Hunt Planner: Where to Get Over-the-Counter Elk Tags

elkNo. 1 on the bucket list for many readers of the BIG DEER blog, especially those who live east of the Mississippi, is to hunt elk. People ask me all the time, “Hanback, where should I go for elk?”

Most people who email me don’t want to spend a lot of time and money applying for an elk tag. While they would certainly love to shoot a big bull, most people I correspond with are not trophy hunters. They want to spend a reasonable amount of money for a license, go west for a week, experience all that the mountains and elk hunting have to offer, and stand a decent chance to get one.

If this sounds like you, the guys at BookYourHunt.com have put together information on where you can get an elk tag over the counter (OTC). While opportunities are limited, an OTC elk tag can be had.

Look to 3 states first: Colorado, Montana and Idaho.

In Colorado, OTC antlerless and either-sex tags are available for the archery season, and bull tags can be had for 2 of  the 4 rifle seasons in many areas. Also available are either-sex permits for some WMAs located in the plains.

In Idaho, home to some 107,000 elk, OTC tags are available in many general hunting units. Idaho is the last western state that most hunters think about, but it should be one of the first you consider for OTC elk.

While Montana has a March draw for elk tags, the state’s “leftover tag” program provides a good opportunity for non-residents. After the initial spring lottery drawing, if there are still tags left (usually there are) these tags are offered for OTC sale on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Many years I have purchased leftover elk and deer tags this way in Montana (I have one for the 2017 season in fact).  A leftover tag is good for either rifle or archery in many units across the state, but not in coveted trophy areas where only a few tags are issued each year.

You probably figured that  OTC elk hunting was not on option in the big-bull, draw states of Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, and mostly that’s right. But BookYourHunt.com points out that Arizona and Wyoming sometimes offer limited OTC tags “in areas outside natural elk habitat” and where “success rates are very low.” This would be a tough, long-shot hunt, but at least you might be able to get a tag and go.

As for Utah and New Mexico, these states have landowner preference programs where ranchers and landowner/outfitters can obtain tags and sell them directly to their clients. This would essentially be an OTC tag purchase for you, though there is some paperwork involved.

You’re not getting any younger, and the older you get, the longer your bucket list grows.  While you might be able to squeak in a hunt in Colorado or Idaho this fall, now is the time to start planning your dream elk hunt for 2018.

How NOT to Shoot a Button Buck

button buckThere are few among our BIG DEER army who would shoot a button fawn buck on purpose, but every one of us has accidentally done it. We have an antlerless tag and drop a fat “doe” to fill the freezer…we walk up to the deer and go, “Uh, oh,” as we see its nubs and male parts.

It’s an honest mistake that anybody can make, and that’s why harvesting a young buck with less than 2” of antler is legal in most states (check your regulations).

But you obviously never want to shoot a button. These pointers from the Michigan DNR will help you differentiate an adult doe from a buck fawn, so you won’t mess up again.

–Check body shape. A mature doe’s body is rectangular, with a long neck and face. A buck fawn is square-shaped and has a short neck and face.

Study heads with binoculars. A doe’s head is normally more rounded on top between the ears, and a buck’s head is flattened near the base of the antlers.Obviously look for little nubs too as you glass.

–If you spot a single deer ambling around looking lost consider this: Button bucks are often alone, while adult does tend to travel with other deer. But plenty of does walk around alone too.

–If possible, wait until 3 or more antlerless deer are together (maybe feeding out in a plot) then after glassing, harvest one of the larger animals.

–If two juvenile deer are alone without an adult doe, one will probably be a button buck. Normally the young male is larger than the female and could be mistaken for an adult doe. Look closely with binoculars for the antler bases and nubs of a button buck.

–Wait until the deer are standing or moving slowly. It is easier to identify sex and age when deer are not moving too fast.

–Shoot with good visibility. Poor light and heavy cover make it difficult if not impossible to determine a deer’s sex and age.

Alabama: New Bill Would Expand Baiting for Deer

alberta sheldon synchro feed bucksThe Montgomery Adviser reports that a bill working its way through the Alabama legislature would allow hunters more options for using bait to lure deer and hogs. It passed the house Tuesday and heads to the state senate for consideration.

The new bill would not only expand baiting in Alabama, but also clear up confusion due to a law that went into effect just last hunting season. That current law allows hunters to use “supplemental feed” if the feed source is at least 100 yards away from the hunter and out of his or her direct line of sight.

