The opening weekend of Missouri's firearms season in 2013 included extremely high winds, which in my estimation kept the deer from moving like they normally would have. That is what I'm blaming for my seeing only one doe on opening weekend.
But on the third day of the season I believe the weather was very good for deer movement. Daybreak was clear and cool with relatively calm winds. It wasn't long until I heard deer running through the timber and I finally saw a doe run up over the ridgetop and in my direction. Not far behind her was a medium-sized buck with its nose to the ground following the hot doe's trail. And not far behind him was another deer that stayed far enough behind that I couldn't make out anything other than it had a big body.
No doubt it was a shooter buck, but I couldn't make out its headgear. It never got close enough for me to see exactly what it was before it ran over the crest of the ridge following the other two deer. A few more small buck sightings and a couple of lone does was all that I saw during nine days of firearms deer hunting during the November portion of the season.
Maybe a number of folks would have shot the medium-sized buck that I saw on the third day of the firearms season, but I know many who wouldn't have. That's because it wouldn't have met their trophy standard. Everyone has his own opinion on what a "trophy" buck is.
The definition of a trophy whitetail buck is a very subjective thing. For some hunters, a trophy buck is nothing less than a deer that would qualify for one of the official national trophy registration organizations.
For these buck chasers a trophy would probably have to meet some sort of minimum scoring standard — maybe 150 inches of scoreable antler or better — and perhaps meet a certain age requirement. For other hunters, a trophy buck is a standard 2 1/2-year-old with no thought as to how many inches the buck's antlers measure up.
Personal preference, amount of hunting time available, locale where you hunt, and age of the hunter probably all play a role in what a trophy buck is to the individual. A 10-year-old boy or girl on their first deer hunt would probably have a very different idea of what qualified as a trophy buck than a seasoned adult hunter would. Similarly, a deer hunter deep in the heavily timbered Ozarks might define a trophy much differently than would a hunter in the croplands of northeast Missouri. My point is that the definition of what makes a buck a trophy is purely relative to the hunter.
Consider this article to be a trophy buck guide that will get you pointed in the right direction as to where you might find your personal trophy buck in our state this season.
ANTLER POINT RESTRICTIONS
Missouri has everything necessary for a whitetail deer to grow into a trophy buck — plenty of quality habitat, and a variety of it, great food and water sources and good genetics. Those are all things that come naturally in Missouri that can help the bucks achieve maximum antler growth during their lifetimes. However, hunters actually are the key to growing trophy bucks because they control which deer get harvested. I've heard it also called "trigger management."
Simply put, the No. 1 factor that accounts for how large a buck's antlers get in Missouri's woods is age. If a whitetail buck in Missouri can survive to somewhere between 4 1/2 to 6 1/2 years old, he has a good chance of reaching Boone and Crockett status. That's where Missouri's Antler Point Restrictions come into play in helping manage our deer herd for older age-class bucks.
The Missouri Department of Conservation's resource scientist in charge of the state's deer herd is very optimistic about our antlered deer population and hunters' chances of bagging a trophy-class buck.
"Our Antler Point Restrictions are definitely recruiting older age-class bucks," said Jason Sumners. "We've had several deer meetings where people are telling us that they are seeing more bucks today than they were five or 10 years ago."
Sumners also said that Missouri's buck-to-doe ratio is better and hunters are even beginning to see more bucks than does in many cases.
"We are seeing a slow decline in 1 1/2-year-old buck harvest," Sumners said. "Folks are passing on these young bucks even in areas without Antler Point Restrictions but we still aren't seeing a significant increase in those 4 1/2-year-old and older bucks because we are taking many deer when they hit the 2 1/2 to 3 1/2-year-old age class."
Speaking in generalities only, a 1 1/2-year-old buck in Missouri could be anything from a forkhorn to a basket-racked 8-pointer. There are 59 counties in their entirety that are in the APR and portions of four others that fall under the APR guidelines. It would stand to reason that hunters looking to shoot older age-class bucks would start their search in one of these 63 counties.
REGIONAL ANTLERED BUCK POPULATION
Another piece of the trophy-buck puzzle is to look at the estimated number of deer living in each of Missouri's eight different regions.
MDC wildlife biologists like Jason Sumners, Emily Flinn and Lonnie Hansen plug in different factors into a computerized population model that estimates deer populations in Missouri. According to their calculations, this year the top three regions in numbers of antlered deer living within their borders are the Central Region with an estimated 41,808 antlered deer, the Northeast Region with 38,200 bucks, and the Northwest Region with 29,951 bucks.
"We are shooting a greater proportion of 3 1/2-year-old age-class bucks in the Northwest Region than anywhere else in the state," Sumners said. "However, we are also seeing a slowly declining overall number of deer in that region at the same time."
RECORD BOOK ENTRIES
If you are a dyed-in-the-wool horn hunter, then you will want to know how many record-book bucks from your region and county are entered into the two main trophy whitetail buck record-keeping systems in North America — the Boone and Crockett Club, and the Pope and Young Club.
Both clubs have different minimum standards for a buck to be recognized in their respective record books. For a buck to qualify for entry into the Boone and Crockett Club it must measure up 170 inches of antler as a typical, or 195 inches of antler as a non-typical.
