Deer hunters from Kentucky had another banner year last season. Not only was hunting great overall, but those seeking the deer of a lifetime also enjoyed a spectacular year.
Dr. Tina Brunjes, formerly with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), said many times that the good old days of deer hunting are right now for Kentucky hunters. Who could argue the point given the incredible hunting success of the last few years?
Last season was another record year, the second in as many seasons. Hunters took more than 144,000 deer during the 2013-14 season, shattering the record set the previous season by more than 13,000 deer. The record was helped by excellent weather conditions during peak hunting times, but it definitely leaves one to wonder what will unfold this season.
While the number of trophy bucks taken in a single season in Kentucky was not broken last year, trophy deer hunters in the Bluegrass State certainly had no reason to complain. In fact, KDFWR Deer Biologist David Yancy's words were spot-on prophetic. Yancy said, "As far as predictions for our 2013-14 deer season, I don't know, but I'd say another 40 to 50 Boone and Crockett trophies will be bagged and that they'll come from across all five regions of Kentucky."
All five regions did produce trophies last season and the figure predicted by the biologist was quite insightful. So far there has been a total of 43 Boone and Crockett bucks turned in to the KDFWR for the agency's annual trophy deer list.
There were at least three others scored and not officially submitted to the KDFWR and each year there are always deer that are either not officially scored or are simply not submitted by the hunter or scorer. Regardless, it was definitely another stellar year for trophy bucks in the Bluegrass State.
The trophies taken last year were widely scattered and were almost spread as far east and west as one can go in the Bluegrass State, with a booner taken in Fulton County, which is the furthermost county in southwestern Kentucky. The farthest east a buck was taken on the trophy list was Carter County in northeastern Kentucky.
The state has received a lot of notoriety the past few years for the increase in the number of trophy bucks being tagged here by deer hunters. Television shows, magazines, the Quality Deer Management Association and many others have all taken notice. But why has there been the big surge in trophy bucks of late? KDFWR Wildlife Biologist Gabe Jenkins attributes it to a perfect storm of good things melded together.
"In my opinion, it's a variety of factors that are driving this boom," said Jenkins. "Our hunters do a fantastic job on harvesting and managing the does. On top of that we have seen a decline in the number of yearling bucks in the harvest, indicating that our hunters are letting those young bucks walk, which can allow them to mature into big and older deer.
"On top of that we have had a string of good springs and easy winters, except for this winter, which is conducive for a higher survival rate and healthier deer going into the two stressful nutritional time periods in a season (late winter and late summer). Also, I think we also have seen a complete rebound from the bad EHD outbreak in 2007. We have seen the population recover back up to that level and in many places exceed population levels prior to '07."
Certainly, Kentucky deer hunters in general have been having great success, but where are the trophies coming from specifically? Actually they have been coming from just about every nook and cranny in the state. There are probably only about three counties in the entire state that have not produced a Boone and Crockett buck.
"Big deer have been coming all across the state," said Jenkins. "I suggest that it's an indicator of a very balanced and healthy herd across the state. The same reasons why we have seen an increase in B&C numbers indicate why they are coming from across the state."
Hunters, of course, like details. They want to know who, where and how, along with what to expect this season. With that in mind, here is a look at each of Kentucky's five regions, the big deer each have given up recently and perhaps a glimpse of what to anticipate for this season.
Hunters tagged a total of 12 B&C bucks in the Bluegrass Region, which was down from the 19 taken in the region the year before. The number one typical and the numbers one and two non-typical bucks were taken in this region during the 2012-13 season, but the highest scoring buck from last season was the number two typical for the year.
Oldham County produced the highest ranked buck from this region last year as well. Jean L. Marquis downed a massive buck with a firearm, scoring 179 3/8 B&C. It placed second for typical last season. Amanda Hombirg took the third place typical, scoring 176 5/8, with a muzzleloader in Scott County. Owen and Jessamine counties also yielded top-10 typical bucks. Other counties producing at least one trophy were Henry, Campbell, Shelby, Trimble and Franklin. Campbell County was the only county to produce two trophies.
One buck on the list will not actually get recognized by B&C because the organization does not accept velvet bucks in their record book. However, the Pope and Young Club does, provided the animal is taken with archery gear. Nicholas Brown arrowed a huge typical buck early last season in Campbell County scoring 171.
The largest non-typical in the region was taken by Danny Moore in Bullitt County with a gun during a special mobility-impaired hunt at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. The Moore buck landed at number five on the non-typical list. The only other non-typical buck on the list from the Bluegrass Region was killed by Mary Lou Pollett in Jefferson County, and scored 191 6/8.
GREEN RIVER REGION
This was the second best region last year as far as numbers of trophies produced. There were a total of 11 B&C bucks taken in the Green River Region with the most impressive being in the non-typical category. The top four non-typical bucks, as well as the numbers six and nine, were tagged in this region.
