1 | Whitetails
With a range that covers the majority of the U.S., there’s a good chance you live in whitetail country or are at least within a few hours from it. Many hunters cut their teeth on whitetails, myself included. Given their popularity and ease of access for bowhunting, you might be wondering why whitetails made this list. In fact, it’s for those exact reasons that America’s most-sought-after big-game animal kicks things off here.
If you’re new to DIY bowhunting away from home, it’s best to start small and stick to what you know. Even if you live and hunt in a premiere whitetail state like Iowa or Kentucky, there’s plenty of adventure and new experiences to be had by traveling to deer hunt another region of the country. Not to mention all that you’ll learn about deer and yourself as a deer hunter from spending time in new environments and terrain types.
Chances are you can find a good whitetail hunting location that’s within road-trip distance of your home. Driving keeps cost down when compared to flying because of the amount of bulky gear you’ll have to bring along (like your bow, treestands, and ground blinds). Tags and licenses can restrict where and when you’ll be able to hunt. However, only a few select areas in the country require non-residents to accumulate preference points before drawing a whitetail tag. There are plenty of over-the-counter options when compared to other big-game species.
Once you have your destination selected, you’ll need to decide where you’ll stay during your hunt. Hotels can usually be found within reasonable driving distance of a hunting area; but staying in a hotel can quickly increase the total cost of a hunt. Traveling with a friend or small group is a great way to reduce the cost of a hunt by splitting fuel and lodging, no matter where you’re headed or what species you’re after. An alternative to staying in a hotel is renting a house in the area you’ll be hunting for the duration of the trip. This is the option I’ve used for the past several years when hunting whitetails away from home. I’ve found nightly rates for house rentals to be cheaper than hotel rooms and generally they offer more space and amenities like a kitchen — which helps further reduce cost by cooking opposed to eating. If you’re looking for the most budget-friendly lodging available, camping is hard to beat. The only other cost you may have during a whitetail hunt would be processing if the weather is warm or you simply don’t have anywhere to hang a deer when you punch your tag.
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2 | Antelope
Antelope are plentiful across the western plains states and they’re a ton of fun to hunt with a bow. Generally, archery antelope seasons take place early in the fall, making them a great alternative to early season whitetails. Their keen eyesight will test your stealth skills if you choose to spot-and-stalk hunt, while water-hole hunting will test your resolve through long, often warm hours spent in a blind. Antelope can be found from the midline of the nation west, spanning from the southern boarder all the way to northern Montana, making them relatively accessible no matter where you call home. There are a fair number of trophy antelope units across the west but plenty of over-the-counter options and lots of public land to explore. Given the early timing of most antelope seasons, you’ll need to head to a meat locker as soon as you get an animal down.
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3 | Mule Deer
The western half of the nation is where mule deer call home. Their range encompasses the wide-open spaces of the plains, the arid deserts of the south west and the high peaks of the Rockies. The diversity of terrain found in mule deer country makes it possible to bowhunt muleys in a variety of ways and for several months from late summer through early winter. Large expanses of public land in the west also make it easy to find a place to hunt. Mule deer are most commonly bowhunted using spot-and-stalk style hunting, but hunting travel routes from a treestand is common. No matter the region or type of hunting you choose to do, mule deer are sure to become a species you’ll want to chase again and again.
There are some outstanding over-the-counter areas for mule deer hunting, but there are also a fair number of highly sought-after units that will require several years of applying before a tag is awarded. For more information on this, contact the state game agency of the state you’re thinking about hunting.
Getting to mule deer country from the eastern U.S. is very similar to traveling to hunt antelope except that mule deer habitat extends even further west. For bowhunters from midwestern or southern states, the trip is very manageable especially when driving duties and fuel cost are split between a few hunters. If you live on the east coast and plan to drive, you can expect at least 24 hours behind the wheel before reaching a place where mule deer live. Spot-and-stalk hunts generally don’t require as much bulky gear as blind or treestand hunting, so flying may be worth considering. That said, if you fly, you’ll need to rent a vehicle for the duration of your hunt so cost and convenience will both need to be considered when making travel plans.
The type of hunt and area where you decide to target will ultimately determine lodging options when mule deer hunting. If you choose to hunt in close proximity to a town, you should be able to find a hotel or house rental if you prefer a bit more comfort while away from home. A campground will likely provide a few amenities like running water and possibly electric at a lower cost while backcountry camping is typically free but will required a bit more specialized gear.
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4 | Elk
Archery hunting elk sits atop many bowhunters bucket list. It’s something that a lot of bowhunters think is out of reach, a hunt they hope to be able to do just once in their lifetime. That said, spending thousands on a guided hunt isn’t the only option, even if you’ve never stepped foot in elk country before. Putting together a DIY elk trip is no small task; but it’s absolutely doable and likely for a whole lot less than you’d imagine an elk hunt would cost. With a group of hunting buddies to share travel and other costs, it’s possible to plan a DIY trip that will cost each hunter less than a $1,000.
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