Inflation is real, and it’s everywhere, even in the hunting industry. Production costs have led to price increases for just about everything nowadays, and it seems you have to look harder than ever to find a good deal. The deals are out there, though, and so are the hunting opportunities. In fact, some states are an absolute bargain when it comes to non-resident licenses.
Below are a handful of states that offer a lot of “bang for your buck.” Some of them are downright cheap considering how much value they offer in terms of opportunity. And all of them offer a quality deer hunting experience and over-the-counter licenses.
1. West Virgina
I may be partial to this state because this is where I killed my very first buck, when I was 14 years old. The main appeal back then was that West Virginia’s gun season came in a week earlier than Pennsylvania’s, which made it very convenient to be a two-state hunter, and I gained a ton of experience from that. As I got older and fell in love with bowhunting, I realized even more opportunities found in The Mountain State.
To hunt here, you first need a basic, non-resident hunting license ($119) that permits you to harvest one antlered deer during gun season. To hunt archery, you must purchase an archery deer hunting stamp ($27), which allows you to harvest a buck with a bow. However, if you do harvest a buck with a bow, you can still take another buck during gun season with your base license. And if that’s not enough, you can purchase an additional archery deer stamp ($37). Total, you can harvest three antlered deer per year for less than $200.
Also, West Virginia has 4 bow-only counties: Logan, Mingo, McDowell, and Wyoming. These 4 counties have been under bow-only management for 40 years, produced countless record book bucks, and could well be one of bowhunting’s best kept secrets.
As a lifelong Pennsylvanian, I can attest to the quality of bucks living in this state. Perhaps even more importantly, though, is PA’s nearly 4 million acres of public hunting lands. No matter where you go in The Keystone State, you’re not very far from a place to hunt.
A non-resident hunting license currently costs $101.97, but you must also purchase an archery stamp for an additional $26.97. Although hunters can harvest only one antlered deer per year, the base license also comes with two turkey tags, a fall either-sex tag and a spring gobbler tag.
Antler restrictions have been in place in Pennsylvania since 2002 and the bucks seem to get bigger every year. The southwestern and southeastern parts of the state, the suburbs of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively, are renowned for producing giant, mature whitetails. However, land access in these areas is difficult. For a more personal, wilderness experience, target the cagey old mountain monarchs that call the northcentral part of the state home.
At only $160 for an archery tag, Wisconsin is another good deal for non-resident hunters. The tags in The Badger State are weapon-specific, and if you want to hunt turkeys or other game, you’ll need to buy separate permits for each of those. However, one antlerless deer permit comes with each archery tag.
The main perk of a Wisconsin license is access to over 7 million acres of prime hunting land in one of the nation’s premiere whitetail states. Also, the diversity of habitat on that public lands is amazing. Whether your preference is to hunt the heavily-forested Northwoods or the fertile river bottoms and agricultural lands in the southern half of the state, Wisconsin has something for everyone.
The prime areas to hunt Wisconsin are the central farmland zones, including Buffalo County in the west central part of the state. In terms of legendary status, Buffalo County ranks up there with Pike County, Illinois, and Monroe County, Iowa, for its ability to produce jaw-dropping bucks. Overall, the Boone & Crockett Club ranks Wisconsin #1 with more than 1,800 entries into their record books all time.
If you like big-bodied Midwestern whitetails without the price tag of a Midwestern hunt, Ohio is a great second choice. The base non-resident hunting license costs $180.96 and requires the purchase of an either-sex deer tag for an additional $76.96. Although the total is second highest on this list, it’s still half the cost of an Iowa deer tag. Also, the amount of public land available in The Buckeye State, about twice as much as Iowa, means more opportunities for DIY hunters to chase mature whitetails.
Southeastern Ohio is a hotbed for big bucks. Coshocton, Muskingham, Licking, and Knox counties are the standout locations that have historically supported a large population with a high percentage of mature deer.
Of all the Midwestern states, Missouri is hard to beat for affordability. An archery license costs only $265, and the 2.5 million acres of public land hunting can be darn good. I’ve hunted Missouri twice for whitetails and once for turkeys and have encountered huge bucks everywhere I’ve been. For the best overall chance at a trophy, focus on the counties along the northern tier of The Show Me State.
Like other Midwestern states, access to private land involves a lot of legwork and knocking on doors to get permissions. But as bowhunters know, big bucks tend to wander during the rut, and you can find them on public land as often as anywhere. Also, the fact that Missouri deer hunting licenses are still over-the-counter means you can make this one an annual trip.
Hunting whitetails in Michigan is like going home to where the tradition of deer camp all began. The history and tradition are rich here, and the opportunities seemingly endless. The Wolverine State is home to nearly 7.5 million acres of public hunting land, and a deer hunting license costs just $171.
Although the Lower Peninsula produces the most consistent results for mature whitetails and overall numbers, the Upper Peninsula is a wilderness paradise. If you’re looking for a true challenge that will test your skills and mental fortitude, look no further than the U.P. where deer densities are low, wolf populations are relatively high, and trying to get a mature buck within bow range is the ultimate accomplishment.
7. New York
Truth be told, there aren’t many things in New York that can be labeled “reasonably-priced,” but at $140 (including an archery permit), a non-resident hunting license is one of them. The most difficult part about hunting in The Empire State is figuring out when you can actually hunt! Season start dates vary depending on zone, and there are different starting dates for those using vertical bows versus crossbows, so check (and then double check) where you’re planning to go to make sure you’re legal.
The best counties for mature bucks are Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Steuben, Tompkins, Wayne, and Wyoming. In other words, the southern zones where land is mainly agricultural. Like other states, urban counties also produce big bucks, but access can be difficult to gain. If you want a deep woods adventures, the Catskills and Adirondack mountains offer an abundance of public land wilderness.
Overall, though, New York is a bit of a sleeper when it comes to hunting opportunities. Like the other states on this list, if you’re willing to do a little research and put in some effort to find the best public lands, or take the time to gain permission to private property, the reward is a quality deer hunt at an affordable price.
Where will your hunting roadtrips take you this fall? Comment below, and let us know.