By Matt Palmquist
Q: I’ve been hunting whitetails for 10 years in my home state, but quality antlered bucks are rare. I want to hunt other states with the goal of killing a P&Y-class buck on public land. Any suggestions on choosing a state and area to hunt? J. Stanley via e-mail
A: It is natural for a bowhunter to evolve and want to hunt for “trophy” animals. While antler size doesn’t equate to the difficulty of a hunt, or how savvy an animal is, it does typically mean an older age class of animal. The easy answer is to hunt where trophy class whitetails exist. Thankfully, we live in a world full of information at our fingertips, so determining a state, and an area to hunt, is easier now than ever before. Using the onX Hunt app and the Pope and Young Club’s “Trophy Database” search engine, you can narrow your focus without ever having to leave your house.
Hunting public land adds an additional challenge to achieving your goal, since the majority of trophy whitetail country is comprised of private land. However, the tools I mentioned above will help you tremendously during your search.
The P&Y’s database is relatively new, but it’s a game-changer when trying to find areas with trophy potential. This tool allows you to search by species, typical or nontypical, state, and year of harvest. Start by querying entries within the last 10 years for the state you are researching. Keep the search broad to begin with, and then make a note of those counties you are seeing multiple times. You can also search by a specific county, which will be useful after you tighten your focus. While everyone would love to shoot an animal in the Top 20 for a state, be realistic in your goal and pay attention to counties that are producing P&Y qualifiers from the top to the minimum entry.
After identifying counties that consistently yield P&Y bucks, the next step is to employ the onX app to identify public-hunting opportunities. Include layers for all public access, from state and federally owned properties to private-land access programs. In a quick search of my home state of Kansas, I found very little public land in one of the top counties identified through the P&Y search. That is no surprise, considering Kansas is 97-percent private land. In states similar to Kansas, start with onX to identify areas with lots of public access, and then go back to the P&Y site and search by county to determine trophy potential. It will take time and effort, but eventually you will be able to identify an area to hunt with a potential for trophy bucks on public land.
Obtaining a permit is the next step. States vary from buying over the counter to a limited draw, requiring you to go through an application process. Building preference points may be necessary in states with a limited draw. State DNR websites will help you with the application process. If it isn’t clear on their website, you should then call someone in licensing who can explain the requirements to hunt in their state. This will ensure your trip isn’t spoiled by unknowingly breaking the rules, which could result in a citation.
States in the Midwest are always going to be at the forefront of the conversation when it comes to big whitetails. That said, don’t overlook states that have more public-land opportunities with easy to obtain permits. Whitetails have become widespread across the U.S., and some of the Western states are now producing tremendous bucks.
If you spend time researching, your goal may be easier to attain than you think. Good luck in your pursuit, and enjoy the journey!