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What is the best state to hunt whitetail deer?

What is the best state to hunt whitetail deer?
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What is the best whitetail state?

This frequent article subject resurfaces just about every year. Like most whitetail fanatics, I enjoy looking at what states are producing the big boys and daydream about hunting them – hunting them all.
Outside of Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young, there really isn’t any real data or other record keeping to shed light on this subject. I would like to caution using those resources (B&C and P&Y), because while they are nice sets of data, they are not complete. So, do not look to them as an absolute authority, but as a useful tool to help discover trends and make observations. I can tell you - that of the really big deer my friends have killed over the last couple of years, the ones that would have qualified for B&C, – Kansas (8), Nebraska (2), Iowa (4), Minnesota (1), Virginia (1) and Texas (6) were not entered into either Boone & Crocket or Pope & Young. As a matter of fact, I went into the B&C database and looked up everyone I could think of that would have shot an all-time book deer and I could not find one record of their booner bucks. With all that said, those two resources are great to look at and get a good picture of trends, but they are not absolute, be-all/end-all numbers for big buck harvests.


On the Big & J Facebook page, we recently did a multiple-choice poll that pitted booner states head to head. This is how the votes came in –

whitetail graph

We chose the top 11 states (including write in votes) for Boone & Crocket entries as the choices and added “other” choice for write in votes. There were a total of 407 votes.

  1. Iowa
  2. Kansas
  3. Illinois
  4. Texas (South Texas)
  5. Ohio
  6. Missouri
  7. Kentucky
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Nebraska
  10. Tie – Indiana, Mississippi*
  11. Tie - Minnesota, Pennsylvania*, Montana*
  12. Tie – Oklahoma*, Georgia*

*designates write in votes.

Other states receiving votes – Arkansas, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan, Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina.

From this data, we noticed some striking trends. Take a look at the states from our poll and compare those to the top states from the Boone & Crocket or Pope & Young data. Now compare those “top states” with this agriculture map of the United States. Notice the similarities? This will be even more prevalent when we later break it down by counties. The odds for big bucks go up considerably in areas that have the fertile soils that produce the highest agriculture yields.

 

National Agricultural Statistic ServiceCompare the above map with the one QDMA B&C and P&Y entry map put together.
QDMA B&C and P&Y entry map
Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young Map
The above poster is made and sold by QDMA and is a great addition to your deer camp. It has compiled entries from both B&C and P&Y and then color coded the counties. Compare those orange and red counties with the crop scan above it – pretty similar color distribution.

Below, let’s take a look at the Top 5 states in the order of the votes they received.


Top States

#1 Iowa

Almost 30% of votes were put in for the Hawkeye state, nearly double that of any other state. In addition, a few weeks prior we did a head to head poll between Iowa and Wisconsin and this was the result.

Results from Survey, 79% Iowa, 21% Wisconsin

It is clear that right now – Iowa is at the top of the list of places where hunters want to hunt. Iowa is frequently featured on tv shows and articles showing giant bucks taken from all over the state. Iowa also has a bit of mystique due to the state’s nonresident hunter policies and draw system. To draw one of those vaunted Hawkeye state bow tags it is probably going to take you 3-4 years in most units. Looking at B&C records, Iowa ranks #2 all time in non-typical bucks and #3 for typical bucks.

Iowa Boone & Crocket Entry Rankings

 Typical Whitetail Buck Non-Typical
#3 all time #2 all time
2 of top 20 counties of all time 6 of top 20 counties all time
since 2000, 5 of top 20 since 200, 5 of top 20


Allamakee – Typical entries 43, non-typical entries 17

Clayton – T 32, NT 15

Warren – T 29, NT 20

Van Burren – T 24, NT 20

Boone and Crocket ImagesFrom Boone & Crockett: (Left) Wayne Bills’ buck still ranks as the #11 typical of all time. (Right) Tony Lovstuen’s non-typical buck ranks as the #4 all-time and is the second biggest non-typical ever taken by a hunter. *#1 & #2 were both found dead.

