Bluegrass Trophy Outlook Part 2: Finding Big Bucks

Bluegrass Trophy Outlook Part 2: Finding Big Bucks

The fertile soils of our Commonwealth continue to produce world-class whitetails each season. Read on for top trophy hotspots near you.

Photo by Billkenney.com

When all was said and done but the taxidermy work after last year's deer season, 37 bucks taken in the Bluegrass and reported to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) qualified as Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) record-book whitetails.

Given the fact that some bucks haven't been reported or officially scored as this went to press, Kentucky hunters had another tremendous trophy harvest season in 2004-05. The previous season stands as the best ever for trophy bucks in the Commonwealth, with a single season take of nearly 60 B&C qualifiers. No matter how you look at last season, it is impressive.

Why is it that Kentucky has continued to produce so many high-quality bucks in recent years? These are often bucks that have taken over top slots on the state's all-time record lists. Is it management? Or is it good doe-to- buck ratios? Or maybe it's the improved skill levels of hunters?

KDFWR deer biologist David Yancy said all these factors play a part.

"In a roundabout way, the Kentucky buck limit of one antlered deer per hunter, per season has served a lot like a quality deer management approach for Kentucky," Yancy said.

"We have special antler size (width) restrictions in place on some of our public hunting areas, specifically aimed at growing higher quality bucks, and we label those WMAs as Quality Deer Management (QDM) areas.

"Although there's no statewide antler spread limit, the limit on the number of bucks being harvested, and the definition of what is considered a legally antlered buck for check-in purposes, has certainly affected the general, open-county production of big whitetails in Kentucky.

"We have a whole lot of record-book deer as evidence," the biologist said. Lots of record-book bucks, indeed. Right at 100 the past two seasons alone.

"We thought maybe our trophy production or the number of B&C-class bucks we'd see this past season would be abnormally low after such an incredible season in 2003," Yancy said.

"That wasn't the case, though, as we received reports of 35 qualifying bucks from 2004 at the time we compiled our official list from the previous season," Yancy said.

"We've averaged 25 or more (qualifying bucks) for several seasons in a row, and came in well above that last year again; so we were surprisingly pleased with those results.

"I really don't see any reason why the potential for this season would be any different," Yancy said.

Although we'll take an in-depth look at where trophies came from last season by region, one thing immediately jumps out from the 2004 season list. A significant majority of the trophy bucks killed last year came from counties in the heart of Kentucky's traditionally, most consistent, big- deer producing region. Many of these counties are also high-harvest counties with higher deer densities per square mile.

This suggests two things. One, hunters are knocking down lots of deer in the mid-Kentucky region, which is helping to keep the herd in balance and reduce overall habitat competition. That helps trophy production. Two, perhaps counties with big deer populations are the ones most likely benefiting from the one-buck management approach, in that the number of bucks left over from one season to the next is higher than in counties with fewer deer. That increases the probability that a hunter will come across a larger number of older bucks in subsequent seasons, just because there were more deer available in the first place.

If you take a quick glance at the state map, you'll see that the part of Kentucky lying between Interstate 24 to the west to Interstate 75 down the center of the state is strongly shaded as trophy potential counties. Let's take a look at the three regions that cover that territory, and show you what's available there in terms of high-quality buck hunting.

GREEN RIVER REGION

Counties in the Green River Region are some of the best in the Commonwealth for simply finding deer, as well as finding trophy whitetail bucks. Last season, 18 different trophy-class bucks were taken in the region. There are likely more as yet not officially registered. Mark Mulliniks capped the top Kentucky typical from last season in Butler County, scoring 180 6/8 points. Butler County gave up a second record-book deer for Charles Riehn, as well, a 161 7/8 bruiser taken by gun.

Grayson County in the Green River Region produced three trophies last season, two typicals and one non-typical for Bobby Edrington who dropped a monster 215 2/8 buck with a firearm. In addition to Butler County, Ohio and Breckinridge counties also had two trophies each reported. No doubt good things are happening in these spots and hunters should keep their eyes open this season as well.

We recommended last year that hunters should pay attention to Hart County because it produced four trophy bucks in 2003. Someone listened, because two more were dropped last season in Hart County, which has really blossomed into one of Kentucky's top trophy counties in the last few seasons.

Four of the seven non-typical trophy bucks last year came from the Green River Region. In addition to the Edrington buck, Dale Fancher took a second B&C All-Time book qualifier at 207 5/8, while Randall Bentley dropped a 191 4/8 scoring buck out of Hart County. Mark Simmons brought home a 190 1/8 Ohio County buck. Both of these deer were taken with a firearm. The last two deer scored high enough for Three-Year Awards Period recognition from B&C, which must score 185 0/8 or higher. All-time non-typical B&C listings start at 195 0/8.

