Oklahoma's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks

Oklahoma's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks

More and more wallhanger-grade animals show up in the Sooner State each season -- so could this be the year that you score on that trophy of a lifetime? This information could lead you to it! (November 2007)

Photo by Mike Lambeth.

If you've ever looked over the "Wall of Fame" at Dale Welchel's Backwoods Hunting Show in Oklahoma City, you'll agree we've had some amazing bucks living in our state. The trophy quality of our whitetails may have exceeded the expectations of some wildlife professionals, but others -- myself included -- believe our best days still lie ahead.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has plans under way to improve the quality of the deer herd. In an effort to reduce the harvest of 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-year-old bucks, the ODWC has reduced the buck limit from three to two this fall, hoping that hunters will be more selective in the bucks they target.

"I think most people are in favor of the reduction," said newly named big-game biologist Jerry Shaw. "Five years down the road, most people will wonder why we didn't do it earlier. Our goal is to have a healthier deer herd and better-quality bucks."

So will the buck limit reduction really make the state's deer hunting even better? I posed that question to Mike Shaw, an expert whitetail researcher. "It's too early to tell now, but in the next four or five years we will know if our efforts have been successful," he opined.

WHAT MAKES A DEER A TROPHY?

If you polled hunters on this question, you'd get a lot of different answers. Some no doubt would call a buck with gnarly headgear sporting a multitude of points the ultimate trophy; some would call a wide-racked buck a "real" trophy. Still others (like me) want to harvest a buck whose antlers best any buck they've taken before; accomplishing that "personal best" would fit their definition of "trophy." And yet again, some quest for a big-bodied deer, their reasoning being that the heavier, the better.

All things considered, every hunter has to decide his own definition of a trophy. When I started bowhunting, I quickly discovered that there was more skill involved in arrowing a buck at close range than dispatching a distant buck with a scoped rifle. My first two bow kills -- taken minutes apart -- were a small buck and a yearling doe. After botching prior opportunities, I was elated; both were trophies to me.

During last year's primitive-arms season, I took an 8-point buck 40 yards away from my stand. To help Bruce Mabrey of Hiroost Outfitters -- (918) 759-8222 -- better manage his herd, I was encouraged to take bucks with inferior genetic potential.

The deer came in as I woke from a power nap. Slowly I raised my Thompson Omega rifle and fired, anchoring the buck with a well-placed shot. The rack lacked enough score to make the record book -- but that deer was a trophy to me.

In a nutshell, what constitutes a trophy is left to the interpretation of the hunter. Although defined in a variety of ways, most hunters would agree that any buck worthy of the record books was indeed a trophy.

BAGGING A BUCK FOR THE BOOKS

Taking a buck for the record books is no easy task. Even though the state's trophy potential is as good as it's ever been, not all bucks taken have reached their trophy potential.

So what does it take for a buck to reach its trophy potential? I asked Mike Shaw -- one of the most knowledgeable whitetail authorities I have ever interviewed. "The three ingredients necessary for a trophy buck are age, nutrition and genetics," he said. "We have always had good nutrition, and the genetics are there also, so the most critical aspect is age. A buck must be allowed to live long enough to grow his best rack."

So what's the secret to taking big bucks? That's easy enough -- just pass up shooting smaller bucks. Most hunters who've taken big bucks tell me they passed on smaller bucks for years, and reaped the rewards later.

CY CURTIS RECORDS

The Cy Curtis records list -- named for the man arguably most pivotal in the development of the state's whitetail restoration program -- was created to recognize our state's outstanding whitetails, with several categories for entry.

A typical buck must net a minimum score of 135 for entry, while a non-typical must score at least 150 after deductions. There also is a category for both typical and non-typical mule deer, as well as an open category for deer that are found dead.

If you kill a deer you believe might be worthy of scoring, contact the ODWC at (405) 521-3851.

