Last year proved to be a much better year than some of the folks I interviewed for the 2011 forecast indicated. The optimism of biologists in the Midwest proved to be justified, but the bleak forecast put forth by those in some of the western states was a bit hasty. In fact, most of the West did much better than their respective spokespeople predicted, with great harvest numbers and excellent trophy quality on deer and elk. According to the folks I interviewed this year, 2012 is going to be even better.
I am happy to report that, overall, 2012 should be an excellent year for North American hunters. We may never see the numbers of sheep and mule deer our grandfathers did, but thanks to conservation practices, those species are doing well, and the more common species like elk, deer, and bear have never been in better shape. Those coveted tags take a long time to draw, but don't let another year pass without applying. The more often you apply, the better your chances of drawing one of those precious once-in-a-lifetime tags.
2011 was another great year for whitetail hunters, with some monster bucks coming out of some unlikely locations.
Indiana, Missouri, and Mississippi all produced Boone & Crockett bucks last year, while Louisiana and Wisconsin each entered two bucks in that prestigious record book. Oklahoma produced the new #191 buck taken in Rogers County, and 15 B&C non-typicals have been taken in the state over the last four years. According to Joel Trammell, director of Whitetails of Oklahoma, 2012 should be another great year thanks to healthy populations, despite a small die-off from blue tongue. Trammell attributes low hunting pressure on both public and private lands as the main reason hunters have been taking so many big bucks. Hunters hoping to bag a Booner in Oklahoma can get tags over-the-counter, and they should focus on the northern and western part of the state for the biggest bucks.
Jeff Schinkten, president of Whitetails Unlimited, predicts a banner year for Wisconsin deer hunters thanks to a mild winter. That's saying a lot, because the state has produced 158 B&C bucks in the last four years. According to Schinkten, the population is on the increase, and he expects that trend to continue. Buy your tag over-the-counter and head to Buffalo County for Booner bucks, though southwest and central Wisconsin are also great bets.
Barbara Simpson, executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation, says the state's whitetail herd is in great shape after a very mild winter. Trophy quality is also very good, as evidenced by the fact that Indiana has produced 70 Booners over the last four years. That's the second most entries over that period. Look to agricultural areas to produce the biggest bucks. Ripley, Ohio, Posey and Hamilton counties in particular have been producing some real monsters.
America's heartland has been blessed with timely rain the last few years, but Texas is just now recovering from a long drought. If the rains continue, the big buck mecca of south Texas will be in prime shape for the 2012 season. The Texas Hill Country, which is known more for quantity than quality, also looks to be on track for a very good season.
Though they aren't widely pursued, those hunters who pursue blacktails are a dedicated lot indeed. Many calls and emails after last year's roundup led me to include them this year.
Pat Fitzmorris, field director of the California Deer Association, said California's herd is approximately 300,000. The population has been on the decline, but four Booners were taken there last year, and 56 book bucks have been shot over the last four years. With lots of public land and tags available for resident and nonresident hunters, ample hunting opportunities exist, although gaining access to prime trophy ground or drawing a good tag is increasingly difficult. Trinity and Mendocino counties have historically produced some of the state's best bucks, though Humboldt and Colusa counties also yielded book bucks in 2011.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Michelle Dennehy says that state's blacktail population is on the decline. It's hard to get an accurate population estimate because the forests in the western parts of the state are so dense, but Dennehy said an increase in predation and the reduction in timber cutting are the primary reasons for the decline. Currently, blacktails are available with no special draw, but the state is going to revisit their management strategy because of the decline.