"If you're looking for spots in Kentucky with the potential for big bucks, you won't find any better than the Green River Region," Yancy said. "It holds all the cards."

BLUEGRASS REGION

As we noted, you'll see a whole lot of counties in the Bluegrass Region shaded on the trophy buck county map. That proved true last season as well. Out of the 37 bucks reported, five typicals and two non-typicals were registered from Bluegrass Region counties. There were 11 trophies taken there the year before. Not the least bit shabby for trophy production given the hunting pressure season to season, especially in the northern tier counties with big urban areas.

This year, we've added three more counties in the Bluegrass to our high potential map, including Grant, Henry and Spencer. E

ach of these posted new record-book deer last season, including an unbelievable 270-class non-typical, which is now the top non-typical listing for all of Kentucky.

Chris Crawford found this monster buck in Henry County last season and it scored well above the previous record of 260 1/8 set by Ben Brogle with a 2002 season buck from Garrard County. Who's going to be the first Kentucky hunter to bypass the 300 non-typical mark? Maybe it'll be you, and maybe it'll come from the Bluegrass Region. It's got to be out there somewhere.

One of the No. 2 top-scoring typicals is from Hardin County, also a Bluegrass Region county. The Bluegrass Region has been pretty consistent in producing record-book bucks over the years. Curtis Patton's 178 1/8 gun kill is another example that this region has several hotspots for trophies, too.

For the second season in a row, a Jefferson County deer has shown up on the typical list, last year's taken by Christopher Parrot and scoring 168 3/8. John Murphy dropped a 160-class buck in 2003 with a muzzleloader, which indicates hunters should really look close around metropolitan areas for big bucks literally in someone's back yard. Pursuing these animals with a bow may be the ticket to getting access to some spots where firearms may not work, but the bucks are there.

SOUTHEAST REGION

With four trophy bucks in the last two years to its credit, Casey County in the Southeast Region has developed an improving reputation as a spot where big bucks exist. Two made the list this season, both typicals. Michael Cooper's 175 0/8 gun kill is an impressive specimen ranking fourth among typicals from last season. This buck also places Cooper in the B&C All-Time Record Book.

Other bucks taken from this more mountainous and less productive wildlife region included trophies from Laurel, Whitley and Harlan counties. At any time, a county in the Southeast Region is capable of producing trophy bucks, but not as suited as others the farther out on the Cumberland Plateau you go. The northern and western end of the region has better land for whitetails, and subsequently, has traditionally been where more record deer have been taken.

Stephen Davis and Anthony Lawson scored very nice 160-class bucks from Laurel and Whitley counties, respectively, as did Glen Helton Jr. from Harlan County. Lawson and Helton's bucks were reportedly muzzleloader kills, two of three total muzzleloader trophy kills from last year.

Other spots to keep in mind in the Southeast Region for trophy bucks include Adair, Pulaski and Wayne counties, which have several big bucks on Kentucky's running trophy list. Pulaski, Wayne and Breathitt counties still show at the top of Kentucky's all-time, non-typical record listings, which in recent years, has seen many new bucks placing in the top 10 in the state. Nothing has hit the records from those counties the last couple of seasons, but it's about time again. Be advised.


One great thing about Kentucky deer hunting, proven time and again, is that under the statewide herd management plan, quality bucks may be found just about everywhere.
 

PURCHASE REGION

We noted last season that the potential for trophy bucks in the Purchase Region has started to develop more prominently over the last couple of seasons. Last year, trophy bucks came out of the woodwork, relatively speaking, for a region that most have not thought of as a decent trophy buck-producing region previously.

The top hunter-taken trophy non-typical last year is the 252 4/8 scoring buck from Livingston County. Roger Broyles harvested this huge deer. That achievement is also going to get Broyles' name way up on the Kentucky All-Time B&C list for non-typicals at No. 3. Amazing that the No. 1 Kentucky non-typical and the No. 3 on Kentucky's overall list both posted from the 2004 season. The Broyles buck, combined with six other typicals from last season should be putting the Purchase Region squarely in the sights of the trophy buck hunter in Kentucky.

The top bow kill of 2004 also came out of the Purchase Region, next door to Livingston County in Crittenden County. Floyd Carpenter's 178 1/8 buck tied for second-largest typical, and Jared Belt added an excellent 166 6/8 buck from the gun season to make Crittenden County perhaps a top destination this fall in this region.

Another pair of trophies from Trigg County and out of Christian County this past season made the statewide 2004 season trophy list. These four counties are establishing themselves as legitimate contenders for hunters' time and attention in 2005.

"I expect things will continue to develop here and more trophies will be taken," biologist Yancy said.

