Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks
Sportsmen are harvesting more trophy bucks these days in select areas of Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware — even on public land!
By Gary Diamond
While the number of hunters seems to be decreasing nationwide, harvest statistics continue to reveal modest increases in the number of whitetails being bagged each year, particularly during the past two decades. Granted, there have been a few minor decreases in total harvests during some years, but much of this is readily explained by significant changes in weather conditions during those particular seasons.
While there are many individuals who will not disclose an exact location where a trophy whitetail was bagged, they frequently are more than happy to explain when and how they were able to accomplish their lifelong goal. Ironically, some of those who bag record-book bucks not only will divulge the exact location, but also provide lots of additional information that could prove beneficial to other hunters.
MARYLAND'S BIG BUCKS
While some of the largest bucks in Maryland have come from public land, this is the exception more than the rule. According to Bob Brown at FTS Taxidermy in Forest Hill, nearly every trophy buck that comes through his shop and check station has been bagged on private land. More often than not, that once-in-a-lifetime trophy is taken just a short distance from a major area of development, and frequently from a parcel of woods that measures just a few acres.
Caroline County on Maryland's Eastern Shore is a thriving agricultural area where the main crops are corn, soybeans, melons and tomatoes. This is also the land of multimillion-dollar estates of the rich and famous, all surrounded by immense lawns that have been painstakingly cared for by teams of landscapers.
The terrain in this region of the state is essentially flat as a pool table, with much of it at or slightly above sea level, and some of it just a few feet below sea level. Most of the farms are massive operations, often covering several hundred to thousands of acres of croplands surrounded by dense, hardwood forests. This is where Laura Kreiss bagged her once-in-a-lifetime trophy whitetail, a brute that scored 161 0/8 points in the typical firearms category.
Richard Jordan was hunting the rolling hills of Frederick County when he downed a buck that scored 156 7/8 points. His big buck ranked second in the overall typical firearms category for last year. Frederick County just so happens to be where the highest number of deer was harvested during the 2003 season.
Photo by BillKinney.com
The towering peaks of Washington County are not for those who are not in good physical condition. The county's hills are nearly vertical, rising to heights of more than 5,000 feet in some locations, and this is one of those locations where winter comes early and stays late. It's also where Todd Dorsey encountered a monster whitetail that scored 155 1/8 points, putting him in third place in the typical firearms category.
Saint Marys County is home to historic Point Lookout State Park. Other than the Patuxent Naval Air Station, much of the county is agricultural. Until recently, most of the county's farms produced two cash crops: corn and tobacco.
Many of the tobacco fields have since been replaced with soybean or corn, both of which seem to thrive in the sandy soil when heavily fertilized and irrigated. The terrain is mostly flat, slightly above sea level and much of the forested areas are quite dense with thick growths of laurel, honeysuckle and greenbrier. This is where Terry Starr found a trophy whitetail that scored 196 3/8 B&C points in the non-typical firearms category. What an incredible deer!
Just a short distance north, in rural Charles County, is where many of the old tobacco farms have recently been replaced with huge tracts of expensive homes, large shopping malls and small industrial complexes.
The forest understory here varies from dense thickets of briar and honeysuckle to nothing at all. In some locations, especially where hunting is quite limited or restricted, the entire forest understory has been stripped bare. Yet Roger Miller found the state's second-place non-typical buck lurking in one of the county's fragmented forests, a deer that scored 177 7/8 points.
Pasquale Lagano was hunting in the rolling hills of Cecil County, which is bordered by Delaware on the east, Pennsylvania to the north and the mighty Susquehanna River to the west. The county's rolling hills hold enormous numbers of big white-tailed deer. And until last season, the herd included a huge buck that just happened to step within shotgun range, a trophy buck that scored 176 1/8 points.
Wayne Wipfield hunted the rolling hills of Baltimore County during last year's archery season. He was among three hunters who found record-book whitetails lurking among the county's towering hardwoods, with his scoring 166 3/8 points. His buck was among many deer taken from this highly productive region, but his buck put him squarely in first place in the typical bow category.
At 158 5/8 points, Bobby Ambrose's bow kill was among the top contenders as well for this category. He, too, hunted the hills of Baltimore County and managed to hold onto a solid second place in the typical bow category.
Third place in the category goes to Wayne Koontz, who hunted Frederick County and set his pins on a monster whitetail that scored 158 4/8 points.
Carroll County, located just north of metropolitan Baltimore City, is now seeing the effects of urban sprawl. Everywhere you look along state routes 140 and 30, the county's two main arteries, there are new homes being built.
Traffic on these highways is now gridlocked at least four hours of each day, and there's no sign of the building boom coming to a halt anytime in the near future. But this is where James Waltz downed his trophy buck, a whitetail that scored 140 1/8 points and was the only entry in this category.
You just have to know it's your day when you level your sights on a trophy buck, slowly squeeze the trigger and know before the bullet hits that you're on your way to the record books. Ed Sharkey was hunting in Talbot County, which is located on the Eastern Shore.
Much of the Eastern Shore's terrain is desolate swampland interspersed with modest-size hummocks. These areas are covered with dense stands of hardwoods and loblolly pine. It's one of those places where getting lost is the easiest thing anyone can do, but there are lots of big bucks there, too. Sharkey's whitetail scored a whopping 161 2/8 points after the required drying period, putting him solidly in first place in the typical muzzleloader category.