I think it is safe to assume that exponentially more booners are coming out of Iowa than what the records show in B&C or P&Y. Iowa is a dream state to hunt if you lust over big antlers. I think it would be hard to argue against the notion that the Hawkeye state probably gives you the best odds to put a tag on a book deer if you can draw that tag.

Mark Heck DeerIowa is our top overall agriculture producing state per square mile and usually falls to #2 or #3 total against much larger states like California and Texas. Iowa usually ranks #1 in U.S. total state production for corn (for grain) and soybeans.

Click the link below and watch: A Buck Named Angel - Mark Heck hunts his Iowa farm in late season. This whitetail buck has been evading them for years and only showing up at night on trail camera. Angel finally makes a mistake and shows up in daylight. The Given Right team makes a move to after this giant Iowa buck.

Iowa, Mark Heck

#2 Kansas

In many hunting circles, Kansas is often called the land of giants. The Jayhawk state ranks #11 all-time for B&C typical entries and #6 for non-typical entries. The interesting thing is, that unlike most other big whitetail states, Kansas doesn’t have any stand out counties. For typical B&C entries, the state of Kansas doesn’t have one single county that puts it in the top 100 counties nationally. Nemaha County is the first to make the list at #121. Very similar numbers are in play for non-typical deer – we don’t see a Kansas county on the national list until #50 Pottawatomie County. Most states seem to have regions or pockets of big deer, whereas Kansas seems to be even keeled and fantastic across the whole state. 94 out of 105 counties in Kansas have at least one typical entry and 92 have at least one non-typical entry.

Boone and Crocket ImagesJohn Band’s #4 Kansas, #55 overall non-typical and Dennis Finger’s #2 Kansas, #33 overall

National Agricultural Statistics MapKansas has similar widespread distribution like the states of Iowa and Illinois but varies slightly in produced crops. While Illinois and Iowa battle year in and year out over who produces the most soybeans and corn, Kansas has a much larger diversity of crops across the state. Kansas’ diversity of crops, fertile ground and good genetics fuels a deer herd full of huge bucks. Kansas ranks #1 in the U.S. of production of wheat and sorghum and ranks in the top ten for several crops like corn, soybeans, pinto beans and sunflowers. Approximately 90% of Kansas land is devoted toward agriculture use.

Click the link below and watch: Cody Butler of Dream Chasers has been following a Kansas buck he calls Longhorn for 4 years. After several encounters with this giant Whitetail the story finally comes to an end with a 25-yard shot.

Kansas Deer, Cody Butler

#3 Illinois

If you’ve ever picked up a hunting magazine or watched a hunting show, you probably know Illinois is a great place to hunt. Illinois whitetail hunting just makes you think of big bucks. So much so, that hot spots like Pike County are as well known in hunting circles as Hollywood is for actors. Growing up I used to watch Beta and VHS hunting videos of Pike and Adams County giants. For over a century, Illinois has been a major manufacturer of Booner bucks. Josh Honeycutt, one of our friends over at Realtree.com, wrote an article back in the summer of 2016 compiling Pope & Young entries all time. Illinois came in at #2 with 7,891 entries then. As of today, Illinois also ranks as the #1 all time state for B&C non-typical entries and #2 all time in typical entries. Additionally, Illinois boasts 3 of top 5 counties in America for non-typical entries.

Boone and Crocket Images (Left) Melvin Johnson’s #4 all time typical  (Right) Jerry Bryant’s #5 non-typical

Illinois is another one of our most important agricultural states. Again, where we find the fertile soil that produces large yields for crops, we find big bucks. Illinois ranks in the top 3 almost every year for total crop production and is usually in a very close battle with Iowa on which state  leads the nation in both soybean and corn production. In addition, Illinois usually is a top 3 producing state of grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas.

Illinois map

#4 Texas

The Lone Star State is a mecca for deer hunting. There are a multitude of ecosystems and geography suitable for hunting.  In addition, there are vast differences of whitetail densities, body and antler size across the state. You have to remember the vast amount of landmass in the state. The distance from the most western point of Texas (El Paso) to the most eastern point (Beaumont) is 824 miles. The distance from Dallas, TX to Sioux Falls, SD is 841 miles, to help you put that into perspective.

