by Greg Godfrey
Let me guess – you live in a state where the bucks aren’t that big and the pressure is through the roof? You spend your Fall dreaming about the fabled big-buck-mecca of the Midwest, where giant bucks throw caution to wind, frolicking around the woods with wild abandon, and Booner-quality animals are behind every tree?
Newsflash: those places don’t exist for normal guys like us. But let’s be honest: you’re not going to take my word for it. You’re going to pack up your truck, buy your Illinois tag. Take a week of vacation in November, and search for Mr. Booner dancing a jig in a wide open field at 10 o’clock in the morning. I don’t blame you one bit. Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt.
I’ve been fortunate to do a LOT of these trips. My truck and mobile hunting setup have traveled to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, and a bunch of other states.
How to pick a location:
This is probably the easiest question to answer even though to some it might seem like the hardest. You can find EXCELLENT deer hunting all across the midwest. All the states I listed above can produce mega-giants, or good solid 2 year-old 8 point bucks if that’s more your style. A couple tools I use to help me narrow down the areas are as follows: Boone & Crockett entries by county, Pope & Young entries by county, state specific harvest results (depth of info varies per state), online forums, friends & family, and OnX maps.
Some of these tools are pretty obvious. If you are truly after a big giant buck, it’s important to hunt in places frequented by big giant bucks. The P&Y and B&C record books are a great place to start. OnX maps even has a layer built in that shows you entries per state. That’s a fantastic tool to help you narrow down your options.
You can also find a lot of data by looking through each state’s wildlife management agency website. Oftentimes they post harvest records. Some even post harvest records by region or property so you can determine which parts of the state, and even specific wildlife management areas, tend to produce quality whitetails.
Online forums can also be a gold mine. But be careful here. Misinformation and misdirection are common tactics used by hunters looking to protect their locations. I’ve started many conversations with people in other states and gained valuable insight. I’ve even made a few long-term friends this way. Think of the forums as a tool in your tool kit, but it’s not the whole enchilada.
Don’t overlook friends and family. Your long lost Uncle Bartholomew has 150 acres in central Kentucky that hasn’t been hunted since the Civil War? I think your decision was just made.
If you’re suffering from analysis paralysis – do this. Print off a big map of the US. Draw a circle around the really good midwest states. Throw a dart at the map. Wherever it lands, that’s your state. I promise you…there’s quality deer hunting there. You just have to put in the work to find it.
Things to think about:
When should you go? What happens after you kill a deer? Where will you sleep? Are you prepared for the weather? Do you have the right gear? These are all things to think about well in advance.
According to my good buddy, John Eberhart, out of state hunts should always be centered around the rut. According to his data research, John says more deer are killed during the late October and November Rut phases than any other time of the year. My personal experience has confirmed this. If you’re planning your first out of state hunt, plan your trip from Halloween through November 25. Talk to friends & family in the area, the local game wardens, or wildlife management office, and try to pin down the peak breeding phase of the rut. Typically you can get that to a 3-7 day window. I like to plan my hunts for just prior, or just after, the peak breeding phase. After that…pray you get a cold front and the weather cooperates. This is not an exact science though. In my experience, weather is the most important factor. If you get a good strong cold front where temperatures drop significantly from halloween through late november, that’s your best bet. If your job is flexible, watch the weather and adjust your plans accordingly.
Think through your process for what happens after you notch your tag. Do you have the knowledge concerning how to skin, quarter, and process your deer away from home? Do you have appropriate coolers and storage for the meat, hide, and antlers? Are you able to legally transport the skull, brain, or spine across state lines? Do you know how to cape out an animal for a shoulder mount? These are all important questions you need to address ahead of time.
My brother and I were hunting in Illinois in 2016. He killed a great buck, but we were ill-prepared to handle the processing because we didn’t think through this ahead of time. Surprisingly the Motel 6 we were staying in didn’t want us to hang the buck from the red oak in the parking lot…go figure. Luckily we met some great guys who allowed us to use their property for skinning, cleaning, and storing (in their freezer) the meat until it was time to go home. Lesson learned. Be prepared. We got lucky this time.
Another major factor is where you will sleep. It’s always easiest and cheapest to stay with a friend or family. If that’s not an option, I prefer a cheap cabin or AirBnB. If you don’t want to spend the money, campgrounds or boondocking it in your truck are viable solutions. I’ve done all the above. In Indiana, I stayed with a good friend in a guest bedroom and shot a 160” 12 point. In North Dakota I slept in the back of my pickup truck for 10 days until I tagged out on a public land bruiser. In Missouri I split an AirBnB with a bunch of friends and tagged a beautiful 10 point on a state wildlife area. In Kansas I rented a 2 bedroom cabin at a campground and shot a really cool buck at 10 yards on the ground (The Kansas, Missouri, and North Dakota hunts are all on film if you care to watch). There’s many ways to skin the cat. Just plan ahead.
How to plan for gear:
Planning for gear can be quite overwhelming when it’s your first time. There are so many considerations that can change based on weather, where you’re sleeping, local laws and regulations, how much time you have, etc.
The thing that helps me the most is getting super detailed about my gear plan. Rather than regurgitate it here, I made a video showing my spreadsheet that I’ve used for years. In this video I go in detail about how I plan and manage my gear on a per-trip basis. I think it will help you immensely if you’re considering your first out of state hunt.
Watch it here: https://youtu.be/XTOLklXwZbw
This is by no means an exhaustive list. What I tried to do in this article is get you pointed in the right direction. There are TONS of articles, videos, and guides out there about this very topic. Start doing your research and you’ll be ready to go. The most important thing is PULLING THE TRIGGER! Decide you’re going and don’t let anything get in your way. Just do it! You’ll have a blast.
Finally, don’t forget to send me some good OnX pins to good spots you find. I really appreciate it.