By Pete Rogers
Every autumn, vacation days are cashed in, and thousands of dollars are spent by hunters traveling to distant lands in pursuit of game. Whether you are traveling to a neighboring state or across the country, there are certain things to consider when making these plans.
The amount of detail you put into planning your hunt can make or break your experience. If you are hunting with an outfitter and guide, this does not pertain to you. Today we are addressing the needs of the DIY hunter who is traveling to distant states to hunt public land or obtain permission for private land. Having hunted in many locations across the country, I have made my share of mistakes. However, I have also made decisions that helped to make the hunt a success. Here are some things to do when planning your out-of-state hunt.
Applying for and obtaining your tags
This may seem obvious, but each year, hunters make plans and drive thousands of miles, only to get to their destination and discover they cannot buy a license or tag for their animal. Each state has different rules and regulations for obtaining a hunting license and tags. Some of these are heavily regulated and are a premium to acquire. Many of the western states have a lottery system, and it can take several years of applying to become successful in getting a license and tag. Knowing how this system works is paramount to your hunting season. For example, each spring when the application season is here, I will select one of the states I plan to hunt and apply for that tag. Other states, where I have learned it takes several years of applying to get drawn, I just purchase a “preference point” for that state and wait until I have enough points before I try and get drawn.
A preference point is a system where hunters’ names are increased in odds of being drawn. It works like this. If I apply now and do not get drawn, I earn a preference point for next year. Provided I apply again, I now have a preference point, and the next year’s application will give me double the chance of being drawn. If I do not get drawn, I will have two points, and the next year will have triple the opportunity of getting drawn. This continues to build until I am drawn, or I stop applying. If you miss a year of applying, you lose all your preference points. This encourages hunters to continue applying. Most states allow hunters to forgo the application process and simply purchase a preference point for future years. For a nominal fee, a hunter can purchase a preference point and use that for another opportunity in the future. Let’s say for example, I apply for deer tags in Montana, Wyoming and Iowa. I get drawn in Iowa, and now I know I cannot hunt the other two states the same year due to time off and expense. In response, I purchase preference points in Wyoming and Montana to use later. This keeps me in the game for those two states while still hunting Iowa.
Knowing how to obtain your tags and what that will cost is critical to a successful hunt.
Know your state’s regulations
Again, this one seems obvious, but many hunters have had hunts interrupted and/or get heavy fines for not reading the fine print. Just because something is legal where you live does not mean it is where you are hunting. A good example is the muzzleloader season for deer and elk in Colorado. Hunters who are drawn for the muzzleloader season in Colorado need to know that an inline muzzleloader is legal, but you can only use loose powder, non-sabot bullets, and no optics on your rifle.
Hunters coming from the East may have to make some major adjustments to their set-up to legally hunt in Colorado with their muzzleloader. Not knowing the law can really ruin a hunt should a game warden inspect your equipment.
Similarly, as a bow hunter, I personally prefer mechanical broadheads for my hunting. But if I am going to hunt in Idaho, I must use fixed broadheads because mechanical broadheads are not legal. On two different occasions, friends of mine have traveled to Idaho, only to discover their broadheads were not legal and had to go purchase new ones and spend half a day dialing in their new broadheads. A little research into the rules and regulations of the state you are traveling to can help a lot of headaches.
Study your hunt unit and know its boundaries
Western states are notorious for complicating things. Different zone numbers for different species etc. Many of these states issue license and tags for specific game zones. Your tag does not allow you to hunt wherever you choose. You are restricted to a specific geographical area. Thankfully, each state also publishes detailed maps showing where these zones are and this helps you to study them and learn your boundaries.
There are also excellent apps for your computer and phone that will help identify these boundaries. OnX Hunt is the best I have personally tested. Using this app will give you real time reference of your exact location and let you know where the unit boundaries are located.
Choose your hunting partners carefully
Nothing can spoil or ruin a well-planned hunt like a bad companion. Unfortunately, I have had this occur before as well. On a hog hunt in a neighboring state, three of us met at the location. We were staying in a mobile home on the property and hunting for four days. One of the members of the group flatly refused to help with anything. He wouldn’t cook, wouldn’t clean and butcher his hogs, wouldn’t load his hog on the wheelers to get them back to the cleaning shed. It didn’t take long before the rest of us tired of this attitude and some words were exchanged. This one person turned an otherwise excellent weekend into a memorable one – for all the wrong reasons. We killed thirteen hogs in four days, but all we talk about when remembering that trip is how unpleasant that fellow was.
Hunting partners and camping partners are not the same thing. There are some I travel with that I would never hunt with. By this I mean each day we go our separate ways, hunt how we like to and then regroup at the end of the day. They are great guys and excellent hunters, but our styles do not mix very well. To keep sanity and tempers at check, we just hunt alone and regroup at the end of the day. It works great for us.
One of the most important qualities of a hunting partner is one that will stop his or her hunt to help you find, clean, butcher and pack out your animal. I have seen some hunts where no one would stop their hunt to help a fellow hunter. And others where everything stopped, everyone shared in the excitement of the kill, and chipped in to get the animal cleaned and packed out.
Planning an out-of-state hunt is a daunting task for a lot of people, and the fear of something going wrong paralyzes them to the point they never try to get it done. Let me put you at ease. Something always goes wrong. You always forget something, and you always take more than you need. These are little things compared to the opportunity to spend some quality time in the wilderness with some friends doing what we love to do. More things go right than wrong. Learn from the mistakes and make it better next time.
Whether you are traveling for geese, elk, quail, or bear, GO! Go now, while you can. The memories you will build are lifelong adventures that you can replay over and over in your mind. One of the dearest friends of my life passed away a few years ago. But when I think of him, and the times we spent around a campfire in Alaska, along a dry riverbed in Texas, high in the sagebrush of Idaho or chasing turkeys in South Carolina, I always cherish those memories more than all the others.
Determine your lodging situation
Will you be camping, using a camper, staying in a local motel, or a travel lodge? Determine early how you will be lodging. If you will be tent camping, you will need a lot more gear than if you are in a camper. If you decide to stay in a motel, this adds a lot of travel to your day – driving to and from your hunting location.
All of my out-of-state hunts have been done by camping in tents. A few years ago, some friends of mine and I invested in a big wall tent. This 10×20 tent, with a full-size vestibule, proved excellent shelter for three to five hunters. Complete with a wood heater, this tent was a great asset to our adventures. The biggest drawback was the weight of the tent, set up time and all the gear necessary. However, being able to camp in the heart of our hunting grounds made it all worthwhile.
Continued in Planning An Out Of State Hunt – Part 2.