December 15, 2020
By Josh Honeycutt
I’ve already filled three deer tags, decorated a tree, pulled it down, and watched a big ol’ ball drop. My hunger for fresh venison still prevails, and I look to the places offering opportunities well beyond New Year’s Day.
While many seasons are closed, and finding a place to hunt beyond January 1 can prove challenging, there are many seasons that extend well into the winter months. The best part? You can find a place in most areas of the country, and we’ve compiled an overview of states that offer to make late great. If a state has at least one season extending to January 31, it makes our list. Of course, check with wildlife agencies to confirm official season dates.
This is the most obvious region when it comes to hunting late-season deer. Nine different states have interestingly long seasons this year.
Alabama is one of the best opportunities in the South. It’s home to the Black Belt region, has an estimated population of 1.25 million whitetails, and sells only about 195,000 licenses each year. That translates to a great deer-to-hunter ratio. With 775,000 acres of wildlife management areas (WMA) and several other public-land types open to hunters, there’s plenty of room to roam. Plus, the rut here isn’t confined to November. In Zone B, it extends well into late January and early February.
Zones A, B, and C offer hunters archery and gun seasons that end on February 10. Specific antlerless and public-land regulations vary greatly from zone to zone. Hunting with dogs (where allowed) closes January 15, but doe hunting ends January 1 on open-permit public lands. And in Zones D and E hunters can pursue antlered bucks until January 27 with bow or gun.
Arkansas is another late-season winner. It has more than one million deer, affordable licenses, and nearly 6.5 million acres of public land, and 16 different public lands have specific antler restrictions that theoretically increase the buck age structure.
Arkansas has 20 different deer hunting zones, and season dates vary greatly from one to the next. However, most of them offer archery seasons that remain open until February 28. That’s a long bow season.
Florida is a weird state, and it has peak rut dates that range from July to March. Deer seasons are almost as broad. With good deer populations, cheap tags, and more than six million acres of public, it’s hard to go wrong by hunting here.
For late antlered deer hunts, look to Zones B, C, and D. Zone B allows hunters to gun hunt from December 5 to February 21. Zone C hunters can carry the boom stick from November 7 to January 24. Zone D participants can gun hunt November 26 to 29 and December 12 to February 21. Muzzleloader hunters can even hunt February 22 to 28.
Georgia is another solid option, and historically, it has even bigger deer than Alabama. With a 4:1 deer-to-hunter ratio, there’s plenty of opportunity. And some giants are coming out of the suburban areas, especially near Atlanta.
Late-season hunters should know the state archery, primitive weapons, and firearms seasons end January 10. However, an extended archery opportunity runs through January 31 for Bibb, Chatham, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Rockdale Counties.
Louisiana is known for ducks and gators, but the deer hunting isn’t bad, either. While some of these are under water, there are 1.6 million acres of public. The best part? Louisiana’s rut spans four months, depending on location.
Hunters should know this state is divided into 10 hunt areas, and each one’s season dates are very different. However, while specific hunting regs vary within each, most archery hunters in Areas 1, 2, and 4 can pursue antlered deer until January 31. Unless a bucks-only firearms season is in progress, those in Areas 5, 6, and 9 can hunt until February 15 (antlerless restrictions apply). Primitive firearms and some modern firearms seasons extend well into late January for many hunt areas, too.
Mississippi hunters serve to gain from hunts after New Year’s as well, though tags aren’t cheap here. This is one of the best states in the country for buck age structure. The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) recently ranked it No. 1 for the percentage of 3½-year-old and older bucks in the annual harvest. More than 75 percent of bucks tagged are at least 3½ years old.
Divided into six hunting zones—Delta, South Delta, Northeast, East Central, Southeast, and Southwest—hunters enjoy a youth season (15 and under) that runs through January 31. Otherwise, gun season (with dogs) closes on January 20, and archery and primitive season ends January 31. In the Southeast Zone, youth season carries through February 15, gun season (with dogs) ends January 20, and archery and primitive season for bucks ends February 15.
Texas deer hunters chase an estimated 5.6 million deer each fall and winter, and 2.37 million of those are located in the Hill Country region. The entire state is loaded with 130- to 150-inch deer, with great trophy potential throughout.
Everything is bigger here—even season length, in some cases. In the North Zone, the general season ends January 3 and special late season wraps up January 17. In the South Zone, general season finishes January 17, while the special late season extends to January 31. The statewide muzzleloader season finishes January 17.
Virginia hunters look forward to healthy deer populations, great buck age structures, and vast amounts of public lands. Deer hunters enjoy a 60 percent success rate here, and that’s good given the volume of big woods and hill country.
Virginia gets mad props for late-season opportunities, too. Archery season ends January 2 for most hunters, but certain urban archery hunts end as late as March 28 or April 25. Specific location, antlered, antlerless, and other restrictions apply. Still, these dates are astounding and are some of the latest hunts in the country.
