There’s certainly no shortage of debate within the bowhunting community. Whether it’s modern vs. traditional tackle, trophy vs. traditional management or the ethics of baiting, it seems there is no end to the topics we’re willing to argue.
But when it comes to determining which animal captures our collective imagination beyond all others, there can be no argument. The whitetail deer was, is and likely always will be king.
Much like a dominant sports team that blows out opponents by 50 points, the whitetail defeats all comers with ease. According to the Quality Deer Management Association’s 2009 Whitetail Report, 78 percent of all North American hunters pursue deer. That’s more than three times the number of hunters who pursue wild turkeys, which finished a distant second at 23 percent. Meanwhile, other big-game species such as elk (7 percent), black bears (6 percent) and mule deer (5 percent) barely register a blip on the hunting radar.
I believe the whitetail’s overwhelming edge in popularity is a testament not just to the challenge and excitement they offer, but also the fact whitetails are the continent’s most abundant and widely distributed big-game species, providing a virtually endless variety of hunting opportunities from city parks to remote wilderness areas. For most bowhunters (particularly those of us who live in the East), a trip to chase elk, mule deer or antelope is “the hunt of a lifetime.” The pursuit of whitetails, meanwhile, is a year-round obsession.
Considering the participation rates, it comes as no surprise that whitetails account for 52 percent of all hunting-related expenditures – a whopping $12.4 billion in 2006, according to the Whitetail Report. That number is even more impressive when you compare it to the economic impact of other big-game species such as turkeys ($2 billion), elk ($954 million) and moose ($49 million).
The 68-page Whitetail Report – the first of what QDMA says will be an annual snapshot of deer-hunting activity – is a treasure trove of information on topics such as harvest trends, management policies, hunter demographics, the latest deer research and more. To get a sense of the comprehensive information available in the report, consider these tasty tidbits:
- Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic shift in the makeup of the overall deer harvest. It wasn’t until 1999 that the total U.S. antlerless harvest surpassed the buck harvest for the first time. Yet by 2005, 65 percent of all whitetail states were killing more antlerless deer than bucks.
- Between 1999 and 2005, the portion of yearling bucks in the nation’s antlered deer harvest declined from 51 percent to 45 percent. Mississippi is the national leader in killing mature bucks, with 60 percent of the harvest comprised of bucks age 3.5 or older.
- The popularity of quality management practices is on the rise, evidenced by a dramatic increase in the number of trophy whitetails being taken. Roughly half of all deer recorded in the Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young record books have been taken in the past two decades. Total Pope and Young entries from 1996-2005 were 43 percent higher than the total from 1991-2000.
- Although Illinois may get more press, Wisconsin was the top trophy whitetail state from 1996-2005. During that period, Wisconsin accounted for a total of 4,976 record-book entries, compared to 3,699 in Illinois.
- The average adult whitetail consumes one ton of food annually.
- Areas with mature bucks can have 10 times more rubs than areas without them.
- Whitetail antlers can grow an inch or more per day, making them the fastest-growing normal tissue known to man.
Of course, the Whitetail Report was designed to be much more than a collection of deer-related trivia. In compiling the report, QDMA hopes to raise awareness about the whitetail’s central role in the hunting community and the importance of addressing biological, social, economic and political issues that threaten the future of deer hunting.
Among the most pressing topics addressed in the report are habitat loss, youth hunter recruitment, public health implications of lead ammunition in venison, hunting safety and suburban deer-management problems such as Lyme disease and vehicle collisions.
On many of these topics, the bowhunting fraternity – some 3.5 million members strong – is uniquely positioned to play a key role in identifying and implementing solutions. Our actions will go a long way to determining the future of king whitetail’s reign. Those interested in reading QDMA’s complete 2009 Whitetail Report can find it online at www.qdma.com.