Top 5 Best States for Buck Hunting
- April 18, 2017
- By Adam Preston
If you market products to serious deer hunters, it helps to not only know where the hunters are, but also where the bucks are. Thanks to our friends at the Quality Deer Management Association, a recent study pinpoints the states and regions that are producing quality deer hunting opportunities better than any other.
In the study, the QDMA analyzed each state and assigned it into one of the following four regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West. From there, data was presented from a three-year study period consisting of deer harvest reports from 2013, 2014 and 2015. The following list features the “star students” from this study.
As is the case with any Top 5 list, picking the “best” places to hunt is really subjective. Sheer numbers never tell the entire story, because many factors must be considered. The most obvious ones include total deer population, deer sex ratio (antlered bucks vs. adult does), hunter populations (bowhunting and gun hunting) and deer densities.
All that aside, here’s a quick glimpse at the five states that keep putting up impressive overall antlered buck harvest every year.
Keystone State hunters took home 137,580 antlered bucks during the most recent reporting period. Its fifth-place ranking is impressive on many fronts. First, the total number of bucks harvested represents only one out of 10 states that notched harvests above 100K. More impressive, however, is the fact that Pennsylvania has one of the highest hunter populations in North America. The state is home to more than 550,000 gun-hunters and another 200,000+ bowhunters. That’s a lot of pressure on a deer herd that doesn’t even register in the nation’s Top 5.
The Peach State is the only Southern state to register in this Top 5 list. During the same reporting period, Georgia notched an antlered buck harvest of 142,346. Over a three-year period state hunters exceeded 140,000 bucks on the meat pole each year, making Georgia only one of three Southeastern states to exceed 100,000 bucks during each of those years (Mississippi and South Carolina were the other two). Georgia also has one of the highest antlered buck densities in the South, with more than 2.5 antlered bucks per square mile of deer habitat. As far as quality deer go, Georgia is among the best, with 28 percent of the buck harvest composed of animals that are 3.5 years old or older.
Badger State deer hunters put 152,701 antlered bucks on the board in 2015. That’s the highest buck harvest in the state during the three-year reporting period, which is a sign that the state might be in store for even better harvests in the future. Wisconsin was once the top deer harvest state in the country (average of more than 400,000 whitetails (and 200,000+ bucks) annually in the 1990s and early 2000s). Like Michigan, Wisconsin is home to a lot of hunters (725,000 gun and bow), which results in a lot of hunting pressure. According to the QDMA report, Wisconsin averages nearly 14 deer hunters per square mile of deer habitat during its annual firearms season.
Michigan is another high-pressure state that somehow produces quality deer hunting opportunities year in and year out. The state’s 1 million hunters took 191,608 antlered bucks, an 8 percent increase over the previous year (but a 7 percent decrease over its 10-year average). That’s par for the course for this Upper Great Lakes state, because its deer herd can boom or bust depending upon the weather, namely harsh winters. The Lower Peninsula is currently carrying the torch for deer hunting opportunities, as successive brutal winters in the Upper Peninsula have knocked down fawn survival rates. During the three-year reporting period, Michigan’s percentage of yearling bucks in the antlered buck harvest has dropped from 47 percent to 44 percent, and the number of 3.5-year-old bucks has increased from 21 percent to 27 percent.
It should come as no surprise that the Lone Star state is indeed No. 1 when it comes to whitetail hunting. State hunters put up a staggering 290,590 antlered bucks during the third year of the study, which was actually a decrease of 11 percent from Year 2 (hunters killed even more in Year 1, with 330,535 antlered bucks). Texas was the only state to have an average above 200,000 antlered bucks in an annual overall harvest during the three-year period. More than 75 percent of the state’s buck harvest comprises animals that are 3.5 years old or older. Of course, Texas is also home to sprawling private ranches and relatively few hunters. Of the five states in this list, Texas has the fewest number of hunters (645,000). For perspective, Texas is nearly six times the size of Pennsylvania (269,000 square miles vs. 46,000 square miles) and, yet, has fewer hunters (645,000 vs. 750,000).
Although Georgia was the only Southern state to make the Top 5 list, interestingly the Southeast region was hands-down the best place to be living if you’re a buck-hunter. Over the five-year period (2010 to 2014), the 11 states in the region combined to kill nearly 1.3 million antlered bucks. Granted, Texas was included in this region, but even without the Lone Star State, the region was still carried by impressive average annual buck harvests of 80,000 or more by every state in the region — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The Midwest region combined to harvest 984,609 bucks, while the Northeast took home 499,468 bucks.
Editor’s Note: Check back in soon here at the Realtree Business Blog, where we’ll be reviewing the Top 5 “Worst” states for buck hunting.