Boone & Crockett
(Left to Right) Texas’ #1 non-typical of all time was taken by an unknown hunter in 1892 and is displayed in the Buckhorn Museum in San Antonio. Basil Dailey took this typical in 1903.

For this article's purpose, let's focus on South Texas and the big bucks that roam the brush. The state of Texas as whole ranks #9 for total typical entries and #11 for non-typical. Pretty respectable overall but when it comes to Boone & Crockett size bucks, there is a small pocket of huge chocolate antlers roaming down south. Six counties – Webb, Maverick, Dimmit, La Salle, Kleberg and Zavala lead the pack. In those counties, Texas boasts the #2 (Webb), #3 (Maverick), #5 (Dimmit) and #6 (La Salle) counties in the entire U.S.A for Boone & Crockett typical entry rankings. For non-typical entries, Texas owns 3 of the top 20 - #11 (Maverick), #19 (Webb) and #20 (La Salle). Texas has 254 counties and, the state that ranks #9 in the nation for those typical entries – has 57% of those bucks coming from 6 South Texas counties along with 37% of all of Texas’ non-typical entries. Webb County as its own state would rank #29 and Maverick would be #30 all-time when compared to the production of the rest of the U.S. For example, both counties would have more B&C typical entries as individual counties than entire states such as Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama. Reviewing data from the last 10 years you still get similar results – Typical B&C entries by TX county ranking since 2008 in U.S. - #2. Maverick, #3. Webb, #5. La Salle, #10. Dimmit.

This distinct pocket of big bucks is often referred to as the Golden Triangle. There are many reasons for this. Ranches are large and contiguous. Unlike the other states where we connect agriculture with big bucks, that isn’t exactly the case. In this arid region, there are very fertile soils where a lot of thorny, rough looking brush thrives but crop farming is limited due to a lack of consistent rain. To the passer by, it looks like a jungle of briars, but to a whitetail it is a protein buffet. This diversity of plants like Kidneywood, Catclaw Acacia, Guajillo, Huisache, Texas Ebony, Granejo and many more provide the deer in these counties with a year-round rotation of proteins as high as 30%. This nutritious brush combined with soils with high mineral content, extremely mild winters, management programs that have been in place for decades and a game department that works great with private landowners makes a perfect blend to produce big bucks. The rest of the state has great hunting opportunities and many of the areas that don’t produce as many of the “Muy Grande bucks” as South Texas, are still filled to the brim with some of the highest deer densities in the country. But when talking about big bucks, Texas has a pocket that is only outdone by the pocket where Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin come together.


#5 Ohio

In the last ten years – which state has had the most 200” plus deer turned into Boone & Crocket? That crown would go to the great state of Ohio (*watch for a future blog specifically on 200” + deer and where they call home). As a matter of fact, one of the most interesting facts about Ohio, is that in the history of Boone & Crockett record keeping, Ohio has had 199 deer entered that were over 200”. Over half of those (105) have been turned in just in the last 10 years. Since 2008, Ohio is also ranked #1 for non-typical entries and #3 for typical. Ohio seems to be on the rise for sure. Compare these numbers of B&C entry rankings –

1830-2007 2008-2019 All Time
Non-typical #9 #1  #5
Typical #8 #3 #6

Boone and Crockett Photo(left to right)Jonathan Schmucker’s #8 all time non-typical and Bradley Jerman’s #11 all time Typical

When it comes to all time big boys, Ohio has a slew of them. The state owns the #2, #8, and #11 all time non-typical bucks. Similar to Kansas in its even distribution of Boone & Crockett entries, Ohio seems to be an equal opportunity employer for big bucks across the state.

Non-Typical entries by county – 7 Ohio counties Top 100 U.S. (highest – Licking County, #10)

Typical entries by county – 6 Ohio counties in Top 100 U.S. (highest - Adams County, #47)

When you go back to the beginning of this article and reference the QDMA map, you will notice that the whole state produces big whitetail bucks. That also falls in line with Ohio's agriculture map. The only section of Ohio that has less farmland is the Southeastern border with West Virginia.  Although this area has hillier terrain, it is still a mighty good place to hang a stand according to P&Y as well as B&C entries. Ohio, in landmass terms is only the 34th largest state in America, so keep that in mind when studying it's B&C, P&Y and ag rankings - #13 in overall agricultural products sold, #8 in dry beans, grains and peas, #9 in soybeans, #8 in corn (*based off 2018 USDA data). Not bad for a state that is just over half the size of Kansas.

