Kentucky Deer Outlook Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks

Here's the latest statewide look at how hunters fared with big bucks last season -- with updates on what you can expect for this year. (November 2008)

Over the last three years, Kentucky's per-season average of trophy-class buck harvests has now risen from 32 to 34 animals.

The total number of Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) qualifiers reported by hunters from 2005, 2006 and last season has been 103.

They just keep coming, regardless of what Mother Nature throws at us -- including last summer's outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD).

During the 2007 season, Kentucky deer hunters scored 36 trophy buck kills of 160 or higher typical, or 185 and higher non-typical. Two more trophy non-typicals were found last season.

And though the bulk of last year's big bucks were taken out of well-known big-deer counties, there were also several surprises -- like trophy whitetails showing up in spots where historically, not too many have been taken.

That's exciting news for all Kentucky deer hunters.

When you chart the counties where big deer were dropped in 2006 and compare them with the 2007 crop, you'll quickly notice that in 2007, more than 10 bucks came from counties not on the list the season before.

This bears out what state deer biologists have continued to say over the years -- that Kentucky's herd structure is such that very high-quality bucks can be produced nearly everywhere in the commonwealth.

"For well over a decade now," said senior Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) biologist David Yancy, "our season framework and management approach have shaped our herd for quality bucks, and for excellent opportunities for deer hunting success.

"We just want to stay in that groove and let good things keep happening."

Indeed, Kentucky has settled into a strong pattern of producing big whitetail bucks. Yet some regions and counties carry an even higher potential for hunters to come across a trophy-class buck.

Hunting pressure, habitat availability, genetics and even dumb luck all play a part in determining the odds of seeing -- and getting a good shot at -- that buck of a lifetime.

To anyone who keeps tabs on big buck harvests in the Bluegrass, one quite noticeable thing was that last season, several counties had multiple trophies show up. In most years, the number of B&C bucks runs within five or so animals of the previous season.

To have more than one trophy taken from a single county is a little unusual. Occasionally, two might come from the same county. But last season, there were counties with three "Booners" apiece.

That's a very strong indication that even more are present.

Let's review what happened last year globally across the commonwealth, and gain a little insight into what might transpire this season during your search for a really big buck.

Perhaps some observations of recent seasons will help guide you to better spots in Kentucky for monster whitetails in 2008.

Let's start in the west.

Remember, not all the trophies that were reported last year appear on the list shown here.

But all 38 will be considered in the discussion that follows.

PURCHASE REGION
The Purchase Region -- Kentucky's far-western set of counties, grouped together for wildlife management purposes -- isn't a hotspot known for producing big bucks. Every season, however, it still cranks out a few B&C qualifiers.

Several counties have less than ideal habitat for deer, but the adaptability of the species still keeps a good population available in many places. A buck or two will sometimes survive long enough to grow a truly impressive headset.

In 2007, for example, hunters in the Purchase Region managed to locate two high-quality bucks, one typical and one non-typical.

The 2006 season gave up Kentucky's top non-typical of the year for Dan Miller, who dropped a tremendous 246 3/8 buck in Christian County.

Following on Miller's heels last season, Michael Snyder checked another huge 197 2/8 buck from Christian County.

These two big non-typicals, coming out of Christian two seasons in a row, definitely make this county one to watch in 2008.

Can some hunter keep that string of trophy bucks alive? We'll see.

Elsewhere in the region last season, when the smoke cleared from Wayne Batts' blackpowder rifle, the result turned out to be the No. 5 ranked typical buck of 2007.

His buck scored high enough to make the all-time B&C listings at 175 6/8, placing Ballard County back on the map with proven potential for big deer, after a long period of trophy absence.

"The Purchase Region has some habitats that are certainly capable of producing some high-quality bucks," said biologist Yancy. "But other regions in Kentucky will overshadow that fact just because some places are so suitably matched to grow a lot of really big whitetails.

"We generally see three to five elite bucks from the Purchase Region counties, and I suspect that will hold true again this season.

