20 Best DIY Whitetail States for 2015

20 Best DIY Whitetail States for 2015

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Deer Alliance, 42 percent of deer hunters said they have travelled outside their home state to hunt deer in the last three years.

In the past decade, there has been a surge in whitetail hunters who are travelling to hunt other states. Part of this is due to the information available on the internet and an increase in outdoor television programming.

This has put the quality of deer hunting available in some states in front of millions of people who had no idea how much better the deer hunting can be in other areas of the country.


It's no secret that the number of outfitters has exploded, and land is being leased and bought up by serious deer hunters across the best areas.


Managing land for quality whitetails has been the craze, but where does that leave the guy who wants to hunt in an area with the best bucks but either can't afford an outfitter or would rather go it alone? Enter the brotherhood of do-it-yourself (DIY) public land hunters. I'm one of them and since you are reading this, you may be too.


What follows here is the result of exhaustive research on more than 30 whitetail states. I looked at nine factors that influence the quality and availability of deer hunting. I ranked each state in order based on these nine factors and came up with a top 20 states.

Of these nine categories, I felt that some factors were more important than others so I ranked four of them on a scale of one to three (License cost, license acquisition, deer population, and intangibles/reputation).

The other five I ranked on a scale of one to ten (harvests per hunter, harvest density, amount of public land, and the ratio of B&C and P&Y bucks in relation to the overall harvest) because I felt they would weigh more heavily in the decision-making process.


Let's take a brief look at each of these.

Nonresident License Cost: These ranged from $74 for Maine to $704 (including 3 preference points) for Iowa.

Difficulty of License Acquisition: States that offer over the counter tags were given more points than states in which it is hard to draw a tag.


Overall Deer Population: Your chances of seeing a deer is somewhat based on this factor. Several states made moves in this category, mostly not for the good.

Harvests Per Hunter: This is a computation of the annual success rates for deer hunters in each state. It ranged from 1.607 deer per hunter in Mississippi, to .073 in Washington.

P&Y Ratio and B&C Ratio: This is a computation of the ratio between the record book bucks in relation to the overall harvest for the past five seasons 2010-2014.

For example, more B&C bucks have been killed in Wisconsin than any other state, but Wisconsin also has a very high deer harvest. If you look at the number of B&C bucks as a percentage of the overall harvest, five states rank higher than Wisconsin: Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Indiana.

Hunter Density: This is the number of deer hunters in the state in relation to the amount of land. It's a good indicator of the amount of hunting pressure you will find on public land.

Amount of Public Land: This is a ranking based on the acreage of public land in the state that is suitable whitetail habitat. This includes Federal, state and private land that is open to public hunting.

While western states like Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado offer huge volumes of public land, most of it is more suitable to elk and mule deer than whitetails. Since whitetails are mostly found on private farmland along the riparian areas of these states, that was taken into consideration.

Intangibles: This is a one to three subjective ranking based on a gut feeling. Seems like everyone wants to hunt Iowa, that's why there are nearly four applications for every available tag most years.

But places like the western states also have an appeal because of the unique experience and the difference in scenery. Very few nonresident licenses are sold in the southern states, which is another indicator of the intangibles.

So here goes the ranking of the top 20 states for the DIY hunters. Some of them may surprise you (I was surprised Indiana ranked so high and Montana ranked so low). I welcome your comments and suggestions; you are certainly free to disagree with me.

One more thing before we start, because I know you are curious, here are five honorable mentions, the states that ranked from 25-21 in order: Washington, Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, Maryland.

18. Arkansas

This state has been working its way up the stats for several years and has positioned itself in the top 20 on the basis of an increasing number of P&Y entries, the large amount of public hunting land and low hunter density.