Kansas Map

The rest of the states that received some votes.


Wisconsin

I’m quite surprised about the lack of votes for Wisconsin in our most recent poll and in some other polls on the subject.

Poll Results

I think we can all safely say that Iowa and Kansas are fantastic places to hunt whitetail, but I was surprised that Wisconsin got so little love in all 3 of these polls. Wisconsin is the #1 B&C and P&Y state of all-time. Wisconsin is also the current B&C typical top entry state since 2008. All-Time B&C numbers for Wisconsin are as follows – Typical - #1 with 1,278 entries (#2 is Illinois with 789), non-typical #3.

Wisconsin’s famous whitetail hotspot, Buffalo County is the #1 county all-time for typicals and #2 for non-typicals. So many big bucks have been entered from Buffalo County, that by itself, it would rank #19 for top honors amongst the rest of the states – just behind Maine and ahead of Mississippi for typicals. It isn’t just Buffalo County either. Wisconsin has a whopping 22 of the top 50 counties in the United States for typical entries.

However, the undisputed king of Boone & Crockett entries only mustered up 4% of the vote here.


Kentucky

Kentucky seems to have come on of late as one of the top states, if not the top, and hunters have taken notice. Kentucky ranks #5 of all-time in typical entries, however it is the #2 state since 2008. For non-typicals, the state ranks #8 for both all-time and entries since 2008. Kentucky seems to be on fire right now.

It could easily be argued that the neighboring states of Ohio and Kentucky would give you just as good a chance to kill a monster buck as anywhere in this country right now. Additionally, Kentucky has much longer rifle and muzzleloader seasons than several of the “Big Buck States” and an archery season that begins after the 1st week of September and ends around the 3rd week of January.


Missouri

Missouri borders 3 of our top 5 states (Iowa, Kansas and Illinois) in our voting. Missouri has great crop land and fertile soil. In the northern part of the state and along the banks of the Mississippi River has some of the top ag producing areas in the country. The state ranks #8 all-time for typical B&C entries and #7 for non-typical. Missouri’s rifle season seems to be a polarizing subject. When compared to their neighbors, Missouri's rifle season seems to be the exception to the rule. Take for example Kansas – the state includes centerfire cartridges in their firearms season, but it is after the rut. Both Iowa and Illinois only allow shotguns and muzzleloaders. Illinois only has 7 total days you can use a shotgun and an additional 3 days set aside for muzzleloader. Missouri, on the other hand has a centerfire rifle season right smack in the middle of the rut. You can set yourself on a corner of a field during the rut with a Swagger Bipod and reach out and tag that buck chasing does.  That’s if you missed your chance in the archery season which starts mid-September. After rifle season, Missouri still has a muzzleloader season that runs from the end of December through the first week of January followed by late-season archery that goes out until mid-January.


Indiana

Now, I’ve seen and heard of some really big bucks coming out of Indiana. However, out of fear of some Hoosier showing up on my door step, all mad about me giving away his little secret - I am giving this advice about hunting in Indiana. Nevermind that Indiana has all the fertile land and cropland to grow massive whitetail deer bodies and antlers; or that Indiana ranks #2 in total acres of cover crops, and is the 8th largest agricultural exporter and the 10th largest farming state in the U.S. - while only be the 38th largest state in landmass. Nevermind that the Hoosier State is #4 in B&C typical entries since 2008 and in the same time period of time, #7 for non-typicals. I’ll just say this, hunting deer in Indiana is horrible... You won’t see very many deer in Indiana. The deer are tiny in Indiana. Don’t go there you out-of-state hunters! Also, if anybody in Indiana wants to invite me to come hunt with them my email is Josh@Bigandj.com and I’m very, very good at keeping secrets.

By Josh Kinser

Josh KinserDeer in Velvet

 

 

 

 

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