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Best Trophy Deer Hunting States in the Midwest

Best Trophy Deer Hunting States in the Midwest
Colziah Jones shot this giant typical buck on October 19, 2014. He passed up a shot on the big buck in 2012 just to see how big it would get. In 2013, he didn't have an opportunity to shoot it, but he reaped the rewards for his choice in 2014.

It's no secret that the Midwestern part of the U.S. has great deer hunting and produces huge bucks every year.

The Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young record books are full of bucks from this area of the country. Most of the states in the Midwest sell thousands of nonresident deer hunting licenses every year to hunters who don't have a realistic chance of taking a big, mature buck where they live.

Wisconsin has produced more record book entries than any other state. This is the second giant of this caliber that Adam Hupf has taken here. Wisconsin's public lands are crowded, but the habitat over much of the state is perfect for producing big bucks. 2015 should be another banner year for the state.

But don't expect to find a giant whitetail behind every tree. In fact, some areas in the Midwest are actually on a downswing due to diseases effecting deer.

That said, the list of big-buck producing states in this region is still very long, so it's hard to pick a top area for deer hunting, but here are some places to consider based on the conditions we're seeing this season

You may wonder why the Wisconsin is not on this list. While the Badger State produces more B&C and P&Y bucks than any other state, Wisconsin's deer harvest is huge when you compare it to other Midwestern states.

For example, Iowa has a harvest of about 100,000 whitetails to Wisconsin's annual harvest figure of 350,000 to 400,000 deer. So, in relation to the overall harvest, Wisconsin ranks third in P&Y bucks takenand only 6th in B&C record book bucks taken.

Add to this the fact that Wisconsin offers a only relatively small amount of public hunting land, which tends to be heavily pressured, and Wisconsin falls down in the top 10 nationally.

If you're looking to take a wallhanger this season, here are the top Midwestern states to build your plans around.


Colziah Jones shot this giant typical buck on October 19, 2014. He passed up a shot on the big buck in 2012 just to see how big it would get. In 2013, he didn't have an opportunity to shoot it, but he reaped the rewards for his choice in 2014.

Kansas has not been immune to the disease outbreaks that have slammed the deer population in some other Midwestern states, but there have been a few pockets where some die-off has been seen.


Fortunately, these incidents are isolated, so Kansas will continue to produce big bucks and lots of them. One factor that moves Kansas up in the ranks of destination states for trophy whitetail hunters is the large amount of public land available to hunt.

There is state and federal land available, plus the Walk in Hunting Access (WIHA) program in Kansas provides incentives for landowners to open their land to public hunting.

The record books bear out the ability of Kansas to crank out big bucks every year. The state has produced 508 P&Y and 120 B&C bucks since 2010.

The best whitetail habitat in Kansas is found in the eastern third of the state and the southern counties, but there are small populations in the prairies of western Kansas, some of which are lightly hunted and offer a chance to shoot a big buck.


Jason Burgin thought his season would be a bust when an outfitter leased the land on which he had permission to hunt only five days before the season began. He got permission to hunt on an 80-acre piece of ground and found himself standing over this 225-inch nontypical on November 7.

Nearly 20,000 hunters apply for the 6,000 nonresident deer tags available in Iowa each year. That's a pretty good indicator of the trophy quality the state has to offer.

In the opinion of many big buck chasers, it's the number one destination state in the nation. It ranks below a couple others for two main reasons: Nonresident deer tags are very expensive (you will have $704 invested in your licenses and preference points) and secondly, it will take you three to four years of applying to draw a tag.

Still, the hunters line up for a chance at hunting this mecca for whitetail enthusiasts. The stats bear out the potential: The state has produced nearly 800 P&Y bucks and about 500 B&C bucks in the last five years.

And Iowa is one of only three states that rank in the top five in both categories.

The northeast corner and the southern third of Iowa are the areas that produce the most big bucks. Southeast and south-central Iowa have been the victim of some significant disease outbreaks over the past few years, but the population seems to be recovering after hitting lows in 2013 and 2014.