BOONE AND CROCKETT RECORD BOOK

The holy grail of whitetail records is no doubt the Boone and Crockett record book. To appear in the pages of this prestigious register, a typical whitetail must net a minimum of 170; a non-typical must net 195. Bucks reaching these minimum scores are officially recognized in B&C's all-time records book.

The club also has period awards, which recognize bucks that didn't reach the minimum scores for the all-time books, but nevertheless are worthy of recognition. To be recognized in this category, a typical buck must have a minimum score of 160, while a non-typical must score at least 185.

Several certified B&C scorers reside in our state. For a list, contact the ODWC, or log on to the Web site www.boone-crockett.org.

POPE & YOUNG CLUB

Founded in 1961 and named for Dr. Saxton Pope and Arthur Young, the Pope & Young Club recognizes the world's top archery trophies.

To qualify for P&Y, a typical whitetail must score a minimum of 125, a non-typical at least 150. The club restricts the types of archery equipment allowed, and so-called "fair chase" affidavits are required. (Bucks taken by crossbow are ineligible for P&Y, but qualify for B&C if they meet scoring criteria.)

For information on certified scorers in your area consult the Web site at www.pope-young.org.

WHERE TO TAKE A STATE RECORD

A prognosticator could accurately predict that the next state-record buck will come from . . . anywhere. It's true: Any county in the state can produce a record deer if the bucks are allowed to live long enough to grow their best headgear.

For the record, state-record typical bucks have been taken in the following counties: Bryan, Jackson, Oklahoma and Atoka. State-record non-typical bucks have come from Tillman, Hu

ghes, Wagoner and Alfalfa.

BEST COUNTIES FOR BIG-BODIED BUCKS

Taking a heavyweight buck is something to brag about. I know of hunters who size-up a live buck's weight on the hoof, like some anglers size up fish in the water. Their ultimate quest is to take a bruiser buck that will break the check-station scales.

Big bucks and does can show up anywhere, but some counties historically produce bigger-bodied deer than others do. Shaw cited Woods, Woodward and Beaver counties as likely spots to bag a heavy whitetail, due to the fertile agricultural in those locales.

"Several years ago," he noted, "there was a buck killed in Payne County that weighed 340 pounds (live weight), as well as a Woods County buck that weighed 300 pounds" -- giant-sized animals anywhere, but not the norm.

"An average-sized buck in the northwest will weigh 130 to 160 pounds field-dressed," said Shaw, "while mature does will weigh 80 to 100 pounds. In contrast, a mature buck in the southeast will average 100 to 130 pounds field-dressed, while a mature doe will weigh 60 to 80 pounds."

Last season, David Lambeth, my nephew, arrowed a huge Panhandle buck that field-dressed 240 pounds. Yes, it's true; although most don't, some check stations do have scales that weigh up to 300 pounds.

TOP COUNTIES FOR TROPHIES

According to the Cy Curtis record book rankings at press time, the state's top county for taking a record-book typical is Pushmataha, with 206 entries, followed by Pittsburg, with 157, Woods, with 145, Osage, with 140, and Hughes, with 106.

The top county for bagging a record non-typical is Hughes County, with 35 entries, followed by Pushmataha, with 33, Pittsburg and Woods, with 30 each, Okfuskee, with 29, and Latimer, with 24.

The top county for taking a record-book typical mule deer is Cimarron, with five entries, followed by Beaver and Texas with two apiece. If you're looking for a big non-typical mule deer, Cimarron County is your best bet, with two entries posted.

The northwest counties with the most Cy Curtis whitetail entries from the 2006 season was Logan with four, followed by Dewey and Harper with three each, and Woods and Blaine with two apiece. In the northeast, the top counties were Osage, with four, followed by Adair, Cherokee, Creek and Payne, with two each. In the southeast, the top county was Coal, with four entries; next came Atoka, Pittsburg and Pushmataha, with three, followed by Cleveland, Hughes, LeFlore and McIntosh, with two each. In the southwest, the top counties were Caddo, with three, followed by Garvin and Jackson, with two apiece. In the Panhandle, the top county was Beaver, with but a single entry.

