With as many states that offer legitimate deer hunting opportunities, we're forced to wonder what criteria make a state "good" or "bad" destinations during whitetail season. There are certainly many factors to take into consideration, such as total harvest numbers, hunter success rates, measurable hunting pressure, the average age of harvested bucks, and even prevailing weather conditions. Many hunters have strong feelings on the matter, citing personal experiences as the strongest evidence to support an area having a strong, healthy whitetail deer population.
While I may not have hunted in every whitetail-inhabited state, nor do I claim to have all the answers regarding deer hunting opportunities across all of America. However, there's plenty of accessible data--from sources such as the National Deer Association, Boone & Crockett Club, and state wildlife agencies--that points to a handful of states having an edge, as well as the timeless word of mouth method of communication that has sustained hunting traditions since its origins. Here is my list for the 10 best places to hunt deer in the U.S., all of which deserve serious consideration by anyone looking to travel for future whitetail pursuits.
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. You're certainly less likely to tag a Booner here than in other states on this list, but the overall harvest numbers are simply eye-popping, as Georgia ranked No. 1 in antlerless harvests in 2011 and has stayed consistent, still ranking third in 2020 with 74 per 100 hunters. Meanwhile, it also boasts a high buck density, plenty of public hunting land (over 3 percent of the state), and high hunter satisfaction rates, with over 90 percent of hunters rating their season as satisfactory, good, or excellent. Incorporate a 55-percent hunter success rate and you have a state that is a must-have on a list such as this.
9. South Carolina
South Carolina slides into the back end of this list for many of the same reasons as Georgia, but there are a few exceptions. The Palmetto State Boasted a hunter success rate of nearly 70 percent in 2020, as well as 9.3 deer harvested per square mile--one of the highest rates in the country. However, it also moved up to second place with 65 antlered deer harvested per 100 hunters. While your chances of bagging a monster might not be quite as high as they would be in some of the other states on this list, having a good chance to shoot any buck always makes for a good time!
Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes whitetail hunting. Hunters in the Lone Star State kill more bucks than in any other by a huge margin--449,933 in 2020 alone--and 71 percent of those were at least 3 1/2 years old, which means the mature bucks are most definitely there. Only further reinforcing its case for elite whitetail hunting, Texas also ranks first in total antlerless harvest numbers, with 402,515 in 2020, ranked 10th from 2005 to 2010 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.
When the time comes to book a Texas hunt, try Ox Ranch, home to some of the best whitetail deer hunting you can find not only in the state, but in the entire country.
If any state is a poster child for effective QDM practices, Mississippi takes the cake. Ranking first in the nation for percentage of bucks older than 3.5 years in the harvest at 74 percent, fourth in lowest number of yearling bucks harvested at 9 percent, and first in number of bucks harvested per 100 hunters at 74 percent, the Magnolia State and its hunters are seemingly doing everything right. You might not think of Mississippi, or anywhere in the Deep South as a destination for a successful whitetail deer hunt, but you simply can't get the same odds of harvesting a quality buck anywhere else in the country.
For many Midwestern whitetail hunters, the idea of Iowa not finding a place within the top three rankings of any deer hunting list is just ludicrous. However, while it does have a legitimate reputation for being a trophy whitetail hotspot, as only two states had more B&C entries between 2005 and 2010, there are quite a few statistics that knock the state down a few spots.
Unfortunately, though, Iowa presents a little bit of a boom-or-bust hunting opportunity. While it ranks third nationally in 1,330 B&C entries, owning three of the top 20 counties for the most records produced, it doesn't rank in the top five for any of the NDA's antlered deer harvest, antlerless deer harvest, or age structure for either. Its lighter harvest numbers could be a product of a number of factors, including painful out-of-state license fees (for a license that restricts nonresidents to certain parts of the state, and the fact only 0.7 percent of the state's land is open to public hunting (only Hawaii has less). However, with designated Deer Management Zones, you're pretty much guaranteed to fill a tag, even without the roughly 100,000 bucks harvested each season.
Kansas is a state that has grown accustomed to being near the top of any "best whitetail destinations" list, and for good reason. Ranking eighth in total Boone & Crockett entries with 867, the Sunflower State offer the third best chances of any state to kill such a buck.
However, hunters run into the same obstacles in Kansas that exist in Iowa. Sure, monster bucks are there, but getting them is no easy feat. Only 420,000 acres--about 0.8 percent 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 or private land hunt can be out of this world!
While Kansas may be a top destination if your goal is to kill a record-book whitetail, prepare 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. Ranking second in total B&C entries with 1,445, Illinois is a powerhouse among deer hunting states. Featuring the 10th, 11th, and 12th hottest counties for trophy entries--Pike, Fulton, and Adams-- it offers an array of legitimate opportunities to harvest a big-time buck.
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 87,337 in 2020), the pressure is high but no more so than many other states. And, there's a lot of public land to hunt, which bodes well for traveling hunters.
Missouri stands as an up-and-coming star in the outdoor world. Several online and television hunting shows have sprung up from Missouri in the last several years, putting this great state on the radar for many of us. It has the chops to back its newfound popularity, too. The trophy potential is huge, there's an amazing amount of public land available, the pressure is reasonable, nonresident permits are affordable, and with 29 percent of the buck harvest being 3 1/2 years old or older, the state's deer heard appears to have a healthy age structure. If you're planning on hunting the Midwest this year, don't overlook Missouri.
When you have a state that ranks first in B&C entries by a margin as wide as 377 with a total of 1,882, you have to put it near the top of the list. Wisconsin also ranked fourth in the 2020 antlered buck harvest with a 158,236, behind only Texas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. It ranked fourth in its antlerless harvest, too, with 181,665, and fifth in antlerless deer harvested per square mile with 3.4. Additionally, Wisconsin has 572,000 acres of public hunting land, a diverse range of habitats, and an affordable nonresident permit
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 percent), 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.
READ MORE: THE AXIS DEER HUNTING EXPERIENCE
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