Best Big Buck States for 2014: North Carolina

NC Logo.inddFears of any after effects of the worst EHD epidemic in state history are fading fast now that North Carolina deer hunters set a new harvest record during the 2013-14 season. Hunters again showed an increased preference for harvesting more antlerless deer than antlered bucks, but the numbers for all deer increased substantially.

The antlered buck harvest of 86,558 was up by 7.0 percent over the 2012-13 harvest of 80,883 and was 8.2 percent higher than the 2011-12 harvest of 80,014.

The total deer harvest increased from 167,249 to 188,130 (12.5 percent), and while the antlered buck harvest increased, the buck-to-doe harvest ratio fell from 48.4 to 46.0 percent. This is about the same ratio as occurred over the previous four seasons. The 2009-10 season was the last time that bucks comprised more than 50 percent of the harvest.

Most hunters who take only one deer tend to harvest a buck, and they may not have even seen a doe or button buck during the 2012-13 because of EHD deaths. Now that the hunters in regions hit hardest by EHD are seeing deer numbers restored, they are taking more does, and that is what dipped the harvest ratio of bucks-to-does back down to 46 percent while at the same time the total buck harvest hit a record high.

Evin Stanford is the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Deer Biologist. He compiles and analyses deer harvest reports each season.

"The increased overall deer harvest and the buck harvest in particular was widespread across all geographic regions," he said. "Some of the counties that had the biggest declines (from EHD) were the counties where harvests reverted back to their formerly high levels. Apparently, hunters no longer saw the need for 'trigger control' (as they had during the EHD outbreak) and resumed their normal hunting practices."

Joshua Speer, 13, of Statesville, killed his first muzzleloader buck on November 9, 2013 in Turnersburg, N.C.

Stanford said that any substantial decline in deer numbers increases the habitat quality. Therefore, hunters in the areas of highest EHD incidence may actually have the best chances of harvesting trophy bucks until the population again reaches its carrying capacity.

No regulations changes occurred that would account for the increased ratio of bucks to antlerless deer in the harvest. Stanford said hunters continue to ask the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to enact such regulations as "earn-a-buck" that require taking an antlerless deer before harvesting an antlered buck, and for antler-point restrictions that could increase recruitment of older-aged bucks, and for an extension of the two-buck rule in effect for the piedmont and mountain districts to the coastal plain.

The top 10 counties in terms of total antlered buck harvest were: Northampton, 2,529; Halifax, 2,504; Bertie, 1,905; Wake, 1,717; Bladen, 1,680; Wilkes, 1,680; Franklin, 1,662; Duplin, 1,635 and Moore, 1,616, displacing four of the previous season's top counties (Bladen, Craven, Edgecombe and Pender).

A better way of gauging hunter success than total buck harvest within a county is the "antlered buck harvest per square mile of manageable habitat" (abpsm). This statistic is the number of bucks harvested per square mile of habitat where hunting and hunting regulations can have an impact on the deer population. Hunters can see these manageable habitat areas by checking the Commission's deer density maps, which are adjusted every five years to compensate for expanding cities, water bodies and parks where hunting can have little impact or where no deer exist. (Deer Density maps are available at

10-10 NC DS MAP (D) copyThis way of presenting the harvest data reveals some interesting facts. It helps level the playing field for small counties (compared to large counties that have high harvests simply because they have lots of acreage). It also shows that many counties with extremely high human densities also have some of the highest total deer harvests and abpsm harvests due to high hunting pressure on the smaller acreages that are available for hunting (and perhaps the "migration" of deer from "no hunting" areas that surround the properties that can be hunted).

Counties that made the 2013-14 top 10 in terms of abpsm included: Vance, 5.37; Northampton, 4.83; Wake, 4.06; Mecklenburg, 3.83; Alleghany, 3.66; Halifax, 3.63; Forsyth, 3.53; Franklin, 3.51; Edgecombe, 3.28 and Warren, 3.17. Bumped from the top 10 were Gaston and Chowan.

