Kentucky Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks

Every serious sportsman knows that big bucks abound in the Bluegrass State. However, some places are better than others. Here are some of the best to try! (November 2007)

Photo by Mike Lambeth.

The 2006 Kentucky Deer Season was the third-best ever, in terms of the number of Boone and Crockett (B&C) Club trophy bucks reported in a single season. Couple that with the third-best overall harvest on record, and Bluegrass State deer hunters racked up exceptionally well.

In recent years, trophy buck production in Kentucky has been nothing short of outstanding. Each year since the 2000 season, the state has averaged 32 whitetails qualifying for the record book. That includes typical bucks scoring 160 or higher, and non-typical bucks scoring 185 or higher.

The 2005 season produced 27 bucks that met the minimums for B&C recognition. Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) actually expressed some disappointment that compared to some previous seasons, that number was just average.

Last year, as the law of averages would have it, Bluegrass hunters reported a very impressive 40 bucks that were big enough to make the record-book cutoff scores.

Said KDFWR senior biologist David Yancy, "The 2005 season seemed like a so-so year to us for B&C deer. We questioned ourselves whether that was just a quirk of weather-related hunting conditions, or something else," said the biologist.

"We might have been a little anxious for another big year for trophies, because our track record this decade has been so good.

"It now appears -- after we've gotten the scoop for the 2006 season -- that trophy whitetail production continues to be very good," he said. "We continue to claim a top-five state status in the U.S. for our land size in pumping out Boone and Crockett-class bucks."

Yancy didn't expect 40 trophies from last season, but based on the overall harvest, he believed that there would probably be some increase from the year before.

"It does look like there's a link between the number of deer Kentucky hunters take each season and the number of trophies reported each season," he said.

"Higher harvests correspond with higher numbers of record-book bucks. But to see a jump of 13 from one season to the next is really phenomenal."

What does this information tell us in terms of what hunters can expect from this year's deer season?

Given the history of recent years and the bumper crop of big bucks that showed up last year, we'll highlight it for you here. You'll quickly see that it adds up to another potentially super year for huge bucks in Kentucky.

To find the counties with the best potential, you need to string together a couple of years' worth of information and look for a pattern. Then consider the habitat quality and season structure for each area. When all those factors are positive, you've got a formula for predicting the trends for trophy deer production in Kentucky.

Let's take a look at which regions and counties blossomed last year, and examine some historical data about where the big boys have come from. Then let's look at how the 2007 season shapes up for finding you a buck of a lifetime.

I think you'll agree that there are some very exciting findings.

PURCHASE REGION

Last season, four of Kentucky's top bucks came out of the Purchase Region to the far west, compared to five the previous season. A two-season total of nine trophy deer (especially given that 2006's top non-typical is among that nine), strongly suggests that this region is coming into its own as a place to find high-quality bucks.

Check these statistics:

Dan Miller dropped a monster Pennyrile Forest (Christian County) non-typical that topped Kentucky's list last season with a score of 246 3/8. His buck is miles ahead of the rest of the biggest non-typicals for 2006.

Coincidentally, another Dan -- Dann Hughes -- shot Kentucky's biggest non-typical the year before in nearby Trigg County, which also lies within the Purchase Region.

Hughes' buck scored 249 3/8 and was "far and away" the leader in that category two seasons ago.

An observation? If your name is Dan, and you have a place to hunt in the Purchase Region, you're this year's odds-on favorite to score a really big, chart-topping non-typical.

(For the rest of us, perhaps name changes are in order -- as well as some work to get permission on a farm in this region.)

And there's more to note for the Purchase Region, and for Christian County in particular.

Christian County accounted for a big 189 3/8 non-typical in 2005 as well. And Randy Green added a big typical in 2006 that missed the B&C All-Time record (of 170 or better) by a half-inch. Nevertheless, his 169 4/8 bruiser demonstrates that this county has a good trend going into the 2007 season. So keep your eyes open!

Elsewhere in the Purchase Region, Tony Moore stroked the top non-typical bow kill reported for 2006, with a big daddy 185 2/8 that placed his name in the B&C Awards Book.

His buck came out of Crittenden County, one of a handful of counties that has shown trophy-buck potential year after year. It is always highlighted on the maps indicating counties with high potential. The season before, Crittenden gave up the fourth biggest non-typical. Like last season, ironically, it was the top bow kill in 2005.

