Starting point

Note: This content was pulled from the Quality Deer Management Association's 2010 Whitetial Report.

With deer season approaching, a little competition between states can be entertaining, but also provide hunters with a preview of the hunting outlook for 2010. This competition is all about state deer management programs across the whitetail deer's range.

For this comparison, we surveyed each state agency in the continental U.S. and collected antlered and antlerless harvest data for 2007 and 2008, age structure of the antlered harvest for 2007 and 2008, and percentage of the state's wildlife management units (WMUs) currently at the desired deer goals.

In the Midwest, Kansas claimed the top spot with 15 points, followed by Missouri (10), Indiana (5.5), Nebraska (5) and Wisconsin (5). See the explanation below for how points were given out. Kansas finished first in three of four categories, and Missouri was one of only two states, in any region, to place in the top five for every category. In discussions about the "I" states, Indiana often takes a back seat to neighboring Illinois and Iowa, but the Hoosier state outranked them in our analysis.

Kansas is well known for its big bucks, and now it can also be recognized as a state with an overall successful deer management program.

In the Northeast, Vermont took top honors with 9.5 points, followed by Pennsylvania (7), Rhode Island (7), Virginia (7), and Delaware (6.5). Vermont enacted antler restrictions in 2005 that were designed to protect half of the yearling bucks. This regulation enabled the Green Mountain state to finish first in harvesting the lowest percentage of yearling bucks in the Northeast (15 percent) and tied for third for harvesting the most 3.5 years and older bucks (26 percent of antlered buck harvest).

Pennsylvania has implemented major changes to its deer program since 2002, including concurrent buck and antlerless seasons, antler point restrictions, an early antlerless season, a deer management assistance program (DMAP), a youth season, and a mentored hunting program. Hunters in both states are now reaping the rewards of these highly successful programs.

In the Southeast, Mississippi claimed top honors with 13 points, followed by Arkansas (9.3), Georgia (8), South Carolina (7), and Louisiana (6.3). Mississippi was first or second in three of the four categories and this is yet another example highlighting the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' progressive deer management program. Arkansas finished second by placing in the top five for every category. Only one other state in the country (Missouri) accomplished this feat.

As a refresher, Quality Deer Management is about balancing the deer herd with the habitat, and balancing the adult age structure and sex ratio. In a nutshell, it's about having the right number of deer for what the habitat can support, having bucks and does in all age classes, and having balanced numbers of adult bucks and does.

Our rating system is meant to commend states that are doing well, rather than point a finger at states ranking lower. It's also an arbitrary system, but one that addresses QDM principles. Our rating system used four variables:

1) Percentage of a state's WMUs at the desired deer goals
2) Percentage of 2008 antlered buck harvest that was 1.5 years old
3) Percentage of 2008 antlered buck harvest that was 3.5 years or older
4) Percentage of 2008 total harvest that was antlerless deer

Number 1 above is an index to the percentage of a state's WMUs where the deer herd is in balance with the habitat. Higher percentages are obviously preferred over lower numbers. Numbers 2 and 3 are indices to having a balanced age structure for bucks. The QDMA promotes protecting the majority of yearling bucks (1.5 years old), so states with lower percentages of yearlings ranked higher than those with higher percentages. Conversely, states with higher percentages of 3.5 years and older bucks ranked above those with lower numbers. Number 4 is an index to having a balanced adult sex ratio, and in many cases, to balancing the deer herd with the habitat. Higher percentages for this variable are generally preferred over lower numbers.

Many environmental, social, and cultural variables impact deer management programs, and these can vary widely across regions. Therefore, we only compared states to others within their region. We collected (at least some) data from all 37 states in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast that comprise the vast majority of whitetail habitat (see map of regions on page 8). We were unable to acquire similar data for most western states so this analysis omits that region.

We selected the top five states for each of the four variables and awarded points as follows: 5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, 3 points for third place, 2 points for fourth place, and 1 point for fifth place. A perfect score would be 20 points (4 first place finishes at 5 points each = 20 points). We then totaled the scores and ranked the top 5 states for each region. In case of a tied score we used the percentage of WMUs at goal (Number 1 above) as the tiebreaker since QDM is first and foremost about balancing the deer herd with the habitat.

Nationally, Kansas had the highest percentage of WMUs with the deer herd at goal (90 percent). Oklahoma and South Carolina followed with 80 percent of units at goal, Georgia had 78 percent, Connecticut and Pennsylvania had 77 percent, and Arkansas had 76 percent of WMUs at goal. In total, only 7 of 32 states (22 percent) had greater than 75 percent of their units at goal.

Some states have high percentages of WMUs above the desired goal such as Maryland (91 percent), Ohio (89 percent), Indiana (77 percent) and North Dakota (75 percent). Others have relatively high percentages below goal such as Maine (54 percent), New York (50 percent), New Hampshire (44 percent) and Arizona (40 percent). Twenty-five of 32 states (78 percent) had at least one WMU below goal, and this highlights the fact that nearly all states are trying to grow the deer herd in at least a portion of their state. Conversely, all 32 states had at least one WMU above goal, thus all were also trying to reduce the herd in at least a portion of their state.

By comparing your state agency's estimate for the current deer herd to the established goal for the WMU you live or hunt in, you can gain a better understanding of the agency's deer seasons, bag limits and target antlerless harvest.