The majestic white-tailed deer holds a special place in the hearts of countless bowhunters, and why wouldn’t it? Populous in piles of states across the country, this species is susceptible to a wide range of hunt tactics, and in most locales, can be hunted from September right through December. Of course, season dates vary by state, but time is a bowhunter’s best friend, and stick-and-string whitetail seasons offer it in spades.
Annually, the hardwoods of the Midwest and dense forests of the East seem to draw the most attention from the whitetail crowd, and rightfully so, but the West should also be on your radar. Overlooked in many western states—mainly due to attention placed on mule deer—most state whitetail populations are on the uptick. Plus, when it comes to western public-land hunting, parking areas typically aren’t lined with trucks. If you’re in the mood for a new whitetail adventure, I highly recommend giving the West a go.Score A Tag. Those accustomed to pulling into Walmart and snatching an OTC tag need to know a little about the western permit structure as it applies to whitetails. While some western states (Idaho, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and North Dakota) offer over-the-counter tags, most western destinations require hunters to apply through a draw. The good news is this process is not complicated, and in many states like Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, pulling a permit is almost a guarantee. Should the dice come up snake eyes, you will receive a preference or bonus point, which virtually ensures you’ll pull a tag the following year. Don’t forget that some states will have leftover tags, which can be purchased after the state’s primary draw. Those on the prowl for a western whitetail hunt should visit the state’s Game and Fish Dept. website, and read over the tag process. In some states, where a tag is guaranteed, you’ll need to purchase the tag by a specific date. Do your research and prepare accordingly.Plenty Room To Roam. A significant bonus to chasing whitetails out West is the amount of public land available to hunters, and the amount of open-to-anyone dirt seems to be growing each year. While every state has a name for its specific program, (Walk-In, Block Management, PLOTS, etc.) state wildlife agencies have done a fabulous job of partnering with landowners to open pieces of private land to public hunting. Then, of course, there are the countless acres of BLM, National Forest, State Wildlife Areas, and the list goes on. The point: If you do your research and take time to plan, you’ll find no shortage of public access.Simplifying this process is HuntStand’s amazing Hunting Lands map layer. When looking over possible hunt areas, simply click the Hunting Lands layer, and the map will instantly bring up open-to-the-public dirt. Better yet, a simple click on a listed public site will bring up specific intel for that location. In a matter of seconds, you can see the area’s boundaries, learn its acreage, and get hunt unit data. Pair this layer with HuntStand’s Public Lands layer, which shows federal, state, county public lands, and more, and you can start stringing together many possible hunt areas in mere minutes.When prospecting for a western whitetail hot zone, don’t overlook open-country areas, and by this, I mean vast tracts of CRP, rolling pastures, and sage country dotted with trickling creeks. Western whitetails have done a fantastic job of adapting to the landscape, and hunters who drop pins and put boots on the ground to investigate these areas upon arrival, will often find little honeyholes of whitetail nirvana.
With a few possible hunt destinations identified, use HuntStand’s all-new Monthly Satellite layer to get the most-recent aerial image of your area. With this new imagery, you can quickly identify likely whitetail haunts, and further fine-tune your hunt planning.Confirm Your E-Scouting. When you arrive at your hunt area, I recommend taking some time to investigate your promising pin drops. In more-wooded areas, you’ll find typical whitetail sign like rubs, scrapes, and pounded trails, which quickly confirm your e-scouting and help you put a plan together. Most hunters seek out these “typical” locations that include river and creek bottoms that border agricultural fields. In some places, state wildlife agencies will plant food plots, which are great, but can draw in the masses. When hunting these types of locations, look for areas that require a longer walk, and if a tough ascent or descent is required, all the better. If you can get away from the crowds, even if that means getting away from food sources, your odds of finding a transition zone, river/creek crossing, or major trail intersection that no one is hunting, go way up.If your HuntStand e-scouting revealed open areas that look like they might hold deer, my best advice is to use your vehicle, get yourself a reasonable distance away and put good glass to use during the early morning or evening. Open-country whitetails don’t have lots of cover to work with and can typically be glassed on open hillsides, ridges, sage flats, and in CRP fields.I always have a pair of 12-power binos hanging on my chest and a quality spotting scope with a window mount at the ready. Another