20 Best DIY Whitetail States for 2014

20 Best DIY Whitetail States for 2014

No matter where you hunt, killing a big, mature buck is no cake walk.

In some states, however, the opportunities are next to nonexistent. For that reason, hardcore whitetail hunters pack their bags in the fall and travel to new locales in search of greener pastures.


If you're one of those hunters who dream of chasing whitetails away from home, you should absolutely go for it. A big part of the planning process is choosing the right state to hunt. And while there are plenty of great destinations for DIY whitetail hunters, the opportunities in some states are definitely more plentiful, affordable and realistic.



To better understand how each whitetail state stacks up for the DIY hunter, we considered a broad range of criteria relevant to the quality of an out-of-state hunt. From my own experience as a DIY hunter, I want a relatively affordable hunt with plenty of options for land access, a good opportunity to see lots of deer, low pressure from other hunters and decent odds to harvest a quality animal.

Keeping that in mind, we ranked states based on criteria like the cost and ease of acquiring a license, quantity (and quality) of public land, and hunter density. We also wanted to get a better idea of odds for success, not just by looking at sheer quantity of kills or record book bucks, but also by the ratio of kills to the number of hunters. We wanted to understand, per hunter in each state, how many deer total and record book bucks were harvested.


We looked at overall harvest, Pope & Young record book kills and Boone & Crockett bucks together as a ratio compared with how many hunters were in each state. This gave us a much better understanding of just how likely a hunter is to have success in each locale.


I'll be the first to admit that while we used as much hard data as we could to develop these rankings, this is still a largely subjective analysis. I'm sure a few of you (or a few hundred of you!) will have different opinions on how certain states rank. We welcome the debate.

15. Arkansas

If you'™re hoping to hunt whitetails on public land in the South, Arkansas is one of your absolute best bets. The Razorback State is home to over 6.4 million acres of public land, which is by far the most you'™ll find south of the Mason-Dixon line.

On top of great access, Arkansas also offers over-the-counter tags and a darn good chance at a mature buck. According to the Quality Deer Management Association'™s 2014 Whitetail Report, 65 percent of the bucks harvested in Arkansas in 2012 were over 3.5 years old. That'™s an impressive number. Hunting in an area with that many mature bucks running around can be a lot of fun.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 9
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Hunter: 3
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 9
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 57

16. Idaho

Continuing on the theme of Western whitetails, we'™ve got Idaho coming in at No. 16. Similar to Colorado, Idaho has a tremendous amount of public access — over 53 million acres. What really makes Idaho a great DIY option, though, is that licenses are available over the counter and for only about $154.

No other Western state license on our list is as affordable or easy to acquire. While overall whitetail numbers are lower than most Midwest or Eastern states, your odds of success on a record book buck are statistically higher here than states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia and Virginia. Of course, similar to most other Western whitetail states, hunter density is also very low — coming in at about .5 hunters per square mile. With all of this in mind, Idaho looks like a great option if you want to chase big bucks in beautiful Rocky Mountain country.

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 3
P&Ys/Hunter: 6
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 9
Public Land: 9
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 57

9. Illinois

Here'™s another historically famous big buck state. Although you might be surprised that Illinois isn'™t ranked higher, there are good reasons for it. Yes, huge whitetails abound in Lincoln'™s old home-state. In fact, 273 Boone & Crocket bucks were entered over the past five years on record. Additionally, more Pope & Young bucks are killed per hunter in Illinois than Iowa, Wisconsin or Ohio.

So why isn'™t Illinois higher? Cost and access. An Illinois non-resident tag is one of the most expensive in the country, coming in at almost $500. And on top of that, getting access to good hunting ground can be a real challenge. Public land is very limited, with less than a million acres, and a large amount of private ground is leased up by other out-of-state hunters and outfitters.

Similar to the situation with Iowa though, if money isn'™t too much of a worry for you, Illinois can be a great option for slammer whitetails. But if you'™re counting your pennies, like many DIY hunters are, you might want to look elsewhere.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Hunter: 10
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 10
Total: 62

2. Indiana

Heading just a bit farther West, we'™ve come to our No. 2 DIY whitetail state, Indiana. A few years ago, this may have come as a surprise, but after Tim Beck'™s 305 7/8-inch giant killed there a few years back, Indiana has become firmly entrenched in the ranks of top whitetail states. One 300-inch deer isn'™t all this state has to offer though, as both the Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young record books confirm that Indiana has been consistently pumping out great whitetails over the past five years.

