Wisconsin's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Finding Trophy Bucks

Wisconsin's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Finding Trophy Bucks

We love to hunt deer in this state, but killing a trophy buck is something you will remember for a lifetime. Here's a look at where memories were made in 2006. (October 2007)

Photo by Mark Werner.

If you are reading this article, you love to hunt deer.

Sure, you enjoy the cool, crisp Wisconsin woods and fields on a fall morning, and you enjoy seeing a passing doe or fawn. But while that can be fun and rewarding in its own right, some deer hunts are better than others, just like some whitetails are bigger than others. While most of us will say we like ice cream, there is something special about a double scoop of vanilla topped with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. Now that's ice cream!

The same is true of trophy bucks. Sure, most deer hunting experiences are satisfying, but nothing compares with seeing the buck of a lifetime nose his way cautiously toward you while your heart pounds like it's going to jump out of your chest until he finally steps into your shooting lane for a clear shot. Now that's trophy-buck hunting!

Last year was a good one for Wisconsin's deer hunters. The total harvest for the 2006 season was 506,947 whitetails. That's a great number of deer, but some were bigger than others.

The Wisconsin Buck & Bear Club (WBBC) spent many months after the hunting season measuring and cataloging the trophy antlers submitted by hunters. The WBBC can only record those deer that they know about, so the list is not absolute. Some hunters don't care that they may have killed a record-book buck, so they don't enter the deer with WBBC. Some folks don't want to reveal their prime hunting spot or be profiled in the press, and others don't want the hassle. However, for the rest of us who have taken trophy bucks, the WBBC can tell us where the rack ranks in the record book.

As of this writing, the WBBC had recorded 485 trophy bucks for the 2006 gun and bowhunting seasons. That figure is up from the number of 2005 entries, but less than the 2003 tally of 500 wallhanger whitetails. Nearly 75 percent of the WBBC-qualifying racks were taken by bowhunters, while most of the rest were taken with a firearm, but a few were road kills, and a few died of old age.

When analyzing the following 2006 data, keep in mind that this is Wisconsin, and a trophy buck can show up anywhere and anytime. But generally, our top-producing counties tend to be good year after year, so it is very likely that where there were trophy bucks killed last year, there will be trophy bucks taken there again this season.

WEST-CENTRAL REGION

This region consists of 18 counties in the west-central part of Wisconsin. Some of these counties are by far our best places to kill a trophy buck, but especially so those along the Mississippi River. In 2006, West-Central Region hunters registered a whopping 174 trophy bucks with the WBBC.

Once again, Buffalo County was No. 1 in both the region and the state with 48 trophy bucks registered with the WBBC. Forty of them were taken by bow, and eight by gun. This county also continued to produce deer in good numbers. In 2006, 3,320 whitetails were taken by bow, and 9,072 by gun. Of those totals, 3,350 were antlered deer.

Waukesha County hunters tallied 17 trophy bucks to make it the No. 1 county in the region and the No. 4 county statewide. All but one of these trophy deer were taken with a bow.

The neighboring county of Trempealeau came in second in the region and the state with 24 trophies in 2006. Archers arrowed 19 wallhangers, while gun hunters shot four, and one was "purchased or found." In total, bowhunters took 611 antlered deer last year, while gun hunters dropped 2,582 bucks. This represents a little less than one-fourth of the total harvest of 12,146 for the county.

Dunn and Vernon counties came in third and fourth, respectively. Dunn County had 15 registered trophies, and 14 of them were taken by bow, leaving only one taken by gun. Dunn County saw a total of 1,840 deer taken by archers and 7,505 shot by gun. Of these totals, 2,688 deer had horns. Vernon County had 12 trophies registered with WBBC in 2006, seven by bow and five by gun. Some 2,989 antlered deer were harvested out of the countywide kill of 8,551.

NORTHERN REGION

Hunters in the Northern Region, which consists of 18 counties, saw a slight decrease in the number of trophy bucks registered with the WBBC last year. In 2005, 77 trophies were recorded, but last year, there were only 71. The top three counties were Polk, Barron and Douglas. Polk has been the top county for the last three years in the Northern Region.

