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What is the best whitetail state? This is a frequent article subject just about every year. I enjoy looking at what states are producing the big boys – and I daydream about hunting them – hunting them all. It is easy to stir up the hornets’ nest on social media and ask what is the best state for whitetails.
Outside of Bone & Crockett or Pope & Young, there really isn’t any real data or other record keeping. I would just like to caution that in using those resources (B&C and P&Y), they are nice sets of data but not complete data. You can’t make absolute statements, it just gives you trends and data to look at and make observations. I can tell you – of the really big deer my friends have killed that last couple of years, the ones that would qualify for B&C, none of these were entered – Kansas (8), Nebraska (2), Iowa (4), Minnesota (1), Virginia (1) and Texas (6). As a matter of fact, I went into the B&C database and looked up everyone I could think of that would have shot all time book deer and I found not one record of anyone I know that has killed a booner whitetail. 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 after seeing some interesting results in polls that pitted states head to head. This is how the votes came in –
We choose 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.
4. Texas (South Texas)
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.
Take a look at the states that were voted on, take a look at Boone & Crocket or Pope & Young numbers. Then 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 own the highest agriculture yields.
Compare the above map with the one QDMA put together.
Below, let’s take a look at the Top 5 states in the order of the votes they received.
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.
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 to it due to the state’s nonresident hunter policies and draw system. To draw a 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 Bucks
Non-typical #2 all time
6 of top 20 counties of all time since 2000, 5 of top 20
#3 all time
2 of top 20 counties of all time
since 2000, 5 of top 20
Some of the top Counties (in no particular order) Allamakee – Typical entries 43, non-typical entries 17 Clayton – T 32, NT 15
Warren – T 29, NT 20
Van Burren – T 24, NT 20
I think it is safe to assume that exponentially more booners are coming out of Iowa than what there are B&C or P&Y records of. Iowa is a dream state to hunt in 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.
Iowa 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.
Kansas is often called the land of giants in many hunting circles. 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 makes in the top 100 counties. 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 list until #50 Pottawatomie County. Most states seem to have regions or pockets of big deer, Kansas seems to be even keeled and fantastic across the whole state. 94 out of 105 counties in Kansas have a typical entry and 92 have at least one non-typical entry.
Kansas 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 ranks up there too but 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.
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.
If you’ve ever picked up a hunting magazine, watched a hunting show – you’ve 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 vhs video after video of Pike and Adams County giants. For over a century, Illinois has been a major manufacturer of Booner bucks. Our friend over at Realtree.com, Josh Honeycutt 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. Illinois boasts 3 of top 5 counties in America for non-typical entries.
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 can lead 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.
The Lonestar State is a mecca for deer hunting. There are multitude of different ecosystems and geography one can hunt in. In addition, there are vast differences of whitetail densities, body and antler size across the state. One has 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.
For this articles purpose, we will focus on South Texas and the big bucks that roam the brush down there. 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 style bucks there is a small pocket of huge chocolate antlers roaming that brush. 6 counties – Webb, Maverick, Dimmit, La Salle, Kleberg and Zavala stand out. In those counties, Texas boasts the #2 (Webb), #3 (Maverick), #5 (Dimmit) and #6 (La Salle) Boone & Crockett typical entries per county in the entire nation. 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. Both Webb County and Maverick County individually against other stats Webb would rank #29 and Maverick would be #30 all-time. Each would have more B&C typical entries as individual counties as do the entire states such as Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama. Measuring what has gone on in 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 still large and contiguous. Unlike the other states where we connect agriculture with big bucks, that isn’t the case exactly. In this arid region, there are very decent soils that a lot of thorny, rough looking brush exists. To the passer by, it looks like junk 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 in helping manage the herds makes for a perfect blend in giving bucks what they need. The rest of the state has great hunting opportunities and in many of the areas that don’t have as many of the Muy Grandes that South Texas have are filled to the brim with some of the high deer densities in the country. But when talking about big bucks, Texas has a pocket is only outdone by the pocket where Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin come together.
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 are coming from) As a matter of fact, one of the most
interesting facts about that number is that Ohio, in the history of Boone & Crockett record keeping 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.
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. Similar to Kansas in its even distribution of booners, 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 up to the top of the article and look at that map that QDMA did, this points to a whole state that is producing big whitetail bucks. That also falls in line with their agriculture map. The only section of Ohio that is less dense in farmland is the Southeastern border with West Virginia and that gets into the hillier terrain that, according to B&C and P&Y entries, is still a mighty good place to hang a stand and is still producing a good bit of agricultural products for terrain like that. Ohio, in landmass terms is only the 34th largest state in America so keep that in mind when hearing their 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.
| If you live and hunt in any of these states, please pay attention to hunting laws and feeding regulations. We offer some light weight heavy-duty feeders that are perfect for states that require removal of feeders during hunting season. Please click here to view our EZ Outdoor products: