The annual whitetail report by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) is always fascinating for deer hunters — and this year was no exception.
The 2015 QDMA Whitetail Report has been released, with plenty of factoids and statistics surrounding the whitetail herds of North America. The report uses data collected during the 2011 – 2013 seasons and highlights the data points from the 2013 season.
The data QDMA collects is comprehensive and provides detailed analysis of whitetail populations and hunting statistics throughout the nation. The information is requested from state wildlife agencies by the QDMA.
It’s a long report, so we’ve found the highlights worth noting and thought we’d share them with you. Here are the 13 key takeaways you need from this vitally important deer hunting resource.
1. Hunters Care About Submitting Data
Every state in the Midwest, Southeast (including Texas), and Northeast submitted harvest data. These three regions make up the majority of the whitetail habitat. Only two states in the West submitted – New Mexico and Wyoming, and only two Canadian provinces submitted – New Brunswick and Quebec. Because analysis is done off of comprehensive regional data, the West and Canada were left out of this year’s report.
2. Antlered Buck Harvest Down Overall
The antlered buck harvest (bucks 1.5 years or older) was down 4% overall during the 2013-2014 seasons. Over half of the states in the three regions shot fewer bucks in 2013 than during the 2012 seasons. The total antlered buck harvest in the Midwest during the 2013 season was 930,272. This marks the first season since before 2009 the antlered buck harvest in the Midwest was below one million.
3. Texas Had the Most Bucks Harvested
Texas harvested the most antlered bucks (for the fifth consecutive year) in 2013 with 330,535. Michigan was in second for its third consecutive year with 203,057 antlered bucks taken in 2013. Michigan also recorded the highest bucks per square mile in the Midwest, while decreasing its percentage of yearling bucks harvest. This statistic was a standout in QDMA’s report as they strive to encourage deer hunters to “let them go, so they can grow.”
The Northeast also stood out positively in antlered buck harvest with a 3% rise across the region, making 2013 the third year in a row the Northeast raised its buck harvest percentage. Pennsylvania harvested the most antlered bucks for the region.
4. Yearling Buck Harvest Was at the Lowest National Average
This was a hugely positive standout in this year’s report. Although some states agencies did not collect age structure data on their deer harvest, like South Carolina, a majority of the states did collect this important data. The average national percentage of 1.5 year old antlered bucks harvested during the 2013 season was just 36% — the lowest percentage on record! For perspective, the percentage of yearling bucks harvested in 1989 was 62%. The almost 30% drop in 24 years is a positive national trend the QDMA hopes to continue so hunters can have the chance to see, and harvest, older and bigger bucks.
5. Standout States in Ages of Harvested Bucks (Youngest and Oldest)
Arkansas led the nation with yearlings making up just 8% of its antlered bucks harvest — meaning less than one in 10 bucks were 1.5 years old or younger. This marks the lowest yearling harvest of any state ever and is Arkansas’ fifth time in six years it has led in this statistic. Interestingly, Arkansas implemented antler point restrictions in 1998 and currently still maintains restrictions on either antler points or main beams. Wisconsin had the highest reported percentage of yearlings harvested in 2013 at 61%.
The average percentage of bucks 3.5 and older harvest in 2013 was at a national all-time high of 34%. The QDMA attributes this as a “testament to how far we’ve come as hunters and managers in the past decade.” Percentages of 3.5 year old bucks harvested out of the total buck harvest regionally: Kansas led the Midwest (46%), Rhode Island (31%) led the Northeast, and Louisiana (68%) led the Southeast. Note, not all states collected this detailed age data.
6. The Northeast Collects the Most Data
Every single state in the Northeast collected age structure data in 2013, making it the first region to ever do so since the QDMA Whitetail Report was started. The Northeast also recorded its lowest percentage of yearling bucks harvested in 2013. Age structure data is invaluable towards deer managers and “is the backbone of a deer management program.”