Jimmy Garris was hunting Montgomery County, a densely populated suburb of Washington, D.C. Its urban sprawl is beyond anyone's wildest dreams, but ironically, there are still a few locations where you can find peace, quiet and large numbers of whitetails just a short distance from the nation's busiest interstate highway I-495. Garris' deer, which placed second in this past year's muzzleloader competition, scored 146 7/8 points.
Coming in third isn't at all bad when you bag a whitetail from the swamps of Caroline County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. That's what happened to Bo Earnest when he set his sights on a broad-shouldered buck that scored 140 4/8 points during last year's competition.
Huge bucks do grow on the Eastern Shore, and William Shields will tell you that for a fact. He was hunting Talbot County's swampy hardwoods when he encountered a huge whitetail with a rack that must have appeared to resemble an overturned tree stump. His buck scored 199 3/8 points, putting him squarely in the lead in the non-typical muzzleloader category.
Frank Szita was hunting just outside metropolitan Washington, D.C. with his muzzleloader when he encountered a buck that put him in the record books with a whitetail that scored 162 4/8 points.
NEW JERSEY'S BIG BUCKS
Mark Spoto was hunting the steep hills of Morris County in late September, a time when it seemed as if the rains would never end. He was fortunate to encounter a huge whitetail that would score 158 0/8 at the 2004 Garden State Deer Classic held last January, putting him in first place in the typical archery category.
Second place went to Scott Lang, who hunted Cumberland County's Deer Management Zone (DMZ) 29. Lang's trophy buck scored 146 3/8, which put him in second place in this division.
Sussex County's DMZ 6 is where James Ruggieri found his third-place whitetail in the typical bow category. His buck scored 145 0/8 points.
Edward McCay Jr. was hunting in Monmouth County in late November, a time when the weather was anything but pleasant. Torrential rains had plagued the Mid-Atlantic region all year long, and the only difference was that the rains could easily turn to snow with just a few degrees drop in temperature. Apparently undaunted by nasty conditions, McCay set his bow's pins on a huge buck, one that scored 161 4/8 points in the non-typical archery category.
Steve Ferraro, who also hunted Monmouth County, took second place in the category. His trophy whitetail taken from DMZ 15 scored a solid 152 3/8 points.
Joseph Trogani found his big buck lurking in the woods of Sussex County in DMZ 5, which is situated in New Jersey's northwestern tier. His whitetail scored 150 3/8, placing him third in the competition for this category.
David Tampier was hunting in Hunterdon County's DMZ 7 when he encountered a trophy whitetail. He took a deep breath, squeezed the shotgun's trigger and dropped a huge buck that scored 165 7/8 points. His buck placed him squarely in first place in the typical firearms category.
Second place fell to Michael Smentkowski, who was also hunting Hunterdon County a short distance away in DMZ 11. His buck scored 159 1/8 points after the required drying period.
Michael Stawicki found his big buck in Somerset County's rolling hills, while hunting in DMZ 12. His buck scored 140 5/8 points, placing third in the typical firearms category.
There was only one entry in the non-typical firearms category; however, it was one that William Brown will never forget. He was hunting Monmouth County's DMZ 51 in December when a huge whitetail stepped within shotgun range. Brown squeezed the trigger and bagged a trophy whitetail that scored 191 1/8 points.
Burlington County is not where you would expect to encounter a big whitetail, especially when you consider all of the residential and commercial development that has taken place there during the past decade. But this is where Joe Caruso encountered his once-in-a-lifetime trophy whitetail, one that scored 148 1/8 points in the typical muzzleloader category.
Second place in the typical muzzleloader category was easily taken by Mike Catalano who hunted Salem County's DMZ 27 during the first week in December. His buck scored 139 3/8 points.
Close on his heels was Danny Kane with his third-place deer, a buck that scored 135 3/8 and was harvested from DMZ 6 in Sussex County.
While hunting Monmouth County's rural area in DMZ 16, Barry Lied set his sights on a monster buck, one that scored 173 3/8 points. Lied's trophy was just a single entry in the non-typical muzzleloader category, but another noteworthy buck.
DELAWARE'S BIG BUCKS
Bill Jones administers Delaware's trophy whitetail program. While the program is not nearly as active as those found in Maryland and New Jersey, keep in mind that Delaware is a very small state with just three counties. However, 2003 was a record-book year for First State deer hunters.
A new state record was established in the non-typical firearms category, with a huge buck that netted 197 0/8 points. This is the first Delaware buck that has ever been entered into the B&C competition in this category. Robert Reeves of Chester, Maryland, bagged the deer in Kent County at the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Management Area. He took the buck on the final day of shotgun season on Jan. 24 (he will be
featured in a future issue).
Ralph Nissley of Mannheim established another new state record. Nissley was hunting with a muzzleloader on opening day of shotgun season when he bagged the top buck in the non-typical muzzleloader category. The deer scored 169 3/8 points.
Scott Simonsen took the largest buck bagged in the typical firearms category on opening day of the shotgun season. His fine 8-pointer scored 160 4/8 points and was bagged in heavily populated Kent County.
Second place fell to program administrator Bill Jones, who also hunts Kent County. His buck scored 158 0/8 points. His deer grossed 173 3/8 points, but the rack was not quite symmetrical, which cost him several points.
Third place in the category went to J.J. Carter of Greenwood who was hunting in Sussex County. His buck scored 157 5/8 points.
"I didn't get a lot of bow kills this year, which is unusual, but we have years like this every once in a while. We're really excited, however, about the new records; but as everyone knows, records are meant to be broken," Bill Jones said.
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