Wisconsin hunters who are dreaming of squeezing the trigger on the buck of a lifetime this season should have a few more giants than usual to hunt out there. But that won't make the big bucks any easier to tag.
Still, you can increase the likelihood of more than just a chance encounter with a trophy buck by hunting high-quality habitat and putting in as much time as possible.
A growing interest in passing up young bucks and a windy, cold opening day last year means more than the usual number of Wisconsin whitetails made it through to see another birthday.
While winter was brutal, farm country deer especially seem to have weathered it in decent shape, and antler growth on bucks this past summer was exceptional.
More bucks are killed on opening day of the gun deer season each fall than during an entire archery season most years, and last year's windy opener had whitetails sitting tighter than usual in many hunting areas. Bucks that survive opening day — and there were a lot of them — typically have a much better chance of surviving the entire season.
In any given year, only a small percentage of hunters will take a buck big enough to make even the minimum score needed to gain entry into the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club system, let alone Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett.
But far more hunters will at least get an opportunity to tag the biggest deer they've ever seen, and frankly, don't care what it scores.
Wisconsin DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang encourages hunters who haven't already done so to get out and scout, and then make adjustments to their projected plan as needed during the season.
"We've got lower deer numbers in the northern and central forests, and a lot of buck-only areas designed to let the herd rebuild," Wallenfang said.
While lower deer numbers might discourage some hunters, that situation might benefit those seeking trophy bucks. Non-pressured whitetails tend to move about the woods more during daylight hours.
As always, those who've scouted the sign — large rubs, scrapes, tracks and droppings in thick cover — increase their odds of a "chance" meeting while hunting.
WHERE TO LOOK
Trophy bucks can be found in every Wisconsin County, but are more likely to be on well-managed farms and urban sanctuaries where they're allowed to grow older.
Of the top 38 typical and non-typical bucks measured by Buck and Bear Club scorers from the 2013 bow and gun seasons, only Sauk (4), Dodge (3) and Barron, Chippewa, Crawford, Fond du Lac, Richland, Trempealeau and Vernon (2 each) produced more than one of the top-end monsters. Seventeen other counties had one.
Deer often congregate near the best food sources. If you don't have your own land or access to a quality parcel owned by a friend or relative, your options are often limited to leasing private land or finding some public property. The DNR has an excellent database for those seeking public lands at www.dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands.
Metro bow hunts are another option, either on a limited draw basis or by obtaining permission.
In the past 10 years — and not including all of the 2013 bucks, some of which had not yet been entered — Wisconsin has put 498 typical whitetails into the B&C record book.
That's according to B&C's online trophy database called Trophy Search. For information about this valuable information service, visit www.booneandcrockettclub.com.
The club's records show Kentucky in the second spot in the past decade with 273 typicals, following by Illinois (249), Ohio (232), Indiana (206), Iowa (196), Missouri (180), Minnesota (176), Kansas (164) and Saskatchewan (152).
Wisconsin has 23 counties among the top 50 in North American typicals entered since 2004, including Buffalo (37); Trempealeau (26); Richland, Shawano and Sauk (each 18); Pierce (16); Dunn (15); Pepin (14); Polk and Vernon (13); Grant and Waupaca (12); Columbia (11); Crawford, Dane and Outagamie (10); Juneau and Marathon (9); and Adams, Chippewa, Dodge, Iowa and Marquette, each with eight.
For non-typicals, Wisconsin is No. 2 with 206, trailing only Illinois (254) since 2004. Iowa (189), Ohio (162) and Missouri (144) round out the top five, followed by Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas.
Wisconsin has 14 of the top 55 counties in North American non-typicals in the past decade, among them Buffalo and Waupaca (each 12); Grant (11); Crawford (10); Sauk, Shawano and Vernon (each 9); Dane and Dodge (each 8); and Columbia, Jackson, Marathon, Richland and Trempealeau (each 5).
GROWING BIG BUCKS
Randall said earn-a-buck rules got a lot of credit with helping some counties "save" more bucks, but even without the restriction in recent years the size continues to be impressive.
"I attribute this to the recruitment of hunters and landowners taking part in some type of deer management practices similar to our logo, 'Let 'Em Go — Let 'Em Grow,'" he said.
Randall believes the new Deer Management Assistance Program will offer flexibility in controlling deer herds within a county if enough landowners choose to participate, helping keep herds within a healthy and balanced buck-to-doe ratio.
"On local levels," he said, "there are a lot of landowners and hunters practicing some sort of deer management, which should increase the buck age structure and in turn, increase the opportunity at a trophy-sized animal."
Northern Wisconsin still produces some magnificent trophy bucks with far less hunting pressure than the farmland regions, but it's often difficult hunting with far fewer sightings due to the extreme winter weather conditions some years and the influences of wolf and bear predation.
