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.

During 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 and outreach and also 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 five states 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 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 critical issues for whitetails and deer hunters.