whitetail deer grayer color in fall

BIG bucks! | The Best States In The U.S. For Whitetail Hunting

As hunters, we all dream of harvesting the trophy buck of our dreams, but harvesting a trophy whitetail for the record books is often similar to winning the lottery.

So, what states have the best whitetail hunting in the United States? Below, we’ll take a look at just that, and we will also explain how we came to rank the states where we did.

A look at the data

We have very few places where we can find trophy whitetail harvest data. Sure, we can get data on the numbers of whitetails harvested in a given year from the various states’ departments of natural resources, but this is all deer and not just trophy whitetails.

Looking at the Boone and Crockett record book is the best indicator of which states are best to target when hunting trophy bucks. (photography by Jeff Coldwell)

If we want to find the best states that produce the biggest numbers of trophy whitetails, then we have to look at the Boone and Crockett record book.

The Boone and Crockett Club has cataloged all world record whitetails harvested since 1932.

So, now that you know where we are getting the data to determine our selection of the best five states to bag a trophy class whitetail, let’s get started!

#5 – Ohio

ohio-counties-map

Ohio is fairly recent to the number five spot on the list and has now surpassed the number of records held by the state of Kentucky.

All of the top 10 typical records and 6 out of 10 top non-typical records for the state were harvested in the last 22 years of the 2000s, and when you consider that the records started nearly 100 years ago, that is a sharp increase in the number of giant bucks.

This sudden jump in record whitetails is due to the stellar management practices by the states’ conservation agencies in recent years.



#4 – Minnesota

minnesota-county-map

Minnesota has four counties that rank in the top twenty best counties for whitetails in the U.S., and St. Louis County is #2 in the entire nation. A grand total of 1,194 trophy whitetail entries have been recorded for the entire state of Minnesota.

Minnesota may not be top of mind when it comes to whitetail, but it ranks #4 according to Boone and Crockett statistics.

The other 3 counties listed in the top 20 counties in the U.S. are Otter Tail, Houston, and Winona counties.

Oddly enough, the top 5 record whitetail bucks in the state didn’t come from any of these four counties.

In 2012, with a typical buck scoring 193-⅛ being harvested in Winona county; this buck also ranks #15 in the state’s history.


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#3 – Iowa

iowa counties map

Iowa coming in at just #3 may surprise many hunters, especially those from Iowa, as the state has a legendary status regarding the number of big whitetails roaming the state’s woods.

But the Boone and Crocket Club record books don’t lie, and the numbers are what they are.

andrew urban iowa buck

Iowa is epic hunting grounds for those chasing large whitetail deer.

Iowa has 1,330 records in the books, and the state is home to three of the top twenty counties in the nation, with Allamakee, Warren, and Clayton Counties making the list.

Like with Minnesota, it’s interesting to note that the top five record bucks harvested in Iowa did not come from these three counties.

In 2016 a whitetail scoring 194-⅛ was entered in the record books. This Clarke County buck ranks #8 in the rankings for Iowa’s highest scoring whitetails and #70 on the all-time record list.



#2 – Illinois

illinois-county-map

Coming in with a total of 1,445 trophy whitetails in the books, Illinois comes in at #2 for record whitetails.

Four of the top twenty counties in the country call Illinois home, and these four are the legendary Pike, Fulton, Adams, and Jo-Davies Counties.

illinois luke brewster buck 2018

This non-typical giant, harvested by Luke Brewster, is an example of what is possible in the state of Illinois (photo credit: Boone and Crockett).

Keeping with the theme set by Minnesota and Iowa, the top five typical record bucks to come out of Illinois were not harvested in any of the top four counties.

Illinois has had more entries into the Boone and Crockett Club record books in the 21st century than any other state, with eight entries.

In 2018 an Illinois trophy buck of massive proportions was harvested that came in at #3 on the all-time record list. This monster non-typical buck scored 327-⅞.




And The #1 State To Hunt Whitetail is… Wisconsin

wisconsin-county-map

Wisconsin is the top state in the nation of trophy whitetail records, with a whopping 1,822 record bucks registered since the Boone and Crockett Club records began.

The state is home to six of the top 20 counties in the nation, with the trophy whitetail powerhouse of Buffalo County, Crawford, Trempealeau, Vernon, Richland, and Sauk Counties rounding out the six.

