Credit cards are being hit, Facebook posts are going up and Instagram is flooded with images of those “success” screen grabs from various game and fish websites. Ouch! Wasn’t you, huh? Well, me neither. I had my sights set on drawing a Colorado Rocky Mountain bighorn tag and coveted Utah mule deer tag. Didn’t happen. The good news: All is not lost.
Too many bowhunters hang up their yearly hopes after state draws come out. Don’t be one of them. So you didn’t draw your dream tag or tags this year – there are still plenty of bowhunting opportunities out there. Here are four good ones.
Though a drought mixed with a severe outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) plagued Nebraska in 2012 (with as much as a 50 percent reduction in deer numbers in certain parts of the state according to Nebraska Game and Parks), the Cornhusker State has rebounded wonderfully and remains a top over-the-counter (OTC) option for archery whitetail fanatics.
Whitetails are found across the state (the highest densities are in the east and in riparian corridors), and bowhunters can purchase and print their Nebraska deer tags online at www.outdoornebraska.gov. How simple is that? In addition, the state does a fantastic job in helping bowhunters find places to hunt. Before purchasing your license simply click on the “Find A Place To Hunt” tab. Doing so will open your eyes to the state’s Public Access Atlas. You’ll be shocked by the number of Walk-In (private land leased by the state for public deer hunting), U.S. Forest Service Lands, Wildlife Management Areas and the like you will find across the entire state.
If Colorado isn’t on your elk radar, it should be. And, no, not because of the trophy potential in coveted units like 61, 76, 2, 201, etc. You didn’t draw that tag anyway, remember? Focus on the 138 units (80 west of Interstate 25 and 58 east of that highway) that offer OTC either-sex elk tags. That’s right, roughly 75 percent of the state’s game management units offer OTC elk opportunity.
In 2014, the state’s elk herd was 279,490 strong. Wow! In 2015, 4,081 bulls were taken with archery tackle, and the overall archery harvest success rate was 12 percent. Yes, I realize 12 percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but when it comes to elk hunting, toss success rates out the window. Your success, when it comes to hunting elk with stick-and-string, is directly related to how hard you work.
YES! They are actually pronghorn and not antelope. Just a little frustration I needed to express. The good news is a solid number of these prairie dwellers reside in the short grass prairies of South Dakota. Boasting one of the nation’s highest speed goat populations, South Dakota offers bountiful public land (National Grasslands, Walk-In-Access, etc.), and tags are sold throughout the archery season in unlimited number. Much like Nebraska, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (www.gfp.sd.gov) offers a print and digital version of their Public Land Atlas (with access to over 5 million acres).
Grain Belt Booners
Want to try your hand at a Midwest whitetail but your Iowa tag didn’t come through? No problem. Just shift your focus a little to the southeast. Yes, Illinois offers ample public-hunting opportunities and OTC archery tags, and it continually produces some of the nation’s biggest bucks each fall.
Perhaps the best thing about the state, though, is its ultra-informative website (www.dnr.illinois.gov). In less than an hour I was able to pull and glean piles of information from the state’s up-to-date Public Hunting Areas Report. It was awesome to be able to look at specific public areas offering decent success rates, at the county in which that success was had and then glance in the Pope & Young record books to analyze area-to-trophy potential. Plus, the site divides the state’s public-hunting areas up into regions. You can click on and view specific areas – areas that provide total hunt acreage and access directions.
There you have it. Four options to battle your no-draw blues.