The counties producing the most big-racked whitetails in our state have changed in recent years. Make sure you aren't hunting in the past this season. (October 2007)
Photo by Mark Werner.
Illinois Deer Program manager Tom Micetich has a tough job. He has to manage a state with a population of whitetails that surpasses 800,000, analyze nearly 200,000 deer killed annually, and deal with the stress of having one of the best reputations in the country for trophy bucks. However, if you were to ask him where our best places to hunt are, he would likely respond with a shrug.
"Illinois has the ideal complement of food to habitat," Micetich said. "Regardless of the county you hunt, anybody stands a chance at a trophy buck. So, to say where they'll most likely pop up is a tough question."
It's nice to know hunters anywhere in the Prairie State have the opportunity to kill a trophy whitetail, and the numbers speak for themselves. In 2006, there were 261 entries made into Illinois Big-Buck Recognition Program (BBRP). Our state ranks No. 1 on the Boone and Crockett Club's all-time list for non-typical buck entries with 382, and is in second place in the typical category with 543. We also have four counties in B&C's top 10 for overall entries since 1830.
Illinois is continuing to hold its own in the ring of heavyweight white-tailed bucks, and this season is shaping up to be excellent. We have taken a hard look at data from Illinois Big-Buck Recognition Program, records from B&C and regional herd densities. Regardless of where you hunt, every region has hotspots that consistently turn up big deer, and if you are interested in finding that once-in-a-lifetime buck, read on.
Using the descriptors of current as well as historical entries made from various counties into the Illinois BBRP, current and historical entries made into B&C and the respective harvest density of all the counties in Illinois, consideration was given to those areas that tabulated marks in multiple areas. With consideration to the fact that not all trophy bucks are entered into the records books, harvest density was used congruently to identify potential hotspots that have discrepancies in reporting trophy bucks. Here are the results.
ALL-TIME BBRP ENTRIES
Since its inception, thousands of entries have been made to the BBRP. To qualify, bow-killed typical bucks must have racks with at least a score of 115 inches, while non-typical archery racks must be at least 130 inches. Firearms typical bucks must be a minimum of 140 inches, and non-typicals need to be 160 inches. All bucks must be officially scored.
The two all-time leading counties are Pike and Adams with 323 entries each. Fulton County has notched 229 entries, Vermilion 226, Peoria 209, La Salle 199, Clark 197, Brown 195, Knox 191 and McLean has 187 entries to complete the top 10.
Randolph County was next with 182 BBRP entries while Montgomery and Schuyler had 181 each, McHenry 179, Macoupin and Sangamon 167, Bureau 153, Fayette 142 and Union with 134 total entries. Mason, Iroquois, Tazewell, Hancock, Jackson, Woodford and Jasper counties round out the best of the rest.
BBRP ENTRIES, 2003-2006
Closer to the present, entries made into the BBRP in the last four seasons also paint a good picture of where trophy racks have been coming from lately.
McLean County led in this category with 32 entries from 2003 through 2006. Randolph was next with 31, while La Salle had 30, Knox 29, Bureau 24, Adams and Macoupin 23 each, Peoria and Sangamon 22 each, and Pike, Richland and Vermilion each had 17 BBRP entries. Next up are Winnebago and Champaign with 16 each. Ogle, Lee, Montgomery and Brown had 15 each, Clay 14, and Will and Schuyler 13. Iroquois, Piatt and Mason each had 12, while Henry and Williamson both tallied 11.
BBRP ENTRIES, 2006
Over 80 counties statewide submitted deer to the BBRP last year. For the purpose of analysis, counties with four or more entries were considered.
Richland County came in first last year with 12 entries. La Salle and Adams tied with 11, and Knox and Randolph had 10 each. Next came Bureau County with nine entries, Macoupin eight, Menard seven, and Lee and Peoria tied with six. Ogle, Livingston and Champaign each had five BBRP bucks, and Winnebago, Putnam, Pike, Logan, Sangamon, Vermilion, Clark and Alexander had four last season.