Last year, 13 trophy racks were recorded from Polk, an increase of two from the year before. Eleven of them were taken by bow, and two by gun. Archers killed 1,107 antlered deer in 2006 out of a total bow kill of 2,675 animals. Gun hunters were successful on antlered deer as well. Of the 11,052 deer registered during the firearms season, 3,660 were bucks.

Seven trophies were registered with the WBBC for both Barron and Douglas counties. In Barron County, four were bow kills, two were gun kills and one was purchased or found. Bowhunters dropped 791 antlered deer out of a total of 1,822 registered during the bow season. Gun hunters brought in 7,571 deer, of which 2,510 were antlered.

Of the seven trophies taken in Douglas County, six were arrowed and one was shot with a gun. During the archery season, 2,365 animals were harvested, of which 885 had some horns. During the gun season, 8,345 whitetails were killed, and 3,449 of them had racks.

NORTHEAST REGION

The Northeast Region did very well producing trophy bucks in 2006, and was second in the state with a total of 115 racks registered last year with the WBBC. This region consists of 16 counties, and it was third in the state overall last year.

In 2005, Waupaca was the top-producing county, so it is no surprise that it was No. 1 again last year. Of the 18 trophy bucks killed in 2006, all but three were taken with a bow. Overall, it was a good year for antlered deer. During archery season, 1,343 antlered deer were killed out of the total bow season figure of 5,499 animals. During gun season, 11,224 deer were harvested, of which 3,337 were antlered.

Fond du Lac and Shawano counties tied for second with 12 trophy bucks each in 2006. In Fond du Lac County, 10 were taken with a bow and two with guns. Of the 1,819 animals taken with a bow, 518 were bucks. During the gun season, 4,320 whitetails were shot, of which 1,284 were bucks. In Shawano County, gun hunters had four trophy kills, while bowhunters had eight. Of the total archery kill of 3,967, 1,205 had horns. During the gun season,

Shawano County had 10,050 deer harvested, of which 3,516 were antlered.

SOUTHEAST REGION

This region consists of only eight counties, most of which are metropolitan in nature.

Waukesha County hunters tallied 17 trophy bucks to make it the No. 1 county in the region and the No. 4 county statewide. All but one of these trophy deer were taken with a bow. This is even more surprising when you look at the total harvest for this county. Only 954 animals were killed during bow season, of which 469 were antlered. During the gun season, 1,463 animals were harvested and only 591 had horns.

Coming in second was Washington County with eight trophy bucks. One was taken with a gun, while the other seven were taken by bow. This county had a better overall harvest than Waukesha. Washington County bowhunters took 1,143 whitetails, of which 491 were bucks, and gun hunters shot 2,162 animals, with only 695 being bucks.

Rounding out the top three in this region was Walworth County with three trophy bucks. Two were taken with a bow and the third with a gun. As a whole, the county's hunters took 414 deer during the archery season, and 226 of them were bucks. Gun hunters did better with 523 bucks and 1,258 total deer.

SOUTH-CENTRAL REGION

This region has 12 counties, many of which are in the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Management Area. This area registered 93 bucks with the WBBC. Because of the CWD designation, there are extended hunting opportunities that could account for the higher numbers. Both Richland and Dane counties registered 15 trophies with WBBC in 2006 to tie for first in the region.

It is a bit of a surprise that there are still so many deer in Dane County given the CWD management tactics. Yet hunters registered 15 trophy racks in 2006, and all but one were taken with a bow.

In Richland County, 11 of the big bucks were taken by bow, three by gun and one was purchased or found. Richland had a relatively low archery season harvest with 571 total deer, of which 314 were antlered. During gun season, they did much better with 2,832 bucks as part of the total of 6,029 taken.

It is a bit of a surprise that there are still so many deer in Dane County given the CWD management tactics. Yet, hunters registered 15 trophy racks in 2006, and all but one were taken with a bow. Archers shot more bucks than does during the archery season, with 526 bucks and 413 does. Gun hunters did better with 1,731 antlered and 2,378 antlerless whitetails.