The top two counties in each district in terms of abpsm included: District 1, Hertford, 2.84 and Bertie (replaced Chowan), 2.79; District 2, Craven, 2.44 and Pitt, 2.42; District 3, Vance, 5.37 and Northampton, 4.83; District 4, Bladen, 1.96 and Harnett, 1.77; District 5, Caswell, 2.97 and Person (replaced Alamance), 2.80; District 6, Mecklenburg, 3.83 and Richmond (replaced Montgomery), 3.03; District 7, Alleghany, 3.66 and Forsyth, 3.53; District 8, Gaston, 3.13 and Lincoln, 2.79 and District 9, Polk, 2.22 and Madison, 1.12.

In District 1, Hertford and Bertie counties have excellent deer habitat in the lowlands along the Chowan River, and have a good mix of farmland and forestland on the uplands.

Three ingredients — river floodplains, farmland and extensive forestland — create the top hunting opportunities in most of the state's best antlered buck hunting counties.

1411_G208_NC1Chowan Swamp Game Land has 21,156 acres in Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Chowan counties where hunters reported harvesting 97 deer, of which 41 were antlered bucks. Hunters reported harvesting 17 deer, including six antlered bucks, at the 30-acre Chowan Game Land. This, however, is most likely an over-reported harvest due to hunters mistaking the name of the smaller tract for the name of the larger game land.

In District 2, Croatan Game Land offers 160,724 acres of excellent deer hunting in Carteret, Craven and Jones counties. Hunters reported harvesting 572 deer, of which 278 were antlered bucks, at Croatan. Also located in Craven County, the 3,100-acre Dover Bay Game Land produced six deer, including three antlered bucks, and the 4,925-acre Neuse River Game Land produced 30 deer, including 15 antlered bucks.

Pitt County has no game lands. However, excellent deer habitat occurs along the Tar River and Contentnea Creek, as well as on expansive private timberlands in the northeastern and northwestern areas of the county.

In District 3, Vance and Northampton topped the abpsm category thanks to an excellent mix of farmland and timberland. The Roanoke River floodplain provides excellent habitat in Northampton County. Roanoke River Wetlands Game Land has 35,772 acres of floodplain along with some upland habitat in Bertie, Halifax, Martin and Northampton counties. It is open for deer hunting by permit only. Permits are assigned by lottery, with hunters specifying their preference for hunting various tracts on the Upper Roanoke River and Lower Roanoke River units. Hunters took 179 deer, including 99 antlered bucks, on the upper unit and 140 deer, including 87 antlered bucks, on the lower unit.

For hunters who don't have access to private farms and forests in Vance County, the 752-acre Vance Game Land is located on a peninsula in Kerr Reservoir. Hunters reported harvesting 75 deer from Vance Game Land including 42 antlered bucks.

In District 4, Bladen and Harnett counties topped the abpsm category. Bladen County borders the Cape Fear River and the river's floodplain has excellent deer habitat known to produce heavily antlered bucks. The county also has the 32,263-acre Bladen Lakes Game Land and 9,588-acre Suggs Millpond Game Land. Hunters took 105 deer at Bladen Lakes, including 43 antlered bucks.

Hunters reported harvesting 21 deer at Suggs Millpond, including 11 antlered bucks. Special regulations pertaining to the Singletary Tract of Bladen Lakes prohibit centerfire rifles and hounds for hunting deer. For hunting at Suggs Mill Pond, deer hunters must buy an over-the-counter permit for hunting with primitive weapons or apply for a lottery permit for modern firearms hunts.

Located in Cumberland and Harnett counties, the Fort Bragg U.S. Army Post has an intensive deer-management and deer-hunting program. 1411_G207_NC1Fort Bragg has the highest potential for producing trophy bucks of any public hunting area in the coastal plain. Hunters must attend Fort Bragg's mandatory hunter orientation and obtain the post's special hunting license. All hunters must check in and out and adhere to other protocols covered in the orientation class. All hunters, regardless of age, must have a hunter safety certificate.

