Do you imagine your lungs burning, legs aching and fingers freezing after climbing a mountain in search of Dall sheep? Or do you yearn for an adrenaline rush while drawing your bow on North America’s largest predator, the brown bear? Or do you dream about sitting on a still morning, patiently waiting for a big white-tailed buck to saunter by your treestand?
Every bowhunter has a different bowhunting bucket list. Some dream of chasing big elk or full-curl rams on mountain hunts, while others picture themselves stalking predators in Southern swamps. Unfortunately, many bucket-list bowhunts simply cost too much. But don’t despair. In many cases, a little planning and research uncovers affordable, public-land dream bowhunts for do-it-yourselfers.
Bowhunting requires getting extremely close to game before shooting. Adrenaline junkies love pursuing dangerous game with their bows and, for many people, alligators top the list. Eight states allow gator hunts: Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina. Gator season usually starts in August and can run through November.
In “The Great Gator Hunt” in Outdoor Life, Alex Robinson writes about the two best states for hunting gators: Florida and Louisiana. “More than 6,300 public hunting permits were issued in Florida last year, and the Sunshine state has about 1.5 million gators,” Robinson wrote. “Louisiana issues about 35,000 gator tags to landowners each year along with its public hunt. Louisiana is home to almost 2 million alligators.”
In Florida, hunters need an alligator trapping license/harvest permit, which is $272 for residents and $1,022 for nonresidents. The license lets hunters take two alligators. If you’re interested in bowfishing gators in Florida, the hunt takes place at night. Check out our article, “Hunt, Prey, Eat: Gator” for tips on bowhunting gators, a complete gear list, and recipes to try after a successful hunt.
Turkey Grand Slam
Turkey hunting is bowhunting’s pinnacle for countless archers nationwide. These magnificent birds are one of the nation’s most popular game species. They’re found in every state but Alaska, which means they offer plenty of affordable public-land opportunities.
If calling wild turkeys gets your adrenaline pumping, consider adding a turkey grand slam to your bowhunting bucket list. This feat involves shooting all four subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States: Eastern, Osceola or Florida, Rio Grande and Merriam’s. The National Wild Turkey Federation’s helpful hunt list guide includes information about season dates and tags for all states with turkey seasons. NWTF also has a wild turkey habitat map that shows where to find each subspecies.
Achieving a grand slam on public lands is possible but challenging. In the Realtree article “How to Get Your Turkey Hunting Grand Slam on Public Land,” authors Jim Spencer and Steve Hickoff say the Osceola turkey offers the greatest challenge because of Florida’s permit system. Even if you’re lucky enough to draw a permit, public lands get hunted hard.
Public lands offer plenty of opportunities for the other three subspecies. For all things turkey hunting, visit the National Wild Turkey Federation’s website.
The bugles of rutting bull elk inspire infinite bowhunting dreams and bragging rights. And chasing those bulls on public lands is a realistic dream for everyone. Most Western states have vast public lands open to bowhunting. The biggest considerations when planning elk hunts is your budget, tag availability and physical condition. Over-the-counter elk tags for nonresidents start at about $450, and then you still have to pay for travel, food and possibly lodging. If you need help drafting a budget for your bucket-list elk bowhunt, read Backcountry Chronicles’ “DIY Western Elk Hunt for $1,000 Budget in 2018.”
Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado and Washington offer public-land elk hunting opportunities, as well as over-the-counter and limited-draw tags. Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico also offer lots of public-land hunting, but nonresidents must apply for elk tags in advance. Kentucky also offers elk permits, and at an affordable price, but they’re few in number and difficult to draw.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation offers lots of great information for planning elk hunts. In his article “BOWHUNTING: Strategies for Bulls on Public Land” for RMEF, Chuck Adams encourages hunters not to shy away from public lands. “A smart and serious bowhunter can always find bulls on public land—even where tags are unlimited and access points are clogged with human predators,” Adams wrote.
Adams also offers specific tactics for public-land bulls, and encourages bowhunters to study Google Earth to learn the land’s topography. He says public-land bulls are smart and call-shy, and easily identify the difference between fake calls and real ones. He encourages bowhunters to try to locate call-shy bulls in the dark. For additional information about elk hunting, contact the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Big Public-Lands White-tailed Bucks
Hunters call it “buck fever” for a reason. For millions of Americans, nothing gets their blood pumping like a mature white-tailed buck beneath their treestand. White-tailed deer are North America’s most common ungulate, but they’re smart and stealthy, making them incredibly challenging to pursue with a bow.
Whether you have access to private land or you want the challenge of public land, it’s often possible to fill your tag with a big white-tailed buck. In “A 10-Step Guide to Killing a Great Public-Land Buck” in Field & Stream, Tony J. Peterson writes, “What’s available to every one of us is the opportunity to arrow a buck or even a doe that will make us just as happy (if we get our heads right) on millions of acres that we all own.”
And don’t be afraid to travel for the opportunity. A recent National Deer Alliance survey found almost half of whitetail hunters pursue big bucks outside their home state. Whitetails thrive in most states, but which ones are best for DIY public-land bowhunting? In “The Top 10 Whitetail Spots for 2017” writer Bob Humphrey made Ohio his top pick for a DIY public-lands bowhunt.
“For starters, (Ohio) has consistently been among the record-book leaders, and OTC licenses are relatively cheap,” Humphrey wrote. “The southeast region contains a good mix of sizable public lands and smaller private parcels.”
In addition, Realtree breaks down the “Top 8 States for Nonresident Deer Hunting.”
What’s on your bowhunting bucket list?