There are few adventures as rewarding to a bowhunter as venturing into brand-new country on an out of state hunt. Traveling half-way across the country, stepping out of your truck in the middle of a wilderness you’ve never seen before, and then grabbing your gear and heading out to hunt elk, deer, bear (or whatever you’ve decided to chase)...it’s hard to describe the exhilaration that an out of state hunt can provide!
At the same time, if you’ve never hunted another state before and if you’re attempting a DIY hunt, few things can feel as daunting when you begin your planning. New state. New laws and regulations. Figuring out where the animals might be in a place you’ve only seen from your computer. There are so many questions to be answered that it can certainly convince a would-be out of state hunter to give up and stay home. But, with a little bit of research and a willingness to get out and try, a DIY out of state hunt is well within the reach of most hunters.
Where to go?
First thing’s first: what animal do you want to hunt, and where should you go? If you’re just starting to plan this adventure at this time of year, you’ve missed the draw application deadlines and you’ll be limited to over the counter (OTC) opportunities. Fortunately, many states in the west have terrific OTC options available. Colorado is known for its generous OTC elk tags. Montana has OTC elk, deer, and antelope options available. Arizona provides a unique winter hunting experience with OTC deer tags in January (your buddies can be freezing back home, and you can be chasing rutting bucks through the desert in 70-degree weather). Obviously, the West is packed full of more opportunities than could be listed in this article, so the best first step is to decide which species you want to hunt and begin looking through each state’s Fish & Game website to explore your options.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a state and season you plan to hunt, you’re now faced with the prospect of figuring out where in that state to go. If your tag is isolated to one unit, it simplifies things a little bit. However, many OTC tags have a list of open units you can hunt in, which makes isolating a single spot on a map that much more difficult. The best place to start is choosing a couple units that have the best numbers for what you’re looking for (harvest success, trophy potential, etc.) and start there. Then, turn to Google Earth or your preferred mapping service and start marking spots within that unit that look like good habitat for what you’re chasing.
Once you’ve marked a few spots that look promising, you can get a ton of information by calling a wildlife biologist from that state. Just look up the Fish & Game office for that region of the state, then call and ask to speak to a biologist. You may have to play phone tag a bit, but if you get one on the line, they’re usually more than happy to provide boots-on-the-ground insight about where you’re planning to hunt. The reason this step is listed after you’ve already done some of your own research is because you’ll get much better information if you’ve done your homework. If you call and say, “where should I hunt?” you’ll either get a vague answer, or the same spot they recommend to everyone who calls. On the other hand, if you call and say, “I was looking at this drainage, or the North side of this mountain range, etc.” then the biologist can provide much more detailed information (and I find they’re usually more generous with tips on nearby spots you may not have considered).
Can I afford it?
Other than the daunting amount of unknowns to figure out, the prospective cost of an out of state hunt is probably the most common thing that will hold hunters back from planning this adventure. Obviously, tags cost more for out of state hunters than residents. You’re also now factoring travel expenses for what may very well be a 1,000+ mile trip. But, with proper planning and a few budget-conscious decisions, an unforgettable out of state hunt can be pretty affordable.
The tag/license should be your biggest cost. If you’re going with a buddy or two, you can all split the gas expenses. If you pack a cooler of travel food rather than stopping at a restaurant every few hours, you’ll save a fortune on food. And, since you’re probably already heading out with a truck-load of camping gear, sleep at a campground instead of a hotel if your trip involves multiple days on the road. As long as you can resist the urge to justify upgrading your entire hunting kit for this trip, an out of state DIY hunt can actually be pretty reasonable. As a specific example, a Colorado OTC elk hunt can be done for around $1200-1500 depending on how far you have to travel. I know that still sounds like a hefty chunk of change, but if you plan far enough ahead, a hunter could set aside $100/month for a year and have their elk hunt totally covered.
Okay, but what gear do I NEED?
This could obviously be an article all by itself, but let’s try to hit the true necessities to make sure you’re able to hunt effectively out West. Obviously, the full gear list will change depending on the type of hunt you’re planning (hunting from your travel-trailer vs. backpacking deep into the backcountry, for instance). But, no matter your hunting style, these few things are definitely on the need list…
Good Boots: The mountains are steep out west, and most of the animals like to hang out in hard-to-reach places. Get yourself some good boots (make sure you break them in well before you hit the trail), and prepare to log some miles while you’re out there.
Legal Archery Gear: Some states out West have very specific rules on the types of equipment you can have on your bow. Some don’t allow expandable broadheads, so make sure you’re dialed-in with some rock-solid fixed blades (VPA Broadheads) if you’re heading to one of those states. In some places, electronic sights and even illuminated nocks are forbidden, so make sure you understand the regs of that state and that your archery setup is legal.
Good Optics: If you’re chasing certain species (mule deer or antelope come to mind), you may be doing a fair amount of spot-and-stalk hunting. If you’re coming from a part of the country where binoculars are an afterthought, you’ll want to make sure you have adequate optics. These don’t have to break the bank, but I’d recommend something with at least 10x magnification, consider bringing a tripod for long glassing sessions, and buy the best glass you can afford...your eyes will thank you.
Just Do It
At the end of the day, there’s no possible way to know everything you’ll encounter or to prepare for every potential scenario. Do as much research as possible, but at the end of the day, you just have to go. Right now it’s early summer...there’s absolutely still time to put a plan together and get out there this fall. Start researching. Keep practicing. Dial-in your fitness a bit. And just go for it. When you’re on the road back home (with or without a punched tag), I can almost guarantee you’ll already be thinking about next year’s out of state hunt!
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