Here’s an overstated but critical point when it comes to whitetails: Hunters are largely responsible for the current big buck boom. We are passing up little bucks like never before in order to let them age a few years. According to the Quality Deer Management Association, just 37 percent of all antlered deer killed by hunters last season were yearlings, down from 62 percent in 1989. No single component is more important in the trophy buck equation.
As a result, states that never produced more than the occasional Booner are starting to produce more trophy-class whitetails than ever. Even states that don’t carry the genetics necessary to produce 170-inch bucks are surrendering lots of 140-inchers.
Mississippi is worth a look thanks to minimum point restrictions and abundant public hunting opportunities. Arkansas is also a great deer state with ample public land and high trophy potential in some regions.
There’s no question, though, that the historic hotspots are as good or nearly as good as ever. Some are even better. Wisconsin hunters, for example, registered 93 bucks in Boone & Crockett’s typical category in 2012, up from 38 in 2000. Other states have slipped.
Illinois, once the go-to destination for big bucks, dropped to No. 8 for the number of typical entries in 2012 and 2013, according to B&C’s searchable database of trophy entries. This highlights the fact that it’s not all roses in the whitetail world.
“Many states are reporting lower fawn recruitment rates, often a result of predation by coyotes and even bears,” says Quality Deer Management Association Outreach and Education Director Kip Adams.
In some regions, habitat loss in the form of aging forests is a major threat. Coyote populations are a consistent problem, and widespread disease has proved to be no joke. The 2012 EHD outbreak was likely the second worst in history, and some areas are still recovering. Only time will tell what this all means.
Top Public Land Hunts
Nobody hunts public land anymore because it’s too crowded, or so the saying goes. Not so in places like the 1.5-million- acre Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. It’s one of the best public haunts for big bucks.
Texas may be mostly private, but Texas Parks and Wildlife offers a number of limited-entry draw hunts on public land carefully managed for trophy bucks.
If you’re looking for a great place to start, check out South Dakota. They’ve got plenty of big bucks, and archery hunters almost always draw a tag via the state’s lottery. The non-resident license is only $200, and there’s plenty of land and opportunity.
Big bucks on public land may be scarce, but Coshocton County in Ohio might just be an exception. Woodbury Wildlife Area in Coshocton County is the largest public hunting and fishing area in Ohio. There’s nearly 20,000 acres with numerous access points, and if you can stake out a good spot, you might just get lucky.