"Counties to the north (Crittenden and Livingston) that border the Ohio River always seem to produce, and Christian and Trigg have a lot of good territory for deer where the habitat can support and produce some very good deer and antler development," Yancy said.

In that awesome 2003 season, Carlisle and Graves counties in the Purchase Region also yielded trophy bucks, but before we add them to the county map, let's see how they develop next season and watch their track record a little longer. There are many counties throughout Kentucky, not just in the Purchase Region, where trophies have come from. The ones we recommend have to be ongoing producers over several years.

NORTHEAST REGION

Not in this decade has Lewis County failed to put a trophy buck in the book, until last season. Fluke? Probably. Lewis County is on and at the top of about every kind of trophy buck list of Bluegrass State whitetails out there, not matter what year you check.

The expectation for 2005, despite a year's absence, remains very high for Lewis County, the best trophy producer in the Northeast Region for five years or more.

"It just escaped the hunters' eyes in 2004, I imagine," Yancy said. "This county has too good a track record, and nothing major in population, pressure or management approach has changed up there to alter the makeup of the herd or reduce hunter opportunity."

KENTUCKY'S TOP BUCKS TAKEN IN 2004
Non-Typicals
RankHunterCountyMethodScore
1.Chris CrawfordHenryFound270 5/8
2.Roger BroylesLivingstonGun252 4/8
3.Bobby EdingtonGraysonGun215 2/8
4.Dale PancherBarrenGun207 5/8
5.Steve GoinsOwenGun194 1/8
6.Randall BentleyHartGun191 4/8
7.Mark L. SimmonsOhioGun1901/8
Typicals
1.Mark MulliniksButlerGun180 6/8
2.Curtis PattonHardinGun178 1/8
2.Floyd CarpenterCrittendenBow178 1/8
3.Fred M. LuttrellChristianGun175 7/8
4.Michael CooperCaseyGun175 0/8
5.Joey EnglandGraysonGun173 0/8
6.Mike MoseleyOhioGun172 7/8
7.Tim WallacePulaskiGun171 2/8
8.Jay R. LeeChristianGun170 7/8
9.Louis OfficerEstillMzldr.169 7/8
10.Christopher C. ParrottJeffersonGun168 3/8
11.Tommy ScottGrantGun168 1/8
12.Jason MasseyEdmonsonGun168 0/8
13.James Bayer Jr.TriggGun167 5/8
14.Donnie BelcherCaseyGun167 1/8
15.John ClemmonsBreckinridgeGun167 0/8
16.Jared L. BeltCrittendenGun166 6/8
17.Michael PendleyMuhlenbergGun166 0/8
18.Mike E. ThomasTriggMzldr.165 4/8
18.Philip KidwellMadisonGun165 4/8
19.Dale NashButlerGun164 2/8
20.Denny BaxterGraysonBow164 2/8
21.Glenn Helton Jr.HarlanMzldr.163 6/8
22.Kelly N. SmithHopkinsGun163 1/8

You can safely say this, however. While a smattering of trophy-class bucks have come out of Northeast Region counties, when you get much past Lewis and a couple of others along the Ohio River corridor, the possibilities drop off, according to historical production. Bracken and Mason counties aren't bad, and Nicholas and Pike counties had 2003 trophy deer on the list, but finding many high-quality bucks is more of a challenge here than in any other region.

One great thing about Kentucky deer hunting, proven time and again, is that under the statewide herd management plan, quality bucks may be found just about everywhere. The general improvement in seeing better bucks on average is being experienced throughout the state. Ask hunters, and most will say they have seen more 8- and 10-pointers over the last few years. Most hunters are very happy about that.

"There's a very good chance that more cream-of-the-crop bucks will start showing up in the Northeast in spots besides Lewis County or on the river," Yancy said.

"All the other regions don't have extremely isolated areas producing big deer, and I wouldn't think the Northeast would be like that either.

"I believe those trophies are out there, and with deer hunting interest remaining strong, hunters having more and more information, equipment and ways to learn how to improve their skills, that we'll see more B&C-class animals taken in the Northeast as time goes on," the biologist said. "We'll just have to see what the future holds," he concluded.

THE FINAL WRAPUP

Remember the three keys to trophy buck production are age, genetics and quality habitat. Most any spot where all of these components occur can mean a trophy buck lives there. Don't assume that if you've never seen a trophy buck in your area that one doesn't exist there. The reason any buck gets big is because he avoids you and other hunters.

Look for the signs, rubs on big trees, areas where smaller bucks are consistently passed up, spots with high-quality food sources and places where other hunters won't make the effort to get to. These tips will improve your chances on a year-to-year basis of finding a buck of a lifetime.

In Kentucky, that scenario could exist just about anywhere.

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