Trophy deer are never easy.
They do not make many mistakes. If they did, they wouldn't make it to trophy status.
When there are a lot of deer, wise bucks might slip up just because there's more competition for available does. They may have to range farther to find does that are ready to breed and risk exposing themselves to hunters. The urge to procreate is about the only chink in a big buck's armor.
Other times they are ultra cautious, wary and usually nocturnal. They move from secluded sanctuaries when the sun has set, and they're back before the sun rises in the morning. When the numbers of trophy bucks are low, the chances of catching one making a mistake decline exponentially.
Hunters in the Great Plains are not going to see the number of trophy bucks that they have in past years. In fact, there may be fewer trophy bucks around than there has been in more than a decade.
Whitetails have been decimated by EHD and their trophy potential hindered by drought, especially in Kansas and Nebraska.
In places like North and South Dakota, if the drought and EHD didn't get them Old Man Winter did. Both states have endured severe winters across much of their prime deer range. Old, trophy bucks are often the first to succumb to harsh winter conditions going into the winter rundown, undernourished and exhausted by the rut.
Kansas continues to be one of the best locations in the country to ambush a trophy whitetail, in spite of the effects of drought and EHD the last few years. The number of deer and trophy bucks are down though.
Statistics show that a disproportionate number of trophy whitetails are taken in the eastern half of the state. Whitetails entered with Boone and Crockett for the 2013 calendar year from Kansas far outweigh the numbers entered in any other state. In fact, the numbers would eclipse all the other Great Plains states combined.
But B&C records may not give a true indication of trophy white-tailed deer abundance in the state. Like much of the Midwest, Kansas archers have a better chance of waylaying a trophy buck than gun hunters do.
Archery season takes place during the rut, and hunters are much more likely to encounter trophy deer then than during the firearm season after deer have been hunted for several months and move less during the post-rut period.
"Top trophy deer frequently come from units with relatively low to medium deer densities by Kansas standards," said Dr. Lloyd Fox, big game program coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
"Our highest density units are DMUs 5, 12, and 13. The units that produce the largest trophies are 9 and 10, and the units that produce the highest density of deer that could be entered in B&C or P&Y are DMU 14 and 16. Based on what I've seen recently, I still like DMU 5 and 15 as places hunters might try. DMU 6 and 7 were listed last year because they were west of the area where EHD hit in 2012."
The situation with mule deer is different, Fox noted. "DMU 1, 2 and 3 have both the highest density and the highest potential to produce a trophy deer," he said.
With mule deer trophies in Kansas the key is rough land, few roads and limited hunters, Fox noted.
"Kansas is not a trophy mule deer state," he said. "We have few mule deer. There are too many roads, and mule deer in our habitats are too vulnerable."
Fox noted that Kansas maintains mule deer because of limited entry for permits.
"Many of our permits that let the hunter take a mule deer are to landowners," he said. "We also allow entry for mule deer hunters if the hunters are willing to restrict their activities to specific equipment and or units."
Fox noted that the bottom line for Kansas is and always has been that anything can happen anywhere.
"We do not have an area with low soil fertility, poor habitat and over crowded deer populations," Fox said, noting that these are places you would expect smaller deer and few trophy deer.
"DMU 12 comes the closest to that, but still has some nice bucks being taken every year. DMU 12 is our area of cross-timbers, similar to the habitat in Oklahoma and Texas," Fox said, adding that the area has shallow soils on the hillsides, but rich soils in the bottoms. Those rich soils, he said, are frequently planted with soybeans.
"That's great for deer, but a lightning rod for deer damage complaints, especially during dry years," Fox said. "It is frequently our conflict area, especially where one neighbor is trying to farm soybeans and his neighbor is leasing deer hunting. We produce some good trophies in DMU 12 because of the deer age structure."
Trophy deer could grow anywhere in Kansas, Fox noted. Local hunting intensity could also keep deer populations from expressing their potential, he said.
"That is one reason to discourage concentration of hunters," Fox noted.
"When we concentrate hunters, there will be a portion of those hunters who will settle for smaller and smaller bucks through the years to avoid a season where they did not take a buck."
Fox noted that deer have relatively small home ranges, and mature bucks during the post-rut period can settle into a small area and become nocturnal, making them less vulnerable to hunters.
As a result, the hunting pressure, especially the archery hunting pressure, in an area during the previous two or three years has a greater influence on number of trophy class deer than would, for example, the county or DMU.
For more information on deer hunting in Kansas visit the KDWPT at http://kdwpt.state.ks.us.
Bryan Clines of TDT Outfitters (308-882-1379) in southwest Nebraska is lucky. His property is in a location where you might have a good chance of shooting a trophy-class buck in Nebraska if you already have a tag.
