The traveling, do-it-yourself whitetail hunter has several great options this year
No one wants to wait two, three or four years to draw a deer tag. That’s for the birds. And applying for preference points is a hassle. You want to be able to pack the gear, crank the truck, hit the road, buy your license, and start hunting when you get there. If that’s in your future, these are five of the best states to do just that.
No. 1: NE
Nebraska is likely the best DIY deer state in the central U.S. There's great habitat with big bucks, a solid age structure and healthy populations. There’s not much to dislike about this destination.
“I like Nebraska for over-the-counter bow tags,” said Realtree pro staffer Tim Andrus. “They have great deer populations, along with the chance of taking a mule deer as well. Nebraska's gun tag is almost like OTC, but you have to apply online. They’re basically first come, first served until they're all gone.”
Season Dates: Bow season runs from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31. Gun season is Nov. 16-24. Muzzleloader season spans Dec. 1-31.
Resident License Cost: $150 (Statewide whitetail buck tag is $88. A gun, archery or muzzleloader tag is $37. Habitat stamp is $25.)
Non-Resident License Cost: $867 (Statewide whitetail buck tag is $600. A gun, archery or muzzleloader tag is $242. Habitat stamp is $25.)
No. 2: OH
Ohio is one of the best states in the country for whitetails. Period. It offers a long season, (relatively) cheap tags, and a great buck age structure. It has the habitat and other factors necessary to push bucks into those older age classes.
“The odds you have of encountering top-end bucks in Ohio are tremendous,” said big buck killer and Realtree pro staff member Anthony Virga. “Residing on the East Coast, it’s just a 7-hour ride to some of the best whitetail ground in the country. From archery in late September to late-season muzzleloader in January, you have a wide window to fill your tag on a mature buck.”
Season Dates: Bow season runs Sept. 28 to Feb. 2. Youth gun season is Nov. 23-24. Regular gun season is Dec. 2-8 and Dec. 21-22. Muzzleloader season opens Jan. 4-7.
Resident License Cost: $43 (Hunting license is $19. A deer permit is $24.)
Non-Resident License Cost: $257.92 (Hunting license is $180.96. A deer permit is $76.96.)
No. 3: MO
Missouri has some hunting pressure, but it’s still really good. You can find big bucks anywhere in the Show-Me State, but the northernmost counties are best.
“Missouri offers a great opportunity for midwestern bucks,” said Realtree pro staffer Matt Bullins. “It’s great for people on the East Coast. Plus, tags are offered OTC at an affordable price point.”
Season Dates: Archery season is Sept. 15 to Nov. 15 and Nov. 27 to Jan. 15. The main firearms season is Nov. 16-26. Firearms alternate methods season is Dec. 28 to Jan. 7, and firearms antlerless-only season is Dec. 6-8.
Resident License Cost: $17 and up (Deer permit is $17-19.)
Non-Resident License Cost: $225 (Deer permit is $225.)
No. 4: IN
If you plan a trip to Indiana, focus on the southern third of the state. The counties bordering the Ohio River are especially good. The terrain can be challenging, but the opportunities are there. They've experienced a bit of EHD this year, but there are still plenty of deer.
“As a DIY hunter, Indiana is a great option,” said bowhunter and Realtree.com contributor Tyler Ridenour. “Non-resident tags are reasonably priced, and there are several large tracts of public land where mature bucks can be found. The habitat work the state does on their public properties is among the best I've seen in the country.”
Season Dates: Archery season runs Oct. 1 to Jan. 5. Firearms season runs Nov. 16 to Dec. 1. Muzzleloader is set for Dec. 7-22. The reduction zone season will be Sept. 15 to Jan. 31. The special antlerless firearm season will last from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Resident License Cost: $41
Non-Resident License Cost: $181-295
No. 5: KY
Kentucky has about 1.5 million acres of public ground, but it gets pressured. That said, the Bluegrass State has the genetics, offers a lengthy season and is sure to be a good time if you can find an overlooked spot to hunt.
“When it comes to over-the-counter tags, one of my favorite states is Kentucky,” said Realtree pro staffer Carl Drake. “Tags are reasonably priced. Plus, if you buy a hunting license and a turkey tag in the spring, all you have to do is buy your deer permits in the fall. The bulk of the cost is the hunting license itself. So, once that's purchased in the spring, the permits for whitetails are a fraction of the cost. Finally, Kentucky offers plenty of public ground to those who don't have the means or opportunity to purchase [or lease] their own land.”
Season Dates: Archery season runs Sept. 7 to Jan. 20. Crossbow is Sept. 21 to Jan. 20. Early Muzzleloader runs Oct. 19-20. Modern firearm spans Nov. 9-24. And the late muzzleloader season is Dec. 14-22.
Resident License Cost: $62 (Annual resident hunting license is $27. Deer permit is $35.)
Non-Resident License Cost: $335 (Annual non-resident hunting license is $150. Deer permit is $185).
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.