Ranking the Toughest Deer Hunting: No. 1 – The Southeast

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Everyone likes to talk about how hard their bucks are to hunt. But are they really? We’re taking a look at each region of the country, and ranking how difficult they really are

Michael Pitts shows off a big monster buck. (Michael Pitts photo)

In the South, sweet tea tops the food pyramid, everything autocorrects to “y’all,” and Deep Woods OFF is the only perfume around. Oh, and the deer hunting sucks … especially if you’re a sucky deer hunter. It’s hard to kill a deer around here. So hard, in fact, that in our ranking of the nation’s toughest deer hunting regions from easiest to hardest, the Southeast takes top honors. Realtree pro staffer Michael Pitts has been hunting whitetails here for 30 years, mostly with a bow in hand.

“Hunting in the Southeast is brutal,” Pitts said. “You have a lot of stuff working against you. It takes a skilled hunter — especially with a bow — down here. Deer are always on Defcon 5. They use their senses more so than anywhere else I’ve ever hunted. You really have to go ninja mode to get ahold of a mature buck. They’re super sketchy. And I think it’s due to hunting pressure.”

Dog hunting is a tradition in the South, which changes the dynamic as well. “It isn’t as common as it once was, but that’s something non-dog-hunters have to plan for, especially if neighboring hunters commonly use that tactic,” Pitts says.

Hunting clubs are traditional down here, too, which means most hunters have to place a pushpin on a map to show where they’re hunting for the day. So, for the love of Pete, think twice about putting the pin on that hunt camp treestand map the day before the hunt. Southerners give black eyes for that sort of stuff down here. It is good to keep it quiet when you’re on a big one, though. Might be best to “accidentally” pin out for the wrong stand if that’s the case. Just don’t get caught.

Constantly changing winds don’t help matters, either. “Watch your wind, because it swirls like crazy down here,” Pitts said. “It’ll be hitting you in the face one second and the back of the neck the next. You really have to watch it, but sometimes you just have to get in a tree and hunt.”

Nonetheless, Georgia is his favorite place to do just that. He’s killed a lot of big deer there. “Alabama is my next favorite state,” Pitts said. “I live on the Chattahoochee River, which separates Georgia from Alabama. On the Georgia side, our rut is generally the first week of November. But right across the river in Alabama, they don’t rut until late January. So, we get to hunt two different ruts.”

Rut or not, southern deer don’t seem to move as far from their beds during daylight, though. Pitts believes you have to get closer to bedding areas down there. Big deer don’t move as far from their beds as they commonly do in the Midwest, or other regions.

Plus, big woods are pretty common here, too. Looking at hundreds or thousands of acres of unbroken timber is daunting. You just have to scout and see where deer are congregating. You’ll find sign and other surefire giveaways, though. “Pine trees are everywhere throughout the Southeast,” Pines serve little to no purpose for whitetails. Young pines offer decent bedding cover, but that’s it. Find pockets of hardwoods and early successional growth. These edges are where most deer will be.”

As for food, Pitts says plots aren’t as effective in the Southeast until late season. Early on, it’s fruits, other soft masts and green food sources. Then, it’s acorns and other hard masts. Come late season, it’s food plots.

Habitat aside, some southern states boast some pretty grey game laws. Georgia (among others) don’t allow hunters to shoot deer if they’re standing in water. I asked Lt. Judd Smith, a conservation officer with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, to interpret the law. Lakes, ponds, and rivers — sure, that’s a no brainer. But what about the whole flooded-field issue? And is a puddle really just a puddle?

“That’s a good question,” Smith said. “It’s up for interpretation. I don’t know that it’s ever become enough of an issue for us to interpret it. But I don’t think that shooting a deer in a flooded field — say from heavy rain — would be outside the law.”

But the man said it's up for interpretation. And that’ll make you think twice if that buck has wet hooves.

My Take

Everyone thinks they hunt the toughest ground, and they have the best traditions. And maybe they do. Truth is, every region is hard to hunt in its own way.

Personally, I’ve deer hunted in the Northwest, Midwest and Southeast. I’ve traipsed the Southwest for turkeys, but that doesn’t count here. I’ve also never hunted whitetails in the Northeast. So, maybe it isn’t fair for me to rank all of these regions. Then again, we did say it was an unscientific and slightly biased system.

Like Michael Pitts, I too believe the Southeast is the toughest region to deer hunt, and I agree with Bill Winke that the Midwest is the easiest. But as long as we’re all having fun and stacking venison in the freezer, does it really matter who hunts the smartest deer? A mature buck is a mature buck, regardless of where it calls home.

The good news — you can go to our Antler Nation page and get the unbiased, fact-based lowdown on the deer hunting in every state in America. It’s packed with hunt info and details that accumulate to provide individualized rankings each year.

Biased buck banter aside, it won’t be long before another deer season is here. Take a trip this year. Take an adventure to a region you’ve never hunted. Take a buddy or your family with you. Or pack your gear and go. Try something new, and I bet it helps to make a good deer season. 

Five guys from different states, regions and walks of life talk about deer hunting where they call home. (Ed Anderson illustration)

Make sure you follow up on the other regions. We have plenty of things left to discuss. Don’t miss out on the fun.

Ranking the Toughest Deer Hunting: No. 5 – The Midwest

Ranking the Toughest Deer Hunting: No. 4 – The Southwest

Ranking the Toughest Deer Hunting: No. 3 – The Northwest

Ranking the Toughest Deer Hunting: No. 2 – The Northeast

Ranking the Toughest Deer Hunting: No. 1 – The Southeast

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