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Road Trips

Experience the top bowhunting destinations on a modest budget

April 1, 2013
By Brian Miller - OV Times Field Editor , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Dreams of cool November days and monster bucks keep me awake at night. It is no doubt that many hunters have similar dreams as the season grows closer. Turning those dreams, of faraway hunting trips and big bucks into a reality can really happen. Those used to be my dreams, but instead I started making annual road trips. Traveling across the country for a whitetail hunt is far easier and less expensive than you might think.

This past season I had the opportunity to hunt whitetails in one of the best whitetail states, Iowa. There is no secret that Iowa is known for holding some giant whitetails. The lottery system for tags is restrictive, allowing only a few non-residents to hunt each season.

Traveling from the heavily hunted state of Ohio, heading to another part of the country sounded amazing. The experience to bowhunt a western state was a dream come true for me. Not only did I see mature bucks every day but the area was purely wild! No place else that I have hunted in the past 10 years could I see bobcats, countless coyotes, badgers, and whitetails on each hunt. It is so wide open a hunter's dream.

Article Photos

The author waited five years before he received a tag to hunt Iowa. “It was well worth wait.” He took this nice buck last season, the first day of a five-day hunt.

It was no accident that I ended up in Iowa this past season. It was five years of careful planning to turn this trip into a reality. Every year several hunting buddies and I sit down to carefully consider which destination we are going to hunt. With a very limited budget but the drive to capitalize, there are many hunting opportunities around. Some of the best locations take time to save preference points while others offer over the counter tags. All of this is done on a shoestring budget, no guides, nothing high dollar. The most expensive part of the trip is the gas to lug a truck full of gear.

With only a week of vacation everything must go right for a road trip to end successfully. Here are the top six destination points that have proven to be big buck states.


Fact Box

With only a week of vacation everything must go right for a road trip to end successfully.

Destination Iowa! If you are a hardcore bowhunter you already know that Iowa is a top destination location for deer hunters. When I first dreamed about hunting out-of-state, Iowa was on my bucket list. Now that I have experienced it I would do it again next year, if I could. Iowa is a state with rolling hills and wide open country. What makes this so amazing is the wide open ground holds limited whitetails. As the open country connects with tree lines, ravines, waterways, and other cover whitetails start appearing in abundance. This really helps to funnel down the whitetail movement into specific cover. Hunting deer in Iowa you truly get the opportunity to hunt unpressured deer.

To hunt Iowa you have to earn preference points over the course of a few years before drawing a tag. Southern Iowa is known to hold monster bucks and is also highly outfitted. Finding private ground to hunt can be difficult but there is also great public land. I found that central Iowa was just as good for big buck potential. The ground was very nice with wide expanses of farmland and great people. Northern Iowa has a lower deer density but any county in Iowa has big buck potential. It took me five years to get there and it was so worth the wait. For a trip that takes this much planning the $544 license fee is hard to swallow, but you get what you pay for. This is my number one destination for bowhunting.


Illinois is another state that has been producing bucks for years. Long before I began hunting out of state, Illinois was on my bucket list. I remember watching some of the biggest names in the hunting world head to Illinois to kill monster bucks. The ground is similar to Michigan with broken farmland and rolling hills. This state produces 18% of the corn in the United States, second only to Iowa. The fertile soil produces amazing crops which helps whitetails get all the nutrients they need to produce bragging-size racks.

The top archery counties in 2012 are Pike county with 2,570; Fulton with 1,838; Jefferson with 1,272; and Adams with 1,246 whitetails taken with archery equipment. The entire southern part of the state is a great destination for hunters. Illinois is a one buck per season and shotgun only state, therefore there is a limited amount of bucks taken. Tags cost $411 dollars each year for a non-resident hunter. This year many parts of the state were hit with EHD, making hunting tougher than normal. Many hunters saw far less deer. The big buck potential is still there in numbers and a destination for DYI hunters.


The Show Me state is another great destination for bowhunters. What makes this an awesome location is the abundance of public hunting land, a September 15 bow opener, and over the counter tags. You cannot go wrong when the entire northern portion of the state borders the world-known southern Iowa.

Non-resident deer hunting licenses are $225 for adults and only $9.50 for youth hunters. What a great way to allow a young hunter to join you for a hunt of a lifetime. The top producing counties in the 2011-12 season were Jackson with 1,026; Jefferson with 1,016; and Saint Louis with 985 deer harvested. One of many public lands runs along the Missouri River, known as the Lower Hamburg Bend Conservation Area with over 2,265 acres. Along with a vast amount of public ground there are great amounts of private land that is relatively easy to gain hunting permission.


Many hunters will be surprised to see Kentucky on the list as a whitetail hunting destination. This has been a state that has been getting better in the past 10 years. Every year there are some amazing whitetails taken here. Pair this with moderate hunting pressure and a September 1 opening day and you have a winning combination. During the 2011 season alone three whitetails were taken that scored over 200 inches!

Northern Kentucky borders some of the other top destination states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Kentucky has great expanses of public land, totaling 1,545,476 acres. There are some tough country, big hills, and thick timber. You begin to transition into some tough hill country with steep bluffs and rocky terrain. This terrain helps bucks grow old. The September start of bow season allows a hunter to get a crack at an early season buck before many surrounding states open. In an unpressured state like KY bucks follow consistent early season patterns. The northwestern counties are known to be some of the top producing areas. Tags in Kentucky are over the counter, $130, so you can count on getting a tag every year if you want to return.


Indiana seems so close that it couldn't hold big bucks. That is what I thought until I heard some secrets being passed among a few hard-core hunters. It was enough to peak my interest and plan a trip. It's true, the Hoosier state has some big boys hiding in the woodlots. This little secret holds some great whitetails in the small woodlots. The terrain and country hunts just like Michigan. There are lots of broken timber, little woodlots and rolling hills. I hunted Northern Indiana, not known to hold big bucks. I was impressed to see some mature bucks during the dreaded lull.

Hunting licenses are over the counter and only $150, which is relatively inexpensive. Generally the southern portion on the state ends up producing the higher percentage of big bucks. The top four harvest counties for 2011 were: Steuben with 3,532; Switzerland with 3,309; Kosciusko with 3,123; and Noble with 3,025 whitetails harvested. For a close to home bowhunting destination, Indiana is a great place to begin your search.


Nebraska is in the corn belt of America. The third top corn producer in the nation, it is amazing to know that Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska, produce almost half of the nation's grain corn. With this much farm ground it is easy to see why Nebraska is a top producing whitetail state. Like Iowa it is wide open with big expanses of country. A friend of mine, Todd Baker, has been hunting Nebraska for over 10 years. He feels this is another state that keeps getting better.

This state has a mixture of terrain between an open prairie and river bottoms. The Eastern portions are concentrated with more whitetails with western Nebraska holding mule deer. Nebraska is a western state, which is a different world than what most Michigan hunters think about. The spaces are wide open, the farms are much bigger, and the country is wild. Hunting in a place like this there is no worry about other hunting pressure. At least nothing compared to what we deal with every day in Michigan. In the western states public land offers some amazing hunting opportunities. Non-resident tags are relatively expensive coming in at $521. Do not overlook the opportunity to take the long drive to this western state.



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