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AMERICA'S Best Whitetail States: Our Exclusive Rankings Reveal Bowhunting's Best Bets.

Let's face it; rankings of the best whitetail states are a dime a dozen. After all, anyone can throw a list together and start a few good debates online or at the local coffee shop. The problem is that these so-called "rankings" are typically based on little more than the raw number of record-book bucks harvested in each state. And while that information is interesting, it actually does little to help you figure out which states offer you the best odds of bagging a trophy.

Here at Petersen's BOWHUNTING, we like to do things a little differently, and--dare we say--a little better than the rest. Back in 2011, we unveiled a brand new methodology for determining America's top deer-hunting destinations.

Now, for 2018, we have kicked our ranking system up several more notches to create new-and-improved rankings of America's best deer-hunting destinations. This time around, our exclusive rankings are based on a composite score generated by a careful examination of six criteria: the percentage of Pope and Young (P&Y) bucks in the statewide harvest; the percentage of Boone and Crockett (B&C) bucks in the statewide harvest; the percentage of the state's overall deer harvest taken with archery equipment (including crossbows); the average cost of a non-resident outfitted hunt; the percentage of land open to public hunting; and the "bow friendliness" of state regulations.

So, without further ado, we proudly present to you our rankings of America's Best Deer States--version 2.0.

Measure 1: Percentage of Pope & Young Whitetails

Whether you're looking at buck harvest numbers by state, county or wildlife management area, many hunters are obsessed with which locations produce the most record-book deer. Because of this, each state could earn a maximum of two points in our P&Y and B&C measures--twice as many as they could in our other categories. And because we're concerned with recent trends, we added up the total number of P&Y bucks harvested in each state over the last three years (2014-2016), then divided by the total number of adult (1 1/2 years old and older) bucks harvested in that same period (2014-2016). Each state was then assigned a score based on the percentage of P&Y whitetails harvested (2014-2016), with the top five states receiving two points, the bottom five states receiving half a point and the rest getting one point.

As you can see from the data, the highest percentages of P&Y whitetails are coming from Midwestern states, with Indiana archers bagging the greatest percentage of P&Y deer (1.09 percent). In other words, more than one percent of all adult bucks recently harvested by Hoosier State bowhunters were record-book qualifiers. Unlike the last time we conducted our analysis in 2011, Wisconsin is no longer a top P&Y-producing state on a percentage basis, though hunters there continue to tag a large number of P&Y bucks. More on this later.

Sources: State wildlife agencies and the Pope and Young Club (
Percentage of Pope & Young
Bucks in Overall Harvest

Indiana     1.09%
S. Dakota    .82%
Wyoming      .80%
Minnesota    .75%
Iowa         .73%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Measure 2: Percentage of Boone & Crockett Whitetails

To qualify for the B&C record book, typical whitetails must net at least 160 inches, and non-typical deer must net at least 185 inches. To determine which states are currently producing the highest percentage of B&C bucks, we divided the total number of B&C typical and nontypical whitetails recently taken by bowhunters (2014-2016) by the total number of adult male deer bagged by bowhunters in that three-year period. After studying the distribution, the top seven states received two points, the bottom seven half a point and the rest one point. States that produced no B&C whitetails received zeros.

The last time we crunched the numbers in 2011, Kentucky came out on top. The most recent trend data reveals the Bluegrass State has slipped a bit yet remains a powerhouse when it comes to producing Booner bucks. Kansas tops our list, closely followed by Iowa and Indiana. Kentucky and Minnesota virtually tie for fourth, with newcomer Ohio rounding out the top five. Despite its stellar reputation, Illinois continues to finish well back in the pack, with just .02 percent of all bucks making the B&C record book.
Percentage of Boone & Crocket
Bucks in Overall Harvest

Kansas      .120%
Iowa        .110%
Indiana     .100%
Kentucky    .093%
Minnesota   .092%

Sources: State wildlife agencies and the
Boone and Crocket Club

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Measure 3: Percentage of Deer Harvest Using Archery Equipment

Faithful Petersen's BOWHUNTING readers--or those with great memories--may remember that in our inaugural analysis, measure number three was hunter density, measured by number of deer hunters per square mile. After further consideration, hunter density isn't a strong indicator of a top bowhunting destination for two reasons.

First, hunter density measures are based on the total number of all deer hunters, meaning it provides an unclear picture of the number of hunters archers will compete against for trophy bucks.

