One of the trends seen in the world of deer hunting in the past few decades has been the increase in trophy buck hunters who have switched from firearms to archery hunting.
Hunters are saying that bowhunted deer are less spooky. So, hunters see more game, and the deer are closer range much of the time.
That's why quite a few of the trophy deer across our region now are being taken by bowhunters, as is the case with some of the big bucks we'll highlight here.
Let's take a look now at some of the most memorable hunts for several Great Plains hunters fortunate enough to have tagged a trophy-class Great Plains buck.
The Three-Year Wait Was Over
The whitetail deer that Hunter Thorp bagged measured 171 by Pope and Young Club and boasted 14 points. It had grown large the same way a lot of deer around here do — eating hefty amounts of corn and alfalfa. The food source in this case was a plot planted by Thorp and his dad.
Thorp was attending Bismarck State College. He got a phone call from his dad. The monster deer they had been watching through the weeks and months just might be vulnerable later that very evening. The wind had shifted and was about to be in the perfect direction. Just maybe, if everything went right, the warning drift of the human scent would not get as far as the sensitive nose of the big buck. And Thorp might be close enough to bag it with his bow.
Thorp climbed into his vehicle and drove for two hours to get back to the ranch at Willow City, N.D. It's where he and his dad have Dakota Whitetail Outfitting.
It was all part of a long, ongoing hunt. Thorp had first seen this deer three years earlier. He had been hunting it off-and-on ever since.
Much of North Dakota is fairly flat. But the McHenry County hunting area Thorp would be carefully entering is more rolling, with some trees and cover amidst the crop fields. It makes very good deer habitat.
And that's important during winter, when icy winds blast down from the Canadian border a scant 35 miles away.
It's mostly whitetail country. But in the last few years there seem to be a few mule deer moving in.
"The first year I didn't know much about him," said Thorp of the buck. "He showed up late in the year. One of our hunters saw him but didn't get to shoot him."
Thorp continued to patiently follow that buck through the season.
"It was a 140-inch deer at that time," he noted. "He grew a lot."
The second year passed by. Still, the big buck evaded hunters.
The third year (2014), when it was likely reaching what would be its biggest antler growth, was when Thorp caught up with it.
"We had a turnip field on the other side of the property, and I saw him in it," he said. "Then about a week before I got him we had one of our hunt clients in. And he couldn't draw his bow back far enough. The buck was so big the hunter was nervous, I guess."
The big buck was still out there when Thorp got a call from his dad. The tree stand had already been set up in a good spot. Thorp climbed up into it and watched for the monster buck that had eluded him. That evening, the three-year wait was over, and Thorp concluded his pursuit.
From Ball Field To Deer Field
For John Hirschbeck, it was a change of fields that led to a trophy whitetail buck in the Old West environs of Harding County in far northwestern South Dakota.
Hirschbeck, of Ohio, had finished up his fifth and last Major League World Series umpiring duties before going after one of the bigger bucks taken in South Dakota.
Ryan Routier, with Routier Outfitting out of Buffalo, S.D., remembers the decoy set-up to take the 8-point, 130-score buck.
The bowhunt was not far off from the style of the avid duck hunter or the wild turkey hunter. A decoy and call was used
"We had a decoy," noted Routier. "A 3D realistic decoy. We rattled right when we started in the blind. Lots of little bucks came first, and then this boy stepped out and he drilled him."
All of it makes a rather grand pageant in the wild.
"The little bucks are sparring," noted Routier. "Or a doe is in estrous. The bucks are fighting for her. So, we are trying to be an acceptable doe ready to breed, and two little bucks sparring. The decoy is out there. When the big boys see that they come in slow and circle."
When, or if, the deer gets into the right spot, then a shot opens up.
On his ranch, Routier is seeing more-and-more of this type of hunting. Ninety-five percent of the hunters there are archery hunters. Routier noted they see a lot more game when the ranch is mostly used by bowhunters because bowhunters don't tend to spook the deer as much. One rifle shot can send a herd into panic.
"We are starting to do more of that," explained Routier. "More and more guys are calling. Even out here in the prairie it is the same tactics. That is the best opportunity. It is quite a rush. I called in quite few last year, and guys have a blast doing it."
There are some who stalk in the rougher country. And then there are the blinds and stands.
"I really love a bowhunter," said Routier. "They say, 'You wouldn't believe how many deer I saw.' If they are from Alabama or Louisiana or whatnot, they don't see as many big bucks."
