When people think mule deer hunting, they think Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. They think big country, where the landscape consists of prairie, rolling hills, river breaks, and badlands. They may think of the subalpine basins at 12,000 feet and chasing velvet mule deer. People who ordinarily hunt small plots of farmland from a tree stand or box blind, get the opportunity to use good optics and footwear to chase deer through big country. Every year thousands of anxious hunters travel across the nation to have the chance at harvesting these “special” deer.
While I agree that chasing mule deer is thrilling, and extremely fun, there lies another great opportunity in the west. That is whitetails. Trophy whitetails are usually linked with farm country and states such as Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. People envision setting and checking trail cameras, planting food plots, and hanging tree stands.
I grew up in eastern Wisconsin and spent my early years chasing whitetails in the eastern and northern part of the state, as well as the upper peninsula of Michigan. My experiences included sitting in a tree stand, and waiting for whitetails to come down a trail or into a bait pile. Generally speaking, the size class on public lands in these areas is relatively small. I grew up shooting the first buck I saw each year, and some years not even getting an opportunity.
After six years of Wisconsin deer hunting, I moved to South Dakota to start my college career. It didn’t take long to realize the whitetail hunting opportunities of the west. The first few weekend trips that I made to the western part of the state left me breathless. I had seen more deer and more “big” bucks than I ever had before. After a couple years of hunting, I was able to hang a couple of great deer on the wall. Ever since those hunts, I’ve had a great appreciation for western whitetails.
Since those early college years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to chase whitetails in western South Dakota and eastern Montana. These areas are just a couple of the western areas that hold great whitetail deer opportunity. There are numerous rivers that flow through this area that have some great river bottom hunting. Some of the big names include the Powder River, Tongue River, Yellowstone River, Missouri River, Cheyenne River, and the Little Missouri River. A morning or evening drive along any of these rivers make it pretty clear of the impressive density of whitetails along them.
While much of the river bottoms are private land, public sections can be found among them in the form of BLM land, state land, and even some state leased private lands for hunting. Even with the limited amount of public land, these small pieces can hold some trophy deer. Especially during the rut when bucks are continuously cruising these river bottoms. If you do your research, some of these bottoms are accessible by boat or hoofing it across a few miles of connecting public lands.
More Western Options
Aside from river bottoms, there are other great options for whitetails. One is the Custer National Forest Pieces in southeast Montana, as well as northwest South Dakota. These ponderosa pine forests ascend from the surrounding prairie to create little whitetail paradises. The interior forest holds some phenomenal bucks, as well as the surrounding edges that contain wooded and brushy draws.
Great whitetail hunting can also be found in many other pockets through these western areas, including creek bottoms, small timber pockets, hay, and other crop field areas, and other prairie-like areas. Sometimes, it’s surprising how fast you can go from a highly populated mule deer area to a pocket of whitetail country. Scouting and finding these areas is what makes chasing these hardy prairie deer so much fun.
If you enjoy chasing whitetails, I suggest giving the west a whirl!