"If you remember the three 'C' counties together on the eastern side of the region -- Christian, Crittenden and Caldwell -- I think you'll have a good starting place for the best of the Purchase for trophy-class bucks in far western Kentucky," he said.

GREEN RIVER REGION
Even if they've never had a chance to hunt there, Trophy whitetail hunters have to love and respect the Green River Region. Its production of big bucks is phenomenal, and last season was no exception.

Of the total 38 trophy bucks reported in Kentucky in 2007, Green River Region counties pumped out 14. It almost seems like there are just that many big deer that when hunters are wandering around in this area, they might take care not to step on one of these trophies.

The 2006 deer season produced 11 B&C Club qualifiers in this region.

Do the math: A total of 25 troph

ies in two years means watch your step in 2008.

Union County hunters must have decided that 2007 was the right time to take care of business in terms of knocking down trophy bucks. By season's end, three trophies -- including one non-typical and two typical gun kills -- were checked in.

Mason Hancock took the third-ranked Kentucky non-typical that scored a whopping 210 7/8. Christian Bennett and Scott Pautler likewise got in the groove and brought out of the county their 169 5/8 and 168 1/8 typical bucks, respectively. Those have many deer hunter heads turning to this part of the region.

But not to be outdone, Henderson County right next door produced another three trophy bucks last season for Jeff Morton, Jim Wolf and Jonathen Armstrong.

Armstrong's buck ranked second on Kentucky's typical list for 2007, coming in at 178 4/8.

Sustaining a high level of six trophies between these two counties is very good, but it's more than evident that Henderson and Union presently rank at the top of the list as spots to investigate. They offer excellent potential to find a trophy buck this season -- and beyond.

Look close, ladies and gentlemen!

Last year, multiple trophies were produced in two other very well known big buck counties in the Green River Region.

For the last several years, Hart County has been a very consistent producer. Last year, two 170-class typicals came from there -- a feat, yes, but not really that out of the ordinary. Ohio County posts many big bucks, both of last year's being non-typicals.

So neither county should be overlooked as high-quality places to hunt.

Sometimes a county that gives up a trophy buck, or two, will make hunters think it'll be a while before another one is produced.

But in most of the Green River Region, big bucks don't sort of "run out" or get "shot out." The genetics, food and hunting pressure tend to stay consistent, so the result is wallhanger bucks, year in and year out.

BLUEGRASS REGION
Flying high with another banner season, the Bluegrass Region came in second for trophy whitetails in 2007 -- with some interesting developments. A few counties not only made the list with more than one buck, but some came through that, traditionally, haven't yielded much in the way of monster bucks.

Each season, hunters take more deer from Owen County than about anywhere else in Kentucky. Yet high production doesn't always mean consistently quality bucks.

Competition for habitat and food sometimes reduces a buck's potential for getting all it needs to produce good antlers.

Staying alive also matters a little, and when a county gets hunted hard, some bucks find it a bit difficult to reach peak antler development.

However, you could say that Ervin Vance snuck in and bucked the trend by taking a 218 2/8 standout buck --Kentucky's top non-typical for 2007 -- amidst the thousands of other deer that Owen County added to last season's overall harvest.

"It's been a good while since we learned of a Boone and Crockett buck from Owen County, but somehow it made it through, and Mr. Vance was in the right spot at the right time to claim the rewards," said Yancy.

Another big non-typical buck from the Bluegrass Region showed up in Pendleton County for Steve Borne last year. The tape said it officially scored 203 /8, which is well above the 195 minimum to get in B&C's all-time listings for non-typicals.

We noted counties in the Green River Region that produced multiple trophies last season.

That observation applies to three other counties in the Bluegrass Region, too. That feat might be expected for one county, based on its past history. But the other two, Yancy said, were a little different than what he might predict.

Meade County -- along the Ohio River corridor and on the border of the highly productive Green River Region -- placed a 170-class and high 160-class buck on the chart for hunters Craig Payne and Brian Walker, respectively.