Buffalo County is such a good county for producing whitetails that if this single county stood alone against the rest of the states, it would still rank at #19.

giant whitetail buck with drop tine

Wisconsin ranks #1 when it comes to trophy whitetails, dominating the Boone and Crockett record books (photography by Jeff Coldwell).

Keeping with the weird traditions of other top-ranking states, none of the top five typical whitetails in the record books were shot in any of the top six counties.

The top five record bucks were harvested in five counties spread throughout the state. This shows that the entire state of Wisconsin hosts exceptional populations of trophy whitetails.

In 2018 a typical buck scoring in at 192-6/8 was harvested in Columbia County and took the spot as the fourth largest whitetail harvested in the state’s history and #96 on the top 100 trophy whitetails list.


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Honorable Mention – Texas

ohio-counties-map

While the state of Texas is ranked as #11 overall, it is our pick to be an honorable mention for one simple reason.

Texas is home to four of the top six counties in the entire country, which is one heck of a statistic for only coming in at #11 on the list of best whitetail hunting states.

These four counties are Maverick, Webb, La Salle, and Dimmit Counties.

bradley oates big texas whitetail buck

Texas is a state you shouldn’t overlook if you are interested in hunting big whitetails.

Texas has a total of 767 records in the Boone and Crockett record books, and unlike every state on this list, 2 out of 5 of these bucks were shot in the top four counties, and the other 3 were harvested outside of the top 4 counties.



Final Thoughts On The Best States For Whitetail Hunting

There you have it, the top five states to chase record whitetails in the United States.

And remember, just because these states are on the top of the list doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy time trying to make it to the record books!

Hunt hard and hunt safely!

whitetail deer and mule deer side by side

Ear-Tip To Tail | The Differences Between Whitetail and Mule Deer

Depending on the time of year, mule deer and white tail deer can be almost indistinguishable. But, if you watch them closely, there are some tell-tail differences.

Mule deer and whitetail similarities

Although there are some distinct differences, whitetail and mule deer do have some things in common.

Coloring

During the Summertime, mule deer are often more tannish-brown while whitetail tend to be more of a reddish brown color.

However, in Winter, both types tend to turn more grayish.

mule deer in velvet during summer
Summertime colors of a mule deer (photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetails in velvet during summer
Summertime colors of a whitetail (photography by Matt Hartsky)
mule deer gray color during winter
Fall Colors of a Mule Deer (photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetail deer grayer color in fall
Fall colors of a whitetail (Photography by Matt Hartsky)



Location

Whitetails are generally found in the middle and Eastern U.S., extending both North and South of the border. But, whitetail are remarkable at adapting, and thrive in all kinds of environments, from swamps to forests to grasslands.

Typically, mule deer like higher territory in the mountains and are found in the central and western parts of the US, Canada, and Mexico. However, the territories of the two breeds overlap greatly. Therefore, geography can’t be relied on as a great indicator of whether that deer you see off in the distance is a mule deer or a whitetail.

mule deer eating shrub
While the geographical areas in which mule deer and whitetail overlaps in many places, mule deer are more prevalent in the Western parts of the U.S. (photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetail buck walking in high grass
Whitetail deer are more concentrated in the Midwestern and Eastern parts of the U.S. (photography by Jeff Coldwell)


Size

Size is another characteristic where there is overlap between mule deer and whitetail. Size can vary depending on geographic location, available food sources and habitat.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, typical mule deer weights range from 130-280 pounds. However, In rare cases, very large mule deer can tip the scales at 450+ pounds.



Whitetail deer are generally smaller in average weight, averaging around 90-220 pounds, but those big bucks can, in rare cases, come in near 400 pounds.

With size varying so much based on diet, age, and location, it is impossible to tell a whitetail from a mule deer based on size alone. Even characteristics like hoofprints are not distinguishable between the two.

So, before you prepare for the hunt and sight in your rifle or prepare for your bowhunt, let’s make sure you do know some distinguishing characteristics between these two different types of deer.




Differences Between Whitetail and Mule Deer

Now that we’ve covered some basic characteristics of whitetail and mule deer, let’s look at some differences between mule deer and whitetail that can help you distinguish between the two.

