Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks
Continued sightings of big bucks seems to be the case these days in the best counties for deer in New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. Is one of these areas near you?
By Gary Diamond
Finding a trophy buck has often been described to be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. While the odds of bagging that once-in-a-lifetime trophy whitetail are not favorable, you can be assured the chances these days are far better than they were just two decades ago. Obviously, being in the right place at the right time, and also being lucky, frequently dictates whether or not you're able to find and harvest that trophy deer.
However, it seems that those hunters who frequently take big bucks are those who are willing to spend a lot of time scouting, often months prior to opening day.
"We see the same people, year after year, bringing in big, trophy-class bucks," said Bob Brown, owner of FTS Taxidermy in Forest Hill, Maryland.
"More often than not, when we check in a deer and fill out the data cards, we find that these individuals are hunting in the same locations they've hunted for decades. And, ironically, most of the time they're hunting less than five miles from where they live. They're not traveling to western Maryland's remote mountains or the Eastern Shore's dense swamplands. Most are hunting modest patches of woods adjacent to small farms, places where at times they're just a few hundred yards from a busy interstate highway."
During the 2002-2003 seasons, which in Maryland are quite lengthy, Brown checked in just over 1,000 whitetails, of which more than half were antlerless. Of the bucks he checked in, just over 250 were of trophy proportions and ended up being mounted by his taxidermy service.
"We had some monster bucks come in this winter, and with all the snow we had, it seemed to improve the hunters' chances," added Brown. "Most of the guys I talked with said they saw dozens of deer every day, and because the snow made it nearly impossible for the deer to blend in with the background, they had no trouble seeing those big bucks that would normally be elusive. Some of the deer we ended up mounting had burrs so large that it was difficult to wrap your hand around the base of the antlers."
Jarrettsville resident Arthur Robinson made five trips to FTS Taxidermy during the past seasons. While three of the deer he bagged were hefty does, he also killed two big bucks. The first was a 7-pointer with a wide rack that would have been an 8-pointer if it hadn't been sparing with another buck, which resulted in a broken brow tine. His second buck's antler spread was not as wide, but it sported 10 perfectly proportioned tines. Both deer were bagged within 100 feet of each other, and all five came from a small patch of Harford County woods measuring no more than five acres.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
MARYLAND Walter E. "Tinker" Johnson has been scoring Maryland's trophy whitetails for as long as anyone can remember. Tink, which is what most everyone in the tiny hamlet of Poolesville calls him, also owns and operates Tinker's Taxidermy and additionally is an avid deer hunter. If it were not for his tireless efforts, there would be no Trophy Deer Contest in Maryland.
Not only has he meticulously scored hundreds of whitetails, additionally, he also maintains decades of records.
Gustavo Andujar was hunting in Anne Arundel County, which is situated just outside of Baltimore and extends south along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, when he encountered a monster whitetail, one that scored 172 6/8 Boone and Crockett (B&C) points in the typical firearms category, putting him in first place for the 2000-2001 seasons. This particular county is one currently undergoing massive development with mammoth shopping malls, intense housing developments, traffic jams and urban sprawl. Just finding a place to hunt in Anne Arundel County is difficult at best, but to also bag a monster, high-scoring whitetail buck is an incredible achievement.
The dense swamps of Maryland's Eastern Shore are home to some trophy whitetails. The vast tracts of tidal marsh are composed mainly of small patches of high ground situated between incredible expanses of bottomless swamp. Over the years, much of the swamp has been drained off for agricultural usage, and more recently, for housing developments, shopping centers and golf courses.
Surrounding these farms are dense stands of loblolly pines, red oak, white oak, hickory and maple trees, while the forest understory is a maze of greenbrier, scrub pine and honeysuckle. It's one of those places where, if you're 50 feet from the road and get turned around, you're likely to be hopelessly lost. This is what much of Dorchester County consists of, and it's where Keith Updike encountered a fine buck, which scored 167 3/8 B&C points in the non-typical firearms category.
Keep in mind that bow season opens in mid-September, a time when Maryland's Eastern Shore is alive with bloodsucking mosquitoes, chiggers, gnats, deer flies, greenhead flies and every other nasty, biting insect.
Without the aid of insect repellent and camouflage netting, bowhunting in this part of the Mid-Atlantic region would be nearly impossible. Dutch Workman was bowhunting in Wicomico County, home to all of the above insects and several massive swamps, when he set his sights on a monster buck that scored 164 6/8 points.
Paul Macey Jr. was bowhunting Anne Arundel County's rolling hills during the 2000-01 seasons hoping to bag one of the many large bucks that roam the county's fragmented parcels of woodlands. Because of urban sprawl, large tracts of land that were previously open to hunters are now closed to all forms of hunting, due to proximity to developed areas. Macey apparently found one of those locations that was still accessible, a place when he also found a huge buck that scored 190 6/8 points in the non-typical archery category.
Hunting with primitive firearms is a challenge in itself, and in some respects is similar to the challenges faced by bowhunters. You only have a single shot, the range of the weapon is limited, and if a trophy buck walks within range, you had better make that first shot count.
Jim Rhinehart was hunting the dense hardwood forests of Cecil County's rolling hills when he encountered that once-in-a-lifetime shot at a monster buck with his muzzleloader. The trophy whitetail scored 160 5/8 points in the typical muzzleloader category, putting him in first place for the 2000-01 seasons.