"You know Meade County has a pretty good reputation for providing good quality bucks, and it's not a huge surprise that two showed up last season," commented Yancy.

"On the other hand, Oldham County -- and especially Jessamine County, in the interior of the region -- aren't usually spots we look to for record-book deer. But both claimed two qualifiers this past season.

"Both Jessamine County bucks fell to archery hunters," noted Yancy.

"It may not apply in these cases, but often bowhunters can gain access to farms around Fayette County, in the horse region of Kentucky, and get a look at places we know big bucks are found. Landowners seem more comfortable with that type of hunting, versus high-powered rifle hunters."

"In general, the Bluegrass Region deer herd is in fantastic shape," Yancy said. "I strongly believe that it is due to the one-buck limit and unlimited doe harvest approach in most of these counties.

"These are the reasons that the production of trophy-class bucks is enhanced. That may be why a couple of counties in this region that don't normally give up a lot of big deer seemed to pop up last year, like the bucks that came out of Marion County and Garrard County.

"In this region, you just can't completely rule out hardly anywhere," he said. "And that's really an exciting situation to find yourself in when you climb in the stand."

NORTHEAST REGION
Hunters found the 2007 season particularly tough for locating trophy-class whitetails in the Northeastern Region. Yet one off-season doesn't mean production is over with.

Time and again, history has proven that several counties have been very good for trophy bucks -- especially in 2006, when nearly 10 were brought to the taxidermists in the region.

In 2007, one lone trophy buck was registered with the KDFWR deer program out of the Northeast.

It came from Bracken County, where Dennis Sharp claimed a 201 1/8 score for his non-typical bruiser -- and sole rights for the entire region in downing a record-book buck that qualified for the B&C Club.

"It didn't happen last season," noted biologist Yancy. "But for years we've consistently seen some big bucks from the Northeast Region, and ones of extremely high quality from Lewis, Bracken, Pike and Lawrence counties."

There will be years when hunters just don't come across a trophy animal during a season, which was much more likel

y the case last year.

Chances remain good that a solid half-dozen trophy bucks will hit the ground in 2008, and likely from the counties Yancy mentions.

The track record in this region is just too strong to believe otherwise.

But it's possible that other counties less hunted could also give up a big buck of a lifetime. That seems to be happening in other regions, and there's no reason it can't happen in the Northeast as well.

SOUTHEAST REGION
In general, this region has the overall worst quality habitat for whitetails.

But surprisingly, the Southeast has been giving up trophy deer over the last two seasons.

In 2006, seven records were reported, and last season it jumped by three more to 10 reported trophy qualifiers.

The No. 1 typical for 2007 came from the Southeast Region -- Breathitt County to be exact. Archer Tom Oaks, who arrowed that 180 4/8 buck, joins a good list of deer hunters from Breathitt County who have their name inscribed beside a Kentucky trophy buck.

John Morgan's Leslie County monster buck taped out at 214 7/8, which ranks it second in Kentucky among non-typicals reported for 2007.

Is the "South going to do it again" like the Southern rock song says?

It now has two excellent years behind it, so you need to be watching the old favorites like McCreary, Pulaski and by all means, Casey County -- which posted a pair of trophies in 2007 right after another in 2006.

In recent years, Casey County has perhaps been the most consistent trophy buck producer in the region.

To round out where good things happened last year in the Southeast, Rockcastle and Estill counties to the northern portion of the region reported trophies.

So did Leslie and Harlan counties near the southern state line.

The Southeast can't be credited with the biggest numbers of deer in Kentucky, but in terms of quality bucks, the Bluegrass and Green River regions are certainly holding their own.

If Kentucky's 2008 season holds true, nearly 35 more bow and gun hunters are going to find a world-class quality buck in their sights this season.

Now you know where the most likely spots have been in recent years. And hopefully, you understand that in Kentucky -- one of the top producers for its size in the nation -- a big buck could show up anywhere, anytime.

You just gotta be there when it does!

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