By Alex Comstock
Bowhunting whitetails is my greatest passion in life. For most of you reading this, I would assume that line of thought probably falls into your belief as well. I absolutely love the chess match that one plays when trying to hunt and ultimately harvest a mature buck. My favorite time of the year is hunting in September, because I can pattern and really learn how a deer lives in the summer, and then apply it to hunting him early in the season while he is still on that summer pattern. More often than not, when a buck sheds his velvet, there is a change in his testosterone levels. This usually goes hand in hand with a change in home range. This can take place anytime within a couple weeks of the velvet coming off the antlers, which usually occurs sometime in the first week or two of September. Based on that notion, most bucks home range will change sometime at the end of September, or very beginning of October.
When I started thinking of the best states to take advantage of early season hunting, I had a few criteria's. First off, know that there are many states you can hunt in September, and I had to get down to the nuts and bolts to get it down to five. Now, on to the criteria that led to how I ranked these states.
1. Date. The date of season opening plays a large part in my mind. When a state opens in early September, it gives two advantages. First, you have more time before a buck switches his habits. Secondly, this allows you to hunt smarter. You don't have to rush in on opening day, and can wait for the perfect conditions to strike.
2. Land Accessibility. How much public land does a state have? Public land plays a large role to most DIY hunters and states that have an abundance of public land are high on my list, because I know that there will always be places to hunt, regardless of the situation. States that contain a majority of land ownership and leases can be much more difficult to find a spot to hunt, especially if your coming from out of state.
3. Tag Situation. When looking at the top mature buck states to hunt in September, I like to know that I can have the comfort at buying a tag over the counter. States where you need to draw a tag can still be good, but for the out of state DIY hunter, it can be challenging to get a tag.
4. Hunter Pressure. The number of hunters a state has plays a large part in my mind, because when it comes to public land hunting (the majority of what I do) I like to be away from all of the people. The less tags a state sells, the better it is in my mind.
5. Other Intangibles. I also took a look at these other factors when ranking the five best states. Non-resident license fees (many people do out of state hunts), overall deer population, and mature buck quality.
After taking much time to research multiple states, I came up with the five best states you can hunt in September to arrow a mature buck.
5. Montana. Western states are loaded with public land. Montana is no different as it has millions of acres of public land. Though much of it seems inaccessible, you can read about creative ways to access this land here. The biggest reasons Montana cracks the top 5 is due to very low hunting pressure, the quality of bucks, and the fact that archery season opens within the first couple days of September giving hunters ample time to plan how to hunt a mature buck. The state is severely underrated when it comes to the quality of mature bucks that live within it's borders. Depending on the type of tag you wish to purchase, they can be a bit spendy, which is one of the drawbacks.
4. Wyoming. Another western state, seems like a trend huh? Wyoming is another great underrated spot. A majority of the whitetail population is found in the Northeast region of the state, under landowner ownership, but with a little bit of door knocking you should be able to pick up a good spot to hunt with the low hunting pressure the state sees. Wyoming allows over the counter purchases which is another big reason is comes in at number four. With season opening very early in September and the quality of bucks being better than most think, this is a great place to target a velvet buck if that's something you're after as a DIY hunter. Tag prices for a nonresident are ok, but not great, as you can check those out right here.
3. Nebraska. Surprise? Yes the cornhusker state is now a top state to bag a buck in the early going in large part to the states drastic change in the archery opener going from September 15th to September 1st during the 2015 season. This makes a major difference, as you get two additional weeks to figure out a mature buck. The eastern part of the state has greater deer numbers, but the western part inhibits much more public land. The buck quality in Nebraska is better than most people think and it doesn't get hit very hard, as it usually gets lost in the mix of the great states in the midwest due to likes of it being near Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, etc. Another reason it is as high as it is comes from the relatively low nonresident archery fee of $209.00.
2. Kentucky. Kentucky is a big buck state, simply put. The mature buck quality is as high as it's going to get producing over 200 B&C bucks in the past six years. It opens the first Saturday in September, giving you yet again another opportunity to harvest a velvet buck. There is a fair amount of public land in the state, but you can run into a greater amount of hunting pressure opposed to the western states. Nonresident fees aren't horrible for the out of state hunter and you can easily get tags over the counter.
1. North Dakota. I'm biting my tongue a bit as I list this state number one. It's where I reside, and the less people that hunt in North Dakota, the better it is for me. But to me, I had to put it number one, as I've seen first hand how good it can be early season for the DIY hunter. North Dakota has an abundance of public land through their WMA's and PLOTS Lands (Private Land Open to Sportsman). Including state and federal land, there is roughly 4 million acres of public land. Much of this public land is set aside for bird and waterfowl hunters, but due to the fact of extremely low amounts of deer hunters finding areas that hold great bucks are all over the place. The deer population as a whole is a bit low, but it gets offset by the low number of hunters. With deer season opening this upcoming season September 2nd, it's one of the earliest openers, giving mature buck hunters great opportunities. Nonresident tags can be purchased over the counter and sit at $250, which is one of the better prices.
When it comes to DIY hunting in September, it can be the best time of the year to hunt. It was unbelievably hard to narrow down all the options to five states. These are the best of the best in my mind, if you're thinking about trying a DIY hunt early season, these states will offer many opportunities.
What states do you hunt early in the season? I would love for you to start a discussion on the Facebook post for this article or in the comment section.