Facial markings

If you look more closely at the face, whitetails have more solid-colored brown heads with white around the eyes and often a white patch under the jaw at the top of the neck. (Rare genetic mutations like piebaldism can affect the amount of white markings).

mule deer with white face
As you can see in the picture above, the mule deer has a whiter snout and bridge of the nose, whereas the whitetail’s face (below) is overall more brown in color, with a white throat patch at the top of the neck. (photography by Matt Hartsky)
whitetail buck in grass
(photography by Jeff Coldwell)

Mule deer (sometimes referred to as muleys) have a lighter top bridge of the nose, with a darker forehead above the eyes. These are the general colorings, but each individual deer is different and color can change with weather, age, and location. Because of this, you can’t rely on coloring alone to distinguish between the two.

Ears

With so many similarities between whitetail and mule deer, there are a few key differences to look for when peering at them through your scope or binoculars.

One is the ears.

mule deer buck peeking through the grass with ears wide
The ears of a mule deer (above) have larger ears, relative to the size of their head than do whitetail (below).photography by Jeff Coldwell
whitetail deer standing in open field
(photography by Jeff Coldwell)

True to their name, mule deer have larger ears relative to the size of their head. They are also often more pointed and angle slightly more to the sides than the whitetail deer.

It is tough to compare the angle of the ears as deer have a habit of always moving them. So, try to look at the size of the ears as one indication to identify mule deer from whitetails.



Tail

While the ears are one of the differentiating characteristics on the head of these animals, the other end of the animal has a great defining characteristic as well.

mule deer with tall antlers profile view
The mule deer’s (above) hind quarters are mostly white, with a rope-like tail and black tip. The Whitetail (below) has hindquarters that are mostly brown, with a tail that has a wide, white underside. (Photography by Jeff Coldwell)
whitetail deer with tail up flagging
(Photography by Keith Tyler)

Mule deer have a white colored rump that is almost always visible. They have a skinny rope-like tail tail, often with a black tip.

Whitetail deer on the other hand, have a more brownish rump and outside of the tail when relaxed. If a whitetail is startled, however, that wide flap of a tail lifts showing a bright white underside as a “flag” to warn other deer of possible danger, thus the name “whitetail deer.”




Antlers

Whether you are hunting from the ground or from your treestand, if you can get a look at a deer’s antlers, you may be able to determine whether it is a mule deer and a whitetail.

Both breeds of male deer have large showy antlers (although they are shed once a year around mid to late winter).

Whitetail males have one main “trunk” or beam on their antlers with the tines all coming from that main stem.

whitetail standing in high grass under large tree
Whitetail deer antlers (above and below) are constructed of one main beam, from which the tines protrude. (photography by Matt Hartsky)
whitetail deer with ears wide
(photography by Matt Hartsky)

Mule deer, however, have a main trunk that branches in two before forking into tines. Because of this, the mule deer’s antlers often look taller and more upright compared to the forward “hug” of a white tail’s rack.

Mule Deer have antlers that “fork,” as in the pictures above and below. (photography by Terry Hansen)
mule deer with giant antlers
(photography by Jeff Coldwell)

The difference in antler structure between whitetails and mule deer is something a trained eye can pick up. However, some individual antlers can be too small or even grow oddly, so make sure to look for other characteristics too.



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The Run

The way these two types of deer typically run can be a clear distinguishing characteristic of whitetail and mule deer.

When fleeing, a whitetail has a typical run or gallop, similar in style to a horse. They may bound over fences or obstacles, but in general they have a quick, fluid motion.

Mule deer on the other hand, often flee with a stodgy hopping motion called stotting. All four hooves contact and push off the ground at once like springs, bouncing across the terrain again and again until slowing to a trot.

mule deer stotting
A mule deer’s run (above) is called “stotting,” which is more of a hopping motion on all fours. A whitetail deer (below) has more of galloping motion to its run. (Photography by Keith Reisenauer)
whitetail deer running
(Photography by Keith Tyler)


Conclusion

When it comes to gun hunting especially, one of the main lessons for firearms is to be sure of your target.

This applies whether you are hunting waterfowl, deer or feral hogs.

So, make sure that when you are trying to identify a mule deer versus a whitetail, that you compare multiple characteristics.



There are many similarities, and even the distinguishing traits can vary based on age, location, nutrition, and time of year. One can easily be mistaken for the other. Even some of the sounds these deer make can be similar.

So, be sure you know the differences – some subtle and some more pronounced – so you can easily tell the difference between the two.

Best of luck in all your hunting adventures!


view while sighting in riflescope view
Richard Douglas of Scopes Field.
Colt Russell Buck picture 5

The Story of An Adirondack Giant | The Colt Russell Buck

– By Colt Bison Russell, US Army Vet

Three years…

That’s how long I had been watching this buck on my trail camera.

