February 27, 2023
By Dale Evans
As the snow falls, I ponder on what tags I'll draw as I dream of hunts to come. Let’s be honest, there’s never really any “down time” for the restless hunter. Right now, it’s application season—arguably one of the busiest and most important times of the year. Usually, I don’t draw that premier tag. Most years just see another point added to the pile with a glimmer of hope for better luck next year. And I know most hunters share that same result.
There’s no need to be dejected when your coveted tag is drawn by someone else. Sure, it’s disappointing, but it doesn’t need to ruin your season. Luckily for you, there are a lot of states that still offer great over-the-counter hunting opportunities for a variety of species. And if you’re willing to travel, you may just have one of your best years yet.
Here’s five over-the-counter hunts available to you this season.
Let’s start out with the least physically demanding hunt but one that can be time-consuming and requires a great deal of scouting before the season. There are some great “sleeper” states with really good public-land options for whitetail deer. Nebraska, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma quickly come to mind. You could block off a week to 10 days and explore new country—which could potentially land you with a great trophy if you’ve done your research and e-scouted appropriately. Alternatively, if you find a state close to you, you easily can put in plenty of time to kill a mature buck this season.
Though I personally believe spot-and-stalk antelope hunting with a bow to be one of the more challenging hunts in the West, it can be a fun early season hunt. Not only does it give you the opportunity to get some hunting in during August, but antelope are very plentiful. So, when you blow a stalk, the next opportunity is usually close by. With OTC opportunities in both Colorado and Nebraska, plus a good bit of accessible public land, this is one that should be on your to-do list.
Spring Black Bear
Up until this point, I’ve highlighted fall hunts, but this article would be incomplete without the mention of spring bears. Climbing up high, finding a good green patch to glass, and taking in spring in the Rockies is something I look forward to every year. Add in numerous opportunities for a tag between Wyoming and Montana, plus the ability to have 2 tags in Idaho— depending on area—spring bear hunting is the ultimate way to get back into the mountains after that long, chilly winter. What’s more, bear tags in these states roll over to the fall season for added opportunities.
If you’re looking for something new to try this year, check out the coastal regions of Oregon and Washington. Now, this hunt won’t be for the hunter that likes to sit back, glass and make a game plan. This country is thick and jungle-like, and you’ll want to pack your rain gear. These hunts will challenge you, but with both archery and rifle tags available, pockets of public land and differing seasons, opportunity abounds. Plus, the opportunity to tag a big, mature Roosevelt could easily be considered one of the finer trophies in the lower 48.
The Last Frontier has plenty of OTC opportunities available to the zealous hunter. With blacktail deer, caribou and moose options available, this could be the adventure hunt you’ve been looking for. The main caveat with Alaska is planning. Do your homework and ensure you have a solid plan before departing to the bush. There’s not a lot about Alaska that can be considered easy. Getting to your hunting destination might take two or three days alone. But with seemingly endless amounts of public land, there is plenty of opportunity to fill your tag. Manage your expectations, though, as it will be a tough hunt that will challenge your skills as a hunter and wit as a woodsman. This hunt will require time as well. Make sure to plan for travel days outside of your hunting time—which should be at least seven days. Doing this DIY requires you to prep, package and ship trophies and meat. This process could take a couple of days, so plan accordingly.
So, if you’re like me and are currently working on your application strategies with high anticipation of drawing that coveted tag; understand that even if you don’t draw, there’s still plenty of opportunity to find adventure, and, with a little luck, a successful season this coming year could be in your cards.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.