Why You Should Deer Hunt Close to Home

Why You Should Deer Hunt Close to Home

In high school, I had hunting access to a decent-sized (80-acre) family property. I can count on both hands how many sits didn’t involve deer. My dad, grandfather, and I all killed multiple good bucks out there. Deer did deer things, and we knew that if we put time in during the rut, we’d probably get a crack at a decent buck.

But what made it so great were the adjoining properties, which had zero hunting pressure. In fact, one of the adjoining landowners was an avid hunter who paid who-knows-what for a deer lease in a county known for big bucks. While I’m sure he had plenty of good encounters, he either didn’t care or didn’t know about the great hunting in his own literal backyard. But that’s probably a lesson we can all benefit from.

Travel hunting provides some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences you can have as a hunter. Discovering new ground, punching a tag on limited time, and creating new memories with friends (or on your own) are all great reasons to hunt across state lines. With the endless amount of hunting content on YouTube and social media, it can be tempting to think you’re missing out if you don’t hit the road. But, this type of thinking can cause us to neglect the opportunities in our own backyard.

Proximity is Your Friend

Aside from non-resident tags, gas and lodging (if you don’t tent camp) can quickly burn through most of your travel hunting budget. Hunt near home, and you’ll have free(ish) lodging and will likely spend less on gas. Even if you lease land or pay dues at a nearby hunting club, the costs might look similar to what you’d spend on a seven-day travel hunt.

I have a hunting buddy who prefers hotels to tent camping, and I’m not talking about a sketchy Motel 6. Before he bought a new vehicle, he insisted on renting a truck anytime he went out of state to hunt. Even on the generous side, he would spend nearly two grand just on travel and lodging for a weeklong hunt, which is probably the minimum number of days you need to maximize your time.

I realize most people don’t rent a truck to hunt out of state, but even the lodging, gas, and food could cost you a solid one-year hunting camp membership, which you can utilize for 52 weeks. Obviously, there are ways to save money on hunting trips, but you’ll have to be honest about what types of comfort you’re willing to sacrifice to do so.

As cliché as it sounds, some travel-hunting experiences are hard to put a price on. But, if you’re trying to maximize your time and budget, consider these costs before hitting the road.

Learn Familiar Ground

Developing hunting and general outdoors skills takes time. The more purposeful time you spend in the woods or on stand, the better. This doesn’t mean you volume hunt the same few stands in hopes that a mature buck walks by. Instead, try learning an entire property or area to the best of your abilities.

This is one major advantage of staying local. If you have access to properties near your home, you can easily pop over for quick scouting trips before or after work, check cameras, or conduct observation sits (if possible). You can also afford to be a bit more surgical about how and when you decide to hunt certain spots. With travel hunting, you cannot. Come rain, shine, or competition, you need to be in the woods if you want to make the most of your trip and not waste your money.

It’s also important to understand that even if you think you’ve pinned down a property one year, the next year might throw you a curveball. Habitat conditions change constantly, and deer will notice this way before you do. It takes years to learn a property, and even then, it’s never a done deal.

We tend to think about deer season as a single event. In reality, there are multiple seasons within a season. Food sources, bedding, and travel routes (typically) change during a single season. Figuring out those changing patterns requires years’ worth of hunting and scouting, even on small properties. But those skills don’t just apply to a single property. They won’t be an exact blueprint for everywhere and every situation, but they will translate to other encounters when you do decide to hit the road.

The Reality of Travel Hunting

Hunting media and shows give you the condensed highlights of a hunt. Mainly because shows need to keep viewers’ attention. What you don’t see on those shows are the empty sits, long drives, and the even longer list of things that go wrong when you’re on the road. Also, there’s a lot of solitude on solo travel hunts. If you’re not used to this or you prefer the company of others, then you probably shouldn’t travel hunt alone.

At this point, mentioning the public land craze is sort of a given for travel hunting. Still, it’s always a bit jarring, albeit unsurprising, to see pickups crowding the parking lots or lining the boundaries of public lands. And if you think you’re the only hunter willing to walk a mile or show up to the trailhead two hours early, you’re in for a wake-up call. This is the reality of travel hunting, especially public land whitetail hunting. While competition shouldn’t dissuade you from hunting out of state, you should be prepared for it.

Conquer Your Home Turf

Richard Hugo, a poet and writer who wrote extensively on Montana and rural life, has a poem that argues you can never fully appreciate or experience a new place or stage of life “until the town you came from dies.” Essentially, the inability to move beyond the past will tarnish even your best accomplishments. Hunting is no different. Even if you find success in another state, your failure in your own state will haunt you—until you finally get it done.

I’m not saying you should never travel hunt. I think everyone should at least once. But there’s a case to be made about sharpening your skills at home. If you can appreciate the opportunities and successes at home, they’ll be that much sweeter when you can put them in the rearview.

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