It’s not hard to find plenty of people willing to recount tales of their amazing deer hunting trips to Iowa, Kansas, or wherever. And if there ever was a way to catch a serious case of whitetail FOMO, it would be listening to hunters talk about their deer travels. While hearing about someone else’s trip can prove to be a powerful motivator to plan one of your own, be advised—you’re likely hearing a polished, best-version-ever retelling of their hunt.
This version will leave out most of the boring stuff. It’ll omit most of the mistakes, and most definitely won’t include the level of detail needed to make a hunt happen without a hitch. This is the real danger here, and if you’ve never traveled somewhere to hunt, it’s a big concern. There are mistakes to be made, some of which could ruin an entire week of rut-cation, or tank the whole hunt before it even has a chance to happen. The biggest offender here is the availability of licenses and exactly what they allow you to hunt, and when.
Whitetail licenses are generally easier to come by than western big game licenses, but the gap between the two is closing. In many states, you won’t be able to just go online and buy a whitetail tag two weeks before you plan to hunt. Some states require you to enter a lottery, with spring or early-summer application deadlines. Most of those states also operate on a point system, which means you might not know if you’ll get drawn in any given year. It all hinges on tag allocations (supply) and how many hunters apply (demand).
Whether you have your heart set on a once-in-a-lifetime Iowa hunt, or maybe you want to head to Kentucky in September to try for a velvet trophy, you need to take a deep dive into the state’s regulations around licensing. Then, you need to understand that the process will be different from your home state. This goes for simply buying a license, of course, but also how you tag your deer, and what your license is actually good for deer-wise. No two states are alike in this capacity, so don’t assume anything will be like what you’re used to at home because it won’t be.
In some states, you might be able to hunt all season, right along with the residents. In others, you might not get to start when they do, or you might not be able to hunt public land for the entire season. You might be able to hunt private land just fine, but not state land during certain parts of the season. It’s a mistake to purchase a nonresident tag and just assume that you’re good to go for the first week of November. You need to know that long before you load up the truck.
Don’t just focus on the deer season that you fit into, because there is often overlap with other seasons. Some will just make your hunt miserable by putting extra people in the woods, but others are set up to cater to residents first, meaning you might not even be able to hunt legally. Again, due diligence on this front is your friend. Pay attention to youth seasons, small game or upland openers, early antlerless seasons, and anything that might interfere with your hunt.
Most people don’t travel to shoot spikes, but they also don’t understand how hard it is to kill a mature buck on the road. Plenty of good hunters eat tags in dreamy states like Iowa or Illinois. Despite the publicity and the reputation of so many different states, the reality of killing mature bucks is that it’s often orders of magnitude more difficult than we envision.
It’s almost a rite of passage to head out on your first over-the-road trip with unrealistic expectations. Think of it this way—you might be heading to one of the best whitetail states in the country. But you might also be hunting public land during the rut, when there are more people out hunting than at any other time of the season.
You might also plan your trip around what you think is perfect timing, only to have to hunt through a week of rain or 75-degree days. You might just pick a spot or a region that just doesn’t offer up the quality you think should be there, or doesn’t really jive with your personal hunting style.
Wherever you choose to go, plan for achievable goals, and keep an open mind. If the hunting is far more difficult than you imagined, adjust accordingly. Keep your focus, at least partially, on the experience of hunting a new place. This is the best part of traveling to get a whitetail fix, and if you pair that with realistic standards, you’re likely to have a hell of a lot of fun no matter how full your cooler is at the end of the week.
_If you want to read more about traveling to hunt whitetails, check out these articles: How K.C. Smith Kills Whitetails In New States, Ask Wired To Hunt: Are The Premier Whitetail States Overrated?, and Pulling Off An Out-Of-State Whitetail Trip For Less Than $1000. _