What is the Best Deer Hunting State and Why?
April 10, 2019 News & Resources, Whitetail Deer, Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Bow, Muzzleloader, Rifles, Shotguns
Deer Hunting State by State
When you’re ready to find that big buck, these are the best deer hunting states you can try. From Texas to New York everyone has their favorite, now see if you can find yours included here.
Deer hunting, whether you are on public land or private land, is the number one pastime of hunters in the United States. Since there are so many good states to choose from, finding the best of them all ensures that we will talk about more than one of them.
Typical whitetail deer hunting areas include those that are placed in the Midwestern states, to those that are found on a more southern trajectory. Wherever big bucks are found, deer hunters won’t be far behind, and if recent years and record book trophies have anything to say, this is going to be a difficult prospect!
Quality deer management has come into its own in this day and age, and even young hunters are seeing the effect. Mature bucks are becoming more common place with QDMA making the trophy potential for big whitetails a regular part of the deer harvest.
Hunting pressure and deer herd aside, the best deer hunting can be found in many areas, and honestly- it’s all subjective.
Any states where there’s whitetail hunting are the best deer hunting states, and for most of us we can only dream or read about what it’s like to try somewhere else. That’s why it’s up to us to share some of the dream with the rest of you in an effort to create a Boone & Crockett scenario for those who can’t travel to those places that they always wanted to go.
Let’s start with a few obvious choices.
Top 14 Deer Hunting States
According to QDMA's Whitetail Report, at nearly 400,000 bucks, the 2016 deer harvest in Texas tallied the most antlered deer, and 59 percent of those bucks were 3 1/2 years of age or older. Stunningly, that's the lowest percentage it's been in some three years of hunting. Since Texas is so big, its deer population shows that relation resoundingly.
One of the best things about the Lone Star State is that it also ranks second in antlerless harvest numbers, and from 2005 to 2010 ranked in the top 10 for most Boone & Crockett entries with 132. With the stunning amount of public hunting opportunities combined with the availability of the ranch experience, hunters considering Texas can hope to find a deer anywhere they try.
For many years now, the Sunflower State has come into its own as a must-try deer hunting destination. Kansas consistently ranks in the top 10 for B&C big buck entries and some say that it will only get better. As a quality whitetail hunting state, it has earned its rank among the best there is to try, but there are issues, especially if you are a non-resident.
The lottery system in place for the available tags creates a fair enough system for all, but with only a very small percentage of lands open to public hunting, you almost have to buy a guided hunt or lease land, and it’s not cheap. While the cost of a non-resident license is still below $500 it’s getting closer and closer, but the reward of a trophy buck is as tempting as it gets.
In our day, Iowa used to be known mainly for its corn production, then people started hearing about the big bucks that come from the Hawkeye State. With only a few other states being able to brag about harvesting more “Booners,” Iowa continually ranks among the best for its production of big bucks.
With even less public hunting area than states like Kanas, a non-resident buck tag for the state approaches $400 and has to come via the same lottery system that other states also use, and even has restrictions on where you can actually hunt. Even though we need to list this Midwestern as the home to a dream hunt for a trophy buck, you may only ever be able to read about it.
Any state that consistently harvests as many antlerless deer as Illinois has to be in the discussion. Where there are does to breed, there are bucks to harvest, but anywhere that can fill your freezer with fresh venison has to be a part of your deer hunting experience.
Trophy production is what keeps the Land of Lincoln in the hearts and minds of the deer hunting community the country over. The total harvest for the 2017-2018 season yielded almost 150,000 total deer with over 55% being bucks. With those numbers in mind, it may be high time to consider this state as the top.
Missouri hunters seem to get what the QDMA harvest is all about with around 40% of bucks harvested being 3 ½-years-old or more. Hunting pressure is largely the same as other states—less than some, and more than others—but with the vast amount of public land to hunt, you can still find a place to sit with your out-of-state tag.
The early youth firearms season alone in the Show Me State tallied almost 14,000 deer in October of 2018, so you should be able to imagine what a seasoned, veteran hunter could do! A grand total of more than 290,000 deer were harvested including almost 137,000 antlered bucks in 2018 making this state a potential powerhouse of deer hunting.
Deer management seems to have come home in the Bluegrass State. Relative to some states, such as New York, hunters chasing deer in Kentucky can shoot seemingly all the does that they want depending on how many tags they buy and where they hunt.
If you travel to Kentucky with big bucks in mind, you should be aware that the state generally ranks in the top three for potential of scoring a big mature antlered deer that may just grace the record books. With a statewide non-resident deer permit costing a mere $185 and an additional two deer permit a scant $15, hunters from other parts of the country may feel quite welcome.
With a myriad public hunting land opportunities, Kentucky may be a top choice for anyone.
