The 2018 deer hunting season is shaping up to be one of the best ever for hunters in search of a big buck. Here’s our exclusive regional deer forecast for key states across America.
By Brian Lovett
Despite facing many challenges, deer hunters across the country have good reason to expect big things from the 2018-’19 season.
Whitetails, muleys, blacktails and Coues whitetails continue to thrive throughout America’s varied landscapes, and vast areas of state, federal and other publicly accessible properties still provide rank-and-file hunters with millions of acres to roam. Further, hunters are shooting a higher percentage of older bucks than ever before.
In fact, the Quality Deer Management Association’s Whitetail Report 2018 said yearling bucks only comprised about 35 percent of whitetail bucks taken nationwide during the 2016 season. That’s a stark shift in hunting philosophy from the “brown-is-down” mentality prevalent a few decades ago. Issues such as predation, increasing urbanization, chronic wasting disease, decreasing hunter numbers and periodic outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease complicate the modern deer hunting scene, but the overall outlook remains rosy. Here’s a brief regional forecast to put you on the track to success this deer season.
Some might question the state of whitetail hunting in a region with high human populations and heavy urban and suburban development. However, wildlife managers across the region agree that Northeastern deer numbers and hunting opportunities remain good. In fact, hunters have a better chance at taking an older buck nowadays, and they can still find good public land on which to escape the crowds.
Southeastern whitetails have faced challenges in recent years, with an influx of coyotes and reduced fawn recruitment. Harvests in many areas were down the past decade, but biologists say the short-term outlook is mostly upbeat. Further, the region leads the country in terms of older age-class whitetail bucks in the harvest. Deer 3.5 years old and older made up more than 70 percent of the buck harvest in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, according to the QDMA’s Whitetail Report 2018.
Step Outside Deer Preview Regions
Northeast: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey.
Southeast: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia
Midwest: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio
Northwest: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska.
Southwest: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
Most hunters would consider steady or even increasing deer numbers as relatively good news. But in the big-buck hotbed of the Midwest, that’s reason for considerable excitement. Relatively mild winters and good growing conditions should mean the region’s whitetails — and mule deer, in the western extremes — will be big and healthy this fall.
If you like variety and big country, you’re in luck: Deer biologists have plenty of good news about whitetails, mule deer and black-tailed deer in this region, depending on the location. Public-land opportunities remain wide open, and managers said most herds feature good numbers of older-class bucks.
Biologists say the varied opportunities in this broad region — blacktails in California; Coues whitetails in Arizona and New Mexico; whitetails in Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico; and muleys in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico — are mixed but strong overall for 2017-’18.
Key Links to State Game Agencies
2) Connecticut: https://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?q=597514
3) Rhode Island: dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/huntabs.pdf
4) New Hampshire: wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting/deer-wmu.html
5) Delaware: http://www.eregulations.com/delaware/hunting
6) Pennsylvania: https://www.pgc.pa.gov/HuntTrap/Law/Pages/SeasonsandBagLimits
7) New York: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28605.html
8) Maryland: http://www.eregulations.com/maryland/hunting
9) Vermont: http://www.eregulations.com/vermont/hunting
10) Massachusetts: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/deer-hunting-regulations
11) New Jersey: https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/hunting.htm
12) West Virginia: http://www.wvdnr.gov/hunting/hunting.shtm
14) Arkansas: https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/big-game/deer/deerzones
15) Mississippi: https://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/deer-program
16) Georgia: http://www.eregulations.com/georgia/hunting
17) Kentucky: https://fw.ky.gov/Hunt/Documents/HuntingGuideEntire.pdf
19) Florida: myfwc.com/hunting/season-dates
20) North Carolina: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Hunting/Seasons-Limits
21) South Carolina: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/regs/pdf/regs1819.pdf
22) Tennessee: https://www.tn.gov/twra/hunting/big-game/deer.html
23) Virginia: https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations
24) Wisconsin: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/dates.html
25) Minnesota: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/seasons.html
31) Indiana: https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/8367.htm
33) Nebraska: http://outdoornebraska.gov/deer
34) South Dakota: https://gfp.sd.gov/deer
36) Montana: http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting
41) Washington: https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations
42) California: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/deer
45) Oklahoma: https://wildlifedepartment.com/huntingguide/#p=16
47) Nevada: http://www.eregulations.com/nevada/big-game
About the Author: Brian Lovett is a longtime outdoors writer. Currently, he serves as Realtree.com's waterfowl editor and field editor for the National Wild Turkey Federation's "On the Hunt" section. He lives in east-central Wisconsin with his wife and two dogs. You can follow his musings on Facebook (facebook.com/brian.lovett.58), Twitter, and Realtree.com.