When the smoke cleared from his muzzleloader in Lyon County last year, David Stevens made the All-Time B&C Club listings with his 170 5/8 typical, rounding out a solid showing for big bucks in the Purchase Region. Many of the bucks qualifying as trophies last year weren't necessarily in the "top" 10 or 15 ranked scores. But all four bucks taken in the Purchase were.

There is good-quality habitat in most of these counties. A lot of crops are grown in this region, giving whitetail bucks the boost they need to generate those record-book antler lengths and circumferences.

"The Purchase seems to kick out three or four trophy-class whitetails each season," said Yancy. "But I believe the potential for more is probably there.

"In recent years," the biologist said, "almost every county

has been represented on the list. Perhaps after the 2007 season we will be able to legitimately shade in another county or two on the map for best trophy potential counties in this region."

Yancy's prediction is certainly supported by the "pattern" we described earlier. It's clearly there in the Purchase Region from several angles. Better give this region a hard look this season.

GREEN RIVER REGION

The Green River Region tied for top trophy-producing honors in 2006, with a whopping 11 bucks making the elite cut of being considered trophy whitetails -- out of more than 63,000 bucks taken statewide last fall.

That translates into the top 2 percent of all bucks taken, and so is a remarkable achievement indeed. The Green River Region gives up quality bucks consistently, over and over.

Here's what I'm talking about.

The Green River Region -- and more specifically, Paul Campbell -- claimed the top bow kill in 2006 with a tremendous 192 4/8 buck from Warren County that got things rolling. Hulen Sanders' 176 0/8 Grayson County buck was the best typical from the region, ranking third of all typicals last year.

John Wilcox added a second typical, again from Grayson County. It scored 165 1/8 and helped the Green River Region tie with the Northeast Region for best trophy production last season.

The eight other big bucks from this region that topped Kentucky's charts came from Hopkins, McLean, Union, Edmonson, Todd, Butler, Logan and Hancock counties. Now -- as if we needed another impressive statistic about the Green River Region's trophy-buck potential, consider this:

In the last two seasons alone, at least one B&C Club qualifier has been reported taken -- are you ready? -- in 16 of the 22 counties that make up the Green River Region.

Yeah, just about everywhere you look. You may have glanced at the Top Trophy-Buck Counties map and wondered why almost all the Green River counties are shaded for high potential. The reason is that they provide big bucks consistently, year after year after year. Historically, there's no better place in Kentucky to encounter a wallhanger whitetail than in this richly agricultural section of our state, so perfectly suited for deer.

While other regions have big years and small years, the Green River counties produce every time.

If a county is off the list this year, it's usually back on the next -- with a record book buck. If history repeats itself, then this region is also one of the best to consider for the hunter seeking a trophy whitetail in 2007 . . . and beyond.

BLUEGRASS REGION

In 2005, Bluegrass Region deer hunters had a bit of a dry year for big bucks. But they got on track last season, according to the KDFWR's official list of B&Cs from 2006.

Trophy bucks jumped from three to nine, again, with some very interesting developments that you need to stay on top of.

Most hunters know that Pendleton County claims Kentucky's best-ever typical buck taken: At the end of the day, Robert Smith came home with his record-book dream-fulfilling 204 2/8 buck -- top 10 in the world.

Over the years, this little county along the Ohio River has produced many trophy-caliber bucks. The 2006 season proved once again that Pendleton County is a hotbed for big bucks anywhere in Kentucky, not in just the Bluegrass Region alone.

Eddie Manning's 169 5/8 typical gun kill and Brandon Bruin's 165 0/8 buck are two more reasons to explore some territory in this area this season, for sure.

But you won't want to stop looking there, in the mid-part of the state.

It's tough to swing permission to hunt on farms in Fayette and Bourbon counties, where extensive horse operations cover much of the land. So you might think it rather strange for me to recommend that you give it a try. Yet it's hard to argue with the facts.

Each of these counties has very limited typical deer habitat, compared to what you'll find in more urban counties. The Bluegrass Region's interior counties aren't generally thought of as top places to find trophy whitetails because they contain so much open, rolling pasture. But as we know, the whitetail is a very adaptable species, capable of doing quite well even in landscapes with fragmented habitat.

