“Not fair,” you say? “Texas is a much larger state.” It turns out you’re right. The top five states for antlered bucks harvested per square mile are:
These figures are pretty similar to those of the last ten years give or take a state or two.
While nationwide deer herds seem to show a slight trend toward leveling out, that’s not the case in some areas, particularly the Northeast. After Texas (up 54 percent), the four states with the greatest increase in buck harvest in 2017, compared to the five-year average, were:
The proportion of yearling bucks in the harvest is a good index as protecting them to improve age structure is one of the cornerstones of QDMA. It also helps increase the proportion of older bucks sporting bigger racks.
As a nationwide average, yearling bucks made up 35 percent of antlered buck harvests in 2017, which is fairly consistent with the previous two years and only slightly higher than the modern (and probably all time) low of 33 percent in 2014. It’s also only about 10 percent lower than the three year average from a decade earlier.
However, it’s a significant decrease from 1989, when yearlings made up 62 percent of the antlered buck kill nationwide, and a darned sight more in some states like Pennsylvania, where it was closer to 97 percent. Meanwhile, the reverse is largely true of older bucks, with those 3 1/2 or older taking up increasingly larger shares.
The top five states in terms of the lowest percentage of yearling bucks were, in descending order:
Few folks think of Florida as a big deer hunting state, but they’ve held that #5 spot for three consecutive years, and have been fairly consistent at 17, 19, and 17 percent. Meanwhile, neighboring Alabama’s recent rise could be related to changing their bag limit from one buck a day to three per year and adding mandatory antler restrictions. Louisiana and Mississippi have been frequent flyers in the top 5, based largely on most of their data coming from DMAP or MAR areas. Arkansas, meanwhile, has been a perennial front-runner and a state that’s probably worthy of a little more investigation from nonresident deer hunters.
Over the last decade, it has been largely southeastern states (including Texas) keeping those averages low with the Northeast pulling them up and the Midwest lying comfortably in the middle. That’s not all that surprising given that the QDMA philosophy originated in the Southeast and Texas.
Antlerless harvest is also important as females represent the foundation of virtually every deer management program, and the general trend in most areas has been downward. Doe kills for the top three states have declined by nearly 20 percent since 2007:
Nationwide, deer hunters actually killed more bucks than does for the first time since 1998.
Again, reasons vary due to differences in deer density, productivity, and management objectives as well as uncontrollable factors like weather, disease, and predators. Still, the general trends suggest more states are reaching or have met the population objectives that once drove liberal bag limits and aggressive antlerless harvests to balance populations with available habitat–another leg of the QDMA stool.