2020 Season Had Highest Buck Harvest in 21 Years

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Americans are not only shooting millions of deer, we’re killing more old bucks than ever before, too

The 2020 buck harvest was the highest in more than a decade. Image by Shutterstock / B.G. Smith

We’re killing older bucks and more bucks than ever in America.

That’s the overpowering message of the 2022 Deer Report compiled by the National Deer Association (NDA). The NDA reports that hunters across the United States killed an estimated 3,041,544 bucks in the 2020-21 season, the most in 21 years.

The buck harvest was not only the highest in the new century, “we set another new record for the percentage of those bucks (41%) that were 3½ years old or older,” said Kip Adams, NDA’s Chief Conservation Officer and lead author of the report. “Hunters now shoot far more bucks that are at least 3½ years old than 1½ years. That’s a monumental shift and a good one from a decade ago.” 

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Other highlights from the NDA’s 2022 report:

  • Top 5 states for the 2020-21 buck harvest: Texas (449,933 bucks), Michigan (219,387), Pennsylvania (174,780); Wisconsin (158,236), Missouri (140,855).
  • Top 5 states with the highest percentage of 3½-year-old and older bucks in the harvest: Oklahoma (83%), Louisiana (82%), Mississippi (79%), Arkansas (76%), Texas (71%).
  • Delaware hunters shot the most bucks per square mile (3.9), followed by Michigan (3.9), Pennsylvania (3.9), South Carolina (3.2), and Maryland (3.0).
  • Antlerless harvest in the U.S. increased 12% in 2020-21 to 3,207,937. That reversed a 3-year decline and put the number of harvested does back above 3 million for the first time since 2013. The doe kill climbed above the buck harvest for the first time since 2016.
  • In the last two pandemic years, the sale of hunting licenses increased by about 5% in the U.S. These new hunters, most of them out for organic meat, helped increase the antlerless harvest and put it back above the buck harvest, where it needs to be for healthy herds.
  • States with the most whitetail hunters: Texas (770,717), Pennsylvania (663,000), Wisconsin (620,888), New York (588,054), Michigan (565,000).
  • Deer harvest by weapon each season: rifle/shotgun 65%, bow/crossbow 26%, muzzleloader 9%.
  • New Jersey leads the U.S. in percentage of deer killed by bowhunters (64% of annual harvest); Wyoming had the highest percentage of deer (whitetail and mule deer) killed by rifle hunters (94%); Rhode Island’s muzzleloader hunters accounted for 42% of the 2020-21 deer harvest, tops for blackpowder in America.
  • The NDA found that after some difficult years, mule deer populations are stable or increasing in most Western states. Montana hunters harvested the most muley bucks (40,231) in 2020-21, followed by California (25,862), Idaho (19,425), Wyoming (18,101), and Oregon (16,363)

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