September 09, 2015
Many states in the Northeast have an important deer hunting history that goes back many generations. Seriously, where else do schools close when the deer season opens?
But in many northeastern states deer season has historically been a meat hunt. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that if venison is your only goal, but changing attitudes among hunters have been created by the information age.
Television and the Internet have put the fantastic deer hunting of the Midwest in front of millions of hunters who have never experienced the thrill of shooting a mature buck with a big rack.
Along with a general swing in attitudes about hunting for more mature deer, an increase in land managed specifically for quality whitetails, plus laws enacted to protect young bucks, are having an effect on the ability of the eastern states to produce mature deer.
Most of the Northeast received adequate rain during the spring and summer of 2015, which has led to quality foods both in the farm fields and in the woods.
Acorns are dropping everywhere according to some biologists and the crops across the region are above average. Perhaps most importantly, the disease outbreaks that have hammered deer populations in the Midwest and West have mostly been absent in the Northeast.
All up, this should be a very good year to be in the Northeastern deer woods. With that in mind, here are some of the best states to hunt if a trophy buck is your goal.
Maryland's hunter success ratios are among the highest in the nation, and there are just enough record book bucks taken each year to get your attention.
Here's a stat that may surprise you: Maryland ranks 14th nationally in the ratio of Boone & Crockett (B&C) bucks in the overall harvest and 13th in the ratio of Pope & Young (P&Y)bucks in the harvest.
This eastern state is a gem for whitetail hunters looking for a mature buck.
The opportunity to hunt spans a long time frame, with the archery season opening the first weekend in September. And you can hunt with various weapons at different times all the way until the end of January.
The downside is the amount of hunting pressure that public land receives, which is why the majority of the bigger bucks are taken on private landsâ€‘often small parcels in and around suburban areas.
If you can find a place to hunt in Maryland, however, your chances of seeing a nice buck are better than most people realize.
This is another state that will come as a surprise to many. West Virginia doesn't have a reputation for being a big whitetail state at all, but there is one little nugget of information I will give you that may just change your mind, especially if you are a bowhunter.
The state has produced 127 P&Y bucks in the last five years, which, when compared to the overall harvest, makes giving this state a second look.
When you take your second look, you'll discover that there is a region in West Virginia that is limited to bowhunting only. This allows the bucks to get big because they are not taken by rifle hunters during the firearms season.
Whitetails need three things to grow a huge rack: age, nutrition and genetics. Most states have all the nutrition and genetics needed but lack the opportunity for bucks to grow to 4 years old or more when their potential can shine. The four-county, bow-only zone in the southern part of West Virginia does just that.
Deer hunting is steeped in tradition in New York. There are nearly 800,000 licensed hunters pursuing an estimated population of just under a million whitetails. Food in the woods is abundant this year, with many areas reporting large mast crops.
The move toward quality deer management has benefitted many areas of New York state. Many hunters are now voluntarily passing younger bucks, something that was rare even a decade ago.
Couple that with land management practices that are creating better habitat with year-round food sources, and you have a recipe for better deer hunting.
This is borne out in the P&Y record book. In the past five seasons, New York hunters have entered 430 P&Y bucks, and this growing number should continue to increase.
Up and Coming: Pennsylvania
Antler-point restrictions and a growing attitude of letting younger bucks grow has changed the landscape of deer hunting in Pennsylvania. Once laughed at for the large numbers of yearling bucks that were taken every year, the Keystone state is slowly becoming a contender as a respectable deer hunting state for mature bucks. The huge numbers of deer have always been there, but the quality of deer hunting has been increasing.
Since 2010, there have been 348 entries into the P&Y record book from Pennsylvania, a number that has been steadily rising for about a decade. There have also been 22 B&C entries since 2010, a number that would have been unthinkable 25 years ago.
The state ranks high in the availability of public land, but what is available is generally hunted hard not only by deer hunters but by everyone from squirrel hunters and berry pickers during the day to coon hunters during the night.
Fortunately, with its rich history of deer hunting, most landowners are somewhat receptive to a polite hunter asking for permission to hunt.
How The Ratings Work
In determining which are the best states to hunt in each region, I looked at nine factors that influence the quality and availability of deer hunting.
Of these nine categories, I felt that some factors were more important than others, so I ranked four of them (license cost, license acquisition, deer population, and intangibles/reputation) on a scale of one to three.
The other five I ranked on a scale of one to ten (harvests per hunter, harvest density, amount of public land, and the ratio of B&C and P&Y bucks in relation to the overall harvest) because I felt they would weigh more heavily in the decision-making process.
Let's take a brief look at each of these criteria.
Nonresident License Cost: These ranged from $74 for Maine to $704 (including 3 preference points) for Iowa.
Difficulty of License Acquisition: States that offer over-the-counter tags were given more points than states in which it is hard to draw a tag.
Overall Deer Population: Your chances of seeing a deer is somewhat based on this factor. Several states made moves in this category, however, most were not for the good.
Harvests Per Hunter: This is a computation of the annual success rates for deer hunters in each state. It ranged from 1.607 deer per hunter in Mississippi, to .073 in Washington.
P&Y Ratio and B&C Ratio: This is a computation of the ratio between the record book bucks taken in relation to the overall harvest for the past five seasons 2010-2014. For example, more B&C bucks have been killed in Wisconsin than in any other state, but Wisconsin also has a very high deer harvest. If you look at the number of B&C bucks as a percentage of the overall harvest, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Indiana allrank higher than Wisconsin..
Hunter Density: This is the number of deer hunters in the state in relation to the amount of land. It's a good indicator of the amount of hunting pressure you will find on public land.
Amount of Public Land: This is a ranking based on the acreage of public land in the state that is suitable whitetail habitat. This includes Federal, state and private land that is open to public hunting. While western states such as Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado offer huge volumes of public land, most of the land there is more suitable to elk and mule deer than whitetails.
Since whitetails are mostly found on private farmland along the riparian areas in these states, that was taken into consideration.
Intangibles: This is a one-to-three subjective ranking based on a gut feeling. Seems like everyone wants to hunt Iowa, that's why there are nearly four applications for every available tag most years.
But deer hunting in the western states also has an appeal because of the unique experience and the difference in scenery found there. Very few nonresident licenses are sold in the southern states, which is another indicator of the intangibles.