Your Guide to a DIY, Bowhunting Adventure
There’s nothing quite like hunting the west. And, with a few tips, you can have a ton of success without spending a ton of money.
Wide-open vistas and whiffs of sage and ponderosa pine inspire bowhunters to flock westward each fall for adventures on rolling prairies and remote mountains. After months of dissecting your gear list and studying maps, you watch in awe as the sun sprawls across a landscape that’s entirely new to you. You’ve had this day circled on the calendar for months, and your anticipation has climaxed as you scan your surroundings in search of your quarry.
Planning an out-of-state, do-it-yourself bow hunt might seem like a daunting task, but the adventure to be had and memories to be made are a worthy payoff for your effort. If you’ve been toying with the idea of planning your own hunt across state lines, don’t wait any longer – the best time to get started is right now. Best part? It’s more affordable than you ever thought possible.
Bring a hunting buddy
You can certainly take a solo approach to planning an out of state adventure, but the camaraderie and friendship cultivated by sharing camp with a hunting buddy will last a lifetime. You and your partner should share like-minded goals when it comes to hunting. Make sure you’re on the same page and have the same values before moving forward with the planning process. See Josh K's Hunting with friends and family blog for tips. Together, you can plan the trip, bounce ideas off each other, and even share gear.
Gearing up with a buddy keeps more cash in your wallet, tags in your pocket, and, eventually, more meat in your freezer. You need to be selective of your gear when you’re bowhunting on a budget. If you have a buddy you hunt with often, consider splitting the essentials with them. For example, you buy the tent while he funds the wood stove. When you share the same hunting values with a partner, parsing out your gear together is the most efficient use of your hard-earned money. While good gear is worth the upfront investment, you don’t always need the Taj Mahal depending on where and when you’re hunting. A low-end Coleman tent will suffice when the weather is tame, but don’t expect it to withstand gail-force winds on the prairie as a gnarly cold front blows across your hunting area. By embracing discomfort, you can reallocate the funds you’d spend on high-end gear to additional tags in your pocket.
Pick a state
There are lots of great states where hunting opportunities abound, offering relatively affordable license costs. All states have different rules and regulations that apply to purchasing your hunting license, so be sure to check in with the specific state you have in mind. Make sure you can purchase the license over the counter as opposed to drawing randomly or by acquiring preference points over multiple years.
Draw states that require point building are great, and it’s a certainly a worthwhile game to play if you’re thinking long-term. But since you’re going to hunt every year and don’t want to sit on the sidelines while you wait for that dream hunt, take advantage of OTC states. South Dakota and Nebraska, for example, allow bowhunters to take whitetails or mule deer with an archery license for less than $300. If you’re looking for an even more affordable option, consider Wisconsin, where bowhunters can buy a reduced-price license for $79.75. Regardless of which state you settle on, take some time to research tag price and amount of public land.
Before you get into the details of your hunt, like how you’re going to conquer the local terrain, make sure and understand the details of the tags and licenses required. If cost is a big issue, there are plenty of states that offer bowhunters extremely affordable price points.
Be resourceful (forums, biologists, and networking)
After you choose a state, it’s time to find a hunting spot. Research hunting forums, social media, or any other place where you can find information about recent hunter success. Dig into the state’s fish and wildlife agency’s website for any information that break harvest reports down by county or region. This information provides a clear understanding of the area’s herd density, which makes it easier to eliminate certain areas, and since you’re not paying a guide, you can gain valuable intel by digging deep into publicly accessible resources.
Once you’ve identified a few regions within your state, it’s time to drill deeper. Scour tools like OnX Maps or GoHUNT to learn what percentage of the area you’re hunting is publicly accessible. I run these applications simultaneously on my laptop whenever I’m e-scouting, which allows me to pair GoHUNT’s valuable quantitative data about harvest metrics with a clear public/private ownership boundaries from OnX.
Once you’ve identified a few regions in your state, it’s time to drill deeper. Digital mapping applications, like OnX Hunt, showcase clear public and private land boundaries. GoHUNT’s Insider program provides detailed information for a select few western states, including percentage of public land and hunter success statistics by region, county, or unit.
By pairing these programs together, hunters can find specific areas to focus their efforts. Study satellite imagery and topographic maps to identify potential hunting hotspots. Google Earth also provides useful satellite and topographic information, which you can put to use by utilizing these tips.
To get yourself into the best position to succeed, hit the maps before you hit the ground to make sure you know the lay of the land.
Make a list
The last thing you want is to forget an important piece of equipment on a hunt hundreds of miles from home. Not only is forgotten gear an inconvenience, but replacing it at a local sporting goods store can be a pricey consequence. Instead, make a spreadsheet that outlines everything you’ll need to ensure your time away from home is spent comfortably.
Separate your lists by hunting gear, camping items, and food so you’re not overwhelmed by one giant document. In addition to your hunting and camping gear, don’t forget the small necessities like a spare headlamp, portable phone chargers, dish soap, or washcloths. Print your spreadsheets and physically cross out items as you go through it after they’re packed to ensure you don’t leave anything behind.
Once again, don’t go overboard on your first few DIY bowhunt. Pre-cooked meals that are frozen and stored in a cooler, like lasagna or stew, are a great way to enjoy the comforts of a home-cooked meal when hunting from a basecamp. In addition, pre-cooked meals require less prep time when you’re simply trying to fuel yourself after a long day of hunting, and don’t spoil as fast as other options.
Set your expectations
Meat in the freezer is the goal of every hunt, but be sure to set realistic expectations. Finding and harvesting deer with limited time in an unfamiliar place is challenging. With that in mind, understand that targeting mature deer shown commonly in most hunting shows in mainstream media is a difficult task. Tailor your goals to what you personally enjoy, and don’t be influenced by outside factors. Whether you simply want to bring back venison or go toe-to-toe with a wary, old buck, hunt in whatever legal means leaves you feeling entirely satisfied at the end of the trip.
Filling the freezer or seeking a once in a lifetime trophy, know what you’re looking for from your hunt before you start stalking big game.
As hunters, we share an appreciation for nature and exploring new places. If there’s a better way to enjoy the outdoors than spending time in the woods, bow in hand, entirely disconnected from the daily hustle and bustle, I’m not aware of it.
Whether you’re relatively new to hunting or a seasoned vet, consider planning a hunt in a state that’s foreign to you. The youthful excitement that’ll overwhelm you in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the trip will leave you yearning for next year’s adventure after it concludes. Don’t wait anymore – start planning your ultimate bowhunting adventure right now.
Don’t forget to bone up on your glassing skills, and join our podcast team as they pull off a DIY Wisconsin hunt from start to finish with help from The Hunting Public and North American Rescue.
It’s our hope you can learn and laugh along with the expert voices we feature on this blog. We want to be clear that the opinions you see featured here are just that: opinions. The content belongs to the authors and is not necessarily the opinion of Vortex Optics.
To learn more about what you’ve read, please like, follow, and otherwise support our authors.