When I was growing up, it was always a dream of mine to hunt the places that I saw on TV. Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky and many more places just like these are host to some of the most magical whitetail hunting there is. Most of my earlier hunting days I thought these places were just a dream and not something I could achieve. It wasn’t until I made it happen that I realized just how affordable whitetail hunting trips in the Midwest can actually be.
Now when I say affordable whitetail hunting trips in the Midwest, I am not talking about finding the cheapest outfitter online and booking a hunt. While there are definitely some good places you can go that don’t cost you an arm and a leg, the old saying you get what you pay for definitely holds true.
Personally, I don’t go the outfitter route, unless it’s something like a DIY outfitter, which we will talk about later. There are thousands and thousands of acres of public land throughout the United States that offer phenomenal whitetail hunting and in my opinion, public land gets a bad rep.
I’ve hunted multiple tracts of public land in multiple different states and have yet to have a bad experience.
Shoot, my worst experience ever came off of private land that I leased in Kentucky. I had every one of my tree stands and trail cameras stolen right off of my private farm. I’ve never once had anything stolen off of public land.
There’s also the option of leasing your own piece of property, which I do as well. Granted you are going to pay a little more per acre than you will down here, but if you get a couple of guys together, it’s more than worth it.
This year, 3 of my buddies and I are leasing 200 acres of property in SW Kentucky. The property leases at $20 an acre, which totals out to be $4,000 a year. Divided by 4 people, that’s only $1,000 per person. That’s the same price you would pay in Alabama for a halfway decent hunting club and the potential to harvest a giant buck is one hundred times greater, in most cases.
From my house in Mobile to my Kentucky farm is 530 miles and with stops, that takes me about 8 hours, depending on traffic. In my truck, I get about 400 miles to a tank of gas and it costs me about $50 to fill it up. With the trip going up and coming back, plus driving around up there for 3-5 days, that’s roughly 3 ½ tanks of gas. Given I take someone with me, which I often do, it only costs each person $87 in gas.
Our total now is $1,087. Add in license costs and we are at $1,327. We found an outfitter that’s only 10 minutes from our farm that charges us $25 per night, per person, to stay at their lodge. If we were to make a 5-day trip, that would be $125 for lodging. Which brings our total to $1,452. Once you calculate in food, you are looking at about $1,600 a year to hunt your own private farm in one of the best whitetail destinations in the country.
During hunting season, I tend to go to Kentucky once a month and hunt for 3-day intervals; normally Friday-Sunday. I do this about 3 times a year and it normally only costs me about $2,500. In my opinion, you just cannot beat that price for that much Midwest hunting.
DIY outfitters are also starting to be pretty popular these days. These types of hunts can vary greatly as far as price and what’s included. I’ve seen hunts advertised where the outfitter provides meals and lodging, then simply gives you a farm for a week with some guidance on where to start hunting. That tends to be the most common variation of DIY outfitters.
I personally booked one of these DIY hunts this past November in Ohio. It was only $1,000 and was well worth the money, especially considering that I filled my buck tag. We arrived in camp late Friday night with an eight-person group of mutual friends and by Tuesday, half of us were tagged out. The guide dropped two of us off at each farm and pointed us in the direction of some fresh sign that he found the week prior. I would definitely go on another hunt like this and plan to in the future.
It’s also becoming fairly common these days for landowners to lease you their properties for limited amounts of time, such as 3-5 days. You pay X amount of money and have soul hunting rights for however many days is agreed upon.
I have a buddy of mine that does this every year in either Ohio or Kentucky. He normally pays anywhere from $125-$250 per day for the particular properties he hunts. He will travel to the property a few weeks before the trip to hang trail cameras, then show back up when it’s time to hunt. This gives him at least a small bit of intel on where to start hunting and what kind of deer are in the area.
Personally, I think that’s the way to go if you weren’t going to lease a piece of land on an annual basis. It allows you to pick and choose how many days you are going to hunt, based off of your budget and vacation time. You have the property all to yourself and don’t have to worry about running into other hunters like you would on public property.
If I were going to do a hunt where I was going to lease a farm by the day or week, I would try to find something as close to a friend or relatives house as possible. I realize this may not be possible for some, but it can be a gold mine for others as far as saving money on lodging.
Choosing a State
As far as choosing your destination state for your affordable whitetail hunting trip, you honestly have a ton of options. Probably the biggest thing that comes into play is your budget and allotted hunting time. If you only have 3-5 days to hunt, you aren’t going to want to spend $500 on a tag and spend 14-16 hours driving. This cuts drastically into your hunting time and in my opinion, you don’t have enough hunting time to justify that license cost.
There are multiple states within 7-10 hours of the coast, with pretty reasonable license costs. Last year, Kentucky and Ohio were both under $300 and you can be on Kentucky public land within 7 hours.
I have personally walked Peabody Wildlife Management Area in southwest Kentucky and it is a great looking piece of property. Even better is Fort Campbell Military Base. They have some somewhat strict guidelines and application process, but the red tape is well worth it.
For someone with a little more time to hunt, the drive to states like Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa can pay big dividends. The Illinois license is pretty pricey, running just shy of $500. However, I have multiple buddies that make a trip to hunt public land in Illinois every year and have great success. I think they would disown me if I gave away their specific hunting locations, but you really can’t go wrong being in Illinois during the first 2 weeks of November.
Kansas and Iowa are both lottery draw states, meaning you have to apply for the license and can’t simply buy the license over the counter. Kansas is pretty easy to draw, but Iowa takes a few years of preference points.
This will be my second year buying preference points for Iowa and I plan on actually applying for the tag next year. Once I finally get the coveted Iowa tag, I plan on hunting public land. Unless one of you great readers wants to take me to your Iowa honey hole.
All in all, the Midwest offers some affordable whitetail hunting trips. You can get away with $1,500 should you play your cards right. After hunting the Midwest for a few years now, I can say without hesitation that I would much rather pay $1,500 to hunt the Midwest for a week, than join an Alabama hunting club, should I have to make that choice.
Here’s a little tip straight from my personal handbook on how to make this affordable whitetail hunting trip a little more affordable and I pray my wife doesn’t read this… My wife and I purchase everything on credit cards and pay them off each month. Not only does that help our young credit, but we also accumulate a good bit of cash back. I will pool all of our cash back bonuses each year and use that to help fund my Midwest hunting trip. Between two credit cards, this normally ends up totaling about $600-$700. That is a HUGE chunk that’s taken out of my out of pocket expenses for my trips. I am essentially paying for my trip, just by paying bills and using my credit card for daily expenses. It’s pretty much free money.
You can also save a lot of money by using fuel perk cards. After all, a lot of your expense will come from fuel. Especially if you hunt 3-5 states per year, like myself. Please don’t take this as Daryl telling you to get a credit card and rack up a bunch of debt to get cash back and go on a hunting trip. You still have to pay them off each month or you end up paying way more in interest than you get in cashback.
I hope this article sparks a fire inside of you to travel and experience what the Midwest has to offer. As a diehard bowhunter, I can assure you that there is nothing on this earth that compares to a frosty November morning in Illinois. I must warn you though, after your first trip, you will be hooked.
This article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.