If you were ever able to make a season-long deer hunting road trip, where would you go? I know that this is just about impossible for about 99% of us, but hey, maybe we can do it when we retire, or if we're fortunate enough to win the lottery. There is a ton of whitetail action all over the country, so it can be tough to say you should hunt a specific state at a specific time. Although, there is not really a bad state to hunt in if you are looking at the Midwest. My dream deer hunting road trip consists of only archery tags and honestly does not make a perfect circle. I picked these states based on season dates, harvest data, my own experience, and the experiences other hunters have had in that state. I also broke down the road trip loosely based on the phases of the rut. We will start with early bow season in September when bucks could still be in velvet, and then we will get to the October hunts, the rut, post-rut, and a bonus state for the late season that will have more action than you may think. In total, this road trip is going to have five states, so make sure you bring a few coolers.
Early Bow Season - Kentucky
Being from Georgia, I generally like to start my season there. Our bow season opens in mid-September, but it is usually around 90 degrees and just a miserable time to sit in a stand. Nonetheless, my excitement for a new season keeps me out there. You can certainly kill a respectable buck in Georgia, but it is nothing like the Midwest. So, on this dream road trip, I might make a few sits at home and not be too worried if I never fire an arrow. It's going to be a long season with plenty of opportunities.
For some real action in the early season, I would go to Kentucky. Their bow season opens on September fourth. It will still be fairly warm, around 73 to 83 historically, but not as bad as Georgia. This is a good chance to put down a buck that is still in velvet. You also simply have a good chance of seeing a lot of deer in feeding areas. If you can find a good patch of white oak acorn trees during this time, that's where you should hunt. There are plenty of good bucks in Kentucky, and the best part is you can get an non-resident over-the-counter tag for less than $150.
Bucktober - Nebraska
October can be a great time to jump on some awesome bucks. In Nebraska, there is plenty of public land that you can hunt on, and when October rolls around, the season will have been open for about a month. This means there are not going to be nearly as many people out there as there would be on opening day, and bucks are already going to start avoiding the inexperienced hunters. If you know what you are doing, you can get into those public lands and put down a great buck. Nebraska is known for having huge deer and plenty of food to keep them that way. After you tag a buck in Kentucky, head on over to some of the 800,000 acres of public land in Nebraska. Sure, there's the dreaded "October lull" to contend with, but Nebraska has such a robust deer population, there's no better place to spend this slower time before the big show starts in November. Just to prove the Cornhusker state's potential, back in the 1950s, it was home to a legendary whitetail known as "The General," a deer known only by a matched pair of sheds that would have toppled Milo Hanson's world record!
The Full Rut - Wisconsin
Nebraska is great, and you will see plenty of action there during the rut, but during the first few weeks of November, the place I want to be is in Wisconsin. According to Omega Outdoors, Wisconsin is the state to hunt if you want to bag a Boone & Crockett buck. Between 2008 and 2017, a total of 712 "Booners" were recorded in Wisconsin. The second closest state was Ohio, with a measly 457 bucks. That's nearly a 36% decrease! The numbers don't lie. After all, they have the most recorded Boone & Crockett bucks in the most recent decade, not just since the creation of Boone & Crockett in 1887, and the most recorded Boone & Crockett bucks per square mile. It's home to famous deer like the James Jordan buck and the ever-controversial Johnny King buck that some hunters believe was unfairly deprived of world record status. The competition will be stiff because there are plenty of hunters that also want a piece of a massive Wisconsin buck, but if I had my pick, I would hang my stand in that state during November where the action will be fast and furious.
Post Rut - Missouri
For the post-rut, you can really hunt anywhere that has plenty of food. During this time, deer are going to be trying to recover from an intense rut, so food is king. Although there will still be some young does that will come into estrus during this time, and the mature bucks know this. The best place to hang a stand during the post rut is a funnel into or out of a popular food source. Since this is a road trip, I need a state on my way back to Georgia. For the post-rut, I would be super happy hunting in Missouri. The Show-Me State may not be the first one that pops into your head for big deer, but they are there. Over the 2008 to 2017 period, Missouri recorded 301 Boone & Crockett bucks, which is the eighth highest in the nation. When accounting for landmass, they bump up to number seven. Don't forget, the single largest wild non-typical ever recorded, the "Missouri Monarch," which sported an eye-popping 333 inches of antler lived and died there in the early 1980s.
Missouri also has over 2.5 million acres worth of public land that is available for hunting. You can surely find somewhere to go, and you can get a non-resident bow tag for a little less than $300. This is not a bad place to hunt during late November and through December. Even after you bag a Missouri buck on Christmas, you will still have nearly a month and a half for a late season buck in the next state.
Super Late Season - Alabama
In the south, the rut does not always fall in November. My home state, Georgia, has a handful of zones, all with different rut dates. Alabama is similar, although Alabama has a much later season than just about any state. Most states have closed their deer season for a long time before Alabama even thinks about closing. Their season dates for bow hunting are October fifteenth to February tenth. Yup, you read that right, February! On our glorious road trip of a lifetime, if you still want to squeeze another buck out of your season, you can spend a few weeks in Alabama before the season is over and still see a bit of rut action. You can also get in on a fair amount of public land in the southern portion of the state. On average, a deer from the south is not as big as a deer from the Midwest. However, you can certainly find a nice buck or two in Alabama. There have been some absolute giants harvested in the state, and they get a few Booners each year too. If you want to extend your season, Alabama is the place to be.
The Last Arrow
I hope one day I can take this ultimate deer hunting road trip, but for now, I will keep dreaming. There are a total of five states on this road trip and you can hunt between the start of September, and the middle of February, nearly six months! Your deer hunting road trip does not have to be this intense, but hopefully, you saw something in this road trip that you can use to make a change on your own. The states I used are also not a concrete requirement, you will find big deer all throughout the country, some states just make it a little easier. Good luck this year and drive safe!
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