You’ve eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a year. You’ve worked all the overtime you can get. You’ve pinched pennies here and squeezed dollars there, all for the dream of chasing monster whitetails in some mythical place you’ve seen on television. You’ve finally saved enough cash to go on that ultimate deer hunt. So now what? It’s only January, but it’s time to get serious about making plans.
“I start planning for next season as soon as this year’s hunting season is over,” says Steve Stoltz, a long-time hunting videographer. “The best outfitters fill up quickly, and it takes a lot of work to find a good area and a good outfitter.”
Stoltz has been to more states than he can recall, so he’s got a pretty good idea of how to find a qualified outfitter in a place that offers a real chance at a trophy-class whitetail. Stoltz starts by selecting a state or province that offers high odds of tagging a big buck.
Places such as Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Saskatchewan are top destinations for traveling hunters for good reason. Take a look at the Boone And Crockett Club’s map of trophy whitetails and you’ll see sections of those states awash in red, the mark of an area that has surrendered a higher number of book bucks than surrounding regions. Hunting such high-percentage areas automatically increases your chances of crossing paths with a monster whitetail.
However, Stoltz warns hunters not to be taken by those mythical areas that make all the headlines. Sure, places such as Kansas’ Unit 16 in the south-central region of the state have a well-earned reputation for giving up some bruiser bucks, but virtually the entire state has good deer. Consider this: The top 21 typical whitetails taken with a rifle in Kansas were killed in 16 different counties. Seventeen counties accounted for the 20 best bow kills. Iowa, another state with a solid record-book reputation, is similar to Kansas. Although most of the media attention is focused on southeastern Iowa, plenty of monster whitetails come from all over the state.
“I spent a week in Pike County, Ill., a place that has produced some real whoppers in the past, trying to film a hunt,” Stoltz recalls. “But the big deer just weren’t there. By chance, I ran into an outfitter from southeastern Illinois, and he invited us down for a few days.
“It was incredible. I was surprised that the area had so many big deer, even though it’s never been featured on a television show or in some national magazine.”
When he’s researching a deer hunt for himself or for someone else who plans on pulling the trigger, Stoltz will call wildlife biologists to discuss trophy potential for a specific area. He asks about hunting pressure, deer densities, approximate buck-to-doe ratios, the rut schedule and the overall potential for at least seeing a big buck. He’ll also do some research on the habitat itself. Stoltz wants to know the primary food sources as well as the general look of the land. Is it heavily forested, a mix of open prairie and wooded draws and creeks, or void of any trees? Not only will those answers help him prepare for the hunt mentally, but knowing that information gets him fired up about the upcoming season — even though he just wrapped up the previous one.
Many of the top trophy whitetail states have such fantastic hunting because they limit the number of licenses they sell. Less pressure usually translates to older bucks. While resident hunters in states such as Kansas and Iowa are virtually guaranteed a tag, non-residents aren’t. That means that in order to get in, you have to fill out some paperwork, write a check, send it in and wait. Some states, Iowa for example, offer a preference-point system that allows unsuccessful hunters to accumulate “points” each time they fail to draw a tag. The more points you have, the better your chances of drawing the next season. Eventually you’ll get in. So even if you can’t hunt this fall, it’s not a bad idea to at least start putting some preference points in the bank.
Most states set application deadlines in late spring or early summer, so you have plenty of time to take care of the paperwork. However, don’t put it off too long. Those deadlines have a way of sneaking up on you. In a few states, licensed outfitters are given a fixed number of permits, which automatically removes the uncertainty that accompanies the general license lottery. Those guaranteed tags might cost you more, but they certainly make planning a hunt easier.
Stay tuned for Part 2!