Phillip K. Robertson's buck netted 223 2/8. Not far behind though, was a monster taken by David Howard scoring 221 7/8. The Howard buck not only landed in the number two spot for best non-typical last year, but it set the new state record for best Pope and Young. Both of the top two bucks came from Todd County.
Junior Key took one in Monroe County that scored 219 7/8, while Larry Mangin's Meade County buck scored 215 4/8. The sixth best non-typical came from Henderson County. Hardin and Butler counties also gave up booner bucks last season.
Over on the typical list, Ohio County produced two B&C bucks, with one of them making it in the top 10. Bradley J. Mills harvested a buck scoring 169 2/8 in the county. Logan and Hardin counties each added one buck to the typical list.
A lot of trophy bucks obviously come from private lands with less hunting pressure, but not always. Kentucky has some really good public land areas where hunters have a reasonable chance at bagging a wallhanger. In this region, a good example is the Fort Knox Military Reservation.
The Fort Knox property has a reputation for great deer hunting and steadily producing B&C trophies. Last season, hunters tagged two booners there. Keith Major took a big non-typical with a gun scoring 193 1/8 and Robbie Ammons arrowed a terrific typical that scored 163 4/8. Ammons has taken more than 20 bucks measuring over 150, with many of them coming from Fort Knox. He and his brother Chris both took trophy bucks with bows on Knox a couple seasons ago.
Hunters took a total of nine trophy bucks in this region last season. That was almost double the total of five taken there last season, but still fell short of the 11 taken in the region during the 2011-12 season. The total from last year is still a little above the recent average, not counting the record-setting trophy buck season in 2011.
The trophies were scattered over six different counties, with three counties producing two bucks each and three more counties producing one trophy. Mason, Lewis and Fleming counties produced the doubles while Bath, Robertson and Carter were the others with booners.
Vernon Shuler took the highest scoring typical with a Mason County buck that tallied 170 6/8. It landed at number nine on the list. Steven A. Howard added one from Lewis County and Nic De Wet took a trophy in Bath County.
There were twice as many non-typical bucks taken in the Northeast Region. Numbers seven and eight on the list last year came from Fleming County; Christopher Y. Graves took one scoring 198 5/8 and Dennis Nickell's buck scored 195 6/8. Both were taken with modern firearms. Robertson County gave up a muzzleloader trophy to Roger L. Poe, Jr. that scored 188 5/8, while three other B&C non-typical bucks were taken in Carter, Lewis and Mason counties.
Many people often think of western Kentucky as the place for trophy bucks. However, the numbers of trophies taken per capita is actually lower than other areas of the state. There is a very high number of deer in the region, but there is also a very high number of hunters. Its a Zone 1 designation, therefore it has an abundance of deer and the KDFWR is looking to curtail numbers.
Even with all the hunting pressure, the over-abundance of deer allows some of the bucks to slip from the 3.5-year-old-and-under category into the trophy stages of growth. This leads to a few B&C bucks popping up from the region each year. Last season, there were six booners taken in the region, which was up a bit from the average of the past few seasons. There were four taken in 2012, six in 2011, five in 2010 but only one in 2009.
Crittenden County was the hotspot last season as it gave up the best-scoring typical and non-typical bucks from the region and was the only county to yield more than one trophy deer. Gabe Jenkins took the best typical, a wide-racked giant scoring 172 5/8. It was taken on public ground at the recently acquired and subsequently expanded Big Rivers Wildlife Management Area and State Forest.
The biggest non-typical scored 192 3/8 and was taken by Steve Nix. One other non-typical was taken in the region from Christian County. The other three trophies from the region were typical and came from the counties of Trigg, Fulton and Lyon.
This region produced only five B&C trophies last year, which is a bit disappointing considering it dropped from the seven taken there in 2012. In the record year of 2011, there were 14 trophies taken in the region. This region has the lowest deer densities in the state, more restrictive hunting regulations and includes some very rugged terrain that is hard to access. These factors boost the possibility of a buck living to trophy age; it is just a matter of whether a hunter can cross paths with one at the right time.
There were only four counties in the region that gave up trophies last year. Casey County bounced up to produce two. In 2011, Casey and Whitley counties produced four B&C bucks each, but neither produced a single trophy last season. Whitley County was absent on the trophy buck list again this season.
Casey County indeed bounced back in a big way by yielding the number one typical in the entire state last season. Kenneth K. Zimmerman downed the giant first-place buck that scored 184 5/8. The other typical trophy from Casey County scored 164 4/8 and was taken by Joe Dan Thompson. Lincoln and Lee counties also gave up typical booners last year. The only non-typical from the region that was considered a monster was taken in Wayne County with archery gear. Bradford L. Southwood's deer netted 189 3/8.
"A trophy deer can come from any county on private or public land across the state," said Jenkins. "We are producing trophies statewide and in places we traditionally have never produced them. Our public lands offer good deer hunting and are managed well. Most hunters have public land that offers deer hunting within an hour of their house. It's also a reasonable thought for somebody to step foot on a WMA and have an opportunity to harvest a deer and perhaps a quality animal."
With some luck and effort, it might be your year.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '