When it comes to big bucks, hunters are often as passionate about their home state as football fans are about their NFL teams. And just like we follow our teams, whitetail hunters want to know where their state ranks among the best in the U.S. each year.
At the same time, there are general perceptions about which states are the best for whitetail hunting. If you asked the average deer hunter what the top states are, you’d probably hear a lot about Kansas, Iowa or Illinois. But the real question is, do those states live up to their mammoth reputations? Is the hunting as good as the hype?
In order to answer those questions, we examined data from all whitetail states and built a list of criteria as a filter for all that information. It’s not an exact science—even the choice of criteria is a somewhat subjective endeavor—but we’ve come as close as possible to identifying the most essential characteristics any state must possess to be considered the best.
First, we looked at the amount of public land in each state, which is a way to measure hunting opportunity. This was a crucial category to consider, especially since states like Iowa, Illinois and Kansas rank well in trophy production but have very little public land access. It’s impossible to say a state is the best for whitetail hunting when the opportunity to hunt is afforded only to a select, wealthy few.
After that we measured trophy production using the Boone & Crockett record books. Trophy production isn’t the only thing that matters, but it’s certainly a crucial part of the equation. We tallied the trophy entries by state for typical and non-typical whitetail deer from 2002 to 2012 and assigned a score out of 10 based on rank. We also accounted for Pope & Young entries where it was substantial enough to warrant consideration.
Finally, we calculated average annual harvest numbers, hunter density and overall reputation for each state. We assigned a score—1 out of 10—for each criteria and totaled them up for an overall score out of 50. Using this method, we were able to separate the states that have a few quality deer hunting features from those that have it all. Like baseball scouts, we looked for the five-tool state that excels in all categories, one you could truly call “the best.” Check out the best states for whitetail hunting in 2013 and vote on your favorites.
20. New York Public Land: 6 Trophy Production: 5 Harvest Numbers: 9 Hunter Density: 2 Reputation: 6 TOTAL: 28
New York is mainly known by outsiders for what comes out of the Big Apple and its anti-gun, anti-soda mayor, but as residents will tell you, there's a whole lot more to the state than that. For one, there are great whitetail hunting opportunities. New York has a deer population of about 1 million, provides plenty of licenses each year (800,000) and has produced some trophy deer in the last decade (it ranks in the top 20). The problem can be access, which also translates into higher hunting pressure. New York also has the third highest hunter density in the U.S. (15.1 hunters per sq. mile), which doesn't help with the problem.
19. South Dakota Public Land: 9 Trophy Production: 5 Harvest Numbers: 5 Hunter Density: 8 Reputation: 5 TOTAL: 32
South Dakota may be the pheasant hunting Mecca of the U.S., but it also has some great deer hunting. With a whopping 5 million acres of public land, an extremely low hunter density (0-4 hunters per sq. mile) and 250,000 whitetails to chase across the state, South Dakota easily makes this list. About 70,000 whitetails are harvested each year, and it ranks in the top 20 for B&C entries in the last decade. The problem is a complicated licensing system and the difficulty of trying to hunt with a rifle as a non-resident.
18. Pennsylvania Public Land: 9 Trophy Production: 6 Harvest Numbers: 9 Hunter Density: 1 Reputation: 8 TOTAL: 33
There's a lot of great things to say about Pennsylvania, including the insane number of deer harvested there each year (336,000). The state has about 4 million acres of public land and ranks in the top 20 for B&C trophy entries in the last decade. Only a few states produce more deer kills than Pennsylvania annually. A solid deer population (1.2 million) and abundant licenses (800,000) make for an opportunity-rich deer hunting experience. Why doesn't Pennsylvania rank higher, you ask? It has the highest hunter density in the U.S. (20.5 hunters per sq. mile) and can be a nightmare come opening morning of deer season.
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