Winter is that time in a deer hunter’s life for looking back and looking forward. The most recent hunting season is in the rearview mirror and a brand new season is glimmering in the future. And for that reason, winter is also the time I most often make my plans for new hunting trips. If you’re in a similar boat right now, you’re probably stuck on the same thing I am … how can I pull off the hunting trip of my dreams without completely emptying my bank account? It’s a reasonable question and one I wrestle with often. But it’s a question I want to make sure doesn’t stump you.
That said, here are four ways I’ve been able to reduce my costs on out-of-state trips. Use all four to embark on the ultimate big buck trip on a budget, or mix and match as your funds allow. Either way, at least promise me this; Find a way to go on your trip – no matter what. Life’s too short to push these things off til “someday.”
1. Avoid high-cost license states: One of the most expensive parts of many out-of-state trips is a nonresident hunting license, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The famed big buck states like Illinois, Iowa and Kansas obviously provide great hunting opportunities, but they also charge exorbitant prices to hunt there – especially if you need to take on years worth of preference point costs just to someday draw a tag. Take for example Iowa. To hunt in the most renowned parts of the state, you’ll likely need three or four years worth of $50 preference points before you can draw your tag. So there’s $200 right from the get go. Then add in your hunting license ($112), a non-res habitat fee ($13) and your tag ($426) and you’re up to a grand total of $751 dollars. If you can afford it, that’s great. But if you’re looking to pull off a budget trip, Iowa probably isn’t your best option. Instead, focus your efforts hunting low-cost license states like Indiana (~$150), Ohio (~$150), North Dakota ($250), Kentucky (~$260), Oklahoma (~$280) or one of the many other states that offer non-res tags for less than $400.
2. Do it DIY: Hiring a whitetail outfitter can set you back upwards of $3,000-$5,000. That’s a huge cost you can avoid by taking on your out-of-state trip as a DIY affair. And while this kind of trip is obviously more challenging, I can attest to the juice being worth the squeeze. There’s lots to consider when planning a DIY trip, but here are a few quick things to consider when getting started. First, spend your winter months researching online resources and studying maps to find likely public land areas or private properties you’re interested in obtaining hunting permission. Then, if possible, swing out to scout said properties during shed hunting season. This is a great chance to ask for permission and hopefully walk/scout these properties. I’ve gotten free hunting permission in states like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana – it just takes a willingness to knock on a lot of doors. And if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, public land options abound if you’re willing to seek them out. Once you’ve gotten permission or found some public, the onus is now on you to figure that property out and to put a smart hunting strategy together.