7. Antlerless Harvest Dropped in Midwest
The antlerless harvest in the Midwest continues a major declining trend despite Wisconsin and Michigan being 4th and 5th place, respectively, on the antlerless harvest top five list. The Midwest has now shot fewer antlerless deer per square mile than the Southeast and Northeast for the fifth straight year in a row.
In 2013 the Midwest shot 10% fewer antlerless deer than in 2012 and four midwestern states saw their antlerless deer harvest from 2012 to 2013 decrease by over 20% (North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, and Nebraska). Only two midwestern states saw a rise in their antlerless harvest – Kansas and Kentucky.
8. Nebraska Still Reeling
Nebraska experienced a record setting outbreak of hemorrhagic disease in 2012, and the effects on their harvest data is still being heavily felt. The antlerless harvest in Nebraska has dropped 61% since 2011.
9. Fewer States Are Harvesting More Antlerless Deer Than Bucks
During the 2013 season only 59% of states harvested more antlerless deer than bucks — down 14% in two years. The QDMA contends the antlerless harvest should be reduced in states where deer populations are ecologically balanced with habitat and/or in areas hit by increased predation or disease.
However, with the current outlook, very few states should regularly be harvesting more bucks than antlerless deer so this is a trend the QDMA hopes to see reversed.
10. Archery and Muzzleloading Popularity Continues to Rise
While firearms continue to be the weapon of choice for deer hunters across the country, bows and muzzleloaders are gaining in popularity. Overall in 2013, firearm (rifle/shotgun) hunters accounted for 65% of the total deer harvest while bowhunters took 21% and muzzleloaders took 12%.
The Northeast had the highest percentage of bow and muzzleloader hunters with 27% and 18% respectively. The Southeast had the least amount of non-firearm hunters with 74% of the deer harvest taken with a rifle or shotgun. New Jersey had the highest bow harvest percentage in 2013 at 56%, Rhode Island had the highest muzzleloader percentage at 39%, and South Carolina narrowly nudged out Maine (87%) for the highest rifle/shotgun harvest at 89%.
The QDMA sees expanded bow and muzzleloading seasons as highly beneficial to the future of hunting, as it encourages more participation from hunters of all ages and backgrounds.
11. Ten Year Trends Show Declines
The QDMA compared the data from 2013 to 2003 and the ten year trends were very interesting. Overall, the buck harvest declined 8% and the antlerless harvest declined 12%. Several states have implemented bag limit changes and/or were actively trying to reduce an inflated herd which makes up for some of that decline. The QDMA gives the Southeast and Northeast a relatively positive outlook going forward based off of their ten year trend, but the Midwest is a different story.
The Midwest’s ten year trend is seeing declines of 20 – 50%, causing vast concern among the deer hunting communities there. And initial reports coming in from the 2014-2015 season aren’t looking favorable in reversing this trend. QMDA insists the key to managing the situation in the Midwest will be close working relationships between legislatures, wildlife agencies, and hunters.
12. Boone & Crockett Club Whitetail Trophy Entries Drop Drastically
The Boone & Crockett Club is a premier trophy recording agency. They reached out to QDMA when they noticed a considerable decrease in the whitetail trophy entry numbers from the 2013 season. The resulting investigation uncovered a significant drop in trophy production across the upper Midwest.
Several factors are considered to be responsible for this, such as severe winters, overhunting, and disease, but the main culprit looks to be a loss of valuable deer habitat. To see this declining trend reversed, it’s imperative hunters get involved to raise concern and make their voices heard.
13. The Key Takeaway – Engagement and Education
The QDMA’s standout takeaway for hunters is engagement with state and local agency management programs and knowledge about the issues surrounding deer hunting.
QDMA recently formed the National Deer Alliance (NDA) which will be a platform for all types of deer hunters and managers. Whatever your level of involvement, quality deer management is imperative to preserving our hunting heritage by keeping whitetail around for the generations after us to enjoy as our forefathers did.