Deer Forecast 2009

Fall is in the air, and deer hunters already are anxious about the upcoming whitetail seasons, especially in the Midwest where bucks are big, abundant and hunting for them is an important way of life. Here's Part 1 of our 4 part deer-season forecast--the rundown on how Midwestern states look for whitetails, with current data provided by deer biologists with the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA.com). Illinois is home to over a quarter million hunters, 800,000 deer, and the honor of registering more Boone & Crockett bucks than any other state. The "Golden Triangle" of west-central Illinois is famous for big deer, and your chances of tagging a B&C buck are likely better today than a decade ago. Central Illinois stands proud as well and boasts some of the largest bucks in the state. Archery hunters enjoy one of the highest success rates in the country (41%), and the state's short firearms (7 days) and muzzleloader (3 days) seasons ensure a constant supply of quality bucks. Contact: www.dnr.state.il.us.
Indiana is perhaps the biggest "sleeper state" for giant whitetails in the Midwest. Not many out-of-state hunters talk about Indiana, but since it's surrounded by the well-known giant buck states of Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. But the fact that Indiana gives up some big boys is no surprise. About 150,000 firearms hunters collect over 100,000 deer annually in Indiana, so the success rate is good, too. The "corn belt" of the state has the biggest bucks, and timbered tracks in this region are prime. Most are private, but Indiana has a healthy public hunting area system. Some farmers also seek hunters to thin booming deer herds. The state DNR has a program in place to bring together hunters and landowners seeking them (www.IN.gov/dnr/fishwild). Excellent hunting can be found throughout much of the state, including urban areas and parks, where hunts are authorized to control a burgeoning deer herd. Hardwood river bottom regions of the state also are choice. Indiana deer harvest has increased almost annually for a decade, and the outlook again is for a banner season in the Hoosier State. Special hunts for muzzleloaders, handgunners, archers and crossbow shooters are available. Contact: www.state.in.us/dnr.
Iowa has nearly a half million deer and more than its share of record-book bucks. In 2008, hunters took 142,194 deer and archers tagged a quarter of them. Excellent habitat, a firearms season after the rut, and limited non-resident licenses have helped establish Iowa as a premiere deer state and it maintains that status entering the 2009 season. Contact: www.iowadnr.gov.
Kansas has a deer herd approaching 300,000, with about 80,000 gun hunters collecting a similar number of whitetails, for one of the highest rates of success in the country. The farm-fed bucks are big, too, as most hunters have learned over the last decade. Limited numbers of deer licenses are issued to non-residents, but there still are left-over either-sex deer tags available for nine units of the state, according to the state wildlife department's website. Contact: www.kdwp.state.ks.us.
Kentucky is becoming a big buck Mecca. From 1996 to 2005, more Boone & Crockett bucks were recorded from Kentucky than from Kansas, Missouri and Ohio combined! Over half the state's antlered buck harvest is 2.5+ year-olds, and many of those bucks are reaching maturity. Western Kentucky is your best bet for record-book bucks. But great whitetail hunting can be found across the Bluegrass state. Kentucky was hit hard by hemorrhagic disease in 2007. But it's been quiet on the disease front since, and 2009 should be a great deer season. Contact: www.kdfwr.state.ky.us.
Michigan is home to 1.75 million deer and over 700,000 resident hunters. With the exception of Hawaii, residents enjoy the least expensive hunting license in the nation at $15. Michigan hunters rank near the top in antlered buck harvest (248,350 in 2008), but unfortunately over 60% of them were yearlings with their first set of antlers. In an attempt to correct this, Michigan DNR implemented a "Hunter's Choice" license for the Upper Peninsula in 2008. This license gives hunters the option of a one or two-buck bag limit. Hunters selecting the one-buck option are allowed to shoot an antlered buck of any age. Hunters selecting the two-buck option must take bucks that meet minimum antler point requirements. This is designed to protect yearling bucks and improve the deer herd's buck age structure. The Southern Lower Peninsula contains the highest densities of deer and some of the state's best bucks. Contact: www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Minnesota contains over a million deer, and as wide a variety of deer habitat as you'll find in any state. From the open agricultural areas of the southwest corner, to the bluffs and draws of the southeast, to the prairie of the west-central portion, to the expansive forest of the north and east, Minnesota hunters have the opportunity to hunt in a range of habitats. Historically, Minnesota ranked among the top states for trophy bucks. Today, well over half of the state's antlered harvest is comprised of 1.5-year-old bucks. To improve this age structure, the DNR is considering implementing antler point restrictions in select areas. DNR research shows such restrictions would protect yearlings, and hunter support is mounting for the change. For 2009, the best area for large bucks is the southeast corner of the state. Contact: www.dnr.state.mn.us.
