Scouting, stalking and shooting a trophy whitetail buck is one of the most difficult accomplishments in the world of hunting. Big bucks get big for a reason, and most hunters never have the opportunity for a shot at such a cunning animal, let alone harvest one.
That is the reality, even if it might not be the perception. Even so, most hunters dream of a massive buck wandering through their shooting lane, stopping broadside and presenting the perfect shot, and while a few lucky ones will win that toughest of lotteries, the rest of us have to do the work it takes to find our trophy.
It either takes a lot of work and scouting to find a trophy whitetail or good, old-fashioned dumb luck. “Every year there are a handful of hunters who shoot a huge buck just because they were in the right place at the right time,” said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Dumb luck is hardly worth an article and is definitely not worth planning on it to happen anytime soon, so we’ll focus on where to find that trophy whitetail in Minnesota. What permit areas, counties, and regions of the state afford a hunter the best opportunity on public hunting land for a trophy whitetail?
The answer to that question is much more difficult than it might seem. Confounding the matter is the fact that the entire state has the potential to produce trophy whitetail bucks. “You could argue that all of Minnesota’s bucks, if given the opportunity to reach 4 or 5 years of age, will reach Boone and Crockett caliber,” said Justin Spring, assistant director for big game records at the Boone and Crockett Club headquarters in Montana.
The key phrase in that statement centers around “if given the opportunity” to fully mature. Big bucks take time to become that way, and it is a process that tends to take three to five or more years. A large buck at 2 years of age will most likely be a huge buck at 4, but most of Minnesota’s bucks never make it that long.
Trophy management is the name of the game for producing large bucks, and it’s a controversial issue. In surveys conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the majority of hunters want the ability to be able to shoot any legal buck but feel that more needs to be done to produce trophy-potential bucks. Many would argue that those two goals are in direct conflict with each other.
What everybody does agree on is that Minnesota definitely has all the ingredients necessary for producing trophy bucks, provided those bucks can avoid hunters and predators for several years.
In some portions of the state, landowners have Quality Deer Management agreements with each other. There are still parts of the state where awesome deer habitat is at least several miles from a main road. Then there are the parts that see tons of camouflage and orange from September to December. Guess where a buck has the best chance of making it past his second birthday?
DEFINING A ‘TROPHY’
The definition of “trophy buck” is truly in the eye of the beholder. For somebody who has never shot a buck before, a basket 6-pointer fits the definition. On the other hand, somebody who has a wall full of Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young bucks might not consider a deer a trophy unless it scores over 180.
Point being, “trophy buck” is a matter of opinion based on what an individual hunter is pursuing. For the purposes of this article, we’ll consider a “trophy buck” to be one that would score in either of the official record keeping organizations: Pope and Young for archers and Boone and Crockett for firearms hunters. As a point of information, B&C lists bucks with an antler measure of more than 160 inches, while P&Y lists those more than 115 inches. Data is also available from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association’s Big Game Records book, which lists trophies over 125 inches.
SEARCHING FOR TROPHY BUCKS
One of the best places to begin scouting for trophy deer is on your laptop or desktop computer. The Minnesota DNR publishes a ton of raw data based on harvest information, as well as survey information on deer numbers in the winter, fawn numbers in the spring and other aerial surveys conducted at different times of the year. Another excellent source of data is from official records kept by conservation organizations, such as the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young.
Information from the MDNR is easy and free to access, provided you have access to the Internet. Information from the MDHA is also free to download from its Web site at www.mndeerhunters.com, while the other two conservation organizations have some cost for the data. Boone and Crockett has all the information available online through a password-accessible database, and Pope and Young has the information available in a comprehensive book and searchable CD-ROM.
The Third Edition Bowhunting Records of North American Whitetail Deer is full of all the state and provincial records, as well as numerous informational articles on deer hunting and targeting trophy deer. It is very easy to obtain and is well worth the $43.95 it costs to order this hardbound book. It is chock-full of information that can be very useful for data savvy hunters.
“I think people are after that information quite a bit, and it is quite useful as a way to determine the best places to hunt because it reveals a great deal about the genetics of an area and can work as a good indicator of an area’s trophy potential,” said Kevin Hisey, executive secretary for the Pope and Young Club.
Justin Spring, assistant director for big-game records at the Boone and Crockett Club, agreed that the data collected by each organization can be useful for hunters but said hunters should carefully scrutinize the numbers. “Our records are looked at a lot by hunters and our general map of whitetail entries is useful to get a general area, but my background in wildlife management tells me that we sometimes look into it more than necessary,” Spring said. “The way I’d use the data is to look at the number of entries in a county and divide that number by the square miles rather than just looking at the pure numbers. It gives you a better insight into the potential for that area,” he added.
The MDHA data is updated on a monthly basis and sorted both by total score and by county. “The work of the Minnesota Official Measurers (MOM) makes that kind of updating possible, and it can be a great tool for seeing where trophy whitetails are taken throughout the state,” said Mark Johnson, MDHA executive director.
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