Having the chance to harvest a buck still in velvet is a bucket list item for many of us of bowhunters. We spend time watching these majestic deer throughout the summer as they feed out in the open every evening, but by the time season rolls around the velvet has long since shed. With most states’ hunting seasons opening from mid-September to early October, there is a pretty slim chance of ever tagging a big mature velvet whitetail for most of us. Therefore, if you want one you’re likely going to have to travel to or live in one of the following states. Here’s a list of the top states to kill a DIY velvet buck:
*States were ranked on season opener date, available public hunting land, costs of license, and trophy potential.
Not sure how much longer Kentucky will remain a “sleeper state” in terms of big buck potential with the massive bucks they produce every year, but for the time being Kentucky is the #1 state to chase a velvet bruiser. The archery season opens on the first Saturday of the month which is September 2nd this year, which means there should still be a decent amount of velvet running around the vast amount of public land. Kentucky’s the type of state where if you don’t tag an early velvet buck, it’s certainly worth your time to make a second trip back during the rut. The total license comes in at $260 for nonresidents ($120 for a tag, $140 for an annual hunting license).
Denny Conley arrowed this giant 204″ Kentucky velvet buck during the 2016 season.
Perhaps the ultimate DIY velvet whitetail state, North Dakota offers a staggering amount of public land for whitetail hunters. The ample amount of public land paired with a relatively low human population means there are plenty of opportunities to chase low pressured deer. The vast amount of public land means you need to put in some serious time scouting online to make the most of your hunt. Target sheltered draws, river bottoms, and CRP areas that lay adjacent to large ag fields for the best chance of finding a mature bachelor group. The season opens at noon on the Friday closest to September 1st, which just so happens to be September 1st this year. A nonresident tag will run you $272 when all is said and done.
RELATED: NoDak Public Land Brute
Traditionally known as an elk and mule deer state, Wyoming has an ever growing population of whitetails. It didn’t take long for hunters to take note and make this state one of the premiere early season destinations. Although Wyoming may appear to have a ton of public land, you have to take it with a grain of salt because much of the land is landlocked by private ranches. This is not to say there isn’t ample public land to access for a velvet whitetail, you just have to be prepared to do some asking around. The best areas to target are those with pockets of cover situated to a nearby irrigated alfalfa field. One knock on Wyoming is the early application process which ends in March. Total license costs come to $356 for a non-resident archery deer tag. Despite the application process the odds are still pretty good that you will draw a tag for the September 1st opener.
Bucks typically shed their velvet around the end of August and into early September. It’s often a race against time if you want a chance at a buck with good velvet.
Another western state more known for its mule deer, elk, and predator hunting, than it is for chasing velvet whitetails. You better be in shape if you want a crack at one, as Idaho has perhaps the most rugged terrain in the country. The early archery season begins August 30th and runs around $450 for a nonresident license and tag. You won’t find many, if any, whitetails in the lower half of the state. Stick to the northern shaft of the boot and you’ll find a healthy amount of velvet antlered bucks to chase for a solid week or so.
Another beautiful state to enjoy a western velvet buck adventure in. Montana boasts a healthy success rate for white-tailed deer hunters, however, you have to pay for it. This is one of the most expensive states to enjoy a whitetail hunt with a license coming in around $602 buckaroos, but heck, the views alone may be worth it. If you are in the right area, it may be nothing to see 15 – 50 deer per sit. These Montana whitetails like to hang out in the cottonwood groves and feed on the irrigated alfalfa fields throughout the evening. Archery season opens on the 2nd of September this year, which will offer a good chance of a velvet buck walking by your stand.
A beautiful velvet buck like this is not all that uncommon to find bouncing between pockets of cover and Montana’s irrigated alfalfa fields.
A state that may have ranked higher circa 2012, Nebraska is still rebounding from the significant 2012 EHD outbreak. After four years of recruitment, mature bucks are once again filling the landscape and the Great Plains states are notorious for some of the biggest whitetail to ever hit the record books. With a few years of low deer harvests and progression under its belt, Nebraska is a state worth considering. Just be sure to do some ample research before you plan your trip and be sure to talk to the big game biologists to figure out where the worst outbreaks of EHD occurred. Nebraska has a fair amount of public land scattered throughout the state for DIY hunters. Season opens on September 1st.