The Biggest Buck Harvest in 21 Years

January 26, 2022 By: NDA Staff

Deer hunters in the United States harvested an estimated 6.3 million white-tailed deer in the 2020-21 hunting season, the most since 2011, according to the National Deer Association’s latest Deer Report released this week. Harvests of both antlered bucks and antlerless deer were up over the 2019 season, but the estimated buck harvest of 3,041,544 was the most in 21 years.

“2020 saw the highest buck harvest in the new century, and amazingly we estimate that we set another new record for the percentage of those bucks that were 3½ years old or older,” said Kip Adams, NDA’s Chief Conservation Officer. “U.S. hunters are taking fewer yearling bucks and killing more of them as mature deer, but this doesn’t mean fewer bucks harvested overall. We’re killing older bucks and more bucks than ever in America.”

The 2020 season likely saw the greatest number of mature bucks killed by American hunters in modern history.

The steadily climbing percentage of 3½-and-older bucks in the harvest is the result of declining pressure nationwide on yearling bucks (1½ years old). Only 26% of the 2020 antlered buck harvest was yearlings, another new record low in modern history. The total buck harvest of 3,041,544 was up 5.3% from the previous season. It is estimated 41% of them were 3½ or older, or 1.2 million. While hunters killed slightly more bucks in total in the record 1999 season, the national harvest at that time was more than 50% yearlings, therefore the 2020 season likely saw the greatest number of mature bucks killed by American hunters in modern history.

The new Deer Report covers data for the 2020-21 hunting season, the most recent season with complete harvest data available from all major deer states. NDA’s new Deer Report is available now for free download.

Nationally, the antlerless harvest (which includes does and buck fawns) jumped 12% from the previous season to 3,207,937, reversing a three-year decline and putting the number back above 3 million for the first time since 2013. The antlerless harvest estimate also climbed above the antlered buck harvest for the first time since 2016. The modern antlerless harvest first surpassed the buck harvest in the 1999 season and remained there until it dipped slightly below the buck harvest in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

“We know 2020 hunting license sales increased by about 5% over 2019, and those license buyers took home half a million more whitetails than the previous season, or an increase of almost 9%,” said Adams. “They helped increase the antlerless harvest back above the buck harvest where it needs to be, but they also saw more mature bucks in the woods than ever before. Hunters are clearly reaping the benefits of more naturally balanced age structures in herds across the whitetail’s range.”

Among other facts to be found in the new Deer Report:

  • 65% of deer taken in the 2020-21 season were killed with a firearm compared to 26% with archery equipment and 9% with a muzzleloader.
  • Texas had the highest total buck harvest of any state at 449,933, but Alabama had the greatest increase in buck harvest from the previous season of any state, climbing by more than 27,000. 
  • Delaware increased its buck harvest by the greatest percentage of any state with 57%, and Delaware also took over the top spot in buck harvest per square mile, at 3.9.
  • Mississippi killed the most bucks per 100 hunters at 74.

Complete state-by-state estimates of total buck harvest, buck age structure, and many other harvest parameters are available in the full Deer Report, which also includes a look at numerous other critical issues for deer hunting. 

Click here to download NDA’s 2022 Deer Report free.

How do state wildlife agencies estimate deer harvest?