you do need to apply, check out Worldwide Trophy Adventures, or WTA TAGS, for assistance.)
The next factor is land. No sense going and getting a tag if you have no land on which to hunt. To make this list, there has to be plenty of whitetail-rich public land available. Now, the chances you’ll run into other hunters is certainly there. That’s why it’s called “public.” But for those willing to work for it, there’s always those places you can go and find a spot to hunt away from the crowds.
The other factors we’re looking at include cost, logistics such as food, hotels, etc., and culture (i.e. hunting tradition). If money was no object, then there’s plenty of options with outfitters and guides. For the rest of us, cost is an issue. You want to go to an affordable place that supports hunting and hunters, and welcomes the nonresident. Hunting brings a lot of money to the local economy, and you want to go somewhere that embraces the traveling hunter.
To help you get started, check out the following deer-rich destinations.
Wisconsin is a big state full of hunters. It’s also full of deer. In fact, Waupaca County has more whitetails than any other county in the United States. There have been some absolute monster bucks taken in the land of the Packers, cheese and beer. There’s also a lot of public land, meaning you can go and hunt there with no worries about access.
Licenses will set a nonresident back $160 each in 2016, and you can get one for firearm or archery/crossbow hunting. The good news for those looking to fill freezers, too, is that bonus antlerless tags can be bought for $20. The tags can be bought online, or in-person at numerous retail locations throughout the state.
Last year, there were 151,580 bucks taken throughout the entire hunting season in Wisconsin. You’ll have to work to find a spot to call your own, as there are a lot of hunters. The majority of the public land is in the northern half of the state, but biologists report that last winter was mild, making for excellent survival rates.
If you’re thinking of packing up the truck and heading to Wisconsin, start your research by going to the Wisconsin DNR’s 2016 Deer Hunting Forecast. It’s loaded with information that can help you plan where to start your Wisconsin adventure. After you narrow down an area, finding lodging opportunities will be easy because Wisconsin is extremely welcoming to hunters.
The Cornhusker State is an absolute sleeper destination for deer hunting. Although, let’s be honest, it’s not as sleeper as it used to be. There are a lot of big bucks coming from Nebraska, and the word is spreading.
The best part of Nebraska is the abundant public land. Don’t be fooled, you’re going to see other hunters, but you can also get pretty remote if you’re willing to do the work. Nebraska has a handy Where to Hunt website that can get you pointed in the right direction. A nonresident deer tag starts out at $216, but get this: If you want to take the kids with you for a family hunting experience, their deer tag costs only $7! Yes, you read that right. There is no better state for a nonresident to take a kid on an adventure of a lifetime and still have money in your wallet.
Be sure to check the regulations because Nebraska has some areas that are open only by draw permit. There is also a habitat stamp required. With plentiful agriculture and some wide open spaces, the deer tend to be crafty – and big. Look along the northern edges of the state for your best bests, and enjoy the hunt.
The Buckeye State is gaining a reputation for big bucks. Ohio is getting on everyone’s radar, which is both good and bad. There are some big bucks, but land access can be tricky. The really good news is the cost to hunt as a nonresident is pretty low. An annual license costs $125, and an any-sex deer tag is $24.
So what gets Ohio on this list? Long seasons for starters. Archery season opens Sept. 24 and runs through Feb. 5, 2017! Add to that the fact Ohio is a single buck state, meaning hunters can bag only one buck a year, but doe tags are plentiful. And then add in that Ohio is another state with a solid agricultural base, meaning the deer herd has a great food supply, and a decent buck-to-doe ratio. There is plenty of public land, but lots of competition for it. Still, with those long seasons, you’re sure to find some high-quality time to be by yourself chasing a Buckeye bruiser buck.
Yes, you read that right – Michigan hasn’t been on the trophy buck radar in a while, but that’s about to change. Antler point restrictions have been in effect for several years in the northern counties of the Lower Peninsula, and the southern counties have always produced some true wall-hangers. Expect to see more big bucks coming from the Great Lakes State.
The Upper Peninsula is a different story. A few harsh winters have taken a toll on the whitetails in the U.P., but they are on the rebound. And let’s face it, there are few places drenched in whitetail lore more so than the U.P. The bucks you’ll find, if you do find them, tend to be big-bodied brutes, and hunting there is an education every hunter needs to experience. Some places you can shoot a big deer, but in the U.P., you’ll have to hunt for them.
One thing you’ll find in Michigan is plentiful public land. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has some very nice maps of all the public and private-but-accessible land in the state. Nonresidents can get a base hunting license for $151 over the counter, and a deer tag for $20. The base license also serves as a small game license. If you’re going to do a lot of hunting and some fishing here, opt for the Hunt/Fish Combo license that gives you a hunting and all-species fishing license, as well as a combo deer license good for both archery and firearm hunting and two deer.
We would be remiss without mentioning Illinois as a true trophy whitetail destination. The only problem with Illinois is land access. There is a draw system, but for folks willing to pay a little extra to hunt at some terrific lodges, or can gain access to private property, there are still over-the-counter tags available. The best resource for those considering Illinois is to go to Access Illinois. They can help put you in contact with places you can pursue your dream Illinois buck.
Oooooo-klahoma where the deer come sweeping down the Plains. The Sooner State gets a mention because they have over 1.7 million acres of public land, relatively cheap over-the-counter tags at $280 for nonresidents, and lots of deer. Don’t expect big-bodied deer, but the rack size has been going up recently.
Now that you have one or more destinations in mind, take a moment and check out Cabela’s Deer Nation. Here, you’ll find info from actual hunters in the field, scouting reports, video tips, reviews, and the latest gear to make your next whitetail hunt successful.
Good luck this deer season!