On the top of almost every hunter's whitetail bucket list is a "dream trip" to a state famous for growing giant, mature whitetails. After all, who wouldn't want to chase Booners in places like Kansas, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, or Kentucky? However, a trip like this is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for the average deer hunter. Most of us are confined to hunting within a few hours from home and chasing the best whitetails our state offers.
We've all read about the best states for chasing whitetails as deer season approaches. What if, however, you don't live in a deer-famous state? What if your area isn't exactly crawling with monster bucks?
Using data from the National Deer Association's Whitetail Report, we've compiled a list of 10 of the worst states in America for deer hunting. While no one category makes a state bad, there are tends that help direct your efforts to areas with excellent whitetail hunting. The following states exhibit low harvest numbers, large numbers of yearling bucks, low numbers of mature bucks, heavy hunter density, consistently adverse weather, or all of the above.
Florida is known for a lot of great things. Beautiful beaches, excellent sports teams, Osceola turkeys, and massive reptiles. But giant whitetails isn't on that list. With the warm weather, over-population, and tourism mixed with higher predator volume, it's no wonder Boone & Crockett bucks aren't eager to visit the sunshine state. Because of the development of commercial properties all over the state, Florida has one of the worst deer densities in the country, at only 0.8 bucks per square mile.
Unfortunately, it looks like it will only get worse for Florida, as the harvest percentage of antlered bucks has been consistently decreasing year over year. If you get a chance to hunt Osceolas here, certainly jump on it. But during the fall whitetail season, look elsewhere.
9. South Carolina
One good thing about hunting whitetails in South Carolina is that they offer one of the earliest seasons in the United States, allowing hunters to try their hand at harvesting a velvet buck. But if you're looking for the velvet buck to be a Boone & Crockett, there are better places to get up in a tree.
The state's non-typical record is just over 208 inches, compared to states like Ohio and Iowa, which are well over 300 inches. With the warm climate mixed with low agriculture and crowded towns, the resources deer need to mature aren't readily available.
8. Rhode Island
It doesn't seem fair. While there's no way the smallest state in the Union can produce harvest numbers like Texas, Georgia, or Pennsylvania, Rhode Island placed near the bottom of deer harvested per square mile. You do not hear about many big game hunters flocking to this state for an archery hunt, do you? Unfortunately, that's enough to earn this great state a spot on our list.
Massachusetts is another state that earns a spot on our list, primarily because of its size. While the number and quality of bucks harvested in Massachusetts (and all over the Northeast) have been steadily increasing, only 20 percent of hunters reported a harvest. In the end, there's no way around that. Massachusetts also lacks public land, meaning you need access to private land if you want the best hunting opportunities.
6. New Hampshire
New Hampshire is another small northeastern state that earned a spot on our list. It ranks fifth lowest in antlerless deer harvested per square mile, is amongst the coldest and snowiest states in the U.S., and 49 percent of the harvested bucks were only a year and a half old. All those factors combined earn this state a sixth-place ranking.
There's no denying that Pennsylvania can rack up impressive deer harvest numbers. In 2020, Keystone State hunters harvested an impressive 174,780 bucks (15 percent higher than the previous five-year average), along with 260,400 antlerless deer (28 percent higher than the previous five-year average). Without question, Pennsylvania deer herd numbers are trending in the right direction, which complement a mild climate to place Pennsylvania in some great company. However, it's the number of hunters that hurts the state, as it ranks second behind only Texas with 663,000. That pressure shows in the data, too, as only 26 bucks were harvested per 100 hunters in 2020, whereas Texas, with even more pressure, saw 58 bucks harvested per 100 hunters.
It seems there is a trend in the New England states. In 2013, Maine didn't report the percentage of successful hunters, and we don't blame them. Chasing whitetails in the vast woods and deep snow of the northeastern state presents a significant challenge that few whitetail hunters will ever experience. In 2020, however, only 9 percent of hunters harvested a buck. Additionally, it has one of the lowest antlerless-deer-per-square-mile ratios (0.5), low average temperature (41 degrees), high annual snowfall (62 inches), and large yearling buck harvest (37 percent), all of which make it too much of a challenge for many hunters. Maine is a tremendous state to catch fish, chase black bears, and hunt trophy moose, but as far as whitetail goes, it is towards the top of the list for worst hunting states.
Vermont is arguably one of the most beautiful states in the nation, especially during the fall. Vermont also has a proud history of big buck hunting; after all, who hasn't dreamed about chasing giant woods monsters alongside the famous Benoit family?
Despite Vermont's rich history of hunting and breathtaking views, the unpredictable weather, cold climate, and hunter density keep bucks from reaching their full potential. The state reports poor harvest numbers yearly, and more residents are hunting out of state to fill their tags. Add all of that up, and it's easy to see why Vermont made No. 3 on the list.
2. New Jersey
New Jersey is a state that many don't associate with deer hunting. In 2013, however, 63 percent of hunters reported harvesting at least one deer, which is in the top five nationally for hunter success rate. Despite its proximity to the Big Apple, the deer density is also competitive nationwide (4.5 antlerless deer harvested per square mile in 2020, compared to the national average of 1.8). These numbers, however, don't tell the entire story. New Jersey ranks in the bottom ten in total deer harvest by state and high in harvested yearling buck. This, combined with low overall harvest numbers, earns New Jersey a No. 2 ranking.
1. New York
One of the largest states in the Northeast, New York easily slides in at number one on our list. While it has a large deer population, the Empire State ranks third in hunter density nationwide, behind only Texas (770,717), Pennsylvania (663,000), and Wisconsin (620,888) with 588,054. While harvest numbers are competitive nationally, 38 percent of all bucks harvested were yearling deer, which ranks the third highest.
Only 22 percent of all bucks harvested in New York were 3 1/2 years old or older (second lowest nationally). This, combined with the highest average snowfall in the nation, means New York has many hunters enduring miserable conditions and a hostile political climate (in New York, you pay extra for your bowhunting "privilege") to hunt a deer herd that is imbalanced at best.
That, friends, is enough to earn New York the number one spot on our list.
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