Deer Forecast DEER POPULATIONS ARE UP ACROSS THE REGION AND BIG BUCKS ROAM EVERY STATE. THIS IS SHAPING UP TO BE A GREAT SEASON

A big buck for the trophy wall and a doe for the freezer? Midwestern deer hunters have a very good chance of bagging both in 2003. With deer numbers still very high, game agencies continue to promote increased harvests of antlerless deer through extra tags and extended seasons. With the antlerless approach five or six years old, a number of older bucks are now coming up through the ranks. So get that doe tag--but keep an eye out for a monster.

ILLINOIS: While gun hunters took 102,000 whitetails in 2002, archers bagged 51,600, setting a state record. DNR deer biologist Paul Shelton attributes the in-state popularity of bowhunting to a long and liberal season and a two-deer-per-archer limit in many areas. The largest harvests occur from the Shawnee National Forest area in southern Illinois in an arc through western and west-central counties. Contact: Department of Natural Resources (217-782-6302; www.dnr.state.il.us).

INDIANA: "Stable" pretty well describes Indiana deer hunting and the current population. Hunters killed 104,000 deer in 2002. Indiana DNR deer biologist Jim Mitchell notes that northeastern and southeastern counties see the highest harvests. Public land is hit pretty hard during the gun season, especially those properties within driving distance of major cities, and while public lands are producing healthy bucks, Mitchell notes that they tend to be average deer. Contact: Division of Fish and Wildlife (317-232-4080; www.state.in.us/dnr).

IOWA: The Hawkeye State's a good bet for both venison and antlers this fall. "We'd like to increase our doe harvest by ten percent this year," says biologist Willie Suchy. Iowa is offering 53,000 doe tags, more than double the number issued in 2002. Historically Allamakee, Clayton and Warren counties are the top trophy producers. Larger blocks of public land hold big bucks, too, including Yellow River and Shimek state forests, plus Saylorville and Red Rock reservoirs. Contact: Fish and Wildlife Division (515-281-5918; www.state.ia.us/government/dnr/fwdiv.htm).

KANSAS: The new Kansas City-Topeka Suburban Corridor deer management unit will feature "longer hunting seasons and increased game tag availability," says Department of Wildlife and Parks big-game biologist Lloyd Fox. The changes include new January archery and October gun seasons. Meanwhile, Kansas deer numbers are very high, partly because the 2002 harvest of 90,000 deer was 10,000 below the 2001 take. For bigger bucks, try units 14 and 16, says Fox. Contact: Department of Wildlife and Parks (913-831-3058; www.kdwp.state.ks.us).

MICHIGAN: At 1.8 million animals, Michigan's deer herd is one of the largest in the nation. According to Rodney Clute, DNR big game specialist, "Last year was the first time on record that more deer were killed in southern Michigan than were killed in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula combined." The U.P. tends to produce more trophy bucks than the other two areas, especially far-western and less-pressured counties such as Baraga, Iron and Ontonagon. Just over half of all U.P. bucks taken are 18 months old or younger. In the south, the number is 65 percent. The Southern counties of Calhoun, Branch and Jackson produce big bucks, too. Contact: Department of Natural Resources (517-373-6705; www.michigan.gov/dnr).

MINNESOTA: Last year's harvest of 222,350 deer was the third-highest in Minnesota history, and with a population of 1.1 million deer it could be as high again this year. Lou Cornicelli, DNR big-game coordinator, says the harvests remain best along the "transition zone," a wide, diagonal strip of broadleaf forest (with abundant crop lands scattered throughout) stretching southeast to northwest that divides the western prairies from the north's pine forests. This zone also produces the biggest bucks, especially in the southeastern counties of Houston and Winona. St. Louis and Washington counties to the north also contribute their share. Contact: Department of Natural Resources (651-296-6157; www.dnr.state.mn.us).

MISSOURI: In an effort to trim Missouri's one-million-strong deer herd, antlerless permits are available for only $7 apiece to both residents and nonresidents this fall. The Department of Conservation's Lonnie Hansen says bowhunters in 50 of the state's 59 DMUs can also take unlimited antlerless deer, as can gun hunters in 39 DMUs, to help the 2003 harvest keep pace with the 280,000 deer taken last year. Missouri's public lands receive too much hunting pressure to produce big trophy bucks with any regularity, Hansen notes. Contact: Department of Natural Resources (800-361-4827; www.dnr.state.mo.us).