In District 5, Alamance and Person led the abpsm harvest. These counties have large areas dedicated to timber and agriculture. In Person County, Hyco Game Land's 4,229 acres produced 59 deer, including 29 antlered bucks. Mayo Game Land's 7,128 acres produced 27 deer, including 20 antlered bucks. Both are accessible by land as well as water. At Caswell County's 17,198-acre R. Wayne Bailey-Caswell Game Land, hunters reported harvesting 217 deer, including 120 antlered bucks.

In District 6, Mecklenburg and Richmond counties led the abpsm category. Mecklenburg has comparatively little deer habitat. However, it has a high density of hunters that saturate the county's available habitat and take many bucks. Pee Dee River Game Land is located in Anson, Montgomery, Richmond and Stanly counties and has 6,829 acres in tracts scattered along the river. It has river access to the floodplain tracts and is one of the best game lands for producing trophy bucks in the piedmont.

Hunters harvested 65 deer, including 35 antlered bucks, from Pee Dee River Game Land. Hunters should also check into permit hunts at Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, which produces some great bucks. While hunters must apply for gun hunt permits during the summer, the refuge also hosts a late-season archery hunt in December.

Uwharrie Game Land is comprised of many tracts totaling 50,189 acres in Davidson, Montgomery and Randolph counties. Hunters reported harvesting 358 deer from Uwharrie, including 160 antlered bucks.

Sandhills Game Land, with 61,526 acres in Hoke, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties, is open three days per week. Hunters took 143 deer from the game land, including 113 antlered bucks. It is a known hotspot for trophy bucks, due to soil conditions that produce good-quality antlers.

In District 7, Alleghany and Forsyth counties topped the abpsm harvest. In Alleghany County, the New River corridor and adjoining farmlands and timberlands create exceptional buck habitat. Located in Alleghany and Wilkes counties, the 6,403-acre Thurmond Chatham Game Land offers excellent trophy buck hunting due to its location adjoining to a state park that allows bucks to grow old. The game land produced a total of 13 deer, including nine antlered bucks.

Forsyth has a dense human population center at Winston-Salem that produces high hunting pressure on the county's limited deer habitat. The Yadkin River and rolling hills near Belews Lake have undeveloped timberlands that produce excellent hunting for antlered bucks. While there is no game land in Forsyth County, the 982-acre Perkins Game Land in Davie County is a good bet. Hunters took 12 deer, including seven antlered bucks, from Perkins last season.

In District 8, Gaston and Lincoln counties led the abpsm category. These two counties have high hunting pressure, resulting in high antlered buck harvests considering their relatively small areas of huntable habitat. While Gaston and Lincoln counties have no game lands, Catawba Game Land has 1,099 acres along the Catawba River in Catawba County. This game land produced 16 deer, including nine antlered bucks. Also located in District 8 is South Mountains Game Land. It has 19,942 acres in Burke, Cleveland, McDowell and Rutherford counties and produced 32 deer, including 15 antlered bucks.

Also in District 8, Pisgah Game Land, with 505,217 acres in Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey counties produces plenty of deer. Pisgah hunters harvested 401 deer, including 283 antlered bucks.

In District 9, Polk and Madison led the abpsm harvest. Polk County is always the best buck-producing county in District 9 because it consists primarily of foothills habitat rather than the steeper mountain terrain of other counties in the district. The 14,308-acre Green River Game Land produced 92 deer, including 48 antlered bucks. Madison County has lots of acreage in Pisgah Game Land.

In District 9, the highest deer harvest comes from Nantahala Game Land, which has 528,782 acres in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania counties. Hunters harvested 418 deer from Nantahala, including 333 bucks.

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