Velvet Underground: Your Top Seven Locations For Tagging A Velvet Buck
June 07, 2011
Every year there's a scramble at the Primos Hunting Calls headquarters to see who can lay claim to the team's earliest hunts of the season. According to veteran team member Keith Burgess, the hunt that many of the Primos guys quarrel over is the annual trek to Wyoming, where archery season opens September 1.
"That's one of the best chances you're going to get at a buck in velvet," Burgess said. "When we start putting together our hunting schedule for the year, everybody's always fighting over those early hunts."
Hunters across North America spend a great deal of time and energy watching whitetails in late summer walking through food plots and crop fields with velvet-covered antlers. But few have the chance to hunt those bucks while the velvet is still in place.
The places where hunters year in and year out have a legitimate shot at tying their tags to fuzzy antlers are the places that open their deer seasons early. Really early.
Typically in North America, a buck's testosterone level starts its annual increase in August, leading up to its peak during the rut. In response to rising levels of testosterone and testicular volume, the buck's soft, velvety antlers harden through calcification. Eventually -- usually from late August through mid-September -- the velvet will dry up and fall off the now-bony antlers.
Twenty-one states and two Canadian provinces offer seasons that start on or before September 15. Hunters might be lucky enough to cross paths with a velvet buck around Sept. 15. But there are six states -- Delaware, Idaho, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington and Wyoming -- and one province -- Manitoba -- that schedule season openers on or before Sept. 1. These are the earliest whitetail seasons in North America and offer hunters some of the best opportunities at taking velvet bucks.
The First State kicks off its annual deer season on Sept. 1, with hunting restricted only to bowhunters -- including those who use crossbows. A general hunting license is $25 for Delaware residents and $130 for non-residents, plus you'll need a buck tag, which costs $10 for residents and $25 for nonresidents. Delaware hunters can buy two buck tags for the archery season, but one must be a "Quality Buck Tag," which limits hunters to taking bucks with a minimum outside antler spread of 15 inches.
As a small state in a heavily populated part of the country, Delaware doesn't have an abundance of public lands open to deer hunting, but there are some. You can find a list of these at the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife's Web site at www.fw.delaware.gov.
Two public tracts that velvet-rack deer hunters might want to check out are the 5,515-acre Cedar Swamp Wildlife Area and the 6,320-acre Woodland Beach Wildlife Area, both of which are managed for quality deer. Any buck shot in either area must have antlers with at least a 15-inch outside spread, regardless of the type of tag the hunter is carrying.
The first hunting season for whitetail in Idaho is an archery season. Depending on the unit, the opening date of that season varies, but for 2011 most units open on August 30.
Compared to mule deer, whitetail populations are not as evenly distributed across the Gem State. According to Idaho Fish and Game, the highest concentrations of whitetails can be found in the skinny, northern arm of the state above Riggins.
To bowhunt whitetails in Idaho, a hunter must have a general hunting license, which costs $12.75 for residents and $154.75 for nonresidents; a deer tag, which costs $19.75 for residents and $301.75 for nonresidents; and an archery permit, which costs $18.25 for residents and $20 for non-residents. To hunt Idaho Wildlife Management Areas, there's an additional WMA permit required, which costs $23.75 for residents and $51.75 for nonresidents.
Public hunting opportunities abound in Idaho. Go to www.fishgame.idaho.gov for more information. Or, you can hunt with an outfitter through the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association, www.ioga.org.
Oregon is home to a unique subspecies called the Columbian whitetail. They were closed to hunting for a long time and continue to be protected in the western third of the state. Whitetails have been open to hunting in the eastern two-thirds of the state for just a few years. Oregon's whitetail population pales in comparison to those in Midwestern and Eastern states, but, for velvet-buck hunters, the Beaver State offers the opportunity to head afield when a buck's antlers are still covered with fuzz.
In eastern Oregon, the general bow season opens Aug. 27. A hunter must possess a general hunting license, which costs $29.50 for residents and $140.50 for nonresidents; and a deer tag, which costs $24.50 for residents and $375.50 for nonresidents.
For information on public lands open to whitetail hunting in Oregon, visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's home page at www.dfw.state.or.us. A handful of guide services also offer hunts for whitetails. You can find those simply by typing "Oregon whitetail outfitters" into any Internet search engine.
The Palmetto State has one of the earliest deer seasons in North America, with an August 15 opener. That date applies only to private property in three of the state's six units. In two of those units, hunters can use guns or bows during that early season, making South Carolina's August 15 deer opener the earliest gun hunt for whitetails in North America. In the third unit, only bowhunting is allowed from August 15-31, with gun season opening September 1. There are plenty of outfitters offering guided hunts in those areas with an August 15 opener. You can find many by searching the Internet.
On public lands in South Carolina, starting dates for deer seasons are all over the calendar. But there are some gun and bow hunts that open September 1 on those lands. Check the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Web site at www.dnr.sc.gov for information.
To hunt deer in South Carolina, you'll need a big game permit, which costs $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. To hunt state wildlife management areas (WMA), you'll need a WMA permit, which costs $30.50 for residents and $76 for non-residents.
Whitetails are hunted in the eastern part of Washington. Whitetail hunters have archery seasons that run from September 1-18 or September 1-23, depending upon the unit. In some of those eastern units, a legal buck is one that has at least three points on one antler. A legal point is one that measures at least one inch long. In other units, a legal buck is any deer with a visible antler.
Whitetail populations are expanding throughout eastern Washington, east of the Cascade Mountains. The highest concentrations, however, can be found in the northeast corner of the state in Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties.
To hunt whitetails in Washington, hunters need a deer license, which costs $45.20 for residents and $434 for nonresidents. There are public lands open to hunting in Washington's whitetail areas. Visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at www.wdfw.wa.gov for information.
There are two units in Wyoming where the archery deer season opens August 15, but, in most of the state, the season there opens September 1. About 50 percent of Wyoming is public land, primarily managed by U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, so there is no shortage of public hunting opportunities. There are also plenty of outfitters operating in Wyoming who offer guided whitetail hunts. Visit the Wyoming Board of Outfitters & Professional Guides at outfitters.state.wy.us for information.
To bowhunt whitetails in Wyoming, you'll need a deer license that costs $38 for residents and $312 for nonresidents; an archery license, which costs $16 for residents and $30 for nonresidents; and a conservation stamp, which costs $12.50. Deer permits are limited in Wyoming and they're primarily distributed through lottery drawings. Residents must apply for those licenses from May 1-31, while nonresidents apply from Jan. 1-March 15. There are leftover permits available in some units that are sold after the drawings on a first come, first served basis.
Visit the Wyoming Game & Fish Department's Web site at gf.state.wy.us for information.
The archery whitetail season in Manitoba opens across the province on August 30. In some units, the season runs straight through to November 7, but in others, the early season ends September 19, before resuming in mid-October. Like other Canadian provinces, whitetails are hunted in Manitoba in both agricultural areas and in dense forest regions.
You'll need a deer license for whitetails, which costs $36 for residents of Manitoba, $155 for Canadian residents who live outside Manitoba, and $217 for nonresidents of Canada. Nonresidents of Canada can only hunt whitetails in Manitoba with a registered guide, and they can only obtain a deer license through that outfitter. You can find outfitters through an Internet search.
For general information on deer hunting in Manitoba, visit the Manitoba Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection Branch Web site at gov.mb.ca/conservation/wildlife.