NEBRASKA: In last year's harvest, more than half of Nebraska's whitetail and muley bucks were at least 2 years old, continuing a trend toward older bucks, says Kit Hams, Game and Parks Commission big-game biologist. Deer Management Units with the highest percentage of older bucks include Keya Paha, Pine Ridge, Plains and Sandhills. Whitetail densities are highest in eastern Nebraska, especially near river drainages. Frenchman, Pine Ridge, Plains, Platte and Sandhills DMUs hold the most muleys. Contact: Department of Natural Resources (402-471-2363; www.nrc.state.ne.us).

NORTH DAKOTA: The 81,500 deer taken last year in North Dakota translated into a hunting success rate of 76 percent, says Roger Johnson, big-game biologist for the Game and Fish Department. For 2003, over 123,000 tags will be available, up from 116,000 in 2002. The increase will consist entirely of antlerless tags. The large, forested tracts in Hunting Unit 1 (along the Canadian border) produce many of the biggest whitetails, with overall numbers up in the Red River Valley's hunting units 2C and 2B. Contact: Game and Fish Department (701-328-6300; www.state.nd.us/gnf).

OHIO: Everything's in place for another strong harvest in 2003, following the state record harvest of 204,000 deer last year, although the southeastern three-deer bag was dropped to two. The mix of forests and agriculture in the east-central region (Coshocton, Knox, Licking and Muskingum counties) provides the necessary cover and food for mature bucks. Western Ohio produces big-bodied deer. Contact: Department of Natural Resources (614-265-6300; www.dnr.state.oh.us).

OKLAHOMA: Oklahoma has added one week to the gun season, resulting in 16 consecutive days of hunting. Deer biologist Mike Shaw says the largest harvests occur in the northeast. The east-central counties of Osage and Pittsburg yield the most trophy bucks, though western counties like Blaine, Comanche and Washita produce quality bucks, too. Contact: Department of Wildlife Conservation (405-521-4650; www.wildlifedepartment.com).

SOUTH DAKOTA: "We need each of our hunters to take three or four or five deer apiece," says big-game coordinator Ron Fowler. That means additional seasons, season extensions and more tags for 2003--62,000 for whitetails and muleys combined. The Black Hills units should produce big bucks of both species following years of limited buck tags. Large whitetails also inhabit the southeastern corner and along Missouri River drainages. Contact: Department of Game, Fish and Parks (605-773-3485; www.state.sd.us/gfp).

WISCONSIN: Wisconsin's 2002 harvest of 372,000 deer was a 16 percent drop from 2001. Hunters in the Intensive Harvest Zone, the area in southwestern Wisconsin where chronic wasting disease is most prevalent, must take an antlerless deer before a buck to reduce deer numbers there. In other areas, almost half of the DMUs are designated Zone-T this year, allowing an extra doe tag for a special four-day hunt in October. Buffalo and Dane counties continue to produce impressive numbers of trophy deer. Public lands in the Northwoods grow big deer, too. Contact: Department of Natural Resources (608-266-2621; www.dnr.state.wi.us).

For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional

TOP HUNTS

A peninsula jutting into a Wisconsin River impoundment, the 4,500-acre Buckhorn State Park (608-565-2789), is generally overlooked by Wisconsin hunters, though it produces many quality bucks. Park Manager Joe Stecker-Kochanski says last year's hunting pressure maxed out during the September bowhunting opener when he counted 40 cars, "and some of those were probably campers." Gun hunting is allowed only in Wildlife Area B, 1,650 acres in the northeastern section of Buckhorn. This year a December archery season has been added. Little hunting pressure, thanks in part to the peninsula's relative seclusion, has hunters bagging many 8- to 10-point bucks. Stecker-Kochanski reports even larger deer on the prowl.

Buckhorn also boasts easy access.

For big-bodied deer, western Ohio is tough to beat. It gives up 300-pound bucks nearly every year. Ohio DNR deer biologist Mike Reynolds says the best public land for big boys is Lake La Su An Wildlife Area (419-424-5000) in Williams County, and the controlled deer hunt at Killdeer Plains WA (740-496-2254) in Wyandot County. While an average buck weighs in at 210 pounds live weight, Reynolds says, "If a deer here gets to four and a half or five and a half years old, it's flirting with three hundred."--B.M.