At the turn of the 20th century, white-tailed deer sightings were so rare they were reported in daily newspapers. Now, thanks in part to hunter conservation, deer populations are thriving, and national wildlife refuges are great places to hunt them.
Check out a big game record book, and one thing is clear, the Midwest has become the destination for white-tailed deer. Many of the national wildlife refuges in the Midwest offer a chance to pursue the trophy Midwestern bucks pictured in so many hunting magazines and videos. The region also offers a true variety of places to hunt, from bottomland hardwood forest in Missouri to wide-open prairie in Minnesota and Iowa, from small Mississippi River islands to the “big woods” of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There are enough interesting choices here to keep an avid deer hunter occupied for a lifetime.
The northern prairie is also legendary for white-tailed deer that haunt the draws and woodlands scattered throughout the Dakotas, Nebraska and eastern Montana. Deer hunting opportunities are abundant, and some refuges offer extremely long seasons (especially for bowhunters) and unlimited tags. Because many of the refuges offer only walk-in access, hunting pressure can be light and success rates high. Local hunters know these areas offer some of the highest-quality white-tail hunts on the plains.
In the East, deer hunting attracts almost fanatical devotion. At the turn of the 20th century, deer could be found only in the deepest forests, but today they thrive in agricultural lands, suburbia and even urban areas. Deer are so numerous they threaten important wildlife habitats at many national wildlife refuges, which provide ample opportunities for hunting. Northeastern hunters can pursue deer in the shadows of New York City at Great Swamp NWR in New Jersey or experience genuine wilderness at refuges in northern New England. Many southern refuges have antler restrictions for deer, which are often waived for the first buck taken by youth hunters. Details are available in refuge hunting brochures.
Finally, don’t overlook hotspots for white-tailed deer in the Northwest. Several refuges also have locally popular hunts for black-tailed deer.