Missouri is blessed to have two major rivers (Missouri and Mississippi) that provide fertile habitat for deer. The Show-Me state has over 1 million deer and over 2 million acres of public land. The state has successfully improved the buck age structure in areas with their pilot antler point restrictions, and now nearly the entire northern half of the state has such restrictions. Branson may be the most popular destination for tourists, but the agriculturally-rich region north of the Ozarks is the most popular region for mature bucks. Contact: [www. mdc.mo.gov](http://www. mdc.mo.gov).
Nebraska has a deer population over 300,000. Whitetails are found nearly statewide, but mule deer are the most common west of a line between Valentine and Lexington. Whitetails thrive in intensely farmed areas of eastern Nebraska, where deer hunting is best. Whitetail range has expanded westward into areas formerly only inhabited by mule deer, and whitetails continue to become more abundant than less wary mule deer. About 80,000 gun hunters annually collect roughly 50,000 deer, beginning in mid-November for firearms hunting. Contact: www.ngpc.state.ne.us.
North Dakota borders Canada, so weather is an important key to successful whitetail hunting. Cold, clear, calm conditions are important for success. Farmland fringe country, particularly river bottom areas can yield the most and biggest whitetails. Under 100,000 firearms deer hunters prowl this big state, so pressure is minimal for land available. The larger river bottom regions are choice, especially where there is agriculture such as corn. The state bow deer season is already underway, running into January. The firearms season is Nov. 6-22, and begins at noon. Contact: www.gf.nd.gov.
Oklahoma's estimated pre-season whitetail population in 2008 was 500,000. The annual harvest in 2008 was 95,891 deer (58,059 bucks and 37,832 does). The 2009 season is expected to be similarly good, including buck-doe ratios. There are no antler restrictions in Oklahoma, although voluntary participation in quality deer management (QDM) on private lands is increasing. Public hunting lands comprise only 2% of the state. Dog hunting for deer is not allowed. Contact: www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Ohio's progressive management program has created a well-balanced deer herd. For the past two seasons a new, reduced-cost antlerless permit has increased the antlerless harvest, shifted it earlier in the season, and saved hunters some of their hard-earned money. This has resulted in a healthy deer herd with balanced adult sex ratios, an increased number of mature bucks, and fantastic hunting opportunities. These items solidified the Ohio DNR as recipient of the Quality Deer Management Association's 2009 Agency of the Year Award. Southern Ohio is your best bet for a wall-hanger. Contact: [www. ohiodnr.com](http://www. ohiodnr.com).
South Dakota has a population of whitetails well over 200,000, as well as a good number of mule deer in the western part of the state. Better than half the number of gun hunters (around 100,000) collect deer, and nearly one third of all bowmen score, too. The best deer counties for 2009 will include: Brown, Pennington, Lawrence, Yankton and Minnehaha. Good public hunting can be found on abundant and large federal and state properties. Contact: www.sdgfp.info.
Wisconsin produces more record-book bucks than any other state. In fact, Wisconsin recorded 4,976 entries from 1996 to 2005. Buffalo County led the nation with 520 entries (37 states had less than 520 entries). Wisconsin is still suffering from the effects of chronic wasting disease, high-density deer herds, and hunter issues with the DNR. However, the DNR is engaging the public to help curb the state's overabundant deer densities, and 2009 will surely produce more monster bucks for Badger state hunters. Contact: www.dnr.state.wi.us.

It's time to go deer hunting and in part 1 of our 2009 forecast, we take a look at America's Heartland.