Second, more careful analysis of hunter-density data from recent years reveals there's no consistent relationship between hunter density and your odds of hanging a trophy whitetail above your mantle. Take, for example, Wisconsin, a state known for having consistently high annual hunter densities. Nonetheless, archers in the Badger State are much more likely to take a monster whitetail than are those in Idaho and Wyoming--two states with very low hunter densities.

A better indicator of the number of bowhunters you'll compete against for trophy deer is the average percentage of whitetails harvested with archery equipment. Here, I assume that the higher the percentage of deer taken by bowhunters, the greater the number of bowhunters pursuing trophy bucks. Conversely, states in which a lower percentage of the deer harvest is taken with archery equipment would have lower archery hunter densities.

In its annual Whitetail Report, the Quality Deer Management Association ( provides data on the percentage of deer harvest by weapon type. Data for 2013-2015 were used to calculate the average percentage of deer recently harvested with archery equipment for each state. Where crossbows are allowed for general archery season use, deer taken with them are reflected in these results.

Louisiana (7 percent), Wyoming (7.6 percent) and North Carolina (8.7 percent) had the lowest percentages of whitetails bagged by archers, while Ohio (45 percent), Massachusetts (43.7 percent) and Illinois (38.3 percent) had the highest percentages. Not surprisingly, bowhunters in popular archery-hunting states (Kansas, Wisconsin) also comprised a significant proportion of all deer harvested.

Remember, more deer harvested with bows means greater archery hunter densities. Recognizing that this is an imprecise method to measure bowhunter density, I used a binary scoring scale: states falling between 7 and 15 percent earned 1 point, while states scoreing 15 percent or greater received half a point.

Sources: State wildlife agencies and the Quality Deer Management Association (
States with the Highest/Lowest Archery Take
as Percentage of Overall Harvest


Ohio             45.0%
Massachusetts    43.7%
Illinois         38.3%
Kansas           32.3%
Wisconsin        29.3%


Louisiana         7.0%
Wyoming           7.7%
North Carolina    8.7%
Minnesota         9.0%
Arkansas         10.3%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Measure 4: Cost of a Non-Resident Outfitted Hunt

Outfitted whitetail hunts are big business. While no accurate estimates exist on annual sales of outfitted whitetail hunts, it's safe to say thousands of hunters shell out millions of dollars to outfitters each year for the chance to take home a trophy deer. How much outfitters charge for archery whitetail hunts varies widely by state, as does the cost of non-resident hunting licenses. As you'd expect, outfitters and state wildlife agencies charge more in states known for producing a lot of trophy deer.

Outfitters also vary on the type of hunts they offer (fully or semi-guided or unguided), the length of those hunts and the accommodations they provide. To determine the average cost of an outfitted hunt for each state, I did a web search and compiled data on the cost of a fair-chase, five-day, fully guided bowhunt with five outfitters from every state, including meals and lodging. After obtaining the average, I added the cost of a non-resident hunting license to come up with the average cost of an outfitted bowhunt for each state.

As expected, states not known as top trophy producers charge the least, while states with reputations for growing 'em big charge the most. For example, bowhunters can get a fully outfitted whitetail hunt in Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri for less than $2,500, while states such as Illinois, Kansas and Wyoming charge $3,600 or more. Meanwhile, in lesser known deer-hunting states such as Delaware and Massachusetts, outfitted hunts are hard to come by.

I graded this measure using the following scale: outfitted hunts less than $3,000 received 1 point, outfitted hunts from $3,000-$3,999 received half a point, and states with outfitted hunt costs of $4,000 or more received zero points. States where I couldn't find five outfitters offering five-day, fully guided bowhunts with accommodations received half a point, figuring it's unfair to penalize a state merely because it doesn't have a lot of outfitters.
Average Cost of a Non-Resident Outfitted Hunt


Alabama                               Wyoming
Mississippi                           Illinois
Missouri                              Kansas
Kentucky                              South Dakota
North Dakota                          Iowa

Source: Internet research of outfitters

Measure 5: Percentage of Land Open to the Public for Deer Hunting

Not everyone can afford to shell out thousands of dollars for an outfitted archery hunt, and bowhunters are known for being DIY deer pursuers. Many archers make annual pilgrimages to non-resident states to pursue mature bucks on public land. Thankfully, the QDMA's 2016 Whitetail Report contains data on the percentage of each state open to public hunting. There were a few states that had missing data, so I contacted state agencies to fill in the blanks.

Not surprisingly, several Western states have the highest percentage of land available for public hunting. Idaho tops the list with 60 percent of the Gem State welcoming public-land deer hunters, followed by Wyoming (50 percent) and Washington (30 percent). Conversely, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas have almost no public hunting land (1 percent each).