Some notably big bucks have come out of the state in the past few years, and the state's whitetail population has mostly escaped major widespread disease outbreaks. The best areas tend to be those with mixed farmland and timber, although a few big bucks do come out of the state forests on occasion.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 8
P&Ys/Harvest: 4
B&Cs/Harvest: 3
Hunting Pressure: 6
Huntable Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 1
Total: 35

4. South Dakota

A couple obvious factors launch South Dakota up the list. Very low population and hunter density compared with large amounts of public hunting land makes for lots of opportunities to get away from crowds on a DIY hunt. State land is abundant, and huge areas of federal public hunting land borders the entire length of the Missouri River, and much of it is quality whitetail habitat.

Success rates are high and the opportunity to shoot a P&Y buck is always around the corner. The state recorded 173 P&Y and 23 B&C bucks in the last five years, with only an average annual harvest of about 74,000 whitetails. South Dakota is much better than most people think, and our data proves it.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 2
Deer Population: 1
Harvests/Hunter: 7
P&Ys/Harvest: 9
B&Cs/Harvest: 5
Hunting Pressure: 9
Huntable Land: 9
Reputation/Intangibles: 1
Total: 46

1. Kansas

A combination of factors bring the state of Kansas to the top of the heap. The state finished 2nd behind Kentucky in the B&C Ratio and 4th in the P&Y Ratio behind Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin. It's been a big buck Mecca for many years and the past five years have been no exception. More than 120 Booners and 508 P&Y bucks have come from Kansas in the past five years.

Hunter success ratios are high, hunting pressure is very light except near the larger cities and there is a lot of public hunting land. Kansas offers a Walk-in Hunting Access (WIHA) program whereby landowners allow hunters to access private land. The state has been aggressive about this program and there is some fantastic private land available to deer hunters.

Most of the big bucks come from the eastern half of the state; while the rolling prairies of western Kansas produce fewer bucks overall, but some big bucks are hiding out in the ditches and irrigated crop fields of the west. A nonresident tag is a bit spendy at $395 but you will be successful most every year in the drawing because of the large number of tags.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 7
P&Ys/Harvest: 10
B&Cs/Harvest: 10
Hunting Pressure: 9
Huntable Land: 5
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 50

20. Texas

You might think a state with an annual harvest of nearly 600,000 deer and has produced more than 100 B&C bucks in the past five years would rank higher but it has some significant strikes against it. The biggest issue with Texas is finding a place to hunt. Availability of public land is minimal, and it gets pressured hard. And when you look at the actual number of trophy bucks in relation to the huge overall harvest, the state is actually pretty average.

Texas has some things going for it, such as a long rut, pleasant hunting weather and the chance to see a lot of deer. Hunting deer in Texas is a unique experience in whitetail hunting and is on the bucket list for a lot of hunters. A deer license is $322 and allows you to shoot two bucks.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Harvest: 3
B&Cs/Harvest: 3
Hunting Pressure: 8
Huntable Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 1
Total: 33

8. Iowa

Iowa is without question the number one destination for the whitetail hunters; it seems like everyone has the Hawkeye State on their list. The state offers tags to 6,000 nonresident deer hunters each year and 15,000 to 20,000 hunters apply for those tags. The price of an Iowa deer tag is the highest in the nation, plus you will need at least two $51 preference points to draw, and possibly as many as four. So you can hunt Iowa every 3-4 years and pay from $653-$755 for the privilege of doing so. It's not crazy. Hunting Iowa is that good.

Iowa is one of only three states that ranks in the top five of both B&C and P&Y ratios. Hunting land is available and hunting pressure is relatively light on public land because of the low number of tags. The success rates are above average and for bowhunters who don't get too starry-eyed and pass up good bucks in hopes of great bucks. Most hunters who work hard and make the most of the window of opportunity will go home with a deer in the back of the truck if they have realistic standards of shooting a nice 3- to 4-year-old buck from 125-145 inches. And the thought is always in the back of the mind that you might really get lucky.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 1
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 10
B&Cs/Harvest: 10
Hunting Pressure: 5
Huntable Land: 4
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 42

15 Minnesota

The Land of 10,000 Lakes has a lot of whitetail deer too. It also has a lot of hunters and produces a healthy number of record book bucks. But when you compare the number of record book bucks in a ratio to the overall harvest, Minnesota ranks well behind other Midwestern states.