That law caused confusion among hunters and, I suspect, game wardens last season. Just what does “out of sight” mean?  Suppose a corn pile is 101 yards away from a tree—if you sat on the ground you could not see it, but if you were up in a ladder stand you could conceivably glass the bait.

The new bill would do away with the distance and view requirement to the bait, so you could set it right out front your stand. But the bait would have to be in a container, like a corn feeder. Apparently it could not be poured out on the ground near a stand.

But the Alabama legislature seems intent on keeping any final baiting bill they come up with confusing. As of now, the new bill being considered would be a supplement to the current baiting law; it would not replace it. If a hunter wants to abide by the current requirements that bait must be 100 yards away and out of line of sight, he could still hunt that way and not be required to pay an additional fee.

If the new bill is enacted into law as written, and if a hunter wants to put a corn feeder out front of his stand, he’d have to purchase an annual $15 baiting license in addition to the regular deer hunting license. Of the $15, $1 would be an administrative fee and $14 would be returned to the state conservation department. Estimates have the bait bill raising an additional $1.2 to $1.5 million for Alabama Fish and Wildlife. That part of it would be good.

How this new bill ends up is unknown, but it seems like changes are coming to the current and confusing “line of sight” bait law that was enacted just last year.

That aside, there are millions of hunters, in Alabama and elsewhere, who do not like or accept hunting deer over bait, so that must be factored into it. Also, with the recent spread of Chronic Wasting Disease across America, many wildlife departments and experts do not like or recommend baiting because it congregates whitetails, which could accelerate the spread of disease.

Chuck Sykes, Alabama Director of Wildlife and Fisheries, has weighed in on the topic. “Supplemental feeding, when used properly, is a great management tool,” he said. “When it’s used improperly, it’s terrible. It’s just like anything else; it’s how you use it. It’s not a magic bullet. You can’t go out and pour a pile of corn and expect to kill a 160-inch deer. It doesn’t work that way. It’s one piece of a management program. If you want to use it, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. We’re not making you put feed out. It’s a choice.”

To Sykes, all the hoopla of hunting deer over bait in Alabama has taken away from the true meaning of supplemental feeding. “You need feed with 16- to 18-percent protein from February through October,” he said. “When the does have little ones and are lactating, and the bucks’ antlers are growing, you’ve got to have protein. Corn is like candy. It’s energy. In the winter, when it gets cold, corn will help them out when they need energy to stay warm.

“But a supplemental-feeding program is totally different than baiting. With supplemental feeding, you’re doing it for the wildlife. With baiting, you’re being selfish and trying to kill something instead of getting out and hunting.”

How do you feel about baiting?

Bottle Kills Whitetail Buck

bottle deer tongueTwo weeks ago, somebody dropped an old chair and a refrigerator in a parking lot of the state forest where I hike with my dog. I reported it to the authorities, but nobody seemed to give a damn; I doubt a deputy checked it out. I suspect the litterbug knew that, because yesterday, a few hundred yards from the first dump site, I found an old TV rolled off the road, down a bank and into a creek. This pretty little state forest is becoming some criminal’s personal trash pit.

With littering on my mind and mad as hell about it, this article and picture from QDMA hit me hard and made me even angrier.

The other day some guys found a dead buck and (excerpt): …someone looked in the buck’s mouth. Somehow, the buck had stuck its tongue into the mouth of a glass bottle and couldn’t get it back out. The bottle had broken off, but the ring of the bottle’s mouth remained. It had apparently cut off blood flow to the tongue…

…it is likely the deer died of thirst, which would have killed it faster than starvation. Thirst may also explain why it was found beside a pond.      

Click here to read more and see more pictures. If this doesn’t make you report littering, I don’t know what will. We all need to keep pounding the authorities until they start catching and fining those who would desecrate the land and, in some cases, kill our wildlife.

Ultimate Air-Travel Guide: How to Fly With Guns

planeI have flown hundreds of thousands miles with hunting guns in the last 30 years, on all the major carriers and in tiny bush planes, to cities and small towns across the U.S and Canada. While I have had minor hassles (you can’t fly anywhere with or without guns without some grief) I have not, knock on a walnut stock, had a major incident with any airline or Transportation Security Authority (TSA) employee or officer.

I have had 3 gun cases not make it to my final destination (knock wood harder) and those were only delayed a day. Three incidents in some 600 trips spread over 3 decades isn’t bad.

The reason I’ve had good fortune: I know the rules of packing and traveling with guns and ammo, and I follow those rules.

