August 12, 2021
By Jace Bauserman
The white-tailed deer is the most pursed big-game species in the country, and for good reason. A freezer full of venison is tough to beat, and the headgear of each buck is unique. Plus, whitetails are huntable in almost every state, and seasons — especially for the stick-and-string crowd — are long.
Each year, whitetail fanatics around the country pinch pennies and plan for months to extend their adventures into other states. I get it and do the same. Few things are more enjoyable than a new adventure in a new land. Here are five overlooked destinations to put on your radar this fall.
The Sooner State is a whitetail mecca, and while many regions of the state aren’t known for trophy quality, gaggers do exist. What makes Oklahoma a must-hunt whitetail destination, though, is the wallet-friendly tags, plentiful public land, and a booming population of deer. For $280, archery hunters, in most areas, can kill a pair of bucks as well as a few does. Plus, archery hunters from north to south to east to west will find no shortage of public dirt. Oklahoma has throngs of Wildlife Management Areas, National Grasslands, and the state is dotted with multiple OLAP (Oklahoma Land Access Program) sites.
When it comes to deer numbers, it’s hard to beat this destination. During the 2019-2020 season, archery hunters set a new record by harvesting a total of 30,748 deer. Adding icing to the cake is that the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife has one of the most informative websites out there. In just a few clicks, hunters can access public land maps, get information about public areas and see harvest stats for each state’s Wildlife Management Areas. If you’re looking for the opportunity to put multiple tags in your pocket and have a great chance of harvesting a P&Y buck, it’s tough to beat Oklahoma.
When you think about the Centennial State, two species come to mind: mule deer and elk. Rightly so, the state is home to the largest elk herd in the country, and each year several 200-inch muleys hit the dirt. However, Colorado shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to whitetails. Yes, the state does have an all-draw system when it comes to deer, but being that whitetail are an overlooked species, those that put in for the April draw are almost guaranteed a tag, and on August 3, starting at 9 a.m., the state’s leftover deer tags go on sale.
Popular whitetail haunts include areas in the northeast and southeast part of the state, and a combination of National Grasslands, BLM, and Walk-In-Access areas abound in these locales. When it comes to trophy potential, Colorado is as good as any, and while hunters shouldn’t pass up a mature 140-inch deer, bucks in the 180-inch class are killed with archery tackle each year. Another bonus to hunting whitetails in Colorado is that many landscapes are conducive to spot-and-stalk hunting, which means you can take the fight to a big bruiser. Colorado’s Parks & Wildlife has an ultra-informative website, and those looking for additional information should visit here.
Like Colorado, Idaho is best known for its status as a western kingpin for mule deer and elk. However, the state is quickly gaining traction in the whitetail world. With archery tags available over-the-counter and endless acres of public ground, especially in the Panhandle region, the Gem State promises a great whitetail adventure. Though Idaho whitetails can be found from north to south, the dense forests and steep, mountainous terrain of the north consistently produce some of the state’s highest-scoring bucks. Nez Perce and Clearwater are a pair of counties you don’t want to overlook. This mountainous terrain can be challenging to hunt, and access to and from a great whitetail stand may require a bit of leg work, but those that put in the time and venture off the beaten path will be in for a real Idaho treat. For more information about whitetail hunting in Idaho, visit the official website.
Pinched between Illinois and Ohio — a pair of well-known whitetail destinations — is Indiana. However, the Hoosier State flies under the radar of most whitetail hunters, which is good news for those looking to take a road trip. Each year the state produces several gagger bucks, and non-resident license costs are extremely friendly. The season is long, typically kicking off on October 1 and running through early January. Like many states in the Midwest, the Hoosier State has seen some issues with EHD, but the population is still strong. When it comes to access, Indiana has many Wildlife Areas, and the Hoosier National Forest (202,814 acres) gives hunters plenty of room to roam. Locales that snuggle up to the Ohio River shouldn’t be overlooked. The total deer harvest for the 2019-2020 hunting season was estimated at 114,882 animals, and archers harvested 13,499 bucks, which made up 11.8 percent of the total harvest. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources does a fantastic job of creating and maintaining whitetail habitat, and those looking for more information should visit in.gov.
After wrapping up your annual rut hunt in the Midwest, load the truck and experience it all over again in southern Mississippi. Areas around the Gulf typically start seeing rut activity in January, and with a season that runs from October through mid-February, you can plan a couple of trips. Public land abounds in the form of National Forests and Wildlife Management Areas. In fact, from north to south, the Magnolia State has 1.2-million acres of National Forest where hunters can stretch their legs. If you hunt the state’s southern portion, be prepared for big swamps and large tracts of timber. In these locations, bucks grow big and weary, but the hunter willing to put in the work and spend some swamp time 20-feet up may be in for a big reward. Mississippi’s deer population is estimated to be 1.75-million animals strong, and the annual harvest is around 280,000 deer. Mississippi’s Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) is an in-depth management practice consisting of data collection and cooperation with landowners to manage lands to ensure a healthy deer herd. For more information about hunting in Mississippi, click here for its home on the web.