Much of the northern part of the state is public land with a good whitetail population, but suffers from what some people call the 'œDeer Camp' mentality which means not many bucks ever get a chance to grow a second rack before being turned into venison.

The majority of the big bucks come from the bluff country in the southeastern part of the state and the farm country of western Minnesota. No surprise here, since the habitat in southeastern Minnesota is basically identical to Buffalo County, Wisconsin just across the Mississippi River and the famed big buck area of Northeastern Iowa just across the border to the south.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 4
P&Ys/Harvest: 7
B&Cs/Harvest: 7
Hunting Pressure: 4
Huntable Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 1
Total: 38

11. Illinois

Ten years ago the Land of Lincoln would most certainly have been in the top five of our list. Illinois has taken some really tough hits from disease outbreaks. Public land is minimal and the hunting pressure on public properties is extreme, possibly the worst of any Midwestern state. Illinois is still producing big numbers of record book bucks, but not the numbers it did a decade ago, and the overwhelming majority of them come from private land.

There is a drawing for deer tags, but the number of tags exceeds the demand, so for all practical purposes it's the same as OTC. The cost of a tag will set you back $474, one of the highest of the top 20 states. Illinois is home to good numbers of mature bucks but this is a difficult state for the DIY guy.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 10
B&Cs/Harvest: 8
Hunting Pressure: 4
Huntable Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 2
Total: 39

9. Kentucky

Kentucky consistently produces big bucks. The state ranks number one in the ratio of Booners in the overall harvest. It's produced more than 200 B&C bucks in the past five years. The state offers a season that begins on the first Saturday in September, which provides an opportunity to hunt deer that are still in their late summer feeding patterns and often have velvet-covered antlers.

Kentucky also ranks well for the amount of public land to hunt, but the hunting pressure can be quite high on some of the public parcels, especially those near high-population areas. In 2014 the state bumped the cost of a nonresident license up to $260, but it's still available OTC. If you can find a place to hunt, Kentucky may just make your dreams come true.

License Cost: 2
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 4
P&Ys/Harvest: 9
B&Cs/Harvest: 10
Hunting Pressure: 4
Huntable Land: 5
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 42

7. Colorado

This may surprise some people, but the whitetail hunting opportunities in Colorado are quite good. The hunting is found on the plains in the eastern half of the state, where spot and stalk hunting makes up the lion's share of the opportunity to harvest a whitetail.

There is a very specific reason Colorado is in the top ten: If you see a whitetail buck it is likely to be a big one. A mixture of whitetails and mule deer inhabit the plains of eastern Colorado, where huge center-pivot irrigation systems spray water on up to a square mile of crops at a time. Hunting here involves glassing these fields and watching a buck bed down for the day, then sneaking up and trying to get a shot at him. You will pick a big one, of course, which explains why the ratios are so high for record book bucks.

Hunting pressure is near zero, you are likely to be all alone, but most of the bucks are found on private land and you must secure permission to hunt before your stalk begins. Very few whitetails are shot from treestands in Colorado.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 2
Deer Population: 1
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 10
B&Cs/Harvest: 10
Hunting Pressure: 10
Huntable Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 1
Total: 44

17. Idaho

The number of P&Y class bucks coming out of this mountainous state has been steadily increasing with a growing whitetail population. And there aren't many serious whitetail hunters in the state. If you find a pocket of public ground with a good population of whitetails, there's a pretty good chance you will have the place to yourself.