open country tip is to gain a vantage point during a morning or evening—use HuntStand’s Top Quad layer to identify solid elevated glassing spots—and post up for a few hours. It’ll be time well spent.Water Rules Out Here. If you haven’t heard, much of the western landscape has been in a severe drought for many months, putting water at a premium. Even during years when the heavens open and rain falls in my specific hunt area, I still put a ton of emphasis on water. Whitetails have to drink, and a good water hole or creek crossing can concentrate deer from the season opener right through the rut. Isolated ponds in timbered areas can be money, but don’t overlook blending in a ground blind over a well-used stock tank in a sagebrush-dappled draw.If your hunt area is along a creek, river, or other waterways, look for pounded crossings, and if the rut is near, place special emphasis on crossings that connect doe bedding areas. Bucks love to wander one side of a waterway checking for hot does, cross the water, and instantly be downwind of another doe bedroom.The Spot-And-Stalk Option. Don’t tar and feather me, and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Chances are you’re coming West to experience a new whitetail challenge, and if you decide to get on the ground and mix it up with some western bucks, you’ll get everything you wanted and more. This tactic will work best for those hunting open to semi-open whitetail ground.During the early season, bucks will leave nearby food sources and seek daytime sanctuary in sage draws, weed patches, CRP, and other cover areas. They don’t need much. A small thicket of plum bushes, or sparse patch of tamarack is more than enough. Your job is to be on the glass and bed a buck (or three) down. Once you do, take your time. Early season bucks bed for most of the day, and eyeballing a buck or bucks slink into their bed is 90 percent of the task. The other 10 percent is slipping in for the kill.Take note of the wind and day-long forecast using HuntStand, and use your glass to identify distinguishable landmarks between you and your target. If you’re glassing from an elevated vantage point, know these landmarks will often look different when you drop in elevation, so the more distinguishable they are, the better. In addition to glassing landmarks, drop a pin where your target animal is bedded, and another at your current location. I also recommend pinning any of your specific landmarks that you can find using HuntStand’s aerial imagery. By doing this, you can easily navigate from spot to spot using your HuntStand app. This is especially beneficial if the landscape is void of suitable landmarks. If you know your current position at all times, and the position of your target animal, you can make a better stalk.When you get into range, patience rules as you prepare for a shot opportunity. I’m a big fan of letting a bedded target buck, or group of bedded bucks, stand on their own. In my experience throwing a rock or stick seriously increases the odds of sending flagging white tails sailing across the landscape. And if the startled buck or bucks don’t spook, they will be on high alert when they stand, which boosts their chances of dropping severely at the shot.Rut-Time Ground Game. If your hunt falls during the whitetail rut, one of the best methods for western success, and tagging a true gagger, is to use a 3-D buck decoy in tandem with a bow-mounted doe decoy. The idea is to set the buck imposter in an area where it’s obvious to cruising bucks. Naturally, the buck decoy will get their attention, and when they see the bow-mounted doe, it provides the illusion that the buck fake is tending a doe. If you can back yourself into some brush—sage, a cedar, or whatever—all the better. You want the setup to appear as natural as possible. With this setup, you become part of the decoy spread, and I can promise you there isn’t a more-exciting way to hunt western whitetails. If you’re looking for a good bow-mounted doe option, I heartily recommend Ultimate Predator Gear’s Stalker Doe, or the Whitetail Doe Decoy from Heads Up Decoy.Make Some Noise. If you snuggle into a treestand or ground blind out West, especially along a sparsely timbered waterway, don’t be afraid to make some noise. In many areas, doe populations aren’t as high as they are in the Midwest or the East, and even if they are, the local does aren’t concentrated in large timber blocks. This makes calling very effective. Low humidity combined with semi-open country allows sound to travel, and often, clanging together antlers or rattling systems, mixed with some grunting, will lure rutty bucks to your location.Staying Put Can Pay. This last western tactic has increased the amount of meat in my freezer more than any other, and it’s a straightforward tactic. I’ve found the range of most western bucks to be extensive. Why? The openness of the country and the lack of large timber blocks.Bucks out west are used to covering lots of country each day in search of hot does. If your stand or blind is situated in an area with plenty of buck sign, a dawn-to-dusk vigil can pay big. You never know when that western buck of a lifetime will wander past, but typically, haunting such sign-laden spots will pay off sooner rather than later.