By Mark Kenyon

Alright, this is hard for me to do, but today I’m making it official.

I’m canceling my plans to hunt Iowa this fall.

Yes, the land of giants, the home of monster bucks, the fields of dreams. Iowa. I’m bailing on it.

I have the preference points needed to draw a tag, I have an area to hunt, and I was planning to make the trip this year. But I’ve decided that given my current situation, there are better options for 2014. I know that sounds like sacrilege, I know that sounds crazy, I know that sounds stupid. How can someone pass up on hunting Iowa!?

Well, let me explain.

In short, this decision comes down to finances, and weighing an investment against the potential return. To help break down this decision, let’s look at this as a simple cost/benefit analysis. And then, we’ll take a look at some alternative “investments” that may still get me the return I’m looking for, and that might be worth looking into yourself.

The Cost of Hunting Iowa

Let’s first look at the potential investment needed to hunt whitetails in Iowa. Simply put, hunting Iowa is an expensive proposition, especially if you live far away. Right off the bat, an Iowa license itself costs almost $600 and that’s not including the 2-4 $50 preference points you may need to accumulate in the years prior, in order to draw an Iowa tag.

On top of that initial license cost though, travel costs are a serious factor to consider as well. At a minimum, to hunt in Iowa this year I would like to have  two pre-season trips (knocking on doors, scouting, hanging stands, cameras, etc) and one or two trips during the hunting season. That said, every time I head down there to hunt or scout, it’s going to cost me about $50 a night in lodging – as that’s the cheapest hotel room rate I’ve found in the area I hunt (I am working on trying to get a camper to eliminate these costs someday). Then I’ve got the seven hour drive to consider. Round trip – that’s 790 miles to my Iowa hunting area and back. And at around $3.75/gallon and with my truck getting 15 mpg, I’m looking at about $200 in gas per trip. So, hypothetically, a weekend (two night) scouting trip would cost me $300, and a week long  (seven night) trip would be around $550. So with two off-season trips and one week long hunting trip to Iowa, I’m looking at ~$1,750. And that’s not even including food or the additional $100-$200 in preference points paid for in the previous years.

The Benefits of Hunting Iowa

So as you can see, the costs of hunting whitetails in Iowa are substantial. And those costs are just assuming three short trips. That said, what are the benefits? Well of course, there are plenty. Iowa hasn’t acquired it’s reputation for giant bucks just by chance – there’s a very good reason why hunters dream about Iowa. Big bucks. And lot’s of them.

With a combination of low hunting pressure, great genetics and high quality soils, Iowa has developed a whitetail herd with a very mature age structure and a much higher than average share of trophy class bucks. In fact, from 2008-2012 no other state in the Midwest produced more Boone & Crockett qualifying entries with 607, and the next highest only having 478! There’s no doubt about it, a hunt in Iowa is something you need to experience at least once, if not more often. My trip in 2012 was incredible. I still remember a two day period where I saw four different bucks over 140″ each day, including a 160 class and a 170. The bucks you see jumping across the road, the deer you see in the fields during the summer, the behaviors and rutting activity and everything in between is incredible.

If costs and distance weren’t factors that I had to consider, I certainly would be hunting Iowa every chance I could.

Other Alternatives 

But, the reality of the situation is that money and travel have a big impact on my life – and so I must consider them when weighing the worth of an Iowa trip. I imagine the same might be true for many of you.

That said, this year with my current financial situation and other circumstances, I’ve come to the decision that the uniquely high costs of hunting Iowa, outweigh the potentially unique benefits of hunting there. In my opinion, given my situation and with the goals I have for my 2014 hunting season, I think there are more economical options that can still result in success.

The same might be true for you as well.

While hunting television, DVDs and other media still sing the praises of the traditional big buck states like Iowa, Illinois and Kansas – a number of other states are quickly rising in big buck potential. And many of these other states have easier to acquire hunting licenses, much lower costs for tags, similarly great hunting and many of them might be closer to your home state too!

There is a second tier of exceptional deer hunting states, that in many ways offer a much more realistic and attainable option for the every day whitetail addict.

I’m talking states like Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska.

These states, while maybe a notch below Iowa, Illinois or Kansas in reputation, still offer tremendous opportunities at mature whitetails and trophy bucks. Yes, Iowa produces a huge number of Boone & Crockett bucks, but you might be surprised to hear that  Indiana almost matches Iowa in Pope & Young entries per hunter over the past five years on record. And North Dakota actually beats Iowa! As for Boone & Crockett entries, while Kansas and Iowa lead the pack, this second tier of states isn’t far behind. And while the difference in quality deer between a state like Iowa and a state like Kentucky isn’t that big, the difference between this second tier and other states is HUGE.

My point is this. If you’re from a state like Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Georgia or New York, the difference you’ll see by heading to Kentucky, Ohio or Indiana will be dramatic. The difference in hunting going from somewhere like Ohio to Iowa won’t be nearly as noticeable.

The one big difference? It will be dramatically less expensive, you’ll be able to hunt there every year with over-the-counter tags, and it might even be closer to home!

For these reasons and more, most of these states beat out the traditional powerhouses when I ranked the Top 20 DIY Whitetails States for North American Whitetail. And it’s also why I’ve decided to pass on Iowa this year, and instead save money and time by hunting elsewhere.

My Alternative Choice for 2014

That all said, I’ve decided to forgo a chance to hunt in Iowa this year, to instead hunt in Indiana.

A tag in Indiana is only $150, I can reach several great looking hunting locations in less than an hour from my Southern Michigan home, and I can avoid all lodging costs since I can make day trips instead of needing to stay over night. We’re talking a cost savings of probably around $1500 at a minimum, and I’ll be able to make many more trips to my hunting location as well. That’s a win-win in my book.

While Indiana isn’t necessarily going to provide the same kind of hunting as Iowa, I am quite confident it will still be noticeably better than Michigan in regards to the number of mature bucks I might encounter, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for when heading out-of-state. Sure, if my goal this year was to kill a 180″ buck and nothing less, maybe this wouldn’t be such a good swap. But since my goal is instead a 3.5 year old buck or older in the 125″+ range, I think Indiana will provide a great opportunity to reach my goals, while being significantly more economical.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sharing all of this to hate on Iowa. I love Iowa. Whitetail hunting in Iowa is like getting a ticket to the Super Bowl, it can be incredible, and well worth your time.

But for most of us, a trip to the NFC or AFC Championship game would still be absolutely awesome, and a much more exciting football experience than the high school games we’re usually seeing back home. The only difference would be that the tickets would be much easier to acquire and a lot less money!

My point here is that you don’t NEED to travel thousands of miles or spend thousands of dollars to hunt in one of the big name states. Sure those states are great, but if you’re hoping to get a crack at a mature buck, there are plenty of other great options that just might be closer to home and cheaper to hunt too.

If you’re like me and have big buck dreams, but a regular guy budget – keep these other states in mind. They might just be the investment that’s right for you. Only time will tell for me, but hopefully come November, this decision will be paying dividends.