Most of the huge amounts of state and national forests in the Idaho are not prime whitetail habitat, but they thrive along the rivers, reservoirs and any lowlands where crops are irrigated. Tags are available over the counter and a bargain at $154.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 1
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 4
B&Cs/Harvest: 5
Hunting Pressure: 10
Huntable Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 1
Total: 36

5. Indiana

Indiana is in the top five on the strength of high ratios of record book bucks and above average amount of public land combined with low-cost ($150), easily available nonresident tags. The state ranks sixth in both P&Y ratio and B&C ratio so mature bucks are available. It boasts a surprising acreage of public land for a state of its size in just over 1 million acres.

Hunting pressure is above average and can be very high on public land parcels near the major population centers. The deer population is good and the success rate among hunters is also above average. A lot of little things add up to make this state a quality destination that's possibly the biggest sleeper in our survey.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 10
B&Cs/Harvest: 9
Hunting Pressure: 4
Huntable Land: 5
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 45

16. Mississippi

A large deer population, liberal bag limits and plenty of public land move Mississippi up the rankings. Record class bucks are not nearly as common as they are in the Midwest, but there's always the possibility of coming across one. A strong point for the state is the success rates among hunters, nearly two deer per hunter per season. Not many other states come close to that impressive statistic.

There are a lot of deer hunters in Mississippi but an abundance of public hunting land spreads them out pretty well, which gives the state a good score in that category.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 10
P&Ys/Harvest: 3
B&Cs/Harvest: 3
Hunting Pressure: 7
Huntable Land: 7
Reputation/Intangibles: 1
Total: 38

12. Missouri

The Show-Me state has been showing mature bucks for many years. The state has a well-deserved reputation as a great DIY hunting state for several reasons beside the possibility of seeing a big buck at any time. The state has an abundance of well-managed public land.

Agreements with farmers means there are crops of corn, soybeans and mile on the public hunting areas, a portion of which is left through the hunting season. You will have company on the public areas, but you can get away from the pressure if you get back off the roads or find out-of-the-way parcels of small public land.

The northern half of the state, particularly the counties bordering Iowa and the bottoms along the Missouri River produce the most mature bucks. Over-the-counter tags are only $225 and allow you to shoot two deer (one of which may be a buck) and two turkeys. Missouri is kept from a higher ranking by a decrease in deer population due to recent disease outbreaks.

License Cost: 2
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 7
B&Cs/Harvest: 5
Hunting Pressure: 3
Huntable Land: 8
Reputation/Intangibles: 2
Total: 39

19. Montana

This state was a destination for many whitetail enthusiasts for years until recent disease outbreaks decimated the deer populations in many sections including the famed Milk River bottoms. The three forks areas and the southeastern part of the state still have good populations, but most of the whitetails are found on private land associated with irrigated croplands. Most farmers are open to allowing responsible hunters to help them trim down the deer population.

Montana makes the list largely because of the numbers of deer, low hunting pressure on whitetails, good success rates and an above average P&Y ratio. Few bucks reach B&C size, and the high cost of a license hurt the overall score.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 1
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 6
B&Cs/Harvest: 1
Hunting Pressure: 10
Huntable Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 34

6. Nebraska

Nebraska is a mix of Midwestern farmland in the eastern half but turns to the wild west and you cross the state. Whitetails inhabit the eastern half in great numbers, but the western half of the state has more public land and the whitetails are concentrated more predictably on the availability of water.

A new twist on the hunting in Nebraska is an earlier opening day for bowhunters. The archery season will open on September 1 for the first time in 2015. This offers bowhunters a chance to tag a velvet antlered deer.

This state is a sleeper for big bucks. It doesn't get much publicity, so you might be surprised to find that it ranks in the top ten in both B&C ratio and P&Y ratio. Public hunting land availability is good and tags are only $229 for nonresidents.

License Cost: 2
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 1
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 9
B&Cs/Harvest: 7
Hunting Pressure: 9
Huntable Land: 5
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 45

2. North Dakota

If all the deer hunters in North Dakota went hunting at the same, you still probably wouldn't see anyone in your favorite spot. There are only about 100,000 deer hunters in the state and there are around 4 million acres of public hunting land including state, federal and through the Private Land Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS) program. Much of this land is a bird hunter's paradise, but there are plenty of places for the deer hunter to get away on a DIY public land hunt.