The top county in our state for total Boone and Crockett bucks is Woods, with 10 entries.T

TOP TYPICALS OF 2006

The state's top typical was taken in McCurtain County during the first month of archery season by Johnny Watkins. He arrowed a great 10-point buck that epitomizes symmetry -- its net score 178 2/8 after only 1 5/8 inches of deductions. Watkins' buck will enter the Cy Curtis record book as the sixth-largest typical taken since the state began recognizing trophy whitetails. Ironically, the buck was Watkins' first bow kill.

Watkins, 58, had hunted deer for 20 years, taking only four or five deer because, he said, he didn't take deer hunting very seriously. But after watching some big bucks get checked in at a local check station three years ago, he resolved to take a different approach to deer hunting. "I decided I was going to learn to be a better hunter myself, so I could, hopefully, shoot a big buck myself," he said.

While gun hunting in 2005, Watkins, 58, concluded after seeing and missing a big buck three times that his best chance for tagging the brute would be during bow season. Archery wasn't new to Watkins, who had formerly made a name for himself as a competitive target archer, but he'd never ventured afield with stick and string, and so spent a considerable amount of time practicing with his bow. He began scouting the big buck's habits three months before the 2006 archery season.

Earlier in the season, Watkins missed a close shot at another buck because he got engrossed in the antlers and botched the shot. "I decided then and there that if I ever got another shot at a nice buck, I wouldn't look at the antlers," vowed Watkins. "Instead, I would concentrate on making a clean shot to the buck's vitals."

Hunting a favorite stand during a drizzling rain on Oct. 26, a cold and wet Watkins decided to leave at about 9 a.m. When he stood up to climb down, he noticed a buck walking down the ridge and toward his stand. At 30 yards the animal stopped, and the archer released an arrow, mortally wounding his first buck. The deer traveled only a short distance before piling up.

After waiting a few minutes, Watkins walked up to within 75 yards of the buck. The supposed "dead" deer leapt to its feet and charged the frightened bowman. Watkins turned to run toward a small tree -- the only one in the vicinity -- but heard the buck collapse a few yards behind him. Shaken, but supercharged with adrenaline, Watkins carefully approached his buck again.

The buck, now expired, was a perfectly symmetric 10-pointer with a spread of more than 24 inches, the tines long, perfect -- truly a trophy of a lifetime. The buck rates as the largest typical ever taken in McCurtain County, and ranks as the third-largest archery typical in Cy Curtis records.

Another notable whitetail was taken in LeFlore County by Destiny Kitchens. While hunting with her husband on opening day, Destiny noticed movement in the woods that turned out to be a big buck. Kitchens steadied her rifle and shot, fatally wounding the buck, which collapsed after running a few yards. The buck had a perfect 8-point typical rack that boasted good mass and spanned nearly 22 inches between the main beams. It later scored near 160 inches.

TOP NON-TYPICALS OF 2006

The top non-typical taken last season was a 218-inch bruiser killed by Mark Hanaway in Oklahoma County. The 24-point giant was living near Oklahoma City on a small tract of land bordering a busy highway. Hanaway took advantage of an afternoon hunting opportunity when he finishing his chores early. He grabbed his trusty muzzleloader and heading to the field with his wife Wendy at his side.

In hopes of taking a nice 10-point buck that the couple had seen earlier, the Hanaways settled in. Soon they noticed some does and a buck heading their way, but from behind their stand. Two does walked directly under the Hanaways' doublewide hunting location, but the buck took a different path and emerged 30 yards away. Hanaway, ready at the moment of truth, fired a perfect shot to drop the buck on the spot.

When the Hanaways approached their trophy, they got a pleasant surprise -- the 10-point buck they thought they'd taken had several more points. "I was totally speechless," Hanaway remembered. "The buck had 24 points and was much larger than I had ever imagined."

That's the kind of surprise a lot of Sooner deer hunters will be looking for this season. Let's hope one of them is you!

Find more about Oklahoma fishing and hunting at: OklahomaGameandFish.com

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