See how each state in the Southeastern region is shaping up for deer season
The 2023 deer season is here, and with it comes our annual Southeast deer season forecast. In most states, the upcoming season shows promise. In a few, not so much. Regardless, here is the latest breakdown of each southeastern state in Antler Nation.
The 2023 Southeast deer season forecast looks good. Image by Paul Winterman
When most hunters think of Alabama, turkeys come to mind, not whitetails. But it’s a pretty decent deer hunting state, too. “The deer herd should be in great condition,” said Chris Cook, deer program coordinator for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “Weather conditions during hunting season usually play a significant role in whether the annual deer harvest is above or below average. Rainy, hot weather during traditional periods of peak harvest, such as the two weeks prior to the peak of breeding, can greatly reduce the harvest in an area. On the flip side, excellent weather (such as cold, clear conditions) can improve harvest rates.”
Another overlooked state, Arkansas has some good deer hunting. It even harbors a few big ones. “Arkansas saw a record deer harvest for the 2020-21 deer season at 216,835 deer harvested and checked,” said Ralph Meeker, deer program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “This was followed by two seasons (2021-22 and 2022-23) of tremendous hard mast (acorn) production and warmer-than-normal winters. This resulted in two years of abnormally low harvest (181,000 and 185,000 deer harvested, respectively). Data indicates that deer population numbers are stable to slightly increasing. I would expect the harvest to be like the 2022-23 season, or slightly higher.”
Florida is known for its beaches, but it also has decent deer hunting. Sadly, CWD was recently detected in the state, though. “CWD was recently detected in Florida in June 2023 said Lauren Claerbout, public information coordinator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “In response, the FWC established a CWD MANAGEMENT ZONE centered around the location of the positive sample in an executive order signed by FWC Executive Director Roger Young. The CWD management zone includes the portions of Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties north of Interstate 10, east of State Road 81 and west of U.S. Highway 231. The new executive order also prohibits the export of whole carcasses and high-risk parts originating from the CWD management zone. Hunters are being asked to support the FWC’s efforts to monitor Florida deer for CWD by voluntarily submitting their deer heads for testing (skull cap and antlers can be removed and kept by the hunter). Hunters can learn more about how they can support FWC’s surveillance efforts by calling the CWD hotline: (866) CWD-WATCH (293-9282) or visiting MYFWC.COM/CWD.”
According to Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the good old days of deer hunting are now. With enough time and effort, hunters can rest assured that they will be in the game.
As someone who resides and hunts in Kentucky, I can say the entire state is pretty great for whitetail hunting. “Every county in Kentucky has produced trophy whitetails and continues to do so annually,” said Kyle Sams, deer and elk program biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “However, I would focus on the Green River region counties, where we typically get more trophy whitetails. Our hunters do a great job of letting younger bucks and buck fawns walk, as 71% of the males harvested are adults (2.5 or older), 19% of the males harvested are yearlings (1.5 years old) and 10% of the males harvested are fawns (0.5 years old).”
Should Louisiana hunters expect a better or worse deer herd and season this year? “The reported harvest has set a new 10-year high for each of the past three seasons,” said Johnathan Bordelon, deer program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “Based on available data, there is no reason to expect a drop-off for the upcoming season. With any state, despite statewide harvest trends pointing upward, there are areas within the state that do not follow the same trend. Local habitat and environmental conditions and hunter density play a role in harvest trends at the local level.”
Those who like Mississippi deer hunting will love the report. According to experts, the state should produce another great deer harvest this season. It has a great deer herd density, awesome buck age structure, and more. Overall, it’s a great deer hunting state.
There is a lot to love right now about North Carolina deer hunting. There are some downsides, too. “In 2022, CWD was detected in the state for the first time,” said Moriah Boggess, a deer biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “As a result, there are surveillance areas in the northwestern and southeastern corners of the state with special regulations. Hunters should be aware in these areas that with a few exceptions deer carcasses may not be moved out of these areas, mandatory testing is in effect certain weeks, and wildlife feeding is prohibited from Jan. 2 to Aug. 31.”
In South Carolina, those hoping for a good deer season might get one. “Success rates for deer hunters in South Carolina are typically about 70%,” said Charles Ruth, certified wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “South Carolina has one of the highest deer harvests in the country based on per unit area harvest figures. In 2019, the statewide harvest was 8.5 deer per square mile of deer habitat. Certain regions of South Carolina have the longest modern firearms season in the country — 140 days.”
Another state with a recent discovery of CWD, things continue to change in the Volunteer State. "Hunters should learn about CWD and the differences between Unit CWD versus CWD-positive and CWD high-risk counties,” said James Kelly, with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “At present, these are the same group of counties, but once testing begins for the season, the latter could change depending on the location of positive test results. If this occurred, the associated carcass transport and feeding restrictions apply immediately and automatically. However, the counties included in Unit CWD would not change midseason.”
With few negative points to note, Virginia is on the uptrend. “Statewide, the deer population has been fairly stable overall for several decades,” said Matt Knox, deer project coordinator with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “Our new deer population estimate of 1.27 million is higher that our normal/traditional 1 million estimate, but is primarily a result of a change we have made in how we calculate the buck age structure and resultant buck mortality rate, not an actual change or increase in the deer population (that is, a recalibration).”
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