We bet you will be surprised by some of these numbers! Deer & Deer Hunting has meticulously documented each state’s deer population and annual deer harvest every year since 1992. This wasn’t an easy job. It required weeks of phone calls and email phone tag with biologists from each of the 42 states with reportable annual whitetail harvests, but we managed to do it with very good accuracy.
This one is clearcut and not even close. Texas has the most deer of any state in America. With an estimated whitetail population that exceeds 3 million wild deer, Texas is bigger than anyone else. However, this number comes with a little bit of prefacing. If you include the captive deer industry, the state has more than 5 million deer.
Here at Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, we have meticulously documented each state’s deer population and annual deer harvest every year since 1992. Back then, many states had precise procedures in place to monitor harvest numbers (mandatory registration) and population estimates (most commonly with the SAK model). Texas did neither.
In 2009, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department changed its formula for estimating the white-tailed deer harvest. The new harvest estimates still rely upon a mail survey, but TPWD increased the non-responding bias correction factor. This factor adjusts the harvest total assuming that hunters who did not kill a deer are less likely to respond to the survey, thus respondents may have a higher success rate than the actual hunting population. TPWD recalculated all harvests dating back to 2000 using the old survey data and the new formula, and the estimated harvest increased by more than 100,000 deer per year.
Still, Texas should be considered the leader when it comes to both population and harvest. It really isn’t close when you compare to the other states.
Which States Have More Than 1 Million Deer?
After Texas, it becomes a bit more cloudy when stating a claim as to which state has the most deer in America. This wasn’t always the case. Up until perhaps a decade ago, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were clearly the powerhouses when it came to producing whitetails and harvesting them. It’s still the case for all three states, but today in 2023, one could argue for a handful of other states to join those three in the top ranks.
Due to the politicized nature of many game departments, I don’t trust state’s population estimates like I used to, therefore, I would place the following eight states in a pool of contenders if we were to assemble a Top 10 list of states with the most deer (in this order): Michigan (1.7 million), Alabama (1.7 million), Mississippi (1.7 million), Missouri (1.4 million), Wisconsin (1.3 million), Pennsylvania (1.3 million), North Carolina (1.3 million) and five states with 1 million: Minnesota, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and New York (technically 900K, but we’ll include them here).
Also-rans would include states like South Carolina (750K), Tennessee (700K) and Oklahoma (650K).
Which States Are Overrated for Deer?
Before you fire off a nasty comment on social media, read this more closely. I would term the following four states as the most overrated for deer hunting based purely off the relatively small size of their whitetail populations. Drum roll, please …
The most overrated states for deer populations are (in order): Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Illinois.
Why is that, you ask?
Iowa is the most overrated deer hunting state based purely on population. Despite being the mecca for trophy hunting, Iowa is home to only 290,000 whitetails. Not a typo, and, yes, Texas has 10 times as many deer. The state is home to 217,000 gun-hunters and 78,000 bowhunters who combine to take home about 100K deer every year.
Kansas is another prime example. Awesome state with some truly awesome deer. Big-buck country. Kansas is time and again the place where you see famous TV hunters slaying big buck after big buck, right? Well, The state only has 650,000 deer to begin with. It’s a huge state with a very small hunting population — only 200,000 gun-hunters and 100,000 bowhunters (yes, some do both).
Don’t get me wrong, it is a tremendous state to hunt if you’re lucky enough to do so. But it simply doesn’t produce that many deer overall, and it can’t be used as a template for what other states should do; that is a complete apples-and-oranges scenario. The states with large deer populations have three and, in some cases, almost four times as many hunters.
Another example … Wyoming. You hear a lot about the Cowboy State, but did you know it has fewer than 60,000 whitetails and only 20,000-ish hunters?
It’s all about perspective.
Here’s a video I did on this subject a few years ago. Yes, I need to update the numbers, but it helps explain all of this a little bit more. (excuse our typo in the number chart).