As we all know, the whitetail is the most sought-after game in the United States, and each fall hunters nearly nationwide venture into the woods with dreams of affixing their tag to a monster buck. By this point in the year, some hunters in more than a few states have already had that dream become a reality.
Last month, with the launch of AmericanHunter.org's Whitetail Week, we took on the task of running down the nation's top whitetail states, beginning with No. 20. As we work our way up to the veritable Promised Land that'll be crowned the 2014 champion, it's time for round two.
The countdown so far:
• 20. Louisiana
• 19. Alabama
• 18. Mississippi
• 17. Nebraska
• 16. South Carolina
So, with that in mind, let's rattle off the next five! Here you'll find some of the states that just missed making our top 10 for 2014.
QDMA classifies Oklahoma in its Southeast region, so at first blush, the state's harvest totals pale in comparison to some of its neighbors. Tweaks to the Sooner State's tag limits in recent years, however, have given it an edge in at least one category: buck maturity. In 2012, Oklahoma produced one of the lowest yearling-buck harvests in the nation—and the second-highest percentage of 3½-year-olds or better. The bucks here are being given a chance to grow into maturity, folks. And, of course, there was the 30-point drought buck taken in Oklahoma back in 2011. Field Editor Jeff Johnston covered that in an issue of American Hunter magazine earlier this year. Consider this one a sleeper.
The Hoosier State has long bounced into and out of lists like this, but was certainly given its due a couple years ago when local hunter Tim Beck managed to tag a buck whitetail that ultimately scored an astounding 305-7/8. You can go ahead and read that score again, if you'd like. I'll wait—it's not a typo. Beck's behemoth ultimately was scored as Boone & Crockett's fourth-largest non-typical whitetail of all time. There are elk taken every season that don't break 300, and there's a European mount hanging on the wall of my office as proof of that. Trophy-worship aside, though, Indiana's still a strong contender among whitetail states. Licenses are affordable, land is copious, and deer populations are relatively strong. Just don't go expecting to knock down another 305.
Our first entry from the Mid-Atlantic (or, as the QDMA qualifies it, the Northeast), Virginia makes for a very whitetail hunter-friendly state. The population is strong, the state has no shortage of public land, and non-resident licenses won't break the bank. The hunter density isn't as favorable as you might like, but that's a problem every state in Virginia's region is going to present. Oh, and if you prefer to hunt with your muzzleloader, you won't be alone here—the state reported the second-highest rate of harvest-by-muzzleloader in 2012. Smokepoles are very welcome.
A favorite stomping ground for more than a few NRA Publications staffers, some might be surprised Pennsylvania doesn't rank higher on this list. In terms of sheer whitetail population, it's the crown jewel of the region. According to the QDMA report, 133,860 antlered bucks 1½ years and older were taken in Pennsylvania in 2012. That’s not just the region’s highest score—it’s 25 percent of the Northeast’s cumulative total. So, yeah, there are plenty of deer. And the folks who call the state home have a habit of popping up in their fair share of B&C entries, too. The problem, of course, is the state's worst-kept secret: Pennsylvanians love to hunt. The state has its own hunter density rating. If you can find room to join in on the fun, best of luck.
Rounding out this month's list is Maryland, which just narrowly missed out on cracking the Top 10. With Virginia bordering it on one side and Pennsylvania on another, some hunters might forget about Maryland—we implore you not to do the same. Big opportunities abound in the Old Line State. A lot of whitetails are stuffed into the state's tight quarters: it was second only to South Carolina in antlered deer taken per square mile in 2012, and tops (by a long shot) in antler-less deer taken in the same range. Better, the QDMA rates its hunter density as the friendliest of any of what I'll call the Mid-Atlantic states (Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia), so you'll be dealing with a little less pressure. And, as Senior Editor Karen Mehall Phillips was quick to point out, the largest non-typical whitetail ever taken on the East Coast was harvested in Maryland in 2006. Karen was just giddy to report that it happened mere minutes from her family's hunting land.
Feel like we didn't do your home state justice? Let us know why in the comments section below.
Come back next month (beginning Oct. 22) for the beginning of the Top 10!