After examining the distribution, I scored the states using the following scale: 20 percent or greater, 1 point; 7-19 percent, half a point; 3-6 percent, a quarter point; and 0-2 percent, zero points.
Percentage of Land Open to the
Public for Deer Hunting (2016)

Idaho           60%
Wyoming         50%
Washington      30%
Wisconsin       30%
Pennsylvania    14%

Sources: State wildlife agencies and the Quality Deer Management
Association (

Measure 6: Bow Friendliness

Finally, as with my 2011 story, I included a measure of how friendly states are to bowhunters in terms of hunting aids they allow and the types of deer bowhunters can pursue. While most states don't place unusual restrictions on the type of hunting equipment archers can dse, some have some head-scratching limitations that make them less friendly to bowhunters.

Recently, Arkansas, Vermont and Virginia implemented statewide bans on the use of natural deer urine scents, as they're concerned that using urine attractants may unknowingly spread chronic wasting disease (CWD). Similarly, Minnesota and Pennsylvania prohibit the use of natural deer urine in CWD areas. The problem with these bans is that the scientific rationale behind them is suspect. If you don't believe me, listen to Davin Henderson, Ph.D., a scientist whose published research state wildlife agencies are using as justification for banning deer urine.

"There just aren't enough prions [the infectious agents believed to cause CWD] in a 4- or 8-ounce bottle of urine to get deer sick," said Henderson. "It's virtually impossible for a deer to contract CWD from a bottle of urine."

I gave states that prohibit deer urine scents zeros. All other states received one point. Kudos to West Virginia for now permitting deer hunting on private land on Sundays, and to Maryland for reducing the bowhunting safety zone (e.g., from 150 to 50 yards) in many counties. Beware of Virginia, a state that not only prohibits natural deer urine, but also recently established the controversial earn-a-buck program on private lands in Fauquier and Montgomery counties.

States Not Included

In 2011, 15 of the most popular deer-hunting states were included in our analysis. This time, our goal was to include all states that reported adult whitetail buck harvest data by bowhunters (including those using crossbows), ensuring a potential sleeper state wasn't missed. In total, we examined data from 30 states.

States that don't have whitetails were omitted from analysis, and an additional 10 states were excluded because they could not provide comprehensive whitetail buck archery harvest data. These states either do not report harvest data by weapon type (archery vs. firearm), don't separate whitetail from mule deer harvests and/or do not break down whitetail harvest data by age class (button bucks vs. adult males). The 10 states that could not be analyzed for our rankings were:





New Hampshire

New Jersey


Rhode Island



And the Winner Is....

Scores for all six measures were tallied to determine the winner. It's ironic that the Pope and Young Club is based in Chatfield, Minn., because Minnesota comes out on top. While it isn't known as a bowhunting hotbed, the North Star State is producing a slew of whitetail stars that shine bright. In just three years (2014-2016), bowhunters took 194 P&Y and 24 B&C deer. To put this in perspective, Minnesota archers brought home more P&Y bucks than Kentucky (our 2011 winner) and more B&C whitetails than Illinois (20).

Indiana comes in a close second, followed by South Dakota, Kentucky and Iowa.

Looking back at our rankings from 2011, three states (Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota) remain in the top five, while Wisconsin falls from third to seventh. While archers there bagged the most P&Y deer (832), they also harvested a ton of bucks in total (149,758), which decreased the state's P&Y rate. That, plus the high cost of an outfitted hunt, brought the Badger State down in our rankings.

Next time you're searching for a whitetail bowhunting destination, head to the North Star State, where you'll find plenty of old, grizzled bucks waiting to match wits with savvy bowhunters.

Minnesota may not get as much attention from deer hunters as some others states, but it produces more than its fair share of worldclass whitetails. In fact, from 2014-16, Minnesota ranked fifth in the nation in producing Boone and Crockett bucks, including this 200 2/8-inch giant taken in Washington County by Michael A. Chamberlain.
PETERSEN'S Bowhunting
Top Whitetail States

1. Minnesota        6.50
2. Indiana          6.25
3. South Dakota     6.00
4. Kentucky         6.00
5. Iowa             5.50
6. Ohio             5.25
7. Wisconsin        5.00
8. North Carolina   5.00
9. Wyoming          4.50
10. Kansas          4.50

NOTE: Ties were broken based on the overall combined
percentage of P&Y and B&C record-book entries for each state.
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Article Details
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Author:Warner, Darren
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:1U4MN
Date:Dec 17, 2017
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