It doesn’t compare to the Southeast, but these northeastern locations still offer quite a few good late hunts. Colder weather is to be expected, though.
Connecticut isn’t king of deer hunting, but it does have a growing deer population and aging buck structure. Tags are very affordable, too.
The most notable option here is the private lands archery season. In Zones 11 and 12, it continues into the New Year and ends January 31.
Delaware is another late-hunt option. Tags are very expensive ($314.50 for many non-resident packages), and the deer-to-hunter ratio is barely better than 2:1, but there are some giants here, and many hunters prefer this destination over other popular states in the Northeast.
Although it isn’t open to all hunters in all places, most handgun enthusiasts can hunt January 2 and January 4 to 9. Archery and crossbow seasons don’t close until January 31. Shotgun hunters are afield January 16 to 24. Muzzleloader season spans January 25 to 31.
Maryland is one of the Northeast’s crown jewels. Observed on a per-capita basis, and when analyzing record book entries per square mile, it’s a top 10 state for big deer.
While they’re not as long as in other states, late-season opportunities exist. Depending on location, archery season remains open (albeit in intermittent date ranges) until January 30. Muzzleloader season finishes January 2, and the Primitive Deer Hunt Days season is February 1 to 3. In Region B, firearms season is also open January 8 to 10.
New Jersey doesn’t immediately come to mind as a deer hunting destination, but it is—and it has potential. Cheap tags, decent buck age structure, and adequate trophy potential make it a viable option.
Despite its small size, the state has dozens of hunting zones. Still, depending on location, the winter bow season spans either January 1 to 31 or January 1 to February 20. As a northeastern state, that’s pretty impressive.
New York isn’t a headliner in the deer woods, but it has acceptable license costs, nearly four million acres of public, and plenty of deer. The eastern portion of the state even has 100 deer per square mile, which is well above preferred thresholds.
While the majority of the state ends in December, hunters in Suffolk County enjoy much longer date ranges. Archery spans October 1 to January 31. Special firearms hunters hit the woods from January 4 to 31.
Rhode Island has some of the best non-resident prices ($70.50) in the country, and deer numbers are plentiful. The agency is great about providing actionable harvest data to the public, which makes drilling down on a location even simpler.
Here, location depending, while some seasons end January 2, many hunters have the opportunity to archery hunt (vertical and horizontal bows) until January 31. Furthermore, some archery, muzzleloader, and shotgun hunters in Zone 4 (Block Island) enjoy open seasons throughout late February.
While most consider the Midwest king of whitetail hunting, it isn’t in terms of really late seasons. Only three states offer notable late seasons that extend through or beyond the end of January.
Indiana makes that list, and it’s a phenomenal deer hunting destination. Reasonable tag prices, relatively low hunting pressure, great habitat, solid genetics, and many other reasons make it so good. It also has a fair amount of public land, ranging from national forests all the way down to community-based access programs.
The statewide archery season ends January 3, but an extended archery season (the reduction zone) closes January 31. Note that it isn’t a statewide season and is limited to areas where the Indiana DNR hopes to reduce deer populations.
Ohio is my favorite midwestern state, and it just might be the best whitetail hunting destination in the nation. It has long seasons, affordable tags, lots of deer, and really big bucks. There’s little to nothing I find wrong with this state.
As such, it isn’t surprising that it offers a really late-ending deer season. Its late muzzleloader season is very popular, and this season, it runs January 2 to 5. The archery season is the real eye-grabber. It begins September 26 and doesn’t wrap up until February 7. By northern standards, that’s a really late closing date.
Wisconsin is another popular destination. Parts of the state are plagued with chronic wasting disease (CWD), but other than that, hunters are hard-pressed to find better alternatives. If one can deal with increased hunter numbers, the perks are pretty attractive. Great genetics, awesome habitat, beautiful country, and five million acres of public land are but a few items in the pro column.
Long heralded as the best state for big-buck production, Wisconsin is also a producer in terms of late seasons. The archery and crossbow season ends January 3. However, in valid farmland units, the extended archery and crossbow hunt doesn’t close until January 31. The same holds true in certain metro sub-units.
Most western states close things down before the new year, but there are two standout states people flock to in January. While whitetails are a slight possibility in one of the two, both are well-known and respected for Coues whitetails.
Arizona offers only the smaller of the two subspecies, but it’s hard to overlook. A trophy Coues deer might only score 100 to 120 inches, but Arizona claims the biggest typical and non-typical record book entries in those categories.
With many different hunting zones and numbers, season dates vary greatly here. Still, several areas have archery seasons that extend through the middle or end of January.
New Mexico offers both Coues and texanus whitetail sub-species, but the former are certainly king here as well. It is more difficult to get a tag, though. Only 16 percent go to non-residents, making it hard to draw.
Most Archery Hunters have until January 15 to get it done. However, some deer units go until January 31, including Units 23, 24, 27, and 32. Exceptions and restrictions may apply.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.