On a per hunter basis, Indiana has produced more Boone & Crockett bucks than Illinois, Ohio and even Wisconsin. On top of that, Indiana has a solid whitetail population of 1 million and an equal amount of acreage of public land to pursue them on. Additionally, since Indiana hasn'™t become as over-run with outfitters as some Midwest states, private land access is still quite available with some hard work pounding the pavement and knocking on doors. Similar to our other top picks for DIY hunters, Indiana is an affordable option as well, with $150 over the counter non-resident licenses.

In an interview last year regarding the 305-inch Beck Buck, Dr. James Kroll shared his thoughts on what makes Indiana such a great big buck state:

'œI have always felt Indiana had the potential to produce world-class bucks, because the state has the basics for doing so: quality soils, climate, agriculture and genetics'¦ Implementation of the one-buck rule definitely has factored into more trophy-class bucks.'

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Hunter: 9
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 7
Public Land: 4
Reputation/Intangibles: 9
Total: 68

18. Iowa

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Easy. I know this seems really low for Iowa to be on any list ranking whitetail states. I agree. But there'™s good reason for the rank. A big part of our ranking system for DIY hunts looks at the cost and ease of acquiring a license. Iowa is by far one of the most expensive hunts, and one of the toughest to make happen.

To get a non-resident license in many parts of Iowa you need to buy preference points for several years before being able to draw a tag in the annual lottery. When you draw that tag, it'™s going to cost you well over $500. Additionally, there'™s a very low amount of public land, with less than 400,000 acres available. On the other hand, while there'™s not a high quantity of public land, the properties that are available can offer good hunting.

That said, if you'™re a patient person and money isn'™t too much of an issue for you, Iowa is obviously still one of the absolute best states for big bucks. If you'™re that guy or gal, feel free to bump Iowa back up to the top of the list.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 3
P&Ys/Hunter: 10
B&Cs/Hunter: 10
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 9
Total: 56

4. Kansas

Here'™s another one of the historically acclaimed states for big bucks, and it rightfully holds a place in our Top 5 DIY whitetail states. Of course, we all know there are giant bucks to be had in Kansas, and the record books back that up. Per hunter, no other major whitetail state has produced more Pope & Young record book entries over the most recent five years of data.

And when it comes to Boone & Crockett bucks, Kansas is only behind Iowa. Kansas also has a very low hunter density, with under two hunters per square mile. While public land isn'™t terribly plentiful, Kansas does have a good walk-in program for private land access. One knock on Kansas is the higher non-resident license cost of $395. But if you can swallow that, you'™re in for some great hunting.

Skyler Wirsig is a regular Kansas hunter, and he shared a few thoughts with us on why he believes Kansas is such a great option.

'œKansas is a great state to consider for DIY whitetail hunting. It is fairly easy to draw a tag in most regions and some even have over-the-counter left-over tags. The limit of one buck per year (residents and non-residents) allows for bucks to mature and the possibility for a hunter to shoot the deer of a lifetime. Also a late rifle season keeps the hunting pressure low and is very attractive to bowhunters like me. I must say though'¦don\'t you all go rushing to Kansas at once!'

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 5
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Hunter: 10
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 9
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 9
Total: 66

5. Kentucky

Now we'™re getting into the big boys of DIY whitetail states. Kentucky has been getting a lot of press the past few years about its big buck potential, and for good reason. In fact, over the past five years with Kentucky'™s 245 entries, only four other states have put more Booners in the books. On a per hunter basis, only Iowa and Kansas are producing more. Equally as appealing to the potential Kentucky hunter is the fact that non-resident tags are an affordable $150 and can be bought over-the-counter. And if you'™re going for a velvet buck, Kentucky can be a great option — the archery season opens in early September.

Don'™t take it from me, though. Dave Skinner, Whitetail Properties Land Specialist from Kentucky had this to say about the Bluegrass State:

'œIn 2012 we were No. 1 in the nation in Boone and Crockett entries and we consistently rank in the Top 5. Our one buck limit and liberal doe harvest allows bucks to get older and helps hunters effectively manage the herd'¦The fact that we can hunt deer for 4 1/2 months starting in early September is also a huge bonus. There are only a few destinations in the country where you can harvest a velvet buck and the Bluegrass State happens to be one of them. Finally, overall value! Our over the counter tags and licenses are cheaper than most trophy whitetail destinations and land prices are some of the lowest in the nation.'

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 3
P&Ys/Hunter: 8
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 9
Total: 65

19. Maryland

Speaking of East Coast options, Maryland is a small state teeming with big opportunity. When you look at the ratio of hunters to Boone & Crockett bucks killed over the past five years, Maryland actually ranks better than states like Oklahoma, Arkansas and Michigan.

The same goes for Pope & Young caliber bucks, as the approximately 96,000 hunters a year in Maryland have averaged about 17 P&Y entries a year. While overall land mass and public hunting areas can'™t stack up to bigger states like Wisconsin, Maryland does offer a decent amount of hunting access. And it won'™t cost you an arm and a leg to hunt here, either, as Maryland offers over the counter non-resident tags for just over $150. Not a bad deal at all.

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Hunter: 6
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 54

7. Minnesota

There are a lot of good things going for 'œMini-Soda." First and foremost, this is a bargain hunt with over-the-counter non-resident tags only running $140. Secondly, access should not be an issue as public land abounds — to the tune of over 6 million acres. Hunter density is a bit high but similar to many of the other Midwest states, coming in at about seven hunters per square mile.

Interestingly, most of the hunting in Minnesota is happening during firearm season, as only 9 percent of the deer harvest in 2012 happened pre-firearm season. That'™s the lowest in the country, so expect relatively low pressure during bow season. While the number of deer killed per hunter in Minnesota is relatively low, at about .33, this state does much better when you look specifically at bigger bucks. Over the last five years, Minnesota has put nearly 200 bucks in the B&C books.

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 9
Harvests/Hunter: 3
P&Ys/Hunter: 6
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 9
Reputation/Intangibles: 6
Total: 63

12. Missouri

Missouri is a definite hot-spot for big bucks, and a great option if you'™re looking for an affordable, easy to obtain license to hunt in the land of the giants. Non-resident licenses will only put you back a little over $200 and they'™re available over the counter. Over the last five years on record, 216 Booners have been entered into the books, and 216 Pope & Young qualifiers as well.

As far as Boone & Crockett bucks go, that'™s right about on par with states like Indiana, Kansas and Kentucky. So why isn'™t Missouri higher on our list? The biggest knock against the Show-Me State is the high hunter density. At nearly 10 hunters per square mile, it'™s one of the highest in our Top 20. Also, when looking at overall number of deer killed per hunter, Missouri ranks closer to the bottom.

License Cost: 6
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 9
Harvests/Hunter: 3
P&Ys/Hunter: 6
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 3
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 8
Total: 58

10. Nebraska

Here'™s another great DIY option in the Great Plains — the Cornhusker State. Nebraska is another state with over-the-counter tags, which we DIY hunters love, and non-resident licenses are middle of the road, at $229. The big draw here though, similar to South Dakota, is the lack of competition from other hunters. On average there are only 1.8 hunters per square mile.

When it comes to harvest numbers, about 63,000 deer are killed per year, but a good number of those deer are wall hangers. In 2012 about a third of all bucks harvested in Nebraska were over 3.5 years old. More Boone & Crockett bucks per hunter have been killed here over the past five years than in Wisconsin, Missouri or Minnesota. Public land access is relatively low, coming in at right around 1 million acres, but the good old-fashioned door knock can still go a long ways here.

License Cost: 6
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Hunter: 9
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 9
Public Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 6
Total: 60

3. Ohio

The Buckeye State is no longer a sleeper when it comes to big bucks, but it still is one of the best deals for the DIY whitetail hunter. A non-resident tag can be easily purchased over-the-counter for about $150, and with that you'™ll be ready to hit the woods in one of the best Boone & Crockett producing states in the country. In fact, only four states have produced more entries over the past five years and, other than Kentucky, these other states all charge significantly more to hunt there.

In addition to the quality of deer, you'™ll also be able to find good access opportunities, as public land abounds in the southern portion of the state. If there'™s one knock on Ohio, it would be their hunter density, which is around 10 hunters per square mile. If you can get back into the public ground or secure a decent piece of private land, you should be in the bucks.

Tyler Ridenour of Realtree'™s Antler Geeks has been hunting Ohio for a number of years and he had this to say:

'œThe Buckeye state has become one of my favorite places to chase mature bucks on public land. While the trophy potential found in Ohio is no longer the secret it once was, good bucks can still be had by those willing to put in the effort. With a firearm season that typically opens later in the year than many other Midwest states, Ohio offers bow hunters the opportunity to get the most out of the rut without suiting up in blaze orange. Numerous large tracts of public ground and the fairly inexpensive over the counter tag make it a state I seem to find myself hunting every year.'

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Hunter: 9
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 3
Public Land: 7
Reputation/Intangibles: 9
Total: 67

14. Oklahoma

Oklahoma is another state that is producing a tremendous number of mature bucks. According to the same report cited earlier, 66 percent of bucks harvested in 2012 in Oklahoma were over 3.5 years old. The Sooner State also has a relatively low level of hunter density — with only about three hunters per square mile — and almost 2 million acres of public land at your disposal.

An Oklahoma license is middle of the road, coming in at $280. You shouldn\'t have any trouble getting your hands on one, though, as it can be purchased over the counter. Over the most recent five years of data, Oklahoma has averaged about 11 new Boone & Crockett bucks and 21 Pope & Young bucks per year. But given the low number of hunters, this isn'™t half bad. And from the sounds of it, Oklahoma is only going to get better.

License Cost: 6
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Hunter: 6
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 6
Total: 57

11. South Dakota

South Dakota is one of those states that doesn'™t get a lot of attention for whitetails becuase it'™s so well known for other species like pheasant, mule deer and water fowl. But if you'™re looking for an affordable whitetail adventure where you'™re much more likely to see big bucks than other hunter'™s pick-up trucks, South Dakota might be for you.

While there is a lottery system in place, archery hunters are near locks to draw a tag and a non-resident license costs less than $200. Once you get your license and make the drive, you'™re in for a lot of alone time, as there are only 1.6 hunters per square mile. But solitude isn'™t all you'™ll find here. There are also plenty of big deer to keep you and your bow occupied. In fact, the number of Pope & Young qualifying bucks killed per licensed hunter in South Dakota is higher than what you'™ll find in more notable big buck states like Ohio, Kentucky and Texas.

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 6
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Hunter: 9
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 9
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 6
Total: 60

8. Texas

If you like to see and kill a lot of deer, Texas is one of the best options in the country. In fact, no state can boast as large of a deer herd as Texas — with over 4 million whitetails. Not surprising, Texas hunters also kill more deer than any other state in the country, and per hunter the number of deer killed is still one of the best in our Top 20.

We'™re not just talking quantity of deer either, as 67 percent of bucks killed in 2012 were over 3.5 years old. And while there are a large number of hunters in the state, given the huge land area of Texas, the mathematical hunter density is pretty low too — coming in at 2.45 hunters per square mile. Unfortunately, Texas'™ downfall is in its lack of public land and expensive license costs.

It'™s going to cost you over $300 to get a tag here, and once you'™re on the ground you'™ll have a hard time finding a spot to hunt. With less than a million acres in public ground, about 97 percent of the state is private land. On top of that, given the unique deer hunting culture in Texas, many properties may even be fenced in.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 9
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Hunter: 6
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 9
Public Land: 3
Reputation/Intangibles: 9
Total: 63

20. Virginia

If you'™re on the East Coast, Virginia is one of your best, close-to-home options for a quality DIY hunt. Whitetails are plentiful, as there are nearly 1 million of them running around the rolling hills and fields of this gorgeous state. Your odds of harvesting a deer here are one of the highest in the nation.

While Pope & Young or Boone & Crockett bucks aren'™t as plentiful as in some other states, they can certainly still be found. In just the past five years, 25 Booners were entered from Virginia. You also won'™t need to break the bank, as non-resident licenses are less than $200.

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 6
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Hunter: 3
B&Cs/Hunter: 3
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 54

1. Wisconsin

And finally, we arrive at our No. 1 state for the DIY whitetail hunter. While you could make a solid argument for any one of our Top 5, Wisconsin rose to the very top because of tremendous record book buck production, affordable licenses and excellent public land opportunity. Similar to the last three states we'™ve mentioned, Wisconsin offers non-resident licenses over-the-counter for a little over $150. This is important for most DIY hunters. Shelling out half a grand for a license every year is something that not many folks can afford.

Another nice benefit to hunting Wisconsin is its September 14 archery opener, which allows you to take advantage of late summer feeding patterns. The Cheesehead state also offers tremendous public land opportunities, with about 6 million acres to roam. Private land, while hard to come by in some areas such as Buffalo County, may still be available if you put the time in. Speaking of land, the bluff country in the southwestern part of the state makes for some of the absolutely best big buck terrain in the country.

As for big buck production, Wisconsin has got that covered, too. Wisconsin has produced a ridiculous amount of Pope & Young bucks over the past five years on record, coming in at 2,088, which is about twice as many entries as the next highest state. Needless to say, if you'™re looking for a state to chase those wall hanger dreams, Wisconsin is a terrific choice.

Jeff Sturgis, long time Wisconsin hunter and renowned whitetail habitat consultant, very nicely summed up what we like about this terrific deer-hunting destination:

"Rich soils of mega-antlered potential slowly flow to the west and slam into the rolling bluffs of the Mississippi River Valley. Unlike some of the "flatlands" of its neighbors, Wisconsin has large areas of land that simply can\'t be converted to agriculture due to the terrain. Broken topography equals a high percentage of cover, physically demanding hunting, hiding places for bucks, and finally a higher potential age structure of bucks. When you combine some of the best habitat in the country, two bucks per hunter, long seasons and one of the first states in the country to embrace QDM principles...Wisconsin should be on a short bucket list of states to whitetail hunt."

License Cost: 9
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 9
Harvests/Hunter: 3
P&Ys/Hunter: 9
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 3
Public Land: 9
Reputation/Intangibles: 9
Total: 69

13. Mississippi

Leading the pack for DIY hunting down South is Mississippi. Mississippi offers great access, over the counter tags, great opportunities to see and kill deer, and a better than average chance of getting a shot at a mature buck. With just under four hunters per square mile, hunter density isn'™t atrocious, and with 2 million acres of public land, you'™re sure to find a spot to hunt.

As mentioned, if you'™re hunting Mississippi, you'™re going to see deer — their population is one of the highest in the country, coming in at 1.75 million whitetails. Additionally, Mississippi has the highest kills per hunter ratio in our Top 20. More P&Y and B&C bucks were killed per hunter in Mississippi than any other state in the South, even beating Texas. The only downside to Mississippi is the relatively high license cost of $375.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 9
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Hunter: 6
B&Cs/Hunter: 6
Hunter Density: 6
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 3
Total: 57

17. Colorado

If you'™re interested in taking a drive out West, there are some great big buck options for the DIY hunter. Colorado is definitely one of those. A very small number of whitetail tags are made available each year, and if you\'re lucky enough to draw one it'™s going to cost you about $360. But if you take that plunge, you could be in for some exciting hunts.

The number of Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young bucks taken in Colorado is quite high given the very low number of whitetail hunters actually out there. With well over 22 million acres of public land available, you should have no trouble finding places to hunt either. If a Colorado adventure is in your future, focus your efforts on the Eastern plains, as this is where you'™ll find the most whitetails.

License Cost: 3
License Acquirement: 3
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 6
P&Ys/Hunter: 9
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 9
Public Land: 9
Reputation/Intangibles: 6
Total: 57

6. North Dakota

Here'™s a bit of a sleeper. North Dakota has definitely been picking up steam as a whitetail state lately, but it still has a lot more potential than people realize. So why do I say that? Well, first off, you'™ve got over-the-counter tags, a relatively affordable license that\'s just over $200 and super low hunter densities. I'™m talking 1.5 hunters per square mile.

There'™s no whitetail hunting state East of the mountain states that can offer that kind of low hunting pressure. On top of that, there are terrific access opportunities between public lands and private properties open to hunting through the PLOTS program. Hunter success is equally impressive, as North Dakota produces a disproportionate number of Pope & Young record book entries, despite its low number of hunters. In fact, per hunter, North Dakota produces more P&Y bucks than both Iowa and Illinois! Another nice perk of North Dakota is the early Aug 31 bow opener.

One word of caution, though, recent tough winters and disease have reportedly hurt the whitetail herd rather substantially in some areas. Be sure to call a local DNR employee or biologist to get an update on the current status of the herd in whatever area you plan on hunting before making a trip.

License Cost: 6
License Acquirement: 9
Deer Population: 3
Harvests/Hunter: 9
P&Ys/Hunter: 9
B&Cs/Hunter: 9
Hunter Density: 9
Public Land: 6
Reputation/Intangibles: 6
Total: 63

Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.

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