Ground Zero: Indiana's Record Bucks
January 30, 2019
Southeastern Indiana is home to giant whitetails. It’s proved by the the river counties that border the Ohio river and other nearby counties. With outstanding genetics, excellent deer management, and the nutrients available in this farming region, it should be no surprise that the land here has produced more than 20 percent of the state’s best bucks over the past five seasons.
Imagine an area comprised of 16 counties, starting at Dearborn County, working southwestward to Jackson County, south down to Washington, Crawford and Perry counties, gathering Spencer County and all the other counties northeastward along the Ohio River. It’s an area that has recorded 34 of the 160 Boone and Crockett Club entries in Indiana from 2013 to 2017.
The region serves up agricultural ground, several state-managed lands, and the services of serious outfitters to serious deer hunters. Hunters here also have the opportunity to lease exceptional ground for hunting. Areas not farmed are comprised of rolling, timbered hills and valleys, with many mast trees providing additional food and thick cover big bucks need to survive.
Unlike some other states in the Midwest, Indiana deer hunting is still a secret among many deer hunters and finding private land to hunt is still possible. With all the available options as to where to deer hunt in southeast Indiana, any deer hunter who uses the local resources wisely should have a good chance for taking a trophy deer.
Southeastern Indiana is home to numerous outfitters who cater to hunters hoping to harvest the buck of a lifetime. And when Tevis McCauley, owner of Whitetail Heaven Outfitters, reveals his hunting services in Harrison, Jennings and Washington counties, you know you will have as good a chance of killing a “Booner” buck with his team as you would anywhere else in the state.
“Our properties have been under strict and intense management programs for over 15 years,” McCauley says. “Huge hollers, thickets, big woods and very low (hunting) pressure allow our bucks to reach maturity”. Indeed, they do. The average buck taken by clients of Whitetail Heaven Outfitters gross-scores 150 inches, and many push or exceed B&C Club minimums.
One of the biggest reasons for the big bucks besides good herd management practices are the nutrients borne in the McCauley’s local planting program. Every day, the properties are intensely managed with strategically grown food resources and the addition of mineral supplements.
“High protein food sources that far exceed the 17 percent protein intake needed for the whitetail, and cool-season food sources making for a year-round food-plot program,” McCauley explains, “allow our bucks to reach their maximum genetic potential.”
A five-day bow hunt with Whitetail Heaven Outfitters costs $2,500; a four-day gun hunt during the rut run $2,750; a four-day muzzleloader hunt is $1,975; a two-day rifle hunt is $1,500; and a two-day youth hunt is $2,000. Trophy fees are not charged, and all hunt options include lodging and meals. The only thing not covered is licenses, permits and gratuities. When you arrive, all you have to do is enjoy yourself and shoot straight. The outfitter’s team will handle the scouting, hang the stands, take care of your trophy and prepare your food.
Southeast Indiana is home to thousands of acres of public ground for deer hunting, much of it landing in state parks. Deer thrive in these parks, in part because of the stands of hardwood timber and low hunter density. In the heart of the region, the 2017 deer harvest by Washington County deer hunters stood at fourth best, with a total take of 2,609 deer, including 1,085 antlered deer. Clark County deer hunters took 1,935 deer, and Scott County deer hunters killed 956 deer in 2016.
Deer hunter Bryce Hingson of rural Jackson County credits hunter success in harvesting big bucks off the region’s public land to the genetics passed down among generations of local whitetails, the nutrients available throughout the region, and because hunters generally have the mindset to practice herd management.
“Because we can only kill one buck per year, we are not shooting a smaller buck then waiting for a bigger buck to fill our second tag on,” Hingson explains. “We go into the hunt knowing we can only kill one buck, so we are going to make it count. Letting these smaller bucks live is only going to mean they will grow to trophy status.”
Many deer hunters on public land hunt from tree stands overlooking travel routes. With few exceptions, tree stands can remain in place throughout the season, leaving your mark that “claims” the site for your next outing and encourages other hunters to find other sites. However, remember this is public ground, and any deer hunter has the right to hunt it. On any outing, you might find another hunter in a stand nearby, but that’s not likely to happen often, especially if they notice your stand is already in place. Just be sure to secure everything in place.
Depending upon where you choose to hunt public ground in southeast Indiana, camping may be available at state- or federally operated sites. Crosley Fish and Wildlife Area, near North Vernon in Jennings County, features more than 4,200 acres of rolling hills open for deer hunting.
The region is also popular for cabin rentals, and a quick search on the internet will bring up several opportunities to rent a cabin with just about any degree of amenities you want.
Check out this video to learn how to manage your small track of land to bag your trophy buck.
PRIVATE LANDS, LEASES AND BROKERS
If you don’t want to spend the money on an outfitter, or you want a little more hunting privacy than what public ground offers, you still have options. Southeast Indiana is full of once-in-a-lifetime bucks, and private ground holds many of them if you can obtain access to the land … especially, land that has not been hunted in some time.
Indiana is still a state where a knock on a door can produce results for hunters looking for open property. Do your homework, and there is a good chance you will be granted permission to hunt what might be some of the best whitetail ground in the state. Study county plat books to become familiar with who the landowners are before asking for permission. Work your contacts and acquaintances. Always be respectful to landowners, dress in clean attire when meeting them, and offer to do some hunting-related odds and ends around the place in exchange for hunting privileges. Just the idea of asking to help is often enough to gather the landowner’s respect, but sometimes they will take you up on it! If they do, it’s a cheap price to pay to be able to hunt some prime whitetail ground. At the end of the season, a thank-you note, a small gift or anything else you can do to show your appreciation will go far toward securing permission for the following season.
Leasing ground is another option. In fact, many Indiana landowners lease their ground to hunters, providing complete access to the farm without worry of other hunters. Leasing ground will cost some bucks, no pun intended, averaging about $19 an acre. Find a 200-acre plot, and this can add up in a hurry; but remember, you will have the land to yourself for hunting purposes. And always make sure the contract specifies you as the only lease holder and that the landowner will not allow other hunters onto the property.
And when you can’t readily find a tract of land to lease, think outside the box: You might find land through social-media channels, especially if you join one of the state’s deer-hunting groups. Perhaps, you can search Craigslist and other public-posting shopping sites. You would be surprised what you can find on Craigslist in the way of hunting ground.
Leases can also be contracted through a land broker/leasing agency. Internet searches typically reveal the local land brokers who might provide some options for you. You may even find several to choose from, and in popular hunting regions, many will already have hunting land lined up waiting for hunters. Don’t be surprised to pay a small fee for these services, in addition to any leasing fees.
Do your homework before leasing any ground from anyone. Talk to the landowner about hunting pressure, deer food sources and the quality of deer on the land. Before signing the lease, ask the landowner for permission to walk the ground, so you can scout out deer activity on the property. Some landowners might even let you hang trail cameras in advance to agreeing to a lease, just so you can see what is living on the land.