Both Columbia and Sauk counties registered 14 trophies each with WBBC in 2006. Of the trophy bucks taken in Columbia County, 10 were with a bow. The total archery kill was 1,516, and 664 had antlers. The total gun kill was 8,162, with 3,319 being bucks. Sauk County also saw 10 of their 14 big bucks taken with a bow. Sauk bowhunters arrowed 1,005 deer, with 522 of them bucks. During gun season, hunters shot 7,419 whitetails, 3,302 of which had racks.

DÉJÀ VU

Counties that produced trophy bucks last year will likely do so again this year. Good habitat mixed with good genetics and management help to keep big bucks alive and well. But picking the right county or management unit to hunt only gets you so far. Nothing beats good scouting. You have to do your homework to have a better-than-average chance at a buck, let alone a trophy animal.

Because big deer leave evidence in the woods, you need to develop your skills to scout for those clues. Rubs are visible all year. Often, trophy deer can be seen in fields at dawn and dusk during the summer. Then when you know the deer are there, you need to learn to pattern them. Where do they like to bed? Where do they like to hide? Follow the buck trails, and not just the well-traveled doe trails. Find the dense cover, walk through it, and see if you can get him to move. Once you know where he likes to hide, leave him alone until the season starts. By harassing a big buck too much before the season, he will only get wise to your ways or walk into the next township. As it is, trophy bucks can change their habits as the rut draws near, so don't encourage him to move away prematurely.

Keep all of your scouting in mind when you set up your stands. Set up close enough to the bedding areas so you can intercept deer during legal shooting hours. Where will they move to first in the early evening, toward water or into fields? Consider the same criteria for morning stands, and where they are coming from.

It is also very important to monitor wind direction. You need a stand that can intercept a moving buck during each type of wind direction, so set up a stand for mornings with a west wind, and a second stand for evenings with a north wind. It may sound crazy, but it will take much of the guesswork out of picking a stand to sit in, and it will increase your chances of killing a trophy buck during legal shooting hours.

Another critical component of stand placement involves what you want to see. As my father always says, "There are stands that let you see deer, and stands that let you shoot deer." If you want to sit in your stand and see plenty of deer, then field edges are probably the best places to be. You can see the deer coming out in the evenings to feed, but you will soon be frustrated in that they are too far out of range. On the other hand, you can set up in the woods on a deer trail, and evening after evening not see any deer. You could become convinced that there aren't any deer on your land, but then when you do finally see a deer, it will be at 30 yards -- a deer you can kill.

There are many articles in Wisconsin Sportsman throughout the year about stand placement, scent control, patterning deer and all the other details you have to keep in mind for whitetail hunting. Nowhere is that more important than in hunting a trophy buck. Sure, some folks get lucky, but to get consistent chances at a big buck, you have to do everything right, every time.

While trophy bucks are why most of us hunt deer, it is important to also consider good deer management. Wisconsin's herd numbers are projected at 1.6 to 1.8 million animals. Many deer hunters have cooperated with the Department of Natural Resources in their request to harvest does. I find hunting bucks much more enjoyable after I have that "monkey off my back," so to speak. Arrowing a doe early in the season gives me the confidence to go after the big bucks. I know I have food in my freezer, I know I have scent control mastered and I know I can judge distances with my bow and arrows.

If you are lucky enough to get that buck of a lifetime, consider having it recorded with the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club. This organization often has a booth at the local sport shows throughout the winter, and if you bring in a deer rack to be scored, you can often get a discount off the admission to the show. There are also official measurers around the state who can score your deer at any time of year. To find out more about the WBBC, go to www.wi-buck-bear.org, or call 1-877-273-6408.

I don't know about you, but to me, trophy-buck hunting beats ice cream any day!

(Editor's Note: Judy Nugent can be heard every week on the radio show "Outdoors with Dan Small and Judy Nugent." She is also on the TV show "Outdoor Wisconsin." Check local listings for times and stations.

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