By Jeff Warren, Huntin’ Fool
About 25 years ago, I was introduced to a brand new thrill – whitetails. One of my clients whom I have guided for mule deer and elk and have shared many camps with, Donny Sims from Alabama, invited me to his place to hunt rutting whitetails. I have been hopelessly hooked on these cagey deer since that trip back in the ’90s, and I have hunted them in many places in the years since. Growing up and hunting in Utah, there were never any thoughts wasted on whitetails as we had no options to hunt them and big mule deer bucks consumed my every thought. I will be forever grateful to Donny for introducing me to the joys of hunting whitetails.
There are so many opportunities for whitetails and places where they can be pursued that it can be hard to know where to start. I have hunted them in Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Most of my hunts have been self-guided, but I have had permission to hunt private land in all of these states, with the exception of Idaho where I hunt public land. If I had my choice, I would hunt whitetails anywhere they exist, but that is impossible for me as there are so many places to explore and resources become a big issue. I have never pursued whitetails north of the border, but at some point I plan on ending that situation!
There are many states that can be hunted every year as tags are over-the-counter or can be drawn with few points. Some of the best western states that make this list are: Colorado (0-2 points), Idaho (OTC), Montana (0-2 points), Washington (OTC), and Wyoming (0-2 points). If you want to look at states in the Midwest, I would focus on: Missouri (OTC), Kansas (0-1 point), Nebraska (OTC), Minnesota (OTC), Indiana (OTC), Michigan (OTC), Ohio (OTC), or Texas (OTC). There are many more states further east that offer great opportunity, but the size of deer and quality of hunt aren’t as good as what the West has to offer. Virtually all of the aforementioned states have good quality outfitters that can help you in your pursuit of a whitetail buck. Remember, it is a good idea to do your research and have an outfitter or private land lined up because a lot of the public ground that has general season hunts can get crowded. However, if you are savvy with Google Earth or maps, you can find some good public land areas that produce big deer that aren’t pressured.
A few of the states that require a drawing for securing a whitetail tag are North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa. It usually takes a few years’ worth of points to draw a whitetail tag in these areas. There are quality outfitters in the Dakotas and Iowa that we can put you in touch with once you have secured a tag. If a self-guided hunt is your only option, these states have some public areas, but they are generally pressured pretty hard, so keep that in mind.
North of the border, non-residents can hunt British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. Using the resources of a reputable outfitter is recommended and required in most of these areas. In British Columbia, a non-resident must be accompanied by a BC licensed guide or a resident who holds a permit to accompany. In Alberta, a non-resident must be accompanied by a Hunter Host (usually a friend or relative of the non-resident hunter) or a licensed guide. Non-residents in Saskatchewan are required to use a licensed guide/outfitter to pursue whitetails. As a side note, I feel like I should mention that mule deer, elk, and antelope are off limits to non-resident hunters in Saskatchewan. In Manitoba, non-resident hunters must hunt through a licensed lodge or outfitter. Ontario requires non-residents to hunt with a licensed guide. Be sure to check out each state’s big game regulations so that no mistakes are made that could land you in hot water. Also, you can find the cost of non-resident licensing in each state or province’s regulations.
As far as cost related to outfitters is concerned, prices for semi-guided to fully-guided hunts generally run from $2,500 to $6,000+. I get asked on a regular basis which units in which states are best for quality bucks, and the answer is not simple. For the most part, quality bucks are found on private land that is being managed for older age class bucks by the landowner or the outfitter leasing the land. In my opinion, you must get bucks to at least the age of four and a half years old before they reach their potential. Keep in mind that you need a good age class of bucks across the board in the area that you hunt in order for a few of them to grow into giants.
Some bucks will never be desirable to hunters wanting big bucks as far as score is concerned because they just don’t have the genetics to grow a lot of inches of antler, regardless of how old they are. Any buck that has managed to get to an older age is a trophy in my book, no matter how many inches of antler he has or doesn’t have. With the popularity and availability of high tech trail cameras, firearms, bows, and clothing and with hunters who are dedicated to scouting year-round, it is a wonder any of these bucks live long enough to reach their true potential. One of the other great things about hunting whitetails is the fact that they can be pursued for many months each year. Most hunters love hunting the rut because old bucks let their guard down during this time, but whitetails can be pursued from September to as late as December and January. Hunting bucks in September is fun because bucks in a summer pattern are very predictable.
With that being said, September buck hunting amounts to approximately two hours of hunting each day, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, generally speaking. Long, hot September afternoons can be very boring as deer movement will be almost non-existent. Hunting during December and beyond can be similar as you will be back to hunting food sources, not unlike September hunting; it’s just a lot more uncomfortable because you will be dealing with cold weather. I have hunted during all of the abovementioned time frames because it gives me ample opportunity to hunt whitetails no matter what my schedule looks like.
At the stage in life that I am in right now, I am especially grateful that the good Lord created whitetail deer. Hunting the high country in North America is getting tougher and tougher for me with each passing season. Lugging a 50-60 pound backpack up a steep mountain and sleeping in a deer bed because it is the only spot that is level enough to accommodate a sleeping bag is just not as fun as it used to be. That is a hard thing for me to admit, but it is what it is. In the back of my mind, I know I can hunt whitetails somewhere every fall as long as I can get into a tree stand or stoop over far enough to get through the door of a ground blind.
My passion for hunting whitetail deer grows every single season. If you haven’t had the chance to see a big, mature whitetail buck with a tag in your pocket and a weapon in your hand, you are missing out on one of hunting’s greatest thrills. The opportunities to experience this thrill are many. Go find one; you won’t be sorry.