How do the prospects for the hunting season look like? What hunter hasn’t asked themselves this question? BookYourHunt.com, the international marketplace for hunts, is built for hunters by hunters, and we are just as curious about this as any random group of outdoorspeople. But though we are a mostly high-tech crowd, we’re not much into crystal balls. So we asked our partners, the outfitters who offer whitetail hunts on our marketplace, to share their opinion on the coming season. And the answers are…
Could be the best season ever!
When asked to evaluate their overall feelings about the upcoming season on a scale from 1 (pessimistic) to 5 (optimistic), most outfitters chose 4 or 5, with the average score 4.6 out of 5!
Obviously, the outfitters are happy when they’re seeing numerous, healthy herds – and according to our survey, that’s exactly what they see. The survey also asked outfitters to evaluate on a scale from 1 to 5 questions such as: relative numbers of deer on the outfitter’s territory (below average, average, above average); doe to buck ratio; spring buck survival rates. And the results seem to be great.
All over North America, outfitters estimate buck survival rates as good to excellent (4.6 out of 5). Overall deer numbers are good (4 out of 5), with good herd structure. While some outfitters say their herd is biased towards the bucks, and others say they have too many does, the overall estimation for the survey – both the average, the median, and the most quoted number – is 3, the number which in our survey stood for proper balance.
In the comments to the answers, outfitters quote mild winter, early spring, and lots of rain in early summer as the factors behind great herds with great antler growth. What happens in the year before is a factor, too. “We were fortunate in 2018 that we did not have much snow for the entire breeding season and this is a huge break for bucks up here. Another positive was that we did not get much snow on the ground until late January and then we were lucky enough to get an early thaw in the beginning of March that really helped our deer herd.”– explains Ron Lavoie, owner-operator of Otter Creek Outfitters, SK, – “The bigger determining factor for “next year” antler growth and fawn production here is the amount of snow that we get in November. If we have little or no snow for the rut, we will have a banner year following that. I fully expect to have one of my best years of guiding clients for whitetail deer”.
Meat or Trophy? Both!
It is a banality to say that some hunters care only for the meat value of the animals, while others chase nothing but big, mature bucks. BookYourHunt.com does not discriminate against either, and the outfitters have good news for both.
If you’re dreaming about a record-book class buck, this might be your year! The majority of the outfitters in our survey report expect their hunters to get great chances on an impressive rack this year. This is not only due to good numbers of bucks making it through the winter, but also on whether the environment was conducive to good antler growth. “This has been one of the wettest Spring/Summers we have had in a long time. Good thick forage as well as good temperatures have made it more conducive to antler growth” – says Jen Jenkins of Great Plains Outfitters, Wy. – “We expect higher than normal deer numbers mixed with larger than normal bucks.” This, according to our survey, holds true all over North America: outfitters ranked conditions for bucks to grow an impressive rake from good to excellent (the average score being 4.5 out of 5).
But hunters who are after filling the freezer should not be disappointed either. There was abundant food for deer to gain good body mass for the season. The conditions were even better, in fact, than for antler growth, with the average score of 4.7 out of 5. Many outfitters, especially down South, report having a bit too many does, so expect discounts on antlerless hunts. A great way to fill the freezer for someone who doesn’t have much access to good public land or is not able to sign up for a lease!
There are two factors that may negatively impact deer populations in North America: predation and disease, including CWD and EHD. We couldn’t fail to ask how outfitters felt about it. Most of the outfitters who took part in the survey reported low to medium threat levels. Predation is a different story.
Many hunters and outfitters believe that predators such as wolves, coyotes, bears and mountain lions are a major threat for deer populations. The statistics of our survey, however, does not support it. With outfitters who evaluated their predation rates as very low to low (1-2 on a 1-5 scale with 5 the biggest), the average fawn survival score was 4.3, and the average buck survival score 4.7. With outfitters who reported average to very high predation stress (3-5), the fawn and buck survival rates were 4.3 and buck survival rates as 4.5. With the overall conditions of the herd it’s even more interesting. Outfitters who report medium to high level of predation actually averaged slightly better populations than those who reported low to very low: 4.3 versus 4 respectively.
This lack of correlation suggests that, while extremely high densities of predators are bad (the only outfitter who gave maximum rates to predation pressure, also gave the lowest scores to fawn survival), moderate numbers of predators don’t hurt too much. “We have cougars and wolves so some will get taken”, say Melvin & Tami Kilback of Kettle River Guide Outfitters, BC, who, in spite of that, expect “to see more deer and have more opportunities for our clients than in previous years”.
Where to go?
To paraphrase a popular quote, all outfitters in our survey are optimistic, but some are more optimistic than others. If we have to pick one state or province to travel to hunt whitetail, this season it would have to be Alberta or Saskatchewan. At least, in our survey the outfitters from both these Canadian provinces were both the most active and the most ecstatic. “One of the best years I can recall for having so many great bucks on camera”, says Colin Paly of Northern Edge Outfitting, AB., who attributes this partly to the fact that wet weather interfered with harvest in the previous year, leaving many crops standing. “From what I’ve been seeing early we are looking at harvesting some great deer this year”, seconds Marty Dickinson of Buckstop Outfitting.
But we’d like to stress that wherever you go, you’re not likely to have a bad hunt (unless you screw it up yourself, skill level is a big factor you know). Texas outfitters are not too far behind their Canadian colleagues in terms of enthusiasm. Things look quite rosy all over the South. The Midwest, after a hard winter, is a bit behind, but outfitters such as Mark Liebner of Camp Kay Outfitters, who offers hunts in Indiana, Ohio and Maine, say that many mature deer made it to the hunting season, and “heavy rains this spring yielded good mass and development”. North of the border, Matt Epp of Blackjack Outfitters, who reported moderate fawn survival rates and high predator pressure for the province of Manitoba, still looks towards the season with cautious optimism: “We are in the first year with 4.5-year-old bucks after two bad winters,” says Matt.
And you probably won’t have to travel far. Opportunities for great whitetail hunts exist in almost every state and province. Even New Yorkers who would like to get some free-range healthy venison don’t have to look too far: “We have so many deer that the bag limit is unlimited antlerless from September through February!”, says Fisher Neal, the owner of Learn to Hunt NYC, who hunts in New Jersey.
What Does the Future Have in Store?
What’s even more encouraging is that next year is probably going to be even better. Most outfitters who took part in the survey responded that many does had twins, and fawn survival rates so far are way above average. The exception seems to be the Midwest, where outfitters report only average reproduction and fawn survival. “It was a very tough winter, but our scouting is showing strong fawn numbers” – says Terrance Maier of Pahapesto Guiding Service, SD. Mind you, nobody called 2019 a bad year – it’s either good, better, or best ever. If BookYourHunt.com survey is anything to go by, America is looking towards a great whitetail season and may even be headed for the next golden age of whitetail hunting!