The East and Southeastern part of the country are not known as whitetail destinations, but each state in this region has its base of serious hunters, some of whom bag a whopper each year. The deer population is very high in many of the southern states, but there are pockets where disease has taken a toll in the past three to four years.
Fortunately these areas are somewhat isolated, but it's a good idea to call a biologist before you travel to hunt and ask specific questions about the deer population where you intend to hunt.
The Southeast received plenty of rainfall this summer. In fact, there was some serious flooding in some areas. Some fawns were killed by untimely flooding in some parts of the region, but that is not expected to have a significant impact on the overall population. Crops that attract deer are doing well, and the mast crops in most areas are very good.
If you're heading out with a trophy buck in mind, here are the top DIY deer hunting states to visit.
Tim Young traveled from Iowa to Kentucky because he always wanted to shoot a buck with velvet on its antlers. He watched this buck come out into a field for two days before the wind was right and he made his move. He shot it from a makeshift ground blind. The buck scored a whopping 195 gross typical.
The state of Kentucky has not long been known as a trophy whitetail hotspot. That began to change about 20 years ago, however, as the Internet and outdoor TV revealed the secrets known mostly to locals up until that time.
Today, Kentucky is widely known as one of the top five trophy states in the U.S.
Drive some of the miles and miles of winding country roads in Kentucky and you are likely to come over a hill or around a curve and see a dandy buck standing in a field of alfalfa or soybeans. The countryside is broken up into small farms with scattered woodlots that make for perfect whitetail habitat and the big buck numbers prove it.
The state has produced more than 200 B&C bucks in the last five years and Kentucky ranks number one in Booners as a ratio to the overall deer harvest. It also ranks high in the availability of public hunting land including some huge areas of many square miles open to public hunting around the states major reservoirs.
In 2014, Kentucky bumped up the cost of a nonresident tag to $260, nearly doubling it. Tags are available over the counter so nonresidents can just show up, buy their license and start hunting.
In recent years, the south-central and western part of the state have produced the most big bucks, but mature whitetails can be found statewide.
This state ranks in the top ten in the number of harvests per hunter (.74) and in the amount of public land (2.2 million acres).
The trend of managing properties for mature whitetails has been paying off for many landowners, as the state is increasing the number of bucks entered into the record books each year.
Many of the largest bucks come from small parcels of land near populated areas. These bucks living in "suburbia" have the opportunity to grow large, and a few bowhunters have figured out how to bag them in the small pockets of cover they call home.
Scattered farms and openings among the countryside are the key to finding a big buck in this Virginia.
Mississippi has a huge deer population and liberal limits. It ranks third nationally with a population estimated at 1.8 million deer.
It also ranks number one nationally with 1.6 deer per hunter harvested.
So it would stand to reason that there are a lot of hunters in the state, right?
Not so fast.
With only about 177,000 licensed deer hunters, it also ranks in the top ten among hunter density.
The only reason this state doesn't get more attention is the average size of the bucks harvested. While many nice bucks are taken each year, Mississippi ranks very low in P&Y and B&C bucks.
Still, if you are looking for a place to fill your freezer with a realistic chance at finding a better-than-average buck, this may be the state for you.
On the Rise: Arkansas
Watch out for Arkansas. The number of both B&C and P&Y entries has been on the rise in the past decade. There doesn't seem to be any one contributing factor that stands out, but the data shows an increase in mature buck harvest.
The state has had some serious problems with the decimation of oak trees in the past decade, but the other mast crops seem to be doing well. Keep your eye on this state in the next few years.
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.