The possibility of hunting out of state is becoming a reality for more and more folks. When I was younger, I thought I would never be able to do something like that. I remember thinking how it must be such a hassle and way out of my price range. In reality, however, an out of state hunt is totally doable for the blue-collar hunter. Doing the hunt as a backpack-style trip only adds to the level of adventure. That was actually how I pulled off my very first out of state hunt. Since then, the idea of doing it on a regular basis and taking advantage of what the west has to offer doesn’t intimidate me at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite. With a bit of planning, you can do the same thing; and hopefully after this article, you will.
Picking a State
Picking a state is going to be a direct reflection of what species you are looking to hunt. For instance, if you wish to chase elk, and have no points or interest in applying for the draw, you will need to research which states offer “over the counter” (OTC) elk tags. That’s the boat that I fell into, so my options were Idaho, Colorado, and Montana. I went with Colorado, because it has the biggest elk herd in the United States and is the closest drive from my home state of Arizona. Whichever state you choose, make sure that you go through the regulations and know their rules. Rules, regulations, and seasons vary from state to state. An example would be, in Colorado, you must have a hunter safety card in order to buy tags; in Arizona, you do not. Some states also require proof of sex on your harvest and some do not. Respect their rules and their regulations. You are the guest.
Where to Hunt?
Now that you’ve selected a state to hunt in, where are you going to go in that state? This was the most intimidating part of the process for me. There are times that I have a hard-enough time finding a place to hunt in my home state, let alone some unknown wilderness I have never stepped foot in. I liked the idea of federally-designated Wilderness Areas, because these roadless areas gave me a starting point to begin my research. After narrowing down my search to a few different areas, I began talking to folks on various hunting forums. A bit of advice here. Don’t be the guy that posts something generic like, “what’s a good spot to kill a big mule deer in Idaho?” Do your research beforehand and show that you have been putting the effort in. The same goes with talking to game wardens or biologists. Calling up the game warden and asking where to elk hunt isn’t going to get you anywhere. (For more tips on getting information from game wardens and wildlife biologists, listen to Episode 112 of the Hunt Backcountry Podcast.) Mention specific areas to these folks. Ask detailed questions like, “The area just north of secret creek really intrigues me. How are elk populations in this area? What does access look like? What should I expect for weather?” If you play your cards right, you are in for a long discussion full of good intel. If you don’t show them that you have done the research and care deeply about your hunt, why should they care either?
In my home state, I will tell you that I scout every chance I get. In my opinion, the more you are out there, the more you are learning. Hunting out of state is no different. Therein lies the problem though. It is out of state! Not everyone has the time or money to be making huge drives to your hunting grounds a few times before your actual hunt. I was lucky enough to make one scouting trip to Colorado a few months ahead of my elk hunt, but even that pre-season trip was preceded by a ton of research. If you can pull off a scouting trip out of state, you need to have your ducks in a row. Scour Google Earth and topo maps ahead of time to notate areas of interest. Locate water sources, access points, and possible areas to setup camp. These are the things that I was more focused on with my scouting. I knew very well that there were elk in the area I had chosen, but I wanted to familiarize myself with the area ahead of time with actual boots on the ground. As helpful as it is, a pre-season scouting trip isn’t required — plenty of guys and gals show up to spots and “go in blind.” After all, it is mean to be an adventure, right?
If you are familiar with backpack hunting and do it on a semi-regular basis, then you really shouldn’t have anything to worry about here. (If you are new to the idea of backpacking hunting, here’s why you should start and how to get started.) The only bit of advice I would offer up is to try and get a jump on what the weather is like that time of year and plan your clothing and sleeping system accordingly. You don’t want to show up and either have way too much clothing or worse yet, not enough. Now, if you are on the other end of the spectrum and this will be your first backcountry adventure, you will have a little more work on your hands. Testing your gear out ahead of time is crucial to having an enjoyable time back there. Plan some overnight trips in your area, just to familiarize yourself with your new backpacking gear. What worked? What didn’t work? Were you warm enough? If there was inclement weather, how did your shelter hold up? Living in the backcountry is a rhythm that is learned over time. The more time you spend doing it, the more in tune you will become with that rhythm.
The Hardest Part
You’ve picked a state, done your research, and tested your gear. The next thing in this equation is going to be the hardest part. Once you do this, everything else will fall into place. Any guesses? Pulling the trigger and making this happen is your next endeavor. I dreamed about going on an out of state backcountry elk hunt for a few years before I actually did it. Fear of the unknown was the biggest reason that I didn’t make the trip sooner. I’d venture to guess that might be the case with many other hunters as well. But once I took the leap and made it happen, I wondered why I didn’t do it earlier. If you have been kicking this around and pushing it off for one reason or the other, let me tell you something — time is a precious thing. Once it is gone, you don’t get it back. Every year that goes by is full of opportunities. It’s up to you though to take advantage of them. Will you?
Josh Kirchner is the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy, but for the last three years has been eating, sleeping, and breathing the hunting lifestyle. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, two herding dogs, and mischievous cat. Connect with Josh on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.