"In my area, the mule deer are in pretty good shape," said Clines. "There are some 150-to-170-inches bucks. EHD hasn't bothered the mule deer."
Every unit had declines, stated Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Big Game Specialist Kit Hams.
"Frenchman had the least decline of any unit for whitetail or mule deer and is probably the best unit for either species," Hams said. "However, mule deer permits are restricted and access is difficult to get."
Hams noted that hunters who want to hunt deer in Nebraska should scout the area first or ask a landowner about the status of the deer herd and about hunter success and habitat changes from the previous two years.
Units in Nebraska with the highest ratio of 2 and a half-year-old bucks in the harvest include the Sandhills (91 percent MD, 91 percent WT), Frenchman (90 percent MD, 84 percent WT), Keya Paha (86 percent MD, 86 percent WT), and Upper Platte (83 percent MD, 87 percent WT).
Justin Simmons typically produces some giant mule deer and trophy whitetails for the hunters that visit his Spring Meadows Ranch (www.huntsandhills.com; (308) 360-0545) in north-central Nebraska.
Thick-beamed mule deer pushing 30 inches and 180 to 200 inches are not uncommon, and whitetails that score in excess of 160 inches are typical. But last season may have been a true indicator of what three years of drought and a severe bout of EHD can do.
"We took one good mulie last year, and that was a freak with nine on one side and 10 points on the other," said Simmons. "Other than that, we didn't shoot any good mule deer. We had about 100 whitetails on the ranch at the beginning of summer, and about 20 of those were shooters. By the end of the summer, we probably had 10 whitetails left, and none of them were trophy bucks."
Simmons works hard a managing the deer herd, taking a limited number of trophy bucks from the property each season. Supplemental feeding ensures bucks have ample food and the nutrients it takes to grow impressive headgear.
Mule deer have fared better in recent years in Nebraska because they spend much of their time in the hills drinking from windmills. Whitetails tend to frequent the bottoms where they are more likely to encounter the infectious midge in stagnate water that facilitates EHD.
For more information on deer hunting in Nebraska consult the Nebraska Big Game Hunting Guide, which is available online at www.outdoornebraska.gov.
"Our deer numbers are way down," Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. "We had some very severe winters in 2008-2010 that were hard on the deer herd. The winter of 2012 was another rough one too.
Trophy bucks run down by the rigors of the rut are some of the first to die during severe winters. Add to that the drought and EHD and it's hard to be very positive about trophy deer in North Dakota."
Units 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E, and 4F remain best units for mule deer, and the only units at or above objective for white-tailed deer are 3F1, 3F2, and 4F, Stillings noted.
It would seem logical that the units with the highest deer numbers would also be the most likely to produce a trophy deer or two.
North Dakota counties that produced multiple Pope & Young entries in 2013 included McKenzie, with one typical mule deer, one typical whitetail and one typical whitetail in velvet. McLean County gave up two trophy typical whitetails as did Ransom and McHenry counties. The largest North Dakota buck entered with Pope & Young from last season was a non-typical mule deer taken in Slope County that scored 176.25.
For additional information, please visit www.gf.nd.gov.
Like North Dakota, South Dakota has endured some horrendous winters in recent years that have impacted deer numbers in the state, especially the number of trophy bucks.
Northeast South Dakota has been especially hard hit and hunters looking for a trophy whitetail would be wise to head to the central and western parts of the state for wall-hanger bucks.
"White-tailed deer densities remain especially strong in the south-central units," said South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Senior Big Game Biologist Andy Lindbloom.
He noted that hunters can expect to see fewer good bucks in the southeast part of the state because of the cumulative effects of EHD on whitetails there. Reduced license numbers in many parts of the state may make it more difficult for hunters to get tags. Lindbloom said a stronghold for mule deer is along the Cheyenne River.
Both whitetail buck and doe harvest estimates decreased from 2012 by 4,087 and 8,507 respectively. Mule deer buck and doe harvest decreased from 2012 by 426 and 849 respectively. Mule deer made up approximately 12 percent of the total harvest. The 2013 overall statewide harvest success decreased significantly to 35 percent from 43 percent in 2012.
South Dakota counties with multiple entries in the Pope & Young record books last season include two typical whitetail bucks from Spink County and a non-typical and typical whitetail buck from Union County. The biggest South Dakota buck entered with Pope & Young last season was a giant non-typical whitetail that scored 196.125 taken in Clay County.
For more information on deer in South Dakota, contact the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks at www.gfp.sd.gov.
Hunters interested in tagging a trophy buck in the Great Plains this year have their work cut out for them. The only remedy is to scout, hunt hard and hunt long. A good dose of luck wouldn't hurt either.
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 'œgood 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 'œchip-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.
'œI'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 'œBig 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.'