Epic Road Trips: Great Plains Whitetails

Epic Road Trips: Great Plains Whitetails

When it comes to big whitetails, guys always think of the Corn Belt: Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Kansas. Truth is, there are other options that don't receive the pressure, or the notoriety, but offer some unique whitetail hunting options.

I'm talking about the Great Plains trifecta of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

South Dakota

After the Hunt: There is also the Corn Palace in Mitchell.

Beyond those attractions, you should visit the disputed 'grave ' of Sitting Bull in Mobridge. Sitting Bull was originally buried in North Dakota, but the good folks of Mobridge decided they wanted a tourist attraction, so in 1953 a few locals dug him up and reburied him in Mobridge. North Dakota claims the Mobridgers just buried old horse bones, so the Northerners also built a monument.

Montana

After the Hunt: Montana boasts Little Bighorn Battlefield and the less than impressive town of Scobey (founded by a distant relative of editor Mike Schoby) whose only historic claim to fame is One-Eyed Molly's House of Pleasure.

North Dakota

After the Hunt: Across the border in North Dakota, near the town of Williston, is the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, which has some interesting history of this key regional feature, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition passage.

South Dakota

Of the trifecta, South Dakota may be the biggest sleeper. Everyone knows about South Dakota's wild pheasant hunting — heck, over 100,000 nonresident bird hunters come to this state annually.

The deer hunting is not nearly as popular, and the good news is, it is a whitetail paradise. My good buddy and Bone Collector cohost Nick Mundt is from South Dakota, and he chases bucks there nearly every year. 'You can get multiple buck tags in South Dakota, ' says Mundt. 'Archery hunters have to go through the application process, but there is no deadline and no cap on the amount of archery tags. '

If you don't feel like knocking on doors, there are some great state-owned areas, as well as lots of walk-in access on private ground.

Deer Tag: $286

Extra Anterless Deer Tag: $56

North Dakota

After the Hunt: While in North Dakota, swing by Teddy Roosevelt's ranch and the Teddy Roosevelt National Park near Medora.

Montana

I have been hunting eastern Montana for the better part of 15 years now — going back to my earliest days with Realtree. I still enjoy it as much today as I did back then. The deer aren't huge (by Midwest standards), but they are plentiful, and the style of hunting is hard to beat.

Since so much of the property is agricultural, surrounded by rivers and creeks, the bedding and feeding areas are pretty defined and therefore predictable. Unlike hunting in the big woods of the Midwest where visibility is often limited, in this part of the world you are going to see plenty of deer in the alfalfa fields, even if you don't get a shot.

While eastern Montana can be good anytime of the season, I like to hunt the first two weeks of October when much of the country is in a lull. The summer patterns are ending and the rut hasn't kicked in; it's kind of the calm before the storm. But in Montana the deer are still hitting the alfalfa. Best of all, they are getting interested in breeding, but not to the point of being so crazy they are unpredictable. Decoys work really well as does calling and rattling; the bucks are simply curious and are willing to walk across a field to check things out.

There is one downside: A lot of the prime land in this region is private, but knocking on doors can still yield some free or cheap access.

Combo Deer/Elk General: $976

Deer Combo: $580

South Dakota

After the Hunt: Every patriot should see Mount Rushmore at least once.

North Dakota

Like Montana, North Dakota can be good throughout the season; some folks go early for a chance at a buck in velvet and others wait for the rut. Heck, years ago Mike Schoby and I road tripped out there in the middle of a December blizzard. With temps in the negative double digits, the conditions were absolutely miserable, but the hunting was good, and I arrowed a nice buck in the shelter of a small woodlot.

The hunting conditions are similar to, but slightly different from, Montana. It is still agricultural land, but there are more shelterbelts and large woodlots in addition to the creek bottoms. Another notable difference between the two states is baiting is allowed in North Dakota. While some like this and others hate it, it can make a difference in the late season. The final notable difference between North Dakota and Montana is the availability of hunting land.

While large parts of the best hunting are still located on private ground, gaining access is much easier. North Dakota landowners have a long tradition of allowing polite hunters who ask permission onto their land. Outfitters are not as common, so leased-up property, especially for deer, is not as prevalent. Go in the summer, knock on some doors, be polite, and you will likely find more spots to bowhunt than you will need. The best part: This is an over-the-counter tag!

Game and Habitat License: $20

Archery Deer License: $250

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