For deer hunters that have grown restless in their home state, finding a new area to hunt can be maddening. Instead of dropping your money on an expensive lease, though, look to one of these seven states as a potential public land whitetail destination.
Tag cost: $600
Season length: early September – late November
Public land owned: 30,000,000 acres
Boone & Crockett entries: 150
Known for its world-class elk, antelope, sheep, bear, and mule deer, Montana gets little recognition for whitetails. The state has a massive herd with loads of public land, but is one of the more expensive tags and has a season that is cut short in November. Still, the opportunities are there and are often overlooked. Montana also has going for it that whitetails tags are sold over the counter. For a couple hundred dollars more, hunters can score themselves an elk tag, too. No other state on the list allows you to transition from hunting bugling bulls to velvet whitetails.
What’s most promising about Montana is simply the amount of ground you can cover. With over 32 percent of the state being public land, it has more ground available than every other state on this list combined.
6. South Dakota
Tag cost: $290
Season length: mid-September – early January
Public land owned: 2,400,000 acres
Boone & Crockett entries: 193
Often ignored by those looking to plan a whitetail hunt, South Dakota is quietly one of the best states in the nation for public land deer opportunities. For starters, it has millions of acres of public land that it owns, along with millions more that are enrolled for public hunting by private landowners. Essentially, the state doubles the amount of public ground with short-term contracts on properties that fly under the radar.
It would make it higher up the list, but the tag isn’t the most economical, and the drawing system is complex for nonresidents. Although the state doesn’t have true over the counter tags, drawings take place where hunters are guaranteed certain licenses, like statewide archery tags. Laying where the Great Plains transition into the west, South Dakota can offer deer like Iowa and land like Wyoming, making it a great choice for DIY.
5. North Dakota
Tag cost: $300
Season length: early September – early January
Public land: 2,000,000 acres
Boone & Crockett entries: 116
With one of the first deer openers in the country, which some years starts as soon as August, North Dakota has become an early season destination for whitetail hunters. It has loads of public land, too, which is extra impressive when you look at the state’s low number of residents and licenses.
A knock on North Dakota can be the shockingly low number of Boone & Crockett entries, but there needs to be some context for those numbers. In a state that sees many of its tags filled by farmers and ranchers, there isn’t much interest for national recognition in terms of getting their name in a record book.
Look beyond that, and you’ll see one of the coolest opportunities for early season hunting, and plenty of land to do it on.
Tag cost: $150
Season length: late September – early February
Public land owned: 600,000 acres
Boone & Crockett entries: 922
Located in what most consider the country’s best big buck area, Ohio is notorious for cranking out massive deer. It owns nearly 1,000 Boone & Crockett entries, as well as is home to the second biggest non-typical whitetail of all time – a 329-inch monster from 1940. Somehow, the state’s hunting has only gotten better since then, with a one-buck management system that has produces loads of mature deer.
The public land can be lacking, but those chunks of rolling hills and thick timber hunt bigger than they are, making it a valuable 600,000 acres available.
Although the season has a late opener, it also is a late closer, creating one of the longest whitetail seasons in the country. In the span of those four months, there are also two firearm seasons, which gives everyone a chance at a kill. Combine that with one of the cheapest tags for non-residents, and it’s easy to see why Ohio is a hunter’s dream.
Tag cost: $260
Season length: early September – mid January
Public land owned: 800,000 acres
Boone & Crockett entries: 960
Becoming one of the sexiest states in recent years for killing a velvet buck, Kentucky has made a name for itself in the whitetail community. Most don’t think of it as a public land Mecca with less than a million acres available, but it doesn’t need to be with more deer per square mile than any other Midwestern state. Those deer aren’t scrubs, either, with nearly a thousand Boone & Crockett entries and just as many Pope & Young.
Kentucky is known for its mild weather, too, with lows in November that are nearly 20 degrees higher than that of states like North Dakota and Wisconsin. Because of that, it’s practical to plan hunts all the way into January, where the state’s temps resemble that of October elsewhere.
Kentucky is notorious for allowing hunters to stuff their freezers, being a state where you can harvest multiple bucks a year. Rarely can you find this combination of deer quality and deer population.
Tag cost: $240
Season length: early September – late December
Public land owned: 700,000 acres
Boone & Crockett entries: 338
Nebraska is a sleeper for big whitetails, which is crazy when you consider it has fewer hunters and more public land than either state. It’s an overwhelmingly diverse area, too, with large ag fields, rough river breaks, and vast sand hills that can produce some of the best deer hunting in the country.
Like other states found at the top of this list, Nebraska has an early opener that allows for velvet opportunities. Unlike some of the others, though, there are extremely long gun seasons for those who want to hunt with a firearm, like the month long muzzleloader season in December.
For deer nerds, Nebraska offers some data that most states don’t scratch the surface of. Because of that, a dedicated hunter can cue in on specific regions that produce more deer and bigger bucks. Put in your time digitally scouting, and you’ll be in for a treat.
Tag cost: $160
Season length: mid September – early January
Public land owned: 5,000,000 acres
Boone & Crockett entries: 1,699
Wisconsin is a no-brainer for the top spot, and it’s not even close. They basically own the record books, with more Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young entries than anyone else, including a typical whitetail that went over 200 inches as the second biggest Booner of all-time.
They lead the Midwest in public land, with 5 million acres open to hunting. This is outstanding on its own, but when you consider that its acres per person is similar to western states like Colorado and Washington, it’s even more astounding.
Also, deer tags are amazingly cheap. While some states cost upwards of $500 to hunt, Wisconsin comes in at a fraction of that.
The only downfall for this great state is the Chronic Wasting Disease issue that’s come up in recent years, where there’s no cure available. For now, though, it’s still the best state for public land whitetail pursuers.
For more information about public land to hunt, visit NSSF .
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