Top-10 States for Deer Hunter Success and Multiple Deer Tagged

March 20, 2024 By: Kip Adams

Deer harvest is regulated by hunter numbers, bag limits, season lengths and timing, and other factors. Like deer density, these factors are not uniform across the United States. However, multiple deer bag limits and abundant season lengths are the norm today. Many hunters and especially non-hunters perceive this as assuring an overharvest of deer, but is this true? How many deer hunters tag multiple deer in a season? How many tag even one?

We asked state wildlife agencies those same questions and included the results in our latest Deer Report. You can download the full report here on our website, but let’s take a closer look here and examine some of the top states in deer-hunter success rates and multiple deer tagged. 

Americans Hunt Deer Above All 

For some context first, let’s look at the popularity of deer hunting in America. Deer are among the most widespread wildlife species, and whitetails are the most sought-after game animal. Nearly 8 of every 10 hunters primarily hunts deer. There are about 10 million deer hunters in the United States compared to about 3 million who say they primarily hunt wild turkeys, 1.4 million who hunt ducks, and less than 1 million who hunt elk. 

Turkeys, ducks and elk are super fun to chase, but their combined number of hunters barely equals half of the deer hunter numbers. That’s why deer drive the hunting industry. Deer hunters spend over $23 billion annually with a greater than $50 billion total multiplier effect on local and state economies.

Zero or One Deer Per Season

All hunters recognize deer density is not uniform across the whitetail’s range. Some areas have few deer while others have a lot. Fortunately, deer herds are strong across most of their range, and hunting is regulated through varying bag limits and season lengths. For example, a Georgia hunting license allows two bucks and 10 antlerless deer, and Georgia’s deer season is over 200 days long. Some people think liberal seasons and bag limits automatically equate to excessive deer harvest, but do they?

The truth is, we have maximized deer harvest in many areas, and neither longer season lengths nor higher bag limits will increase it. Only 41% of all hunters in America harvested at least one deer in the 2022-23 deer season. This ranged from 18% of hunters in New Hampshire to 71% in South Carolina.

Regionally, only 33% of Northeast and 35% of Western hunters shot a deer. This increased to 40% of Midwest hunters and 56% of Southeast deer hunters. The Southeast was home to four of the top-five most successful states, seen in the bar charts on this page. Rhode Island topped the Northeast (61%), Kansas the Midwest (59%), and Wyoming topped the West (42%). Nationally, only 11 states had hunter success rates over 50% – meaning more than half of the hunters killed at least one deer. Everywhere else, more than half did not kill a deer.

Multiple Deer Per Season

Only 16% of American hunters shot more than one deer in the 2022-23 hunting season. This ranged from 3% in Maine and New Hampshire to 45% in South Carolina. Regionally, only 11% of Northeast and 12% of Midwest hunters shot multiple deer. This stat jumped to 26% of Southeast hunters. 

Many western states have a one-deer bag limit so they were excluded from this analysis. The Southeast was home to the top-three most successful states for hunters bagging multiple deer, as seen in the bar chart. Virginia led the Northeast at 30% and Ohio led the Midwest at 27% of hunters shooting more than one deer.

These low success rates surprise many, but they’re not an anomaly, and unfortunately they’ve declined. In 2011, 48% of American deer hunters took at least one deer compared to 41% in 2022. This ranged from a 2% drop in the Midwest and Southeast to a 10% decline in the Northeast.

Why is Deer Hunting Success Declining?

Today we have robust whitetail herds across most of their range, we’re achieving historically high antlered buck harvests, and we have the most natural buck age structure for at least the past 100 years. In fact, 42% of today’s buck harvest is estimated to be at least 3½ years old while only 26% is 1½ years old. With a buck harvest around 3 million, we are literally taking more mature bucks – in actual numbers – than any time in modern hunting. So, why are hunter success rates declining?

NDA’s Brian Grossman with a Georgia public-land buck he tagged in 2022, one of two deer he tagged that season. Brian was among the 31% of Georgia hunters who tagged two or more deer that year.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen significantly reduced antlerless harvests over the past decade, and that corresponds with the reduction in hunter success rates. In most places this is not a result of a lack of opportunity. Most hunters are flush with antlerless tags and opportunity. 

During the 2022-23 season the average hunter spent 12 days afield pursuing deer, and I’m willing to bet the majority of unsuccessful hunters had at least one opportunity to shoot an antlerless deer. I’ve hunted in areas of low deer numbers, and I’ve hunted many days without seeing a single whitetail, so I know it’s not always easy. However, my point is a lot of hunters who don’t fill their tag pass deer each season they could have shot.

The Future

So, where does that leave us today? Even though multiple deer bag limits are the norm, the reality is less than half of hunters harvest a deer annually, and only a small percentage fill multiple tags. Given declining hunter numbers, growing deer herds, and expanding chronic wasting disease prevalence, we need more hunters, and we especially need each hunter to be harvesting more deer annually, not fewer.

I believe we can achieve this with strong antlerless harvest educational campaigns, enhanced venison donation programs, free/reduced antlerless deer tags, free/reduced ammunition, and other creative solutions. You can help this by being a hunter and NDA member, by mentoring at least one new hunter each year, and by filling an antlerless deer tag this fall.

About Kip Adams:

Kip Adams of Knoxville, Pennsylvania, is a certified wildlife biologist and NDA's Chief Conservation Officer. He has a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University and a master's in wildlife from the University of New Hampshire. He's also a certified taxidermist. Before joining NDA, Kip was the deer and bear biologist for the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. Kip and his wife Amy have a daughter, Katie, and a son, Bo.