To be eligible for the Pope and Young Club, which is archery only, a buck must net a minimum of 125 inches as a typical or 155 inches as a non-typical. Keep in mind that both of these record-keeping organizations recognize the inside spread of a buck's rack as part of their overall number of inches measured, but when you see the caliber of buck that it takes to qualify for entry you can really appreciate their trophy status.
The 15-county Northeast Region came in first place once again in the combined number of trophy buck entries in the B&C and P&Y record systems with a grand total of 668. That total includes 170 Boone and Crockett bucks and 498 Pope and Young bucks. The top counties in combined record book entries in the region were Putnam with 77, Pike 72, and Lewis at 61.
"Despite the recent deer population declines in this region, I still think that the Northeast Region is one of the best places in Missouri to have an opportunity for a larger-antlered buck," said Sumners.
The 19-county Northwest Region ranks second in the combined number of record-book entries with 561 trophy bucks. Of that total, 177 were Boone and Crockett entries and 384 were Pope and Young. The top three counties in this region were Nodaway with 51, Harrison 47, and Chariton 44.
The 15-county Central Region ranked third in the number of record-book bucks with a combined total of 486 entries. Boone and Crockett entries made up 136 of the records while 350 were Pope and Young. The best three counties in the region are Boone with 80 trophies registered, Callaway 77, and Howard 38.
The 12-county Kansas City Region came in fourth place in number of record-book bucks with a combine total of 338. Of that total, 61 were Boone and Crockett bucks and 277 were Pope and Young. The top three trophy counties in the region were Jackson 84, Vernon 49, and Clay 38.
Although the smallest region in the state with just eight counties, the St. Louis Region managed to come in at fifth place in the total number of record-book entries with 329. Seventy-nine of these were "Booners" and 250 made Pope and Young. The top three counties were St. Louis with 84, St. Charles 66, and Lincoln 58.
The urban and suburban deer populations oftentimes are hard to get permission to hunt, which allows bucks to grow into older age-classes. Also, many landowners who grant permission for hunters to help manage their deer population expect them to shoot does to help thin the herd. This also allows bucks to grow into older age-classes, which is seen in the trophy buck rankings of the KC and St. Louis regions.
The 17-county Southwest Region came in at sixth place in the number of record book entries with a combined total of 202 entries. Of that total, 24 were Boone and Crockett and 178 were Pope and Young. The top three counties were Greene with 30, Laclede 21, and Cedar 18.
The 12-county Ozark Region is ranked seventh in the combined number of record book bucks entered with a combined total of 134 entries. Twenty-six of those were Boone and Crockett bucks and 108 were Pope and Young. The tope three counties in this region were Phelps with 22, Ozark 17, and Shannon 16.
Finally, the 16-county Southeast Region came in last place out of eight regions in combined entries with 119. Twenty of those are "Booners" and 99 are Pope and Young. The top three counties in this region are Stoddard with 26 entries, Wayne 16, and Bollinger 12.
Keep in mind that the trophy book buck entry statistics for Missouri are the most up-to-date available to the author at press time.
HEMORRHAGIC DISEASE EFFECTS ON BUCKS
By now most serious deer hunters know that Missouri suffered perhaps the most significant mortality ever recorded from hemorrhagic disease in the state in 2012. At the end of 2012 there were more than 10,000 suspected cases of HD mortality in Missouri, with many more suspected cases gone unreported. The MDC estimates that statewide as much as 20 percent of deer were lost to this disease. In some locales, as much as 40 percent may have succumbed to the disease associated with drought conditions.
"I don't think that hemorrhagic disease is inherently more lethal to males or females, or fawns or bucks," said Sumners. "It's the sexual segregation that occurs in summertime that may have disease affecting more bucks."
Sumners said that on parts of his own farm where he hunts deer, he may see only bucks on certain trail cameras in the summer, while at the same time on different parts of the farm he may only capture photos of does and fawns.
"In the summertime bucks are in bachelor groups traveling together," Sumners noted. "In their daily routines they visit the same watering holes together. This is why you may see incidents of losing multiple bucks in one spot."
The fact is that Missouri's overall deer population, bucks included, is suffering today because of the widespread mortality caused by this family of diseases in 2012. The full affects of the mortality may not be seen for another year or two in Missouri and other Midwest states.
Thirty-one of Missouri's 114 counties had reported HD losses of 101 deer or more. Those counties include Atchison, Bates, Boone, Callaway, Cass, Chairton, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Harrison, Linn, Maries, Nodaway, Osage, Randolph, Vernon, Johnson, Henry, Pettis, Benton, Morgan, Laclede, Texas, Shannon, Scotland, Knox, Shelby, Monroe, Pike and Montgomery.
What does that mean for the trophy buck hunter? It is just one more piece of the puzzle that hunters can use to determine which parts of Missouri suffered the most mortality from HD and plan their hunts accordingly. You may want to make that a factor when considering which counties to hunt this coming season.
This article is a great place to start your search for the trophy buck of your dreams. Visit the MDC's Web site at www.mdc.mo.gov to find out which counties are in APRs and for the most current hunting regulations for this year's deer seasons.
Once that's done, get out there and hunt down your own trophy buck — no matter how you decide to define that term!
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. '