By the Numbers: Private vs. Public Land Whitetails

A recent report by the National Deer Association shows that 88 percent of the whitetails killed in America are taken on private land.

By the Numbers: Private vs. Public Land Whitetails

According to the National Deer Association’s (NDA) latest Deer Report, an average of 88 percent of state-by-state whitetail harvests occurs on private land. Texas reported the highest rate of private land deer harvest at 99 percent; Massachusetts reported the highest rate of public land harvest at 43 percent.

“Most of America’s 600 million acres of public land are in the West, yet proportionally few hunters are residents of those states,” said NDA Chief Conservation Officer Kip Adams (above right) and one of the report’s authors. “Most whitetails live in the eastern states along with most hunters, and this new data underscores the conservation importance of habitat management and deer hunting on private land.”

The most recent NDA Deer Report includes an estimated 2021-22 season deer harvest of more than 5.9 million. whitetails, so it follows that an estimated 5.2 million of those deer were taken on private land compared to just over 700,000 on public land – more than seven times as many. Regionally the rate of private land harvest included 93 percent in the Southeast, 91 percent in the Midwest, and 81 percent in the Northeast. Complete state-by-state data is available in the full report.

“This does not diminish the importance of public hunting land,” said Adams. “We need to acquire more public hunting land in the East, and we need to better manage the habitat on existing public land. But for hunter recruitment, herd management, and all the ways we want to protect and improve deer hunting, we need to understand most of those opportunities will be on privately owned acres.”

In a related finding of the new Deer Report, 27 out of 47 states offer a private land hunting access program. The greatest opportunity for new programs is in the Southeast, where only three out of 11 states offered such programs in 2022, and where 93 percent of the deer harvest is on private land.

Antlered Buck Harvest

Additional findings of the new report include an estimated 2021-22 antlered buck harvest of 2,969,596, the fourth highest in the past 10 hunting seasons, though down 2 percent from the highest buck harvest of the new century set in 2020.

Antlerless Deer Harvest

The estimated antlerless deer harvest of 2,963,921 was down 8 percent from the previous season, falling back below the level of the antlered buck harvest. The previous season’s antlerless harvest of 3,207,937 was 12 percent higher than the season prior to that, a significant jump that has now seen a correction.

Buck Age Structure

American deer hunters continue to take more adult and mature bucks than ever in the history of modern deer hunting. Yearling bucks (age 1.5) made up 27 percent of the 2021-22 buck harvest, up 1 percent from the record-low 26 percent the previous season. This means older bucks continue to make up a large share of the harvest: 40 percent of the buck harvest was 3.5 years old or older, also down by 1 percent from the record-high 41 percent the previous season. 

Other Highlights

  • 66 percent of deer taken in the 2020-21 season were killed with a rifle or slug gun compared to 25 percent with archery equipment and 9 percent with a muzzleloader.
  • Texas boasts the most deer hunters in the nation (756,000) but ranks very low in deer hunters per square mile at 2.9. Pennsylvania has the highest number of deer hunters per square mile at 14.4, followed by New York (12.0), Wisconsin (11.4), New Jersey (10.5) and Michigan (9.5).
  • 74 percent of Illinois deer hunters hunt with archery equipment, the highest rate in the nation. Massachusetts has the most muzzleloader deer hunters at 70 percent.
  • 12 out of 31 reporting states allow holders of crop depredation permits to take antlered bucks any time of year, under any circumstances, using the permits.
  • Every state wildlife agency in the Lower 48 states uses Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to communicate with constituents. Eight of the 48 use TikTok.
  • NDA’s 2023 Deer Report covers data for the 2021-22 hunting season, the most recent season with complete harvest data available from all major deer states. Complete state-by-state estimates of total buck harvest, buck age structure, and many other harvest parameters are available in the full Deer Report, which also includes a look at numerous other critical issues for deer hunting. NDA’s Deer Report is available for free download at this link.


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