Ask most serious whitetail hunters which state boasts the best odds for taking a buck with true trophy potential and most will offer an unhesitating “Iowa.” It’s also one of the hardest to get tags. Unlike most whitetail states that offer over-the-counter licenses, nonresidents must enter a draw to win a lucky permit.
That’s the reason famed hunters such as Lee and Tiffany Lakosky and brothers Gene and Barry Wensel chose to uproot their lives and move to Iowa; residents don’t need to draw! But Iowa isn’t the only quality deer hunting state
that requires hunters to enter a draw for an opportunity at a big-racked buck.
Kansas, another top choice among trophy seekers, requires nonresidents to draw as does other big buck destinations. The trophy potential of Illinois is well known among anybody who hunts, thanks to Pike County and others gaining in fame, but if you’re a nonresident who wants to hunt there with a gun or muzzleloader, you need to draw for a tag.
Montana’s Milk River region has also put the western state on the map as a legit trophy whitetail destination, while hunt booking consultant C.J. Brown of Outdoor Adventures Worldwide likes neighboring Wyoming for the unpressured hunting and quality whitetail potential found there. Both of them require hunters to enter a draw.
A growing number of hunters, including Cabela’s T.A.G.S. manager Eric Pawlak, are starting to look at North Dakota as a state with real sleeper trophy potential, and it also requires hunters to enter a lottery. Following is the breakdown on what you need to know for each state so you can improve your odds this year in obtaining a tag to one of these top trophy destinations.
The latter season has grown more popular because most hunters want to be there toward the end, since that is the best likelihood of cold, nasty weather, which gets the deer moving. As for zones in Iowa, Pawlak likes 4, 5, and 6, but expect it to take about three years to draw, even as you add preference points (you should purchase one every year). An outfitted hunt here can run upwards of $5,000, but for serious big buck hunters, it should be worth the price.
“Without a doubt, Iowa is the best state in the country to kill a big whitetail,” says Pawlak.
Application Deadline: June 3 Cost: $493, includes doe tag plus $74.34 just to apply; bonus point, $30.59. — Iowa DNR
Leftover tags are also a possibility in many units but don’t go on sale until later in the year, leaving some uncertainty to your plans if you’re using an outfitter. Big deer can be found anywhere in the state, but Pawlak likes central or south central Kansas the best (units 5, 15, and 16) as these areas are more remote and away from any population centers.
“Deer grow big and die of old age there,” he says.
Application Deadline: April 26 Cost: $322.50 (nonresident). — Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism
Pike and the neighboring counties of Brown, Adams, and Schuyler produce some god-awful bucks, but so does the rest of the state. I’ve seen some incredible deer that no hunter would pass up hunting along the Wabash River area in New Haven, closer to the Indiana line.
Application Deadline: August 15 Cost: Archery is $410, firearm is $325; either-sex permit, $28.50 five-day license, $3 habitat stamp. — Illinois DNR
Application Deadline: March 15 Cost: $570/nonresident deer combo license (required to hunt antlered deer). — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Book through an outfit like Cabela’s T.A.G.S. or Outdoor Adventures Worldwide if you’re not sure of where to go, as these services can match you with the best outfit that can meet your budget and expectations.
Application Deadline: March 15 Cost: $312/nonresident deer license; $14 application fee. — Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Or if you want to guarantee your chance to hunt this season, buy an archery tag (whitetail-only), which are available in unlimited supply. Of course, with the wide-open country of North Dakota, most hunters want to be able to stretch their shots out if needed, which means hunting during firearms or muzzleloader season.
Application Deadline: June 5 Cost: $205/nonresident gun license and application fee, $13 habitat license, $2 hunting certificate. — North Dakota Game and Fish Department