But in these two counties, some spots here and there held bucks of a lifetime for three hunters last season -- and for one the season before. In the last two seasons, Fayette and Bourbon counties have yielded two trophies apiece.

It's time to start scanning those big, open fields for more than the next Derby winner. There are some big, big bucks on some of these farms. And if they can, bowhunters especially should be forging some friendships with landowners in this region.

Judging by recent trophy kills, other spots in this region to consider will include Grant County. There, Matthew Jones took Kentucky's top reported muzzleloader non-typical kill -- a 185-class buck.

There too, Rick Pelphrey harvested the top typical muzzleloader from Trimble County when his 165 3/8 buck hit the ground.

True, Bluegrass Region hunters may have to contend with more surrounding pressure than other areas. But that doesn't mean the potential for big bucks isn't present.

Remember that counties in this region have some of the highest deer densities in Kentucky. And when that's the case, just because more deer are present, a buck has a higher chance of making it untouched through three or four seasons.

Big bucks are good at avoiding getting shot at when there are lots of other smaller deer around to walk out of the woods first. Most hunters will take the first decent buck they see, rather than have the patience to wait and see if a much bigger buck is holding back until he's sure it's safe.

NORTHEAST REGION

Well, what can you say? In recent years, the Northeast Region's production of trophy bucks has been a little volatile -- down, then up. There were only three book bucks in 2005, then all of a sudden, 11 in 2006.

Go figure! But one thing is as sure as anything in the hunting realm can be: If there is only one record buck a year taken in this region, it's going to be from Lewis County.

In six of the last eight seasons -- including the last four in a row -- somebody has taken a trophy buck from Lewis County. I'd almost wager that during the two seasons where no record of one exists, somebody killed one but just didn't report it.

Look what went on during the 2006 season: Dale May dropped a 170-class All Time B&C listing buck with a rifle. Darrell Armstrong and Brian Cooper each took typical

160-class bucks with a gun and a muzzleloader, respectively.

Floyd Bolander even found a 165 7/8 typical in Lewis County.

Four trophies in one season! Is that amazing, or what?

And there were seven more in the region last year, including a 199 2/8 non-typical for Dallas Stacy out of Morgan County -- and the top typical of the 2006 season overall for Larry Walters, with his 180 6/8 gun kill from Pike County.

Morgan County has been out of the picture for a while, but made a good B&C showing last season, when it produced two listings. It was one of about four counties with multiple trophies during 2006 statewide.

So what's the pattern here? Lewis County is the place to be. Sell your house and move, if you have to.

Otherwise, the potential is there, but except for Lewis, no more so in one spot than another. Scouting to find farms not hunted for a few years is probably the best bet in the Northeast Region this season.

SOUTHEAST REGION

For many years, biologists have been highlighting Pulaski County, mostly because of what they believe are some excellent genetics in that part of the Southeast Region. Since 2000, not so many trophies have popped up -- until recently.

In 2005, Darrell Scruggs recorded a big typical. And in the banner year of 2006, Rick Gosser posted a huge non-typical of 202 1/8 of his own, to "re-up" Pulaski as a hotspot for high-quality bucks in Kentucky.

William Bertram also helped out by showing that while the Southeast doesn't always post a lot of trophies, they're generally some of the most impressive when they do show up. Last season, Bertram took a Cumberland County non-typical, scoring 197-plus, that would make any deer hunter envious.

Also among the total five record deer in this region last year were bucks from Bell, Knox and Casey counties, all surpassing the 160 minimum score for typicals.

For the last couple of seasons, Casey County has also been one of the more consistent spots to find a big buck, so don't overlook it this year.

Try to hunt farms where there's some measure of grain growing, or where the habitat's not the same thing acre after acre. Deer like those ecological edges where one type of habitat borders another, and a variety of food supplies are available.

Also key on spots where you find more does congregating. Sooner or later, they'll attract most of the bucks in the area to the same place.

These days, a trophy whitetail can show up about anywhere in Kentucky, at anytime. Play the odds this season, and you'll boost your chances of being in the right place at the right time to eyeball one.

Find more about Kentucky fishing and hunting at: KentuckyGameandFish.com

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