According to the DNR, “In 2017, an estimated 574,127 hunters spent 8.7 million days afield. Statewide. Statewide, the number of people hunting decreased significantly by 2% between 2016 and 2017. Hunters harvested about 376,000 deer.”
It seems that Michigan—a state that harvested almost 400,000 deer—is looking for hunters. Since nearly half of all hunters harvested a deer, and more folks took antlered deer than antlerless (36% to 22% in this case) it would seem that a trip to Michigan might be in order for those who feel that they might actually like to get a deer.
Like many states, they offer crossbow, regular archery, and firearms including muzzleloader giving a sound group of choices for the deer hunters everywhere. With over seven million acres of public hunting land you just might be able to find a spot.
The nine-day Wisconsin firearms season that ran from Nov. 17-25, 2018 totaled more than 104,000 antlered and 107,000 antlerless deer. That’s roughly 211,000 deer in just nine days of shooting, and that’s not counting youth, archery, crossbow, extended archery and crossbow, muzzleloader, December antlerless only, and the antlerless only holiday hunt!
Wisconsin has a variety of outstanding public access lands available for hunting opportunities, and as it is a popular and well manage system, the Badger State is still among those Midwestern states currently affected by CWD. With some 56 counties and counting now testing positive for the disease in its whitetail population, hunters will need to be aware of all the rules regarding the transportation and consumption of deer meat.
New York Hunting
The Empire State has borders with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, not including Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Out of state hunters can expect to pay $100 and only $5 for youths between the ages of 12 and 15.
Even with additional costs to bowhunt, use your muzzleloader, or get a doe tag, that’s a fairly respectable price to pay for hunting a state with roughly 12-million acres of public hunting land! With 203,427 total deer taken in 2017—including 109,778 adult male deer—NY has its share of great deer hunting.
No state ranks higher in the percentage of harvested bucks that are 3 ½-years-old or older than Mississippi. It’s even in the top five of deer hunting states in bucks taken per square mile, making it a testament to QDMA practices everywhere.
The kicker here is that the “all game hunting” non-resident license, which costs $300 plus some small fees and “does not include Archery/Primitive Weapon/Crossbow, Spring or Fall Turkey permits, deer permit, or WMA User Permit,” makes it a bit expensive for some.
One of the great traditions in the Peach State is the use of dogs for the hunting of whitetail deer. This popular and traditional form of deer hunting calls for landowners and lessees to obtain the proper permits beforehand, but this ide may just appeal to those that have never had a chance to try it.
With the 2017 harvest report at a total of over 380,000 deer taken, including 162,000 bucks and almost 220,000 does, you may want to think a little harder about hunting here. Filling a tag in Georgia, or anywhere else for that matter, depends on the individual of course, and with only having access to a little less than two million acres of public land, the use of dogs will sound more like the way to go.
The Hoosier State is one of the few states that offers hunters access to a herd that may garner you an animal at a 50% success rate. While not known for having a large amount of public hunting land, it still offers a decent amount of opportunities.
For around the last 10 years, Indiana has remained among the top ten states recording B&C entries and that means wall-hangers for decent veteran hunters that know how to sweat the details! Any state that routinely takes nearly 115,000 deer is worth a look.
South Carolina Hunting
With nearly 70% of all hunters recording a harvest of some kind, South Carolina deserves your attention. Leading the nation in bucks harvested per square mile, the Palmetto State boasts over 3 ½ male deer taken by those parameters.
With a total take of over 185,000 deer and a high success rate, it might just mean meat in the freezer for those who decide to take up arms in South Carolina and chase deer. Non-residents took over 21,000 deer including 11,000 bucks which was over 1,000 more deer than does!
Minnesota Deer Hunting
With a total of almost 185,000 deer—down from 195,000 in 2017—Minnesota hunters still have a great chance to see and harvest whitetails. The opportunity to hunt such widely varied terrain and amongst stunning scenery is what creates a massive respect for this state.
About 5.6 million acres of land in Minnesota are slated for public hunting, giving about one acre per hunter to have for themselves. An archery, muzzleloader, or a firearms non-resident license is listed as $185 making it about par-for-he-course as far as licensing, but Minnesota is one of the most welcoming to hunters of all age groups.
Deer Hunting Overview
Honorable mention to all the other states that have good populations of white-tailed deer and hunters to chase them. What it really boils down to is opinion, and we won’t try to take that away from you.
So, which one of these states is the best for deer hunting?
Basically speaking, the best deer hunting state in the union is whatever one that you hunt as a rule. With all due respect, telling you that one state is the best over all the others will just cause some hard feelings for the rest of them. There are reasons to vote for any of these based on numbers of deer taken, size and maturity of the bucks, and the percent of hunters there that score.
We each have our own criteria of what it takes to be called the best deer hunting state, and unless you have hunted deer in every single one of them, just put all these and more on your bucket list and check them off one by one.