Tips for Planning an OTC Hunt
Every year a couple of premier hunting states raise their nonresident license fees. For example, Kansas just announced another increase in their deer license fees to mirror pretty closely the price in Iowa. The reality of this situation is that it's not going to change and, yes, some folks will get priced right out of the game. There is far too much demand for big antlers and some states provide the best chance.
It's supply and demand, and while I'm not a huge fan of having to pay 30-times as much as a resident for a tag, the issue is pretty much settled. States can charge what they want, and until they raise prices so high that the revenue drops from loss of interest, it'll just keep climbing.
With that doom-and-gloom reality, there is also a bright side. Some states don't gouge nonresidents nearly as much. They also offer easy to obtain over-the-counter or guaranteed draw licenses for all types of critters.
Here's how to find them.
Pick A Critter
Depending on where you live, the options will be pretty limited. East coasters are likely looking at deer tags, unless they are willing to drive a serious distance to get where western animals live. Midwestern hunters have more options, because we are in a pretty good place as far as access to whitetails is concerned, and not terribly far away from where the sagebrush grows. And western bowhunters, well, you know what you've got and suffice it to say, I'm jealous.
No matter where you live, there is a season-enhancing, over-the-counter tag somewhere near you. Back in the day, it was a lot more difficult to find them. These days, it's a Google search away.
True OTC Hunts
I don't know why some states do this, but occasionally you'll run into misleading verbiage surrounding getting a specific tag. Take South Dakota for example. If you were interested in an early-season antelope bowhunt, you'd see that you need to apply for a license. This makes it seem like you might not draw, which isn't the case.
Other states make it much more simple and clearly line out what the nonresident can and can't get a license to hunt. I love those states, especially if they allow me to print my license off at home. For example, last summer a couple of buddies and I decided we wanted to give Oklahoma a shot. We picked a huge chunk of public ground, set our dates and waited for the opener to close in.
Because life happens and all of us have young families, we waited until a few days before the trip to buy and print our licenses, which went off without a hiccup.
Whenever I'm researching nonresident tags, there are a few things I always look at. The first is season timing. I want to hunt when I think it's going to be good, so the dates have to work for me. They also have to not coincide with any early firearm's season or youth seasons. I hunt public land on my out-of-state trips, and the last thing I want to do is try to bowhunt during some type of gun season.
I also look for incentives on the licenses. Your OTC tag might only be good for the big ticket item, like a mule deer. Or it might allow you to hunt turkeys, small game, or something else. I like having as many tags as I can on these hunts, and some states will entice visiting hunters with a few bonus critters.
OTC Hunt Realities
With certain animals, elk most specifically, some states thrive off the-more-the-merrier attitude when it comes to selling tags. Colorado is a great example of this. The state has become the go-to destination for traveling elk hunters due to the fact that it's one of the few states with plenty of OTC elk options. The problem with this is that it takes a huge demand and compresses it into a relatively small area.
Anyone who has bowhunted an OTC unit in Colorado knows that it can sometimes be hard to find a little elbow room. That being said, it's still a great option to elk hunt every year for a reasonable price in some of the most beautiful country in the lower-48. So, it's definitely not all bad.
Other states offer awesome OTC hunts, and don't promise quite the pressure you'd expect. Take Missouri for example. Whitetail tags are OTC for nonresidents, very reasonably priced, and while the state definitely has plenty of deer pressure, it's not any worse than an awful lot of the states I've hunted. Being surrounded by three destination whitetail states definitely cuts down on the over-the-road hunters ending up in Missouri.
I use Colorado elk and Missouri whitetails as contrasting examples to prove a long-winded point on this subject. Over-the-counter tags have a bad reputation for promising less-than-stellar hunts. This can be true, but often it's not: especially if you're willing to work a little harder than the competition to prove the reputation wrong.
I've killed great bucks in Iowa each year I've drawn the coveted nonresident tag there after waiting three years, but none of them are as big as my biggest buck - which is a deer I killed on public land in Nebraska on an OTC hunt that cost one-third of one of my Iowa tags.