As a born-and-raised whitetail hunter, I couldn’t believe it when I first traveled west to hunt antelope. The Red Hills of Wyoming were like a moonscape compared to the deciduous forests my dad and I were used to back home. It was surreal to glass across that shimmering, mostly empty land.
It was even more surreal when we filled our rifle tags on decent bucks, on public land, the first full day we had to hunt. We thought it had to be a fluke. Bowhunts for antelope, mule deer, blacktails, and elk out West only confirmed my original experience—western hunting was easier than back-east whitetail hunting. Scratch that. It was far easier to find a quality animal out west than it was back home.
Even the worst-case scenario hunts, like OTC elk in Colorado, have always provided an opportunity to shoot a decent bull every time I’ve headed out there. I can’t say the same thing for public land whitetails in a pile of states.
Maybe my sample size is biased, and of course it’s anecdotal, but I have quite a few buddies who live in mountain states who consistently fill western tags. When they whitetail hunt, they usually don’t. I think this is because Western hunting, aside from the physical aspect, is easier in a couple of ways.
I’m not alone in that thinking.
Pennsylvania is synonymous with deer hunting pressure. There, the amount of deer tags sold annually is close to the entire population of a few destination-hunt, western states. Beau Martonik, host of the East Meets West Podcast, knows this all too well. He also has plenty of experience hunting out west.
“I’ve found it’s easier for me to find a good animal out west,” Martonik said. “With whitetails, you have thick woods and a lot of hunting pressure. Out west, in a lot of places, you can glass up tons of country until you locate the animal you’re looking for. This doesn’t make them easy to kill, but it’s a huge advantage.”
Martonik’s right, but it goes deeper than that. Having huge tracts of public land, to work with, is an enormous advantage. The small parcel world of the whitetail is a major limiting factor, but it’s largely a nonissue on western hunts. This big-country reality is great if you know how to use it, but it also tends to foster one default hunting strategy that is becoming less effective with time.
Where whitetail hunters have a real advantage over western hunters is patience. Now, there are plenty of impatient whitetail hunters, but they don’t kill very many deer. Western hunting is dominated by the attitude that if you cover enough ground, you’ll get into animals. This is one of the reasons the West feels more crowded than ever (aside from the obvious reality that it is more popular and information is more available than it ever has been). Everyone believes it’s only a matter of putting on the miles.
It can be, but when you bump into a location that is ripe with sign, patience is a virtue. In fact, patience is probably the skill that kills more animals across the board than anything else. Out west, patience is hard to come by but is absolutely necessary in so many different situations from glassing, to waiting out the right stalk opportunity, to sitting water holes for elk when they just aren’t talking.
Finding a balance between looking and waiting during western hunts (and a lot of whitetail hunts) is key. My Western buddies are good at looking, and absolutely terrible at waiting. A good whitetail hunter is going to be tuned into this reality out of sheer necessity and experience, but a western hunter might not be because things have changed in that world. This is another reason whitetail hunters have an advantage.
It’s common to hear a western hunter complain that his favorite basin or drainage is now overrun with nonresidents. The consistency we crave for easier, familiar hunts, isn’t reliable anymore. If you hunt whitetails on public land in just about any state with decent pressure, this becomes abundantly clear after a couple of seasons.
Martonik understands this well, and admits that he’s used to it. “For the most part, the days of honey holes that you can hunt year after year on public land in the whitetail woods are gone,” he said. “Western states are seeing more pressure every year from locals and nonresidents alike, and the same thing is happening out there.”
Change is inevitable, but the more comfortable you are with it as a hunter, the more successful you’ll be. If you lament the loss of your favorite spot but aren’t constantly looking for new ones, you’re in trouble.
In reality, most hunters are not willing to put in a whole lot of work. This is true in the West, and it’s certainly true in the Midwest and East. Good hunters on either side of the country understand the skills that it takes to be successful on whatever critter they choose to pursue, and that’s a small minority of the overall population.
Even though I think western hunters have a thing or two to learn from us deer guys, I know the reverse is true, too. Western hunters have a huge advantage when it’s time to be proactive and make something happen. They are also, generally, in better shape, are better shots, and are more informed about gear, and how to use it.
That’s my mea culpa to my Western brothers and sisters because I know that all of this is individualistic, and most of it isn’t easy. Most of what we do, from trying to spot and stalk a big mule deer to trying to arrow a cruising public land whitetail, is really difficult. So difficult, in fact, that we should consider learning from the best of the best, no matter where they live or what they hunt.
For more information on how to be a better hunter, check out these articles: 5 Best Cartridges For Western Whitetails, A Whitetail Terrain Feature That Works From Montana To Maine, and How To Care For Venison In Hot Weather.
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