This country has many places to chase whitetails, but which are the best?
A few weeks ago, we published a list of 10 of the worst places to chase whitetails in the country. Many factors were taken into consideration including, total harvest numbers, hunter success rates, hunting pressure, age structure of the bucks harvested; even prevailing weather conditions were a factor.
What criteria, however, make a state “good” or “bad” for whitetail deer hunting? Many of you had strong feelings about the first list and weren’t afraid to share them, and we’re glad you did. Sharing our experiences and learning from each other is how we grow as sportsmen and women.
Now, hear me out: This is one hunter’s opinion, and I’m not trying to say I’m the know-all, be-all deer expert. But I’d like to think I know enough to put together an educated collection of thoughts that naturally turn into a countdown of epic proportions.
Here is my list for the top 10 best places to hunt deer in the U.S.
While its placement on this list may come as a surprise to many, the quality of whitetail hunting in Georgia has increased greatly over the years. While you’re less likely to tag a Booner here than in other states, the overall deer harvest numbers are incredibly high (#1 in anterless harvest in the country in 2011), the age structure of harvested bucks is good, the buck density is high, and over three percent of the state is open to public hunting. These factors, combined with a 55% hunter success rate, earns Georgia the 10th spot on our list.
9. South Carolina
South Carolina slides in at number nine for many of the same reasons as Georgia, with a few exceptions. The Palmetto State ranked number one nationally in bucks harvested per square mile (3.6 bucks per square mile) according to the Quality Deer Management Associations 2013 Whitetail Report, which also reported that 70% of South Carolina’s hunters reported a successful harvest. The chances of a monster whitetail may not be as high, but the chance you’ll have a good time, as well as tag a good buck, are higher than ever.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the whitetail hunting. Hunters in the Lone Star State kill more bucks than in any other by a huge margin (309,207 bucks harvested in 2011 alone), and 60% of those bucks were 3 1/2 years old or older. Texas also ranks second in antlerless harvest numbers, and from 2005 to 2010 ranked 10th for most Boone & Crockett entries with 132. Combine these factors with the almost 1.6 million acres of public hunting land available, and it seems as if Texas hunters have a good thing going.
Not that we’d mess with them, of course.
When the time comes to book a Texas hunt, try Ox Ranch, home to some of the best whitetail deer hunting you can find in the state.
If any state is a poster child for the effectiveness of QDM practices, then Mississippi is probably it. Mississippi ranks number one in percentage of harvested bucks being 3 1/2 years old or older, number two in percentage of yearling bucks harvested, and number five in the number of bucks harvested per square mile. While the Magnolia State might not be somewhere where you would expect to kill a trophy, your chances of harvesting a good buck probably won’t be much better anywhere else.
For many Midwestern whitetail hunters, seeing Iowa outside the top three of any list of top whitetail destinations is pure heresy. There is, however, a good reason for Iowa’s respectable, but not first place ranking.
From 2005-2010, only two states had more B&C entries than Iowa; Iowa also offers a 0.078% chance of harvesting a Booner, making it fourth best in the nation in that category. Those who hope to hunt in Iowa, however, have to apply and hope that they are drawn. Out-of-state license fees are huge, and hunting on an out-of-state license restricts you to certain parts of the state. Oh, and by the way, only 0.7% of the state (266,000) acres is open to public hunting; the only state with less public hunting land is… Hawaii.
So while Iowa may be the land of giants, only a privileged few get to hunt there.
Kansas is a state that has grown accustomed to being near the top of any “best whitetail destinations” list, and for good reason. From 2005-2010 Kansas ranked eighth in Boone & Crockett entries and, statistically-speaking, Kansas offers the third best chance of any state to kill such a buck.
Kansas, however, suffers from the same condition as Iowa. While the monster bucks are certainly there, the problem is getting to them. Only 420,000 acres, or 0.8% of its total area, are open to public hunting (Michigan, for example, has over 7.3 million acres of public hunting land). Also, while the state’s lottery system for deer tags seems to offer a better chance at being drawn than Iowa, the cost of a guided and/or private land hunt can be out of this world!
While the Sunflower State may be a top destination if your goal is to kill a record-book whitetail, it appears that you better be prepared to fork over some serious coin.
Illinois is a state that isn’t in the top 10 in any of our categories…except trophy production. Illinois had almost 300 (299, to be exact) bucks entered into the Boone & Crockett books from 2005-2010, the second most of any state. As categories go, thats a pretty important one.
While some states on our list scored highly in one or two categories, Illinois did fairly well in several. The anterless harvest is large (well over 100,000 annually), the pressure is high but no more so than many other states, there is a reasonable amount of public land available, and as mentioned before, the trophy production is through the roof. If you have the opportunity, hunt Illinois; we bet that you’ll be glad you did.
Missouri stands as an up-and-coming star in the outdoor world. Several online and T.V. hunting shows have sprung up from Missouri in the last several years, putting this great state on the radar for many of us.
Missouri has the chops to back its newfound popularity. The trophy potential is huge, there’s an amazing amount of public land available, the pressure is reasonable (8.3 hunters per square mile, compared to 12.3 in Ohio), and with 38% of the buck harvest being 3 1/2 years old or older, the states deer heard appears to have a healthy age structure.
If you’re planning on hunting the Midwest this year, don’t overlook Missouri.
Indiana is another Midwestern state that for years has been flying under the radar, and many Hoosier hunters would probably be content to keep it that way. No other state, however, offers a better chance at taking a record book whitetail. Hunting here offers a .084% chance a taking a Booner, which is better than any other state in the country.
Indiana is also in the top ten for total B&C entries over the last 10 years, and despite a fair amount of pressure hunters enjoy a 50% success rate. These factors, combined with a respectable amount of public land available, earn Indiana a number two spot on our list.
And the winner is…
For years Kentucky has been one of the best-kept secrets of the hunting world, but many of the Commonwealth’s hunters fear the secret is out.
The Bluegrass state seems to have it all: long seasons with friendly regulations, reasonable pressure, a large, healthy, and well-balanced herd (in some portions of the state hunters can harvest as many does as they are wiling to buy tags for), and lots of public land with trophy potential. In fact, the deer pictured above scored 246 3/8 inches, and was killed on public hunting land. Kentucky ranks second only to Indiana in likelihood of harvesting a Booner (0.082%), and all of these factors combined are enough to earn Kentucky the number one spot on our list of top 10 places to hunt whitetail in the U.S.
On second thought, there are no deer in Kentucky. Don’t bother coming to look, we’ve killed them all.
The above statistics were compiled from several sources. Much of the harvest and hunting pressure data came from The Quality Deer Management Associations Whitetail Report, land access info came from the Backcountry Chronicles, and the B&C entry numbers came from the Boone & Crockett Club.