10 Big Trends in the U.S. Deer Harvest
September 1, 2019 | View PDF
White-tailed deer are the most important game species in North America. More hunters pursue whitetails than any other species, and whitetail hunters contribute more financially than any other hunter segment. Collectively speaking, whitetails are the foundation of the entire hunting industry. That’s why each year QDMA gathers data from state and provincial wildlife agencies, the nation’s leading deer researchers, and other sources to provide the only “State of the Whitetail” available: our Whitetail Report.
So, how are whitetails and deer hunters doing? There are some very positive trends occurring, and you can get the complete picture in our 2019 Whitetail Report available now for download free at QDMA.com. Some of these trends we have talked about before. For example:
The average percentage of 3½-year-old and older bucks in the buck harvest was 34 percent. This was near the highest national average ever reported and shows hunters now shoot more bucks that are at least 3½ years old than 2½ years old. Since 2001, the buck harvest age structure has changed dramatically. In 2001, for every 3½-year-old or older buck, hunters shot two to three yearling bucks. Today, the numbers are virtually identical (35 percent yearlings vs. 34 percent 3½-plus). Hunters are clearly reaping the benefits of more naturally balanced age structures in herds across the whitetail’s range.
Hunters from the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast (three regions that are home to approximately 97 percent of the whitetails and 97 percent of hunters in the United States) shot nearly 2.9 million antlered bucks and over 2.8 million antlerless deer in 2017-18. The buck harvest was 6 percent above the five-year average, while the antlerless harvest was 9 percent below the five-year average and has dropped 18 percent since 2008. This was the first season since 1998 that U.S. hunters killed more antlered bucks than antlerless deer.
But let’s dig a little deeper into the latest Whitetail Report and look at what I feel are 10 of the largest current national issues and trends.
Bowhunting is on the Rise
Firearms (rifle/shotgun) hunters accounted for 66 percent of the total deer harvest. Archers took 23 percent of the total harvest, and this statistic has grown from 15 percent in 2000.
Freezers are Being Filled Early
More than a quarter (26 percent) of the total deer harvest was in the freezer before opening day of the primary firearms season. As a region, the Northeast shot the most pre-firearms (32 percent), and New Jersey led the nation with 52 percent.
Tracking Dog Legality
Use of tracking dogs to retrieve wounded big game animals is now allowed in at least 35 states. Their use ranges from about half of the states in the West to all states in the Southeast. Twenty-five of the 35 states require dogs to be on a leash in at least some situations. See the map below for more information. Editor’s Note: North Dakota and Wyoming recently passed legislation legalizing the use of tracking dogs on leashes, with the change effective before the 2019-20 hunting season.