The goal here is to lay out a plan that will help you check your guns safely and legally at the airport so that they arrive at your hunting destination secure and on time. DISCLAIMER: It is up to you to read and know the rules and follow them to the letter of the law.

To do that, I’ve posted the official TSA guidelines for transporting firearms and ammunition. In the HANBACK NOTES that follow read my personal observations and tips that will make your travels easier, and keep you from messing up.

And you can’t mess up. Break a rule and at the least you’ll get hassled and miss your flight. Worst case, you risk a $10,000 fine and jail time.

Print a copy of this blog guide and carry it with you when you fly with guns.  

TSA: Transporting Firearms and Ammunition

You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.

Firearms

–When traveling, comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms as they vary by local, state and international governments.

–Declare each firearm each time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply.

–Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock.

–Firearm parts, including magazines, clips, bolts and firing pins, are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.

–Rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.

AMMUNITION

–Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.

–Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm. Read the requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8).

–Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm.

HANBACK NOTES:

–First, about hard-sided gun cases. Buy a good metal or hard-plastic one ($200 or more) with quality locks and ample foam padding on the inside. A cheap, flimsy plastic Wal-Mart special won’t cut it.

–You can buy and use a case with TSA-approved locks, which means the TSA master key at any airport will open the case. It expedites the process, but if you’re paranoid somebody will open your case without your approval use your own locks.

–I used to use a case with TSA locks until a TSA officer at a Texas airport recognized me as he checked my rifle and said, “Surprised you use TSA locks, I sure wouldn’t if you now what I mean…” I bought a new case and now use my own heavy locks.

–If one of the locks or lock hinges on your gun case is loose or gets broken in transit, you must replace it or the case immediately. Do not show up at the airport with a damaged case or faulty locks, TSA will not allow you to travel.

–You can never check a gun case curbside; you must go inside to an airline counter. Somebody there will probably tell you, “Use the kiosk.” You tell him or her right off, “I’m checking an unloaded firearm and need assistance.” A ticket agent must help you. You’ll fill out an orange tag declaring the firearm unloaded; open your case and put the tag inside, and lock it back up. All the while be polite and follow the agent’s instructions to the letter.

–The firearm must be unloaded. Sounds like a no-brainer, but there are horror stories of experienced hunters and travelers trying to check loaded rifles they knew were empty.  Triple and quadruple check that your rifle is unloaded before you case it. I travel with bolt-actions, and so I remove the bolt, visually look and see that the chamber is empty and then often pack the bolt separately in the case.

–TSA inspects all gun cases somewhere near the ticket counters. You and an agent will roll your case down to a baggage security area. Stay with your case until it is screened and accepted by TSA. Do not wander off. Have your keys handy, most of the time an officer will open up the case, check inside and re-lock it. Be there to get your keys back.

–As for ammo, carry 2 boxes securely packed in their original cardboard boxes. In the U.S. these boxes may be carried in your locked gun case, and that is how I like to do it, but I have encountered a gray area here from airline to airline. Once in a while an agent who does not know the rules asks me to transfer the ammo to the separate duffel bag I’m checking. If asked, do it to avoid any confrontation, just be sure not to put any ammo boxes in your carry-on by mistake!

–Traveling anywhere in Canada, make sure to pack your ammo in your  checked duffel, they don’t let you pack it in your gun case up there.

–I reiterate two things: Pack all cartridges securely in their boxes; you cannot have any loose rounds rolling around in your duffel or in a pants pocket you packed. You’ll get busted and hassled for that. And triple check your carry-on (maybe a camo backpack you used while hunting) and make sure there are no loose rounds of ammo or even empty casings in there–failure to do so can land you in big trouble at the security line.

–TSA prohibits black powder or percussion caps to be transported on airplanes, not even in checked bags. On a muzzleloader hunt, you’ll carry your .50-caliber rifle and bullets in a locked case, and you’ll have to buy percussion caps and powder pellets at your final destination. Arrange that before your trip. Make sure to locate a big-box store or gun shop where you can stop and purchase caps and pellets before you head to camp.

–The TSA notes that individual airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition, and advises you to contact your airline regarding their carriage policies. Sounds like a good idea, but I can tell you from experience that you probably won’t get a straight answer from anybody on the phone. Just follow all the rules/notes above to the letter and you’ll be fine.

–This information is for the U.S. and Canada only. You must study up and follow a more complicated set of rules if flying with firearms to Mexico, Africa, etc.