Hunting out of state for the first time is an intimidating process for both new and seasoned hunters. It’s a daunting process to put in for points every year, waiting to draw a tag, knowing that if your name is drawn you’ll have to be ready to leave when the season rolls around. It’s equally daunting to decide to hunt public lands in a state with OTC (over the counter) permits, especially if you don’t know the area well.
You’ve decided on an OTC hunt as opposed to a draw-only hunt. You already know the game animal you wish to harvest but not the state you’d like to hunt in. Before making a decision on the location of your hunt, consider the ratio of available public hunting lands to amount of hunters, the density of the game animal you wish to harvest, quality of animal, licensing costs, travel time and overall appeal of the state itself to you as a hunter.
Once you’ve boiled down your list to a select few states, determine the top counties and regions of each state that will produce the biggest or best animal — buck, bird or bull. Fortunately, there are a few helpful resources that hunters can use to track annual harvest reports and overall hunting activity of every region in each state known as the Pope & Young or Boone & Crockett record books. State game agency websites or natural biologist offices in the region are also helpful.
The best way to scout an area is by using aerial photography and mapping of the region. Such technology is readily available online from various providers like Garmin BaseCamp, Google Earth and onXmaps. Using aerial photography is as close as you’ll be able to get to the real thing. Hunters can use these programs extensively and months before the hunt to plan out locations for tree stands, areas for potential game crossings or sightings, and public or private land boundaries.
These images will also give you stronger, more reliable context when inquiring about hunting areas with state wildlife departments or biologists in that region. You can narrow your questions about a plot of land and the hunting pressure put on it. This will make your conversations more fruitful and the job of the person answering your questions much easier.
Understanding the habits and feeding patterns of the game animal you plan to hunt will also increase the usefulness of aerial maps. If you know it will be abnormally hot during your hunt and that you’ll likely find game in wallows or on southern sides of riverbeds and valley floors, then you can use aerial images to zoom in and find that terrain along with real time shots of meadows or other potential feeding grounds. With access to such technology, it’s not as daunting to hunt out of state as you would think.
Once you decide what state you’re heading to, be sure you know the driving laws for that specific state. If you’re headed to Montana, review Montana’s driving handbook. Headed to Florida? Review before you enter those state lines.
Before Opening Morning
If you arrive at your location and there are already five rigs parked in the gravel lot, then your well-thought-out hunt is suddenly over before it even began. This is bound to happen. In fact, you should expect it to happen and therefore come fully prepared by having an entirely different back up plan. The easiest way to avoid running into hunting pressure is to call and talk with locals in the area and find out who hunts where, how often, and where people do or don’t go.
Once you arrive at the region you intend to hunt, talk to other hunters, gas station clerks, or any random passerby who might have knowledge of hunting in the area. Ask what places to avoid due to high hunting pressure, what regions are often overlooked by out of state hunters, and what the habits of local hunters are during the week and the weekends.
This insider information will give you the upper hand. Ask questions before you arrive on state hunting forums and again once you’re there.
The first few days that you’re on location before the opening day of your hunting season are prime time for spotting, tracking and patterning animals. The initial days when you have boots on the ground before opening morning are vital to your hunt. You can use that time to locate the exact location of animals by putting up game cameras and gathering enough information about the area to known exactly where you are even when you find yourself in a neck of the woods you’ve never been before. Knowledge is power when it comes to hunting and if you can remain calm, put in the research, and put down the miles then you will quickly find out-of-state hunting to be more addicting than intimidating.