Got the itch to hunt whitetails outside your home state, but don’t know where to start? In Part 1 of our 2-Part series, we develop a smart gameplan for a successful do-it-yourself hunt.
Every fall, Minnesota’s Bernie Barringer becomes a whitetail-hunting road warrior. After months of research and preparation that includes liberal use of the HuntStand app, and diligent practice with his favorite compound bow, Barringer (shown above) is ready to haunt a few select, mostly public tracts across two or three different Midwest states. And even better, over the years, he’s refined a do-it-yourself system for others to follow that offers up a solid path to success, even if you’ve never taken an out-of-state hunt.
Barringer, 60, is a dedicated HuntStand user and longtime outdoor communicator who has made no less than 30 whitetail road trips over the last 20 years. In the process he’s bagged some great public-land bucks, and learned a great many lessons along the way. In Part 1 of our 2-part series, Barringer offers tips on choosing the right hunting locations, scouting from your home, and other considerations that can make or break your next public-land, do-it-yourself whitetail adventure:
Choosing The Right State. “The right state for your personal whitetail adventure can be based on several things that ultimately, only you can decide,” Barringer says. “Proximity to your home might be one, how much a tag costs might be another, maybe it’s how hard a tag is to draw, or whether it’s a quick and easy over-the-counter purchase. Another question you need to answer is, what are you looking for in a hunt? A really cool experience that’s very different from what you’re used to, or maybe a trophy buck? If you’re from Michigan, New York or Pennsylvania and you don’t regularly see lots of deer, you can travel to eastern Montana, and expect to see 30 to 50 deer daily; that might be cool and different. Or you might decide you want to set up your best chance of seeing a high-quality buck, and so you might consider southern Iowa your target. Once you decide your priorities, you can wind up with the best and smartest plan for you.” Know Before You Go: Smart Online Research. “I like to use HuntStand for looking at and otherwise researching local terrain, and I can do much of that back in my home office on my computer, weeks and months before I plan to hunt. I really like that with HuntStand you can combine both satellite imagery with topographic lines, which really helps me dial-in productive areas quickly. Primarily what I’m looking for on new tracts is terrain and features that will funnel or influence deer movement. As an example, I’m currently researching an area using aerial photos, and I’ve found where a winding river comes up against a high, steep bank, an unusual, isolated area that I know will be funneling local deer movement. Another good one is two separate patches of timber that might neck down where they connect, sort of like an hour glass, a classic funnel where you can expect to ambush bucks during the rut; at that time you can bet they will be on their feet cruising between those timber patches.
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“After a while those types of things jump right out at you, and if you spend a lot of time looking at aerial photos, you can also begin to see and predict likely bedding areas. A great doe bedding area can be where a river makes a big round bend, and on the inside of that bend, if the area holds a lot of brush and weeds, or fairly thick grassy type cover with some brush or trees mixed in, you can expect it to hold deer. Bucks will often bed on higher points or ridges; they love to bed on the backside of a ridge, so they can smell what’s behind and see what’s in front of them; a great spot is where a point comes off a ridge. You mark these areas on your HuntStand map before you go, and then, once on site put boots on the ground and check them out. You need to confirm everything, but detailed aerial photos combined with topo contours are just a huge advantage, and once you drop a pin you can walk right to those areas.”
Should You Partner Or Go It Alone? “There are definitely pros and cons to this, but the pros are that you can typically increase your enjoyment by having a buddy along; it can be fun to share experiences at the end of the day and share in any successes. More pros are that you can reduce expenses; splitting the cost of gas and motel rooms can be very helpful. One con is that sometimes two people don’t have the same motivation or expectations; you don’t want to have to get your buddy out of bed each morning to hunt. And potentially, you’re also splitting the good hunting spots. If there are not many good places to hunt, who is going to hunt the hottest spot? Partners need to be on the same page or problems can arise.”Scout First, Hunt Second. “This is one of the most-important aspects of being successful on out-of-state hunts, and I’ve made the mistake of jumping in too early, a lot. Back when I started I would get to a property, look around a little bit, find an area that was all torn up, and just couldn’t wait to get in a stand. I think it’s very important to first get a feel for how the deer are moving around a property before you start hunting. Maybe one of your first moves is to find a good high spot to glass deer movement.
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Generally, If I’ve never been to a property, I’m not hunting the first full day or the second morning. My first moves are getting a few trail cameras out, and generally getting to know the area. Then, when I decide to hang a stand, I want to hang two stands right away. Typically, I’m hunting food in the evening and bedding areas in the morning, and the stands are not going to be in the same areas. I want to feel I’ve got the property set up before I commit to actual hunting.”
Saving Money On Meals. “One thing I like after a hard day of scouting or hunting is a hot meal ready and waiting at the end of the day; I find it really keeps my motivation up. I’ll carry a large cooler with me stocked with frozen meals that I put together well before the hunt, and, before I leave my motel room for hunting in the morning, I’ll place one in a slow cooker that I also always take along. When I come back in the evening I have a hot meal waiting for me, and I don’t have to worry about finding a restaurant that’s still open, or spending an extra $300 to $400 a week eating out. In the morning it’s a simple matter to make hot oatmeal in packets; during the day I’ll typically snack on breakfast/protein bars or Powerbars.” Effective Use Of Scouting Cams. “There are two kinds of information I’m looking for with my trail cameras; number one, I want to inventory what bucks are on the property, and get a feel for the area’s [trophy potential]. I don’t want to shoot a 120-class buck if there are 140s running around, and the best way to do that is get some scouting cameras on primary scrapes. Within 48 hours, you’ll get photos of most bucks using that area.
“Secondly, I want to know where the local deer are bedding and feeding, and which direction they are heading, so I place cameras on good-looking deer trails, and scrapes and rubs, trying to learn as much as I can. Early on I check them every day, and carry a pocketful of SD cards, so I can simply swap them out as I go.
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“I’m typically running four to six cameras at a given time; I’m using Covert Mavericks, and they take good-quality photos day or night. I consider them a hunting tool, so I’m not afraid to get them stolen on public land, but I’ve had less than five stolen over the last 10 years. Most hunters who stumble across them won’t steal them, and I’ve learned to disguise them, and put them in places where they’re harder to see. I like to carry a climbing stick or two and set them up about 10 feet high; most people won’t shinny up a tree to steal your camera, but you have to remember to take your climbing sticks when you retrieve your cams at the end of the hunt.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: We hope these tips have given you some insight into choosing and preparing for your next out-of-state deer hunting destination. But stay tuned, more tips are on the way. In Part 2 of our 2-Part Series we’ll discuss the nitty-gritty details of bagging a public-land buck once you’ve chosen the site of your whitetail adventure. For more insightful info all DIY deer hunters need to see, get yourself a copy of Bernie Barringer’s latest book, The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY Strategies For The Traveling Whitetail Hunter.