Updated: Jul 13, 2022
Lots of people dream of going on out-of-state hunts; it’s probably one of the top five things my hunting buddies and I discuss. The problem is heading off in pursuit of elk, bear or a lot of times even deer in other states can become fairly expensive pretty quickly.
Factoring in care for the animal once you’re successful can bring in a host of other logistical challenges into the mix -- it’s enough to make the average person give up and say “One day…” as the years pass on by. This article is going to focus on an out-of-state hunting adventure that IS incredibly doable, and the steps that we’ve taken to make it happen. For the past seven years in a row, I’ve taken my boys on an annual “turkey tour”, covering multiple states and allowing for a wide variety of adventure! What’s even better is I’m going to show you how to do this on a very meager DIY shoestring budget!
“Turkey tours” seem to be almost normal these days. In large part, that’s due to the wildly popular adventures “The Hunting Public” guys chronicle on their YouTube channel. Trust me, when we went on our first one seven years ago, they weren’t. To think of hitting multiple states in succession without coming home and perhaps being gone up to a couple weeks at a time was a stretch for me when I first started contemplating it… but the more I looked into it, researched it and began looking at my available resources, the more it looked doable. Here’s how I started to put it together:
Non-resident big-game tags are expensive
What’s one of the biggest reasons people don’t gallivant off to Alaska in pursuit of a Yukon moose, or Colorado after an elk? Tags are getting expensive. Like stupid expensive. But I’m fortunate: I’ve got a couple boys who qualify for youth tags. After hearing about how a lot of states encourage recruitment of hunters using ridiculously low license fees for youth hunters – even non-resident youth – I started giving these programs a much closer look. Kansas offers out-of-staters a combo youth tag for $22.50 that’s good for two birds. (This past year, the eastern side of the state has lowered its limit to one bird, but you can still take two in the western half…) Nebraska youth tags are only $8 apiece and you can buy three if you want. That’s three birds for $24. Kentucky doesn’t even require a license to be purchased if your youth is under 12. Like the great Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff famously said, “What a country!”
Turkey hunting is one of the few pursuits where I can be involved in the hunt, but not need to be the “trigger man” to feel as though I was REALLY in the hunt. To me, striking up a bird, figuring out how to set up on it, calling him in, watching him put on a show… all that is 99.7% of the hunt. The act of killing the bird? Pretty much just a formality for me. I’ve already had my fun by that time. Oh, don’t get me wrong … I want my boys to kill the bird, to close the book on the deal – for a couple reasons: Even though we’ve had a TON of fun up to that point, we do keep score on how many birds we’re able to actually kill. Last year, it was 9 over the course of our “tour”. And, more importantly, we LOVE turkey meat. I do choose to hunt Kansas with my boys, because… well, Kansas is just something special. It makes us sub-average turkey hunters feel really good about ourselves. I can buy an adult hunting license and tag for $165. If I wanted to travel to the eastern half of Kansas and get my second bird, a combo tag would have cost me just $25 more.
So it’s cheap enough… how am I going to pull this off?
Once you realize the tags aren’t going to force you to take out a second mortgage on your home, you’re now left with the logistics of actually pulling off the trip. There’s a lot involved with making it all work, from drive time to living accommodations, to food prep and coordinating all the overlapping seasons. I begin by pulling up all the various states’ websites we’re looking at going to in a season. Oftentimes, each state’s season will begin a week or so later than another one. I’ll write each state’s opening date down on a sheet of paper to help me visualize everything all at once. Having multiple browser windows open and trying to remember everything all at once is just too complex. You can create a list a couple different ways: One, you can write each state down in order of when its season opens. This will give you a good visual and a possible plan of attack, going from opening day to opening day.
My favorite tactic, however, is to list the states in order that I think I’ll travel to. For example, it just so happens that Illinois has one of the earliest start dates in the Midwest… so we know that’ll be stop #1. Fortunately, we hunt close enough to our house that it doesn’t necessitate any overnight stays. But following that, we have to juggle Tennessee’s, Missouri’s, and Kansas’s start dates. In the case of Kansas, it gives bowhunters a two-week advantage before the gun hunters head afield – so we prioritize that time frame. Sometimes it’s easier to head to the furthest destination FIRST, and then work your way back across the states you want to hunt. I do my best not to “skip” any states and have to backtrack to hunt them; rather, my goal is to check off each one as the season progresses. For example, this year we are looking at hunting Oklahoma, then Kansas, then Missouri, then Tennessee, and possibly finishing up in Kentucky. I can physically draw a line we’re going to travel on a map and hit each state along the way and not skip any single one of them.
Where do we sleep?
Sleeping accommodations can run the gamut from hotel rooms to tents pitched in a state park, and we’ve done them all. We learned a valuable lesson several years ago the first time we went out west in an attempt to get everyone their first Merriam’s bird. I had looked online and found a state park close to where we planned to hunt outside Chadron, NE. After driving nearly 23 hours, we arrived exhausted and thinking only of hurriedly pitching our tents and stuffing ourselves into our sleeping bags. That act was delayed a bit though as we first had to take the lids off our Rubbermaid totes and scrape a couple inches of snow from the ground. Frankly, we were miserable the first few days of that trip and none of us slept very well. A welcome change in the weather gave us significantly warmer days to hunt the latter half of the week, but I’ve since learned to start not only looking at season dates – but at predicted weather patterns, too.
Sometimes you have to weigh the cost of possibly pulling a small 4x8 trailer to bring tents, totes full of gear, and coolers plus the added cost of a nightly camping rate and weigh it against simply finding a cheap motel nearby. While it adds a bit of expense, the luxury of a full-blown mattress and box springs can really tip the odds in that favor.
Last season with all the Covid hysteria in full-swing, we opted just to pull our 30-foot travel trailer to Kansas and set up base camp in one of the farmer’s fields who graciously allows us to hunt his properties. We carried extra gas cans and a large generator with us, and were self-contained during the entire trip – never having to go to town once. It was the ultimate in “social distancing” and we were having a blast at it.
What do we eat?
Believe it or not, planning meals is the easy part. If you’ve made it this far, you’re starting to figure out how to plan a trip. We usually make up one really nice meal for dinner for each night we’ll be there; these are then frozen ahead of time and either placed in gallon-sized Ziploc bags and placed in coolers or in the refrigerator of our travel trailer, depending on what we plan on doing for nightly accommodations. My wife ensures we don’t starve on our Turkey Tours; meals range from venison chili to shrimp fettucine, and usually it’s as simple as thawing out the bag, warming up the meal and dishing it out onto our plates. Breakfasts are usually along the lines of oatmeal, cereal or pop tarts; they need to be quick and easy, as the alarm is usually going off way before we’re ready. Lunch can either be sandwiches or leftovers from the night before, along with snacks like cheese and crackers mixed in.
Give it a whirl!
Don’t let a few more years go by of thinking about a hunting trip, saying “One day…” Yeah, that self-guided Yukon moose trip still may be out of reach – and frankly, may be forever. Substitute it with a trip that IS doable, now! Take your skinning knives, a box of Ziploc bags to put the meat in and don’t forget your tags. They’re plenty cheap, and for a few tanks of gas and anywhere from $10-50 a night to put a roof over your head – depending if you choose tent or motel – you too can experience the thrills of a big-time travelling hunt … on a very small-time budget.