B&C CLUB ENTRIES
The qualifications for entry into the Boone and Crockett Club are a bit more stringent than the Illinois BBRP. This distinction is for firearm-killed bucks only, and typical whitetails must be a minimum of 160 inches. Non-typical bucks must have a minimum score of 185 inches. Since B&C's inception, the Prairie State is in the lead for overall entries in the non-typical category with 382. It ranks second all time for typical whitetails with 543 entries. Pike, Adams, Fulton and McHenry counties are ranked on the club's all-time county report.
Recent data shows for typical bucks in the last 10 years, Adams and JoDaviess counties are tied with 13 entries, while Fulton and Pike both have 10, Brown and Macoupin have nine, Schuyler eight, and Greene, McHenry and Rock Island each have seven entries.
For non-typical bucks, the last decade has seen most monsters coming out of Pike County with 16 entries. Fulton County notched 12 in this period, while Adams had 10, and Clark, McDonough and Schuyler each had six.
As far as records are concerned, Peoria County has had the distinction of producing the world-record typical bow buck with Melvin Johnson's 204 4/8-inch monster arrowed in 1965. In 1993, Brian Damery shot a 200 2/8-inch typical that made Illinois one of two states to have two 200-inch-class typicals under its belt. Closer to the present, Roger Mann brought down a 196 3/8-inch beast from Fulton County in 2004.
On the non-typical side, the largest buck from Illinois is Jerry Bryant's 304 3/8-inch behemoth from Fulton County in 2001. This also ranks fourth on B&C's all-time list. Scott Dexter shot a 295 3/8-inch non-typical in McDonough County in 2004, good enough for sixth on B&C's all-time report. Last season, Adams County gave up a 226 7/8-inch buck to Steve DeWitt.
Because not all trophy bucks are entered into the aforementioned programs, antler enthusiasts are well advised to consider areas with high densities of deer. Greater numbers generally translate into a better chance to see big bucks, and when density data is used congruently with data from the BBRP, potential in some areas becomes very clear.
Calhoun County, with 11.2 white — tails killed per square mile, enjoys the absolute highest densit
y of deer in Illinois. Pike County is second with 9.7, while Pope County is at 8.0 deer per square mile. Hardin County is at 7.8, Jefferson County 7.3, Johnson County 7.2 and Union County 7.0 deer per square mile. Brown's score is 6.8, Williamson 6.5, Schuyler and Randolph 6.2, Marion 5.8, JoDaviess 5.7, Perry 5.6, and Jackson, Franklin and Pulaski tied at 5.4. Jersey and Adams tied at 5.2, while Hamilton, Clay, Greene, Peoria, Fulton and Crawford round out the top 25 for density.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Taking trend data from the BBRP and combining it with harvest density, 26 counties scored in multiple categories constituting the main focus for Illinois trophy-buck hunters.
Adams, Pike, Peoria and Randolph counties scored in all categories of the analysis. Each county has an exceptional density of deer and has had good representation in the BBRP. Each of these should definitely be on your to-do list this year if you're a serious trophy hunter.
Scoring in four categories were Brown, Schuyler, Macoupin, Sangamon, Knox, Bureau, La Salle and Vermilion counties.
Brown and Schuyler speak for themselves. Bottom line is, there are as many trophy bucks per capita in these two counties as there are anywhere in the Prairie State.
La Salle County has been putting up excellent numbers recently, and with a relatively low density of deer, it's not hard to see where they are headed. Focus your efforts to the riparian areas of the Illinois, Fox, Vermilion and Little Vermilion rivers, and Big and Little Indian creeks.
Bureau County is similar to La Salle. Low densities likewise persist, so look along the waterways. Big Bureau Creek and the Illinois River are main thoroughfares.
Macoupin County is on the BBRP's all-time list plus the recent entry list. With half the county in timber, densities are likewise high, and a good number of B&C entries in the past 10 years have come from here, as well as a third 200-inch typical that is being scrutinized.
Similarly, Vermilion County is a perennial big-rack producer. Concentrate your efforts along one of the many branches of the Vermilion River.
Sangamon County can't be ignored either. The main focus here is the Sangamon River basin, but patchy woods in the southern third of the county and incidental riparian areas also hold big-racked whitetails.
Knox County rounds out the second tier of hotspots. The Spoon River basin is a great antler factory.
The final category consisted of counties that scored in two of the four areas of criterion.