November is the very best time for hunting with a decoy and with calls.
It is the lure of mating that works in the hunter's favor, said Routier. The big bucks come in to the does, and they also try to fight the smaller bucks. Their guard is at its lowest this time of year. That is how Hirschbeck bagged his 2016 trophy.
Dorm Room Trophy Buck
It was one of those very pleasant autumn evenings on the Nebraska plains near the Blue River. The pheasants were cackling, and the deer were roaming. Big deer.
This is where the bucks grow extra large on a combination of natural browse along the rivers and streams, and the corn and soybeans and alfalfa that provide a nutritional boost in body weight and antler size.
Anna Bodie-Ferguson, from Burchard, Neb., was hunting the Big Blue Ranch. It's the family place where she and her father and others have hunted for years. Not just for deer, but for rabbits and squirrels, too, which was her training ground for big game hunting.
The light was settling down lower in the day, and things were taking on that sheen that one remembers for a lifetime. That's when she spotted the big one. Standing out there in that evening light, the trophy buck stood out even in an environment where big deer are not unusual.
The family normally keeps a good eye on the deer herds on their ranch. Often, the same deer are spotted. And this Pawnee County buck would certainly be memorable.
"But I don't know that I had seen him before," noted Bodie-Ferguson. "It was not one I was tracking or anything like that. The evening the sunlight shown on him ... and I saw this big, white rack."
The shot was 75 yards with a .270. There was no problem with that since she had been hunting squirrels since she was a youngster.
In a special way that deer has been a continuing source of sport and friendship ever since. The trophy antlers first followed Bodie-Ferguson to the University of Nebraska, where she used them as a conversation starter in her dorm room. The 4x5, 9-point, 140-score rack stayed with her into her professional career. She now keeps it in her office with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nebraska.
"On our ranch we grow quite a few nice deer on the place," continued Bodie-Ferguson. "There were deer around when I grew up. I would go out with my grandpa and my dad just to see what we could see. Back then, there were no game cameras and you had to see what you could see sitting and watching and waiting."
Since then, there have been other deer and more of life. But her thoughts always go back to that first trophy buck in 1996 with the white rack shining in autumn evening light.
The Forgotten Whitetail Returns
Todd Griffin, with Pipe Creek Guide Service, had spotted the big deer and was keeping it in the back of his mind. Then, it disappeared. No longer did he observe it on his place near Minneapolis, Kan.
The animal was big, even by the standards Griffin was accustomed to seeing. And he sees a lot of them. From 175 to 185 deer are taken each year at his place. He places a minimum antler size on the deer before they can be harvested, so they can live longer and reach a more mature stage with bigger antlers.
"It is pretty consistent in big deer," explained Griffin. "Actually, we have been killing bigger deer the last few years. We have a 135-inch minimum. It used to do 125, and I didn't think that was enough. It has helped quite a bit."
Griffin's hunting area is two hours north of Wichita. It's mostly whitetails. The primary range of mule deer is a little farther to the west.
"Deer hunting is good," added Griffin. "Real good. It always has been."
So, Griffin has a lot of deer to take a look at as herds wander through prime hunting territory. The big Ottawa County buck he was after in 2012 was such that it made an impression, even on him.
Then, the big buck disappeared. No where to be found.
Maybe it died of natural causes. Or maybe even it was poached.
Griffin, who can describe every tine on a deer from what appears to be a nearly photographic memory, got a mental image of the big buck that would not go away.
But antlers shed, and new ones form, and that identification evaporates from year to year.
But sometimes not permanently.
"I went down and checked, and at 6 in the morning I had this big 10-pointer on my camera. So, I decided I was going to hunt him that evening. I got my tree stand, and, and about 6 p.m., I caught a glimpse of him back in the woods."
Griffin was using archery equipment during the hunt.
"I stayed put. At 6:20, a doe jumped the fence. Then, he jumped the fence and I shot him."
The big buck scored 182.
Then, Griffin's neighbor came over later with a collection of shed antlers. Griffin recognized one. It was from several years ago, and was from the same deer he'd been watching back then. The same one that disappeared. It had gone over to the neighbor's, who had been watching the buck and collecting its shed antlers.
"He went from 7 to 8 to 10 points," noted Griffin. "My neighbor started getting pictures of him. He was finding his sheds. He was staying over there."
So, Griffin filled a tag with a record-book bruiser and solved the mystery of the missing buck.