Idaho. For all her downsides—wolves, nonrefundable license, high-priced deer tags, poor draw odds— she also has lots of upsides: the most backcountry of any western state, general OTC hunts with good bucks available, draw hunts where everyone has an equal chance, relatively long seasons, a second deer tag, and genetics for big deer second only to Colorado.
I wrote a few months ago about “Thinking Too Big” and that is the mistake many hunters make about Idaho. They hear we have a wolf problem, which we do, and they apply that to the entire state. I’d say most deer units are not being affected by wolves. Hunters also hear our success rate is low. It is, but that is by design as few rifle opportunities exist during the rut.
In the early ‘90’s, our Fish and Game moved most OTC hunts to open and close in October, well before the influence of the rut. This did two things:
1) Made the hunting tougher
2) Increased survival for bucks.
I learned from now-retired Idaho biologist, Ted Chu, that for hunters, perception is too often reality. What he meant is that if we go deer hunting in October and don’t see a good buck, we assume they don’t exist. Big mistake guys! When you are hunting October bucks that move little and stay in the cover, you won’t see them often but they are still around. Just look down! Something made those tracks.
For example, between the three of us who work for WeScout4u Inc, we see 10-20 bucks yearly between 170” and 190” across Idaho. The Live Hunt, Game On, that I did with Cindy Wamsley was in an OTC unit and we saw some great bucks.
Another Idaho advantage is her late application deadline of June 5th. A western hunter can play the New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Montana draws before committing to Idaho. There is no sense in having too many tags. You won’t do a good job on any of them if you’re spread too thin.
Another unique opportunity Idaho provides is her “Unlimited Hunts”. These are hunts that have some advantage over the OTC hunts whether hunting a unit with higher buck-to-doe ratios, rut dates, or archery/muzzleloader only. The term “Unlimited” means if you apply you will draw. However the OTC hunters can’t hunt those units, so pressure drops. Unlimited hunts are a guaranteed draw even as a second choice and allow you to apply for a good draw tag 1st choice. Keep in mind, Idaho’s late rifle hunts are some of the hardest to draw in the west with odds often below 4%.
I’ve killed most of my good bucks in Idaho not only because I live here but because I can hunt every year. As a multi-weapon hunter, I can literally hunt mule deer from August 15th to December 31st. This tips the odds in my favor and is why I think Idaho brings stability to your hunting strategy. You can hunt every year and develop your buck-hunting skills. After all, it is ultimately your skills that make you successful. Idaho will require all you’ve got in glassing, tracking, still-hunting, and patience.
You need to have a long-term plan for hunting Idaho and if at all possible, you need to scout pre-season. You will likely get skunked the first few trips. You have to learn your country, hunt hard, AND hunt enough days. I hunt an average of 20 days yearly in Idaho and still don’t kill a good buck every year. Seasons are long enough that you can hunt a week (about the max for most hunters considering vacation and mental energy) and still come back, taking advantage of what you’ve learned.
If your deer hunting strategy is like an investment portfolio, then Idaho is a good slow growth mutual fund. It needs some time to perform.
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