Trophy-buck addicts should consider the Shawnee National Forest and all counties that reside within it, but especially Union County. The entire county is almost entirely public domain, and with a top ranking in the BBRP and deer density, this is a very high-percentage area -- even if recent numbers indicate otherwise.
Union's neighbor to the north, Jackson County, has similar features, scoring in both density and historic entries into the BBRP. And there are plenty of public opportunities here within the Shawnee Forest, as well
Williamson County should not be overlooked, because it has one of the highest whitetail densities in Illinois, and 11 BBRP entries from 2003 to 2006.
Fulton County -- with the Illinois River and Spoon River basins -- has been a longtime producer of big bucks, and this year will be no different. Top rating for densities and historic entries into the BBRP make this county a "ringer" even if there are fewer recent entries. The largest non-typical in Illinois history came from here, and the county has some of the largest typical bucks as well.
Mason, Montgomery and McLean counties are next on the depth chart. All three counties have a high number of recent entries and are included in the top 25 for all-time entries.
Clark County along the Wabash River put up the numbers in 2006 and is included in the all-time entry category. Iroquois County is one hotspot to watch because of its historic and recent entries. The primary focus here is in the Iroquois River basin and its tributaries. Menard County scored in both recent entry categories. Ogle County is another area to focus on because the Rock River and Kyte River corridors are well known for big racks. Winnebago County is turning in good numbers, while Champaign County enjoys one of the lowest densities in the state, but it still found a way to make it into the top 25 for recent entries. Our hottest county in recent years is Richland, and yes, those are white squirrels you see running amok around your stand!
Unfortunately, not every county with good potential for trophy bucks makes the grade. One such area is the swath in Illinois' southern tip consisting of Pulaski, Johnson, Pope and Hardin counties. Each was in the top 25 for density, and all have superb access in the Shawnee National Forest. The bragging board in any sport shop will show you that big-racked deer are abundant.
Marion, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and Perry counties all have excellent potential. Deer densities are through the roof and record-book bucks abound.
Fayette County has representation on the all-time list for big bucks, as does Jasper County. Crawford County has a top density ranking and a reputation for big bucks. Clay and Alexander counties scored high for recent entries.
West-central Illinois had a few "sleepers" that didn't make the categorical cut. One of the most prominent areas was Calhoun County, which had the absolute highest deer density per square mile, and it has plenty of public ground, plus it has had a few B&C entries recently.
Greene and Jersey counties have some of the highest densities anywhere and superb public access. Hancock County enjoys a spot on the all-time BBRP entry list. And Logan County had a high ranking with entries in 2006.
In east-central Illinois, Piatt County found a ranking for entries made from 2003 to 2006, and Livingston County had ranking for entries made during 2006. Bucks in this low-density county gravitate to the Mazon River and Vermilion River basins.
In the northeast, Will County has many big bucks amid urban sprawl, but there is limited access. McHenry County has one of the highest rankings on the all-time BBRP books and is ranked fourth nationally as one of the all-time best in the B&C records. But again, suburbia limits access.
In the northwest sector, JoDaviess ranks in the top counties for density, is tied with Adams County for the most recent entries into the B&C records, has plenty of trophy bucks and plenty of public access. Our state's smallest county -- 166 square miles -- is Putnam along the Illinois River, and it had a significant ranking for entries in 2006. Henry County had good representation from 2003 to 2006. And Tazewell and Woodford counties score high in the BBRP and B&C.
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Big bucks thrive in this state, and like Tom Micetich said, anywhere you hunt, you have a good chance to shoot a trophy. All of the discussed counties constitute the absolute best areas Illinois has to offer based on the most recent data, and should be considered by all hunters eager to connect with a rack of trophy proportions.
For more information on the Illinois Big-Buck Recognition Program, call (217) 782-4963, or e-mail Tracy Schafer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at www.dnr.state.il.us/legislation/bbrp/default.htm. For information about additional hunting areas, visit www.dnr.state.il.us/admin/systems/index.htm. To find a certified antler measurer in Illinois, visit www.dnr.state.il.us/legislation/bbrp/measurers.pdf. For more information about the Boone and Crockett Club or its rack scorers, go to online www.boone-crockett.org/index.asp.
Have a successful and safe hunt this season!