I was born and raised in Kentucky, and have hunted there for over 8 years. In spring 2017, my partner John and I made the decision to move across the U.S. to Idaho. He had previously lived there, we had a group of friends in the area and have hunted there in year’s past. In fact, it was in Idaho that I harvested my first elk and mule deer in 2016.
As you can imagine, moving across the county has many challenges. One that most people probably don’t consider is hunting. Due to the amount of national forests and wilderness areas that Idaho offers, all hunting we will do will be on public lands.
Below are 4 tips to help you prepare for public-land hunting when you move to a new state.
1) Figure out the new rules and regulations
First thing’s first: you have to know the rules. Stop by a local fish and wildlife office and pick up the hunting and fishing regulations booklets (these are usually available as downloadable PDFs on the fish and wildlife website). Most states have different booklets for fishing and for each type of hunting—so pick up the ones that apply to what you plan on doing. I like to get 2-3 copies of each booklet, and keep one in the house and one in the vehicles.
Before you go, write down any specific questions you have, and talk with a wildlife official while you’re there. This could be questions about residency requirements, game management units or zones, lottery draws versus over-the-counter tags, application periods, etc. While the regulations booklets should have this information, they can be confusing, and it’s helpful to chat with wildlife officials who can easily answer your questions.
2) Residency requirements
The cost difference in resident versus non-resident licenses and tags is significant, and if you plan to hunt, this is something you might want to consider when you plan the timeframe for your move (if you have an option).
Each state has different guidelines for who qualifies as a resident. For example, in Idaho, you must have your driver’s license for six months, or show three pieces of proof (such is utility bills, cancelled checks from rent or car registration) that show you have resided there for six months.
We arrived in Idaho during turkey season, and planned to fish during the summer months, so we were required to pay the non-resident fee for a license and turkey tag. We made the decision to hold off on purchasing deer and elk archery tags for the fall season since we would be official residents on November 8, and could purchase an over-the-counter cow elk rifle tag at that time for the resident price—a difference of approximately $416 versus $31.
3) Find new hunting grounds
Once you have the regulations and a hunting license, you have to figure out where you can hunt. Gone are the days of relying solely on no-trespassing signs and painted fence posts. Now, you can get extremely detailed area maps and use technology to your advantage.
Since we were new to the area, I purchased a subscription to the onX Maps app almost immediately after arriving. There are different membership levels, and you can purchase state-by-state access. This app provides detailed boundary lines for public and private property and hunting units, includes customizable waypoints, measures acreage, tracks distance, duration and speed, includes points of interest and geographical features, and has the option to download and save maps for use offline and when cell or Wi-Fi service is not available.
It’s also important to get in your vehicle and drive! We put a lot of miles on our truck and ranger just driving around the roads and trails in the unit where we’ll be hunting. While looking at a map is very helpful to get a birds-eye view of the area, seeing the terrain in person is beneficial. This allows you to determine routes to and from areas, identify potential obstacles in the route--such as roads that may get washed out, streams that could run over in heavy rain or snow, steep inclines/declines that could be hazardous in wintery weather. You can locate potential water sources that might not be on a map and get a better idea of the types of vegetation and other food sources in the area.
4) Locating animals
Lastly, in order to harvest an animal, you have to find them first. Take time to scout for animals in the areas you plan to hunt.
If you’re hunting big game, the following tips can help:
Take a hike and look for game trails, fresh scat, bedding areas and rubs. If you find an area with rubs from several years ago to the most recent season, it’s a good indicator that the area consistently has game.
Locate water sources and identify the types of tracks in the area
Glass with a quality pair of binoculars, such as the Vortex Diamondbacks, and look for herds of deer, elk or other animals
Use game cameras in high-traffic areas such as on trails and at watering holes to identify the types of game in the area, determine their travel patterns and determine if there are predators in the area