As hunters, we can’t help but find ourselves reading articles or watching television shows that portray these immaculate hunts that typically end with the hunter holding a massive trophy animal with postcard imagery in the background. For as long as I can remember, I have been one of those hunters, yearning for the next incredible memory and the hope of having my hands on one of those once-in-a-lifetime trophies. A few years ago, I decided to pursue that dream of chasing whitetails with my bow across the Midwest. This is the story of how I made the dream of a Do-It-Yourself bowhunt for Midwest whitetails a reality in some of the country’s best whitetail real estate.
The first, and in my opinion, most important aspect of planning an out-of-state hunt is to choose a hunting partner. Although you can hunt solo, having someone along on the trip to help with expenses, hanging tree stands and to simply share in the memories, is much more enjoyable. In my case, I contacted a couple of good friends who are just as passionate about hunting as I am, told them I wanted to go chase whitetails with my bow in another state, and asked if they wanted to join me. One responded that they were interested, had the time, and would love to go exploring with me. Having a buddy selected, the next step was to determine where we were going to hunt.
I talked to as many people as I could about hunting trips, what works, what doesn’t work, where to go, etc. A great resource for these conversations is the local archery shop or any of the large box stores. After watching all the bowhunting videos I could get my hands on, I decided that Kansas was where I was going to pursue the whitetail of my dreams. I went on their website and gathered all the information for license requirements, fees, and deadlines, etc. Kansas is a state where you must apply for a non-resident archery tag, so the deadline was an important piece of the puzzle. In passing one day, a co-worker and I were talking hunting, and he mentioned a recent archery trip to Kansas. He was kind enough to share his experience, where he stayed, the type of hunting they did, and other important details with me. I used google earth to research the area they hunted. What I found was that they were very close to the Nebraska border. I had read some articles about Nebraska being a somewhat overlooked whitetail state, so this recent discovery peaked my interest. I went on the Nebraska website and quickly learned that non-resident licenses were sold over the counter and were much less expensive than Kansas. After a brief discussion with my buddy, the decision was made that we were heading to Nebraska.
Having only driven through Nebraska on I-80, I had no idea what our hunting options would be or even where to begin. We ended up calling some of the Conservation Officers, explaining to them our situation, and asking them numerous questions. Through our conversations, we honed in on one particular area. We then contacted the biologist to get a better understanding of the local deer herd. We printed numerous aerial photos of the areas that appeared to have good terrain and structure, and we purchased a county plat book. Between the two of us, we spent numerous hours on the phone contacting the land owners that were listed in the areas we targeted from our aerial photos. With each conversation, we explained who we were, where we were from, and asked for permission to hunt their property. After dozens of discussions with land owners, it became evident that we should focus our attention on public land. One of the biggest reasons we chose the area we did was based on the amount of public land open to hunting.
Everyone knows the best time to hunt mature whitetails is during the rut. However, being from Minnesota, we wanted to make sure we were around home to hunt with family during the prized Minnesota deer season. Since we had never set foot on the ground we were intending to hunt in Nebraska, we decided we should take a trip there for the opening weekend of archery season. The intention was that this would be a bit of a scouting trip, with the hope of having some good hunting mixed in. My dad decided he wanted to tag along, so our hunting party grew to three.
No Rest for the Committed
After driving all through the night, we pulled into our hotel early that first morning. We checked in, dropped off most of our gear, and set out on a scouting mission. We wanted to hit as many areas as possible, as quickly as possible, so we could determine where we would hunt that evening as well as our set-up for the next morning. We quickly realized the public land was pretty spectacular. The food sources were plentiful and the water was easily accessible. It appeared the archery hunting pressure was pretty minimal as well…a true recipe for success. We settled on a few options, hung some stands, and headed back to town to get all our hunting gear.
Over the course of the next four days, we hunted both mornings and evenings. Our sits were pretty uneventful, and the visions we had of our dream hunt, were slowly fading. We did have some excitement however, when my dad arrowed his first buck with a bow. Even though we didn’t see the amount of deer we had hoped for, we considered it a successful trip. We knew the potential was there for better hunting. It was decided before we even got home that we would definitely be going back. The time frame that would work for everyone was the week of Halloween. So back to Nebraska we went.
Right Place, Right Time
Again we drove through the night and arrived early that first morning. There was a large piece of public land we never scouted during the first trip, so we headed there first. We hadn’t walked more than five minutes from the truck, and thirty yards in front of us, stood a magnificent, perfectly symmetrical, monster buck! It was literally, one of the largest deer I had ever laid eyes on. Our jaws dropped! We just stared as this buck of our dreams darted into the river bottom. We looked at each other, and I said, “We shouldn’t have left our bows in the truck!” I decided to hang a stand in the exact location we saw the buck and couldn’t wait for the evening sit.
That afternoon, just as the sun went down, I could hear deer crossing the river behind me. I got ready in anticipation of what was walking through the river bottom, heading right towards me. I could see one of them was a buck, but couldn’t tell if it was the buck that had been occupying my every thought since the moment I saw him earlier that morning. The sounds of footsteps in the leaves were getting closer and closer. Suddenly, out popped a small buck that started to feed in the alfalfa below me. I thought to myself, “This couldn’t be what was making all the noise in the woods, he must not be alone.” A few seconds later, out popped a bigger buck!
As soon as I laid eyes on him, I knew this wasn’t the buck we bumped into earlier that day, but I also quickly realized it was a nice mature buck. I slowly came to full draw, waited for him to turn just right, and released a perfectly placed arrow. I couldn’t believe what just happened! A couple of guys drove through the night to a piece of public land that they had never set foot on, and then arrowed a mature whitetail on the first sit. What I thought was once just a faint dream of mine, had just become a reality! Words can’t explain how truly excited I was…not only for the magnificent animal I just harvested, but more for the sense of accomplishment that overcame me. I had set out on this mission, knowing I needed some help to make it happen, and then it all came together, just like I had envisioned it so many years ago. Since that hunt, that same good friend and I, have traveled to Nebraska two more times and have added North Dakota to our fall hunting adventures. With a good friend, a decent amount of planning, and some real desire, you too can make that do-it-yourself hunting dream of yours a reality!