Heavy rains flooded crop fields across southeastern Iowa in 2015, which may mean many cornfields will still be standing when the hunting season is in full swing. Some flooding was severe to the point that the farmers may just plow the corn under, which will leave some ears exposed.

These fields can be magnets for deer during the late season.

Tie: Ohio and Nebraska

Bad weather couldn't keep Brian Wiese from arrowing this rutting 11-pointer in Knox County, Nebraska, on Nov. 23, 2014. Most of Nebraska has escaped the disease epidemic that has hit surrounding states, so the population is high. Above average rainfall has created an environment where the 2015 whitetail crop should be excellent.

Both these states rank number three in this region because they have the ability to produce big bucks yet they both have low nonresident license fees along with adequate public land to hunt.

Southeast Ohio produces good numbers of big bucks, but the public land gets quite a bit of pressure from hunters. You will have to find an out-of-the-way place to hunt by yourself.

Nebraska just changed the opening day of the archery season to September 1, which offers a chance to start out a road trip hunt far from home before most states open.

Plus it gives you the chance to add a velvet-antlered buck to your collection.

Sleeper: Indiana

This is a state that has been quietly moving up the rankings for about a decade. More and more big bucks are being shot in Indiana than at any other time since the record book organizations were formed.

This is a state that has been quietly moving up the rankings for about a decade. More and more big bucks are being shot in Indiana than at any other time since the record book organizations were formed.

The state is now producing 50-60 B&C entries per year and an average of 132 P&Y entries over the last five years. Nonresident tag costs are a bargain at $150, but finding a place to hunt with some elbow room can be a bit more of a challenge.

There is about a million acres of public hunting land in the state, but there are a lot of hunters using it. If you can find a place to hunt, this state deserves a look, and it will be getting more attention over the next few years as hunters learn of its potential.

How The Ratings Work

In determining which are the best states to hunt in each region, I looked at nine factors that influence the quality and availability of deer hunting.

Of these nine categories, I felt that some factors were more important than others, so I ranked four of them (license cost, license acquisition, deer population, and intangibles/reputation) on a scale of one to three.

The other five I ranked on a scale of one to ten (harvests per hunter, harvest density, amount of public land, and the ratio of B&C and P&Y bucks in relation to the overall harvest) because I felt they would weigh more heavily in the decision-making process.

Let's take a brief look at each of these criteria.

Nonresident License Cost: These ranged from $74 for Maine to $704 (including 3 preference points) for Iowa.

Difficulty of License Acquisition: States that offer over-the-counter tags were given more points than states in which it is hard to draw a tag.

Overall Deer Population: Your chances of seeing a deer is somewhat based on this factor. Several states made moves in this category, however, most were not for the good.

Harvests Per Hunter: This is a computation of the annual success rates for deer hunters in each state. It ranged from 1.607 deer per hunter in Mississippi, to .073 in Washington.

P&Y Ratio and B&C Ratio: This is a computation of the ratio between the record book bucks taken in relation to the overall harvest for the past five seasons 2010-2014. For example, more B&C bucks have been killed in Wisconsin than in any other state, but Wisconsin also has a very high deer harvest. If you look at the number of B&C bucks as a percentage of the overall harvest, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Indiana allrank higher than Wisconsin..

Hunter Density: This is the number of deer hunters in the state in relation to the amount of land. It's a good indicator of the amount of hunting pressure you will find on public land.

Amount of Public Land: This is a ranking based on the acreage of public land in the state that is suitable whitetail habitat. This includes Federal, state and private land that is open to public hunting. While western states such as Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado offer huge volumes of public land, most of the land there is more suitable to elk and mule deer than whitetails.

Since whitetails are mostly found on private farmland along the riparian areas in these states, that was taken into consideration.

Intangibles: This is a one-to-three subjective ranking based on a gut feeling. Seems like everyone wants to hunt Iowa, that's why there are nearly four applications for every available tag most years.

But deer hunting in the western states also has an appeal because of the unique experience and the difference in scenery found there. Very few nonresident licenses are sold in the southern states, which is another indicator of the intangibles.

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