A Time To Give Thanks NO OTHER MONTH FEELS QUITE LIKE NOVEMBER

It was not the way I wanted to start my November. The trophy whitetail--a clean, gorgeous, 150-inch 10-pointer--had slipped down a trail behind my stand and surprised me. Still, I had time to grab my bow as the bruiser plodded through at 18 steps. He even paused briefly, showing that broad flank to me like a target.

I missed the shot. Rushed a little, forgot to pick a spot, punched the release trigger--you name it, I committed every shooting sin in the bowhunter's bible that morning. The buck leaped dramatically as my arrow struck a sapling, then it bounded off. It was the last morning of my hunt. As I drove home from southern Iowa, I relived my golden-opportunity-turned-nightmare, mile by agonizing mile.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

I'll be thinking of that shot as I venture to southern Iowa again this fall, the lucky recipient of a precious nonresident any-deer tag. Perhaps this fall I'll be able to tote one of those beefy Hawkeye bucks home. I've seen enough of Iowa to know there aren't many bad spots for whitetails and that includes public tracts like the Shimek and Yellow River state forests.

In Minnesota's big-woods counties of Lake, Cook and St. Louis, whitetail numbers are at all-time highs, with antlerless permits being issued in units that are normally buck-only. Vast tracts of the Superior National Forest provide a true back-country opportunity that's unique in the Midwest.

For another big-woods-type hunt, travel to the Ozark region of southern Missouri. Though the Ozarks once attracted most Show Me State deer hunters, many of those folks have relocated to northern counties, where deer are more abundant and trophy bucks more common. That's taken the pressure off spots like the Barry County section of Mark Twain National Forest, where hunters have some 75,000 acres to roam. Scout for sign on oak ridges and along creek and river bottoms.

Over the years I've enjoyed some great whitetail hunting in prairie habitats like those found in western Kansas, but don't overlook similar opportunity in states like Oklahoma. Deer licenses are available over-the-counter to nonresidents and the opportunity to take a nice buck is real in counties like Roger Mills. And don't overlook the 30,000-acre Black Kettle National Grassland.

CLOSE TO HOME

When I was a kid, all the "real" deer hunters I knew went "up north" to chase whitetails. These days, some of the most savvy buck hunters I know are sticking closer to home. Whitetail populations near urban areas are making homeowners, city planners and wildlife biologists look for ways to trim metro-area deer herds. In Ohio, special urban management zones have been created near Cleveland, Youngstown, Columbus and Toledo. Hunters in these zones enjoy multiple antlerless tags and, where permitted, might have a crack at a citified giant buck.

Some of the season's top upland and waterfowl hunting is available this month in the Dakotas. Duck and goose hunting should be outstanding as long as the water stays open in November. Some friends spent a week in and around North Dakota's Pierce County last fall and experienced world-class duck shooting. In South Dakota, waterfowling continues to sparkle in the northeastern counties between the towns of Sisseton and Aberdeen.

South Dakota's south-central counties are ringneck central, without a doubt. However, this area also is dominated by leased land and commercial operations. An attractive alternative is the vast Walk-In Area system, which pays farmers for public access to prime wildlife habitat on their lands. An anonymous informant told me he encountered huge flocks of late-season birds on a WIA which, predictably, he also refused to name. Hard-working wing-shooters still can find birds in east-central Illinois counties. LaSalle, Ford and Livingston are the best bets.

One November I was traveling through Michigan on the eve of the deer opener. Even in rural areas, the push of vehicles resembled a big-city traffic jam as hunters headed toward their camps. Although I wasn't joining them, their zeal was contagious; if only we could bottle the excitement of November!

For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional