By Mark Kenyon

The Quality Deer Management Association has just released their annual Whitetail Report and this 2016 edition is headlined by a pretty huge announcement. For the first time in recorded deer management history, more mature bucks (3.5 years old+) were killed than 1.5 year olds!

Specifically, 34% of the reported buck harvest was 3.5 years or older, compared to 33% being 1.5 years old. This data is from the 2014/15 season, which is the latest available, so I’d imagine these numbers might be even more dramatic for the 2015/16 season that we just wrapped up. Pretty crazy, right?

That said, these numbers are looking at buck harvest nationally, so the age-structure of the buck harvest in your state might be different. But even in my home state, where yearling bucks are still the most commonly killed age group, positive change is happening. In fact in 2008, when I first launched Wired To Hunt, 61% of the bucks killed in Michigan were 1.5 years old. Now that number has dropped nearly 20 points to only 43% of the kill. That my friends, is good news.

If you’re interested in seeing what the situation is in your own state, be sure to download a copy of the 2016 Whitetail Report.

And for more on this exciting news, check out the QDMA’s press release, copied in full below.

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ATHENS, GA (January 13, 2015) – U.S. whitetail hunters are taking more mature bucks than 1½-year-old or “yearling” bucks for the first time in modern history, according to data compiled by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) for its 2016 Whitetail Report, now available online.

In the 2014-15 hunting season, the most recent season with complete deer harvest data available from every whitetail state, the percentage of yearling bucks in the national buck harvest dropped to a new record low of 33 percent, falling below the harvest rate for 3½-year-old and older bucks – 34 percent – for the first time since whitetail populations were restored in the mid-1900s.

“Since QDMA was founded in 1988, we’ve watched the harvest pressure on yearling bucks decline steadily from the extremes seen after restoration, and this resulted in climbing rates of mature-buck harvest as more older bucks became available,” said Kip Adams, QDMA’s Director of Education & Outreach, who compiles the annual Whitetail Report. “However, the 2014-15 season will be remembered as the first where the two trends intersected and hunters took more mature bucks than yearlings.”

Of the 26 whitetail states that collect age data on older bucks, the top state in harvest of mature bucks for the 2014-15 season was Mississippi, where 74 percent of bucks killed were 3½ years old or older. Rounding out the Top-5 were Arkansas and Louisiana at 67 percent, Texas at 62 percent, and Oklahoma at 60 percent. Not surprisingly, these same states achieved some of the lowest rates of yearling-buck harvest in the nation. In fact, for the third year in a row, Arkansas claimed the lowest rate at only 8 percent.

“The ongoing decline in harvest pressure on yearling bucks means that more and more hunters are enjoying an opportunity to see and kill mature bucks,” said Adams. “They’re also enjoying other benefits of hunting deer populations with healthy numbers of older bucks, like intensified rut activity, more rubs and scrapes, and better success with rattling and grunt calls. This is good for hunter retention and participation, which is good for ensuring the future of deer hunting.”

While the age divisions of the buck harvest are tilting more favorably toward older bucks, overall buck harvest numbers were down again in the 2014-15 hunting season. Nationally, the total estimated buck harvest declined 4 percent for the second year in a row, from an estimated 2.73 million in 2013 to 2.61 million in 2014. Seven of 13 states in the Midwest, eight of 11 states in the Southeast, and all 13 states in the Northeast shot fewer bucks in 2014 than 2013.

Complete state-by-state estimates of total buck harvest, buck age structure, and other harvest parameters are available in the full Whitetail Report, which also includes a look at numerous other critical issues for whitetails and deer hunters. Download a free PDF of the 2016 Whitetail Report, or purchase a printed copy for $10.