It was the final evening of my thrown-together OTC deer hunt. Flurries, high winds and nearly -40°F temps couldn’t steal my joy. I was bowhunting a couple of states away from home. Deer began appearing, and soon there were a couple of bucks feeding right in front of me. One was a solid 3 1/2-year-old 8-pointer, but trail-camera data indicated that a massive, more mature buck was due to visit.
A whacky-racked 2 1/2-year-old buck quickly scampered past my blind; I assumed it meant that the “boss” was coming. Seconds later, the brute filled my blind window. I carefully drew my Mathews, but he turned to a poor angle. I held at full draw for nearly a minute before he turned and was quartering away perfectly. The whispery thump of my Phase4 was followed by a solid whack! The arrow hit so perfectly that not an ounce of doubt loomed.
Upon impact, he bucked like a bronco and plowed away through the deep, drifted snow. I waited only about 5 minutes before exiting my blind and following the red trail to my buck where I notched out the month, date and time on my nonresident whitetail tag. I’d decided just a few days before the hunt to commit to the last-minute adventure, and it proved to be well worth it.
Whether you fill your resident buck tag early and want to expand your season, or you simply feel the allure of adventure, here are some tips to guide you in throwing together a quick, exciting and potentially successful OTC whitetail hunt in another state.
First Things First
A short-notice OTC whitetail hunt can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. In its simplest form, you need nothing more than a tag, your Mathews bow, some apparel and a way to get there. Some folks approach it this way, keeping expectations low and embracing the adventure. And some find success despite the simplicity.
Of course, if you want to increase your odds for success and aim for a smoother overall trip and experience, it helps to do as much planning as you can in the little bit of time that you have prior to your departure. Planning has been a big component to every successful OTC deer hunt I’ve ever done, so if you want to take that angle, keep reading.
Make Sure That You Can Get a Tag
In 2006, my brother and I arrived in North Dakota for a late-season bowhunt and purchased our deer tags at a Scheel’s store. Fast forward to the morning of the 2021 deer opener, and I hit Scheel’s in Bismarck, North Dakota, to buy an OTC tag. I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the licensing process had changed. I was instructed that I could pay for the tag, but that the North Dakota Game and Fish Department prints all tags. Nonresident tags are mailed out to the purchaser’s address. I was as cool as a cucumber about the situation. Not! I panicked!
Fortunately, I called the Game and Fish Department’s headquarters. I was told that tags are printed at certain times. In order to make the next printing and get a tag, I’d have to pay for the tag immediately. So, I ran up to the Scheel’s service counter, went through the motions, and then I called the Game and Fish Department again to make sure they’d hold my tag rather than mail it to my home address. Everything worked out to where I didn’t miss opening day, but it was a close call.
My point is this: Regulations and procedures are always changing. Another example is Nebraska, which now caps its OTC nonresident licenses. And, they sell fast. South Dakota’s nonresident tags are now draw-only. Be sure that the “OTC” state you want to hunt will allow you to arrive and purchase your tag at any license vendor, or at least buy it online. You don’t want a freak-out moment like I had two seasons ago.
Take Care of Business At Home
Don’t underestimate the importance of this one. Don’t leave home on a bad note or with important unfinished business. The problem with that is that your mind will be in two places and you won’t hunt as effectively. Plus, the problems could worsen while you’re away, and then you’ll potentially come back to bigger problems or cut your trip short. Get that stack of bills made out. Fix that leaky faucet once and for all. Take your spouse on the dinner date you’ve been promising for weeks. Make sure all is well at home to the best of your ability. You’ll be able to focus a lot better during your hunt.
Get to Mapping
On a last-minute OTC hunt, you have a lot to figure out in a small amount of time. I cannot imagine having any consistent success without utilizing a map-based hunting app to the fullest extent. I use HuntStand Pro Whitetail and its many features.
The first order of business is to choose one or two regions in the state you wish to hunt and determine what public lands are available. Use the HuntStand app’s Public Lands and Hunting Lands base maps to view private lands open for public hunting — such as Walk-In Hunting Areas — as well as state and federal lands. I’d suggest picking a location that has a large public parcel with at least a handful of Walk-Ins in the same vicinity. Or, pick an area that’s littered with Walk-Ins.
From there, try to cut each property down to a manageable size and select locations of interest. Mark up your app with water sources, possible bedding cover, agriculture and other important property features. This will save you time and effort when you arrive to hunt.
If you’re confident, outgoing and willing to knock on doors and make phone calls, it’s a good idea to use HuntStand’s Property Info base map to study private lands in the area you’ll be hunting. If the public lands are slammed, this gives you a head start on areas with ideal habitat, and I take it another step by paying for Whitepages Premium so that I can compile a prospective landowner list complete with their numbers before my hunt for ease of use later.
Line Up Lodging
Next, make sure that there are lodging and camping options close to the public hunting areas. On one out-of-state hunt, the motel I’d found online and wanted to stay at ended up being closed until further notice, and the next closest option required a forsaken 1-hour-and-40-minute round-trip drive. Doing that drive twice daily got old very quickly.
Even if there are lodging options conveniently located, don’t take lodging for granted. In my early years of last-minute OTC hunts, I’d often wait until I arrived to find a motel. But, on a more recent hunt, I arrived in a town closest to my chosen hunting destination only to find that the only motel was all booked by a road-construction crew. So, I had to lodge an extra 45 minutes away. Again, not very convenient.
I’ve also arrived to hunt with my camper and several RV parks in mind, only to find that the parks were closed for the season. Then, I had to make calls and beg a park owner to allow me to stay and at least use their electric hookups. So, book lodging as soon as you’re committed to the trip, otherwise you could be scrambling to figure something out on arrival.
Don’t Be Afraid to Move
Sometimes even the most appealing deer habitat just doesn’t produce, or you’ll find yourself tripping over other hunters. In that case, it helps tremendously to have backup plans. There are times to be patient and stick with an area, especially if you’re not being crowded out by other hunters. But, if I’m 5 days into a weeklong outing and haven’t seen a shooter buck, I’m not waiting around much longer. I get aggressive with the little time I have remaining. Follow your gut feelings.
Have a Meat and Antler Plan
To wrap up, you must have a plan to address meat and antlers in the event that you succeed. Times have changed, and in most cases you can’t transport the entire animal (head attached) across state lines due to CWD protocols. Break down the animal into quarters, then throw them on ice in a heavy-duty, thick-walled cooler such as a YETI Tundra.
Next, you have to take care of the head/antlers. In many cases, when you cut the skull plate or remove the skull from the spine, it must be free of brain matter and other tissues before it can legally go across state lines. Some states even prohibit you from traveling across county or hunting-unit borders. Be sure to research your state’s regulations when it comes to transporting game. I travel with a stock pot and propane stove so that I can boil the skull and then remove the tissues with tools.
I’ve occasionally started planning last-second OTC deer hunts and then got cold feet or called them off for one reason or another. In all of those instances, I regretted passing up those opportunities. Some incredible adventures can be had by doing out-of-state hunts on a whim. It’s fun and exciting, plus it challenges your whitetail know-how. Walking away with a beautiful OTC buck is an outstanding accomplishment, and you’ll be glad that you didn’t overthink it and just went for it.