By Mark Kenyon
If you eat, sleep and breathe whitetails – where should you live?
That’s the question I began to ponder this weekend, and as I did that, I came to realize that there is no easy answer. Whitetails abound across almost the entire country, and depending on one’s taste in region, cultures and goals – the top spots to live and hunt whitetails might differ widely. None-the-less, I decided to take a stab at this conundrum and this list is the result.
If you have more archery targets in your backyard than lawn ornaments, if you use all your vacation time on your rut vacation, if you have more pictures of big deer on your phone than of your significant other – these towns and cities are for you.
Now as to the criteria used to come up with this list, it’s varied, largely subjective and most definitely not scientific. Still, there was some serious thought put in. Proximity to excellent deer hunting, with a premium put on mature or “trophy” bucks, was of course of great importance. But many other factors played in as well. These days most Americans want to live in a city with plenty of conveniences, cultural events and eating options, so we’ve highlighted a number of larger cities with those perks that are also mega-whitetail hubs. If big-city living isn’t for you though, just explore the surrounding communities for a lower-key area. We also looked for a few options outside of the traditional midwest whitetail mecca which, while maybe not as famed as their corn-belt counterparts, certainly can still produce great whitetails and deer hunting lifestyles.
Of course, there are plenty of other great options that could be deserving of recognition on this list too, so if you’ve got one in mind, please share your case for that town/city in the comments section below.
That said, without further adieu, our top 10 best deer hunting towns! (in no particular order)
Quincy, Illinois: If you’re looking for big buck royalty, you can’t go wrong with Quincy, Illinois. Quincy is located in the heart of some of the most famous deer hunting ground in the country, as Illinois’ famed Golden Triangle of Pike, Adams, Brown and Schuyler counties are all within striking distance. Renowned whitetail outfitters such as Hadley Creek and Heartland Lodge and many others are also in the area, so when November rolls around, you’re sure to be surrounded by like-minded whitetail addicts. Quincy’s location on the Mississippi is an added draw as well, as plenty of recreational activities outside of deer hunting are available here too. And if you want some out-of-state options, just across the river is some of the best deer hunting in Missouri and in about an hour you can be hunting Iowa too.
Alma, Wisconsin: Continuing on with legendary whitetail locations, Alma of Buffalo County Wisconsin, is another gorgeous and prime area for giant whitetail bucks and if you like small town living, this may be just the spot for you. Being near the Mississippi River, soaring bluffs and rolling hills all make Buffalo County one of the greatest growers of big deer in the country. And on top of that, with a high concentration of management for mature deer in the area, you’re likely to have neighbors with similar deer hunting objectives. Your one challenge, as it is in the Golden Triangle of Illinois, is competing with outfitters for hunting access. Many properties are leased up or already owned by serious deer hunters, but if you can finagle a hunting spot or two, you’re sure to be in for some dream-season worthy hunts.
Columbus, Ohio: Ohio is without a doubt one of the best whitetail states in the country and Columbus is the epicenter of this great state’s whitetail hot-spots. Head just east out of town and you’re hunting the famed counties of Coshocton, Muskingum and Licking. If public land is more your style, head south and you can be in the far-reaching Wayne National Forest. Head southwest towards Cincinnati and you’re again in some of the hottest big buck regions of the state like Pike, Scioto and Ross counties. Any way you head – you’re in big buck country. And on those weekend nights, after bagging your big buck, there are plenty of great bars in Columbus to celebrate in.
Kansas City, Missouri: If you want big-city nightlife, pro sports AND awesome deer hunting in all directions – Kansas City might be the town for you. Located near the four corners of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa – you could hypothetically hunt four of the best midwestern deer states every year with Kansas City as your home-base. I know quite a few serious deer hunters in this area, and they seem genuinely stoked to call KC home.
Louisville, Kentucky: Here’s another well located whitetail hub for those a little farther east. On the border of Kentucky and Indiana, if you call Louisville home you can hunt two of the top Boone & Crockett producing states over the past decade. On top of that, Indiana and neighboring Ohio are two of the best deals going for out-of-state licenses – so when you fill your single Kentucky buck tag, you’ll have affordable options nearby to continue the hunt. If that’s not enough, southern Indiana and western Kentucky are traditionally the best areas of each state for big bucks – so quite simply, you’re within striking distance of the best of the best areas here. Oh and by the way, Louisville has great nightlife (I know from first-hand experience), restaurants and all the amenities you could possibly need.
Des Moines, Iowa: No list of great deer locations can be complete without a mention of Iowa, and Des Moines is our pick for this great state, most notably because of its central location and great “lifestyle” options. You can throw a dart in almost any direction from Des Moines and be in world class deer hunting, so you can’t go wrong there. And since Des Moines is the largest city in Iowa, you also get the added culture benefits – if that’s your thing. On the other hand, if you’re like me and don’t care for bigger cities, head south towards the likes of Osceola, Ottumwa or Albia for legendary deer hunting and few people.
Dallas, Texas: Texas deer hunting isn’t for everyone, but there’s no doubt it’s a top location for whitetail deer, with a huge population of whitetails and an equally large number of deer hunters. Iconic locations such as the King Ranch are farther south in the state, but Dallas is our pick as it offers plenty of nearby Texas hunting opportunities, while also being within striking distance of the quickly rising big-buck state of Oklahoma.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Our farthest east pick for deer hunting cities is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And we chose Pitt for a few reasons. First off, as eastern states go Pennsylvania has one of the strongest deer hunting traditions around. On top of that, over the past decade or so, the age structure of PA bucks has improved dramatically (as a result of antler point restrictions) and along with that, the hunting opportunities for big mature bucks. Western PA, in the general region of Pittsburgh, has seen some of the better big buck hunting in the state as well. I’ve hunted south of this area in the past and on top of pretty good deer hunting, it’s also beautiful country with rolling hills and beautiful views. Pittsburgh is also within easy driving distance to Ohio, where there are plenty of big buck opportunities for the traveling hunter.
Jackson, Mississippi: Mississippi’s largest city, Jackson, is located in one of the better areas of the south for big whitetails – so if you’re looking to stay below the Mason-Dixon line, this might be the spot for you. You might not realize this if you live in the north, but Mississippi is producing mature bucks at an incredible rate. According to the 2015 Whitetail Report, 72% of the bucks harvested in MS in 2012 (most recent data available) were 3.5 years or older. 72%! That’s impressive. And if you look at Pope & Young bucks killed per hunter, Mississippi puts more in the books than Minnesota and Missouri! There are also increasingly strong out-of-state options nearby, as Arkansas and Alabama continue pumping out impressive deer too.
Glasgow, Montana: And finally, if you crave wide open spaces and a big sky – Montana might just be your western whitetail destination of choice. Glasgow, located along the renowned Milk River, puts you in one of the best western whitetail areas around. Milk River hunting is famous for huge quantities of quality deer, so expect to see plenty of Pope & Young caliber bucks, but maybe not as many of the “giants” you might find in the midwest. Still, with loads of quality deer, beautiful scenery, and close proximity to the hunting/fishing mecca of the Rocky Mountains, Glasgow is a hard place to beat. If you want to be closer to the mountains, there are strong whitetail populations near Bozeman and in the Swan Valley as well.