By Mike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large
Whitetail deer drive the North American hunting industry. Each year for the past five years, hunters have harvested some 2.7 million whitetail bucks nationwide. Whitetail deer are hunted in 45 states, most of Mexico (except Baja California) and eight Canadian provinces.
Spotting the trends in whitetail management and harvest can tell us a lot about hunting in North America. Fortunately, the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) compiles annual information about harvest and management in its annual whitetail report. A look at the 2017 report (which uses harvest data from the 2015-2016 season) reveals much about the trend in management and helps to spot those states where trophy management is paying off.
The QDMA report breaks the US into four regions (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West), plus Canada. Harvest statistics include the number of bucks harvested as well as the percentage of bucks 3.5 years and older in the harvest. These data help identify states that have the best management for big bucks (the interest of the QDMA), as well as those where management may be lax and trophy potential limited. Additionally, the size of the overall buck harvest is an indicator of access and potential.
This kind of analysis allows you to narrow down a search grid to find a hunt that's right for you. An important caveat here is that any given property may be overhunted or too small to provide management benefits. If the neighbor is hunting hard, your outfitter may not be able to produce the kind of bucks found in the rest of the state. Additionally, as we've pointed out so many times, not every hunt is right for every hunter. It doesn't matter what kind of deer may be available if you and the outfitter or guide don't get along....