Just outside Washington's beltway, especially in the county's westernmost regions, there are a few farms where hunters have been able to obtain permission to hunt. This is wher
e Robert Baker set his sights on a buck that scored 173 4/8 in the non-typical muzzleloader category.
DELAWARE While Delaware is a relatively small state and only has three counties, each of those counties is quite unique. New Castle County, which is where the port city of Wilmington is located, measures 437 square miles and is densely populated. The city itself, which is situated in the county's northern reaches, has expanded well into suburbia. Over the past decade, urban sprawl has essentially connected the towns of Newark, New Castle and nearby Chester, Pennsylvania together, forming one massive city.
Consequently, finding a place to hunt in New Castle County is difficult at best, but just a short distance to the south, in Kent County, hunters have lots of opportunities and locations to select from.
While most of the deer taken in Kent County are bagged on private lands, Fran Balback opted to try his luck on Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge during the First State's shotgun season. It was in November of 2002, a time when the weather in this region of the state is typically mild, when he encountered a 12-point buck sporting massive antlers. He squeezed the shotgun's trigger and downed a trophy whitetail that scored 175 5/8 gross points and 157 5/8 points after the required drying period. His deer is currently ranked 24th in the state's all-time standings for the typical firearms category.
Kent County is also the home of Dover Air Force Base, a sprawling complex that is situated in the center of this 595-square-mile region. Much of the surrounding terrain is either slightly above or below sea level, which makes much of the land nearly impossible to develop. This opens up lots of opportunities for deer hunting. This is where Shea Lindale was hunting last November when he set his sights on a fine buck that sported an enormous set of antlers. He lined up his shotgun's sights and dropped a huge 13-point buck, which after the required drying period scored 172 5/8 points in the non-typical firearms category.
Bobby Bishop was hunting Kent County with his muzzleloader during the October 2002 season, which many folks will recall was the month that ended three years of drought. Finding a day to hunt when it wasn't raining was difficult enough, but lining up your muzzleloader's sights on a monster buck that scored 148 7/8 points in the muzzleloader category is an incredible achievement. His trophy buck currently stands at No. 6 in Delaware's all-time records in this particular category.
Bill Jones, who is a regional manager at the Norman G. Wilder Area for Delaware's Division of Fish and Wildlife, says he'll be scoring deer for the upcoming season that total 140 or greater. This will be done by appointment only. He can be reached at (302) 284-4795.
NEW JERSEY When it came to weather conditions during the past few years, torrential rains also slammed New Jersey in mid-October 2002 and continued well in 2003, thus breaking a three-year drought. While the weather had some detrimental effect on the overall success of deer hunters, by and large, most had no trouble bagging whitetails, many of which were trophy bucks.
The majority of New Jersey's deer are harvested from private lands, and statistically, the largest numbers of deer are taken from the northwestern counties. Keith E. Lynch Jr. of Old Bridge hunted the rolling hills of Sussex County during the 2002 shotgun season. He wished he would eventually find a big buck lurking in the dense hardwoods that make up most of the terrain of Deer Management Zone 1, which is situated at the very top of the state along the Delaware River's shores near the New York border.
His wish came true when a fine buck scoring 148 4/8 points stepped within range. His buck took top honors in the typical shotgun category for the 2001 season.
Hampton resident Ralph Scott decided to try his luck in the hills of Warren County in Zone 7, which is also situated along the Delaware River's shores. The surrounding peaks rise to nearly 1,800 feet, which essentially separates the men from the boys. Much of the area consists of near-vertical terrain, which can pose a real problem if you happen to bag a big buck some distance from the nearest road. Scott's trophy whitetail scored 143 1/8 points in the typical shotgun category.
Jay Burd of Newton hunts Sussex County's Zone 5, an area that consists of a long string of mountains interspersed with deep, lush valleys and midsized agricultural operations and lots of big deer.
This particular zone has consistently proved productive for big bucks over the years, and last season was no exception. Burd's shotgun sights zeroed in on a trophy buck that scored 159 1/8 points in the non-typical shotgun category.
Williamstown resident John McCormick Jr. hunted Morris County's Zone 8, which during the past few years has seen significant development of lands that were once open to hunters. He was fortunate, indeed, to encounter a buck that scored 154 3/8 points in the non-typical shotgun category, a trophy buck he'll treasure for years to come.
Joe Meglio of Howell is an avid bowhunter who decided to hunt the relatively small patches of forested lands in Monmouth County's Zone 50. In this particular county, it's difficult to determine when you're leaving one town and entering another. Fortunately, there are still some areas that have not fallen prey to urban sprawl. Meglio set his sights on a monster buck that scored 149 7/8 points in the typical archery category, putting him in first place for the 2001 season.
Jeff Melillo of Wayne was hunting Morris County's Zone 6, which is located in the state's north-central region, a short distance from the New York border. It was here where he set his bow's pins on a fine buck that scored 155 4/8 points in the non-typical archery category.
Marty French of Ringoes is a happy man. French was hunting the dense hardwoods of Zone 12 in Hunterdon County during the 2001 season with his muzzleloader. He encountered what later turned out to be the highest-scoring buck in New Jersey's typical muzzleloader category, a trophy whitetail that scored 159 0/8 points.
Biologists from all three jurisdictions said th
e opportunity to bag a trophy buck is better now than it was two decades ago, and with proper deer management the number of older deer will likely increase in many locations. Yes, records are meant to be broken, especially when it comes to bagging a record-book buck.
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