In 2019, he was an 11pt.

Years and points…

Then, in 2020, from what I could tell, he appeared to be a big 14 point. However, a couple of weeks before bow season began, he made an appearance. And then, just like that, he vanished.

Colt Russell Buck profile view

Getting to see this buck in the wild was a dream… Getting to harvest him was a dream come true!

He showed up again the final two days of our rifle season that year, but then disappeared once again.

As each year passed, he continued to have the same distinguishing characteristics; tall brows and tines that nearly touched. He also had split main beams.

Each year, he seemed to add a little more to what was already an impressive rack.



When considering what he had done the prior two years, I just figured I would never see him again.

The Video That Changed Everything

But, then, in 2021, on the 6th of September, I got one brief trail cam video of this buck in velvet.

This is the brief trailcam video clip that renewed my hope that I might actually get a chance to harvest this impressive New York buck!

One thing was for sure… this buck was an absolute stud, especially for Essex County, New York! You just don’t see bucks of this caliber around these parts.



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The Hunt For “Houdini”

I had hunted the same area the night before with no luck.

On September 30th, I really didn’t plant on hunting the same area again. However, I decided at the last minute that I would because two nice 8-pointers (both on my hit list) showed up on the trail cam.

colt russell with his big new york whitetail

I had nicknamed this buck Houdini, because he always seemed to disappear. But he showed up for one final act.

It wasn’t very long that I’d been in the woods when a mature doe approached, but I couldn’t get a clear shot on her.

So, I continued to check more of my trail cameras and still hunt.



It was 6 PM and I was roughly 1.5 miles deep on my hunting lease when I decided I was going to head back to the house for dinner.

I was looking for deer the whole walk back, but when I was about 250 yards from reaching my truck, I noticed the big body of a deer in the wood line about 60 yards away.

colt russell buck profile view in the field

What if I hadn’t stopped to check the trail camera? What if I had shot that doe? What if I hadn’t been so hungry that I decided to go home? I’m glad those all happened!

I instantly nocked an arrow onto my Mathews Solocam bow and continued moving down the trail. When I got about 10 yards into the woods, I drew my bow back.

I could tell that this deer was a buck, but the light was dimmer under the canopy of trees and it made it difficult to see the rack. I thought this deer was probably one of my two 8-point hit-listers that I was after.

I really didn’t have time to get nervous, because from the time I drew back until I released the arrow was only about 8 seconds. It all happened so fast!




The Shot

I was at about 50 yards when I let the arrow fly.

The arrow hit a little high and he dropped. When he did, I could see his rack and instantly realized what buck it was.

That’s when things got hectic. The panic was setting in!

I ran over to put another arrow in him to finish him.


colt russell buck profile mount

“Houdini” grossed 205 4/8 inches Boone and Crockett and netted 196 inches (non-typical). It was the highest scoring buck ever in Essex County and was the largest buck harvested in the state of New York and all the Northeast in 2021.

I was in disbelief. The giant buck I had been seeing for 3 years was finally down!

His rack was covered in grass as if he had just racked the ground to shreds.

I picked up his head and just took a minute to soak it all in.



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I counted 20 points on his rack. All I could think was, “who is even going to believe me when I tell them that I just shot a 20-point buck with my bow?”

I started making phone calls. And, just like I thought, it took some convincing for my close friends and family members to believe me and understand that I needed help getting this buck to the truck!

colt russell buck wall mount on barn wood

I figured that this monster of a buck had to have watched me 80 to 100 yards down that trail before I had even noticed he was there. I truly believe that deer was going to just let me walk right past him.

All The “What Ifs”

When my friends and family came, they were as in shock as I was because, again, you just don’t see deer like this one in these parts!

There are so many things that could have been different that would have kept me from tagging this buck.

What if I hadn’t stopped to check that trail cam?



What if I had taken a shot on that doe I had seen earlier in the evening?

It’s very possible that I would never have crossed paths with this giant.

Everything just fell in to place that day and I truly believe that someone was looking over my shoulder.



Word Gets Around

I was shocked how fast the word spread across the country about this buck. In just a matter of hours, the state knew about it and friends of mine across the county were contacting me, offering congratulations.

I count myself truly blessed to have gotten the chance to harvest a true Adirondack giant!