Even after one of the worst winters in history, farmland region deer numbers seem to be exploding again. Randall said he doesn't think more deer are better for trophy hunters.
"I believe you should have a healthy buck-to-doe ratio of 1 buck to 3 does," Randall said. "If the ratio is much higher than that you start to see some of the smaller or less dominant younger bucks breeding, which I feel can impact the health of the deer herd. With an in-check ratio the average hunter would experience a much better rut with more movement."
A new law also allows hunters with permission — and with certain restrictions — to use bows and crossbows in more urban refuges this year. Randall said these areas are going to be very desirable for the hunters interested in having an opportunity at a mature buck.
"Anywhere there's a lack of gun pressure, more bucks will live to a mature age, and thus reach trophy potential," he said.
Randall believes predation can have a big impact. "I constantly hear from hunters who complain about no longer seeing many deer in their hunting areas, but plenty of wolf sign. We need to make sure that we have a healthy balance and keep our hunter-conservationists happy with a good hunting experience."
Randall said that even though Wisconsin is at the top of the record books for Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett-class deer, it's still the thrill of the hunt that should drive hunters.
The Buck & Bear Club is publishing its 10th edition of the state records book this fall, a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Jordan Buck. The club also puts out an annual deer magazine. Get more info on both at www.wi-buck-bear.org.
A CROSSBOW GIANT
For the first time in history, Wisconsin is allowing hunting with crossbows this fall in a season that coincides with the regular archery hunt. How that will impact future trophies will be seen, with supporters and opponents forecasting different scenarios.
Prior to the legislation signed into law, only hunters with physical disabilities and those age 65 and older were allowed to hunt with crossbows during the archery season. Crossbows were legal for use, however, by anyone who possessed a gun deer license and hunted with it during any season open to hunting deer with a firearm.
One of the hunters who has been using a crossbow in recent years due to disabling illness, including cancer, is Kevin Roesler of Arcadia. Roesler said the crossbow allowed him to keep hunting, and the deer he's shot with it were taken at ranges similar to the average vertical-bow shots.
In 2010, he put a bolt through a 10-point, near-perfect typical that had just 3 1/2 inches of deductions; it scored 176 0/8 B&C. Last season, on Nov. 7, he shot a 19-point non-typical that grossed 206 7/8 and netted 198 5/8 B&C.
Roesler said he and neighbors watched the buck on trail cameras for four years, and estimated it was at least 5 1/2 when it came to within 15 yards of his tree stand, dogging a doe.
Outside of a fleeting glimpse one night on a walk out from the stand — the buck "practically ran me over" coming out of a corn field — Roesler said he never saw the deer except on camera pictures.
"I thought I'd see it eventually, but I didn't think I'd ever shoot it," he said. "There were a lot of good hunters after this deer."
The buck was known as Fred, named after Fred Sanford from the Sanford and Son TV show.
"Fred was a junk dealer, and this deer grew a lot of junk on its head," Roesler said.
Kevin said he has some "super neighbors," and all practice "let 'em go, let 'em grow" so bucks can reach their potential. "There are a lot of deer out there, even after this bad winter," Roesler said. "We found some dead ones, but the doe population is phenomenal. We really need to take a bunch out this year."
Roesler said he's in the woods so much, year 'round, that the local deer get used to him.
"I don't switch stands during the season," Roesler said. "Deer are homebodies. If you have good habitat and good food, they'll stick around."
Roesler rents some land to a farmer, who leaves some standing corn. The hilly country has acorn-dropping oaks, and there's a small apple orchard, a water hole and some small food plots.
NEW CROSSBOW LAW
As expected, there's been a lot of confusion and rumors concerning crossbows in Wisconsin this fall. The new law creates a permanent crossbow season with no sunset, but also includes a non-statutory provision for the DNR to collect crossbow deer harvest data over a three-year trial.
While no one can predict how many archers might make the switch, there's fear from some bow-only hunters that more previously "gun-only" hunters will take up the weapon because it's easier to use. That, they say, could create more competition for hunting spots, especially on public land.
Since having to draw a bow and hold it without spooking the animal adds to the difficulty of archery hunting, there also are concerns that crossbow users will take a higher percentage of trophies.
The DNR will be tracking crossbow and archery licenses and harvest separately. Both licenses come with one buck tag valid in any unit statewide and one Farmland Zone antlerless tag. If a hunter wants to hunt with both bow and crossbow, he can do so for a $3 upgrade. However, the additional license does not come with a second set of tags.
Disabled hunting permits, which formerly allowed the use of a crossbow to hunt deer under an archery license, are no longer valid. The same is true for hunters age 65 and older: they must now purchase a crossbow license if they want to use one outside of the gun deer seasons and in the season that runs concurrent with the regular archery hunt.
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. '