The P&Y ratio in North Dakota is very good, but not many truly huge bucks come out of the state. The potential for 130- to 140-class bucks is good, but not so much for 170s.

Up until recently the success rates for hunters has been among the highest in the nation, but the deer population has taken a dive in the past three years. If it were not for an abnormally low deer population in the state, North Dakota would probably be sitting on top of the heap.

License Cost: 2
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 1
Harvests/Hunter: 8
P&Ys/Harvest: 9
B&Cs/Harvest: 4
Hunting Pressure: 9
Huntable Land: 10
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 49

10. Ohio

The first state in our top ten has a lot going for it. Ohio is well known for producing outsized bucks, including some world class giants. It ranks in the top ten both in P&Y and B&C ratios, and the availability of public land is above average. Licenses are cheap at $149 and available over the counter. A few years ago, Ohio may have been considered a sleeper state for the bowhunter in particular, but that's no longer the case. It's great potential is well-known.

A big buck could literally come from anywhere in the state, but the southeastern part of Ohio offers the best chances for a DIY hunter to tag one on public land. Hunting pressure on some of the public lands can be high, but there are some large blocks of land that offer you a chance to get away from the crowds.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 7
P&Ys/Harvest: 9
B&Cs/Harvest: 8
Hunting Pressure: 3
Huntable Land: 4
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 42

13. Oklahoma

Both the P&Y and B&C books are seeing a surge in the number of Sooner entries. Big bucks get the attention of hunters from other states. After all, no one travels several hundred miles and spend the coin on a nonresident tag to shoot a doe. Hunting pressure is still low and spread out well among the large amount of public land in the state, but with the larger number of trophy bucks, an increase in nonresident hunting is also taking place.

Some of the best places to hunt are along the fringes of the large reservoirs, some of which have thousands of acres of excellent whitetail habitat open to the public. Licenses are available over the counter and run $280, which is about average nationwide.

License Cost: 2
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 2
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 6
B&Cs/Harvest: 5
Hunting Pressure: 7
Huntable Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 2
Total: 39

14. Wyoming

The vast majority of the whitetail population in the Cowboy state is found in the northeastern quadrant. It is focused primarily on the irrigated croplands, and most of it is under private ownership. This state gets a real boost by the ratio of P&Y's in the harvest. While the population of whitetails is low, the odds of shooting a wall-hanger are very good.

Add in the fact that the hunting pressure on whitetails is minimal, the season is long, and the chance to shoot a velvet buck in the early part of the season is good. These reasons, plus the opportunity to experience deer hunting in the west adds to the appeal for many whitetail hunters. Most of the deer are found on private land, but many farmers allow hunting if they have not already leased their land to an outfitter.

License Cost: 1
License Acquirement: 1
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 7
P&Ys/Harvest: 9
B&Cs/Harvest: 2
Hunting Pressure: 10
Huntable Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 39

3. Wisconsin

Hunters in Wisconsin have bagged more P&Y and B&C bucks than in any other state. More than 2,100 P&Y Badger State bucks have been entered in the past five years. The average annual deer harvest in Wisconsin is more than 360,000 deer which drops the ratios down significantly. It ranks 3rd in P&Y Ratio and sixth in B&C Ratio.

Wisconsin has more than just big bucks going for it. The state has more than 6 million acres of public hunting land. There are a lot of deer hunters in this state steeped in deer hunting tradition, but the large quantity of public land spreads it out. One caveat for the DIY hunter is this: there are well-known counties that produce huge numbers of big bucks every year, and the public hunting land in those counties gets a lot more pressure from hunters than most other areas of the state.

Surprisingly, an OTC nonresident license for the state that produces more big bucks than any other is only $160.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Harvest: 10
B&Cs/Harvest: 9
Hunting Pressure: 2
Huntable Land: 8
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 47

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