Trophy deer can show up anyplace in the Bluegrass State, but some areas are in a class by themselves for producing big whitetails. Here, Kentucky Game & Fish takes an in-depth look at what parts of the state are best for a trophy buck.
The 2009 Kentucky deer season rolled "Lucky 7s" for trophy bucks, rebounding after a bit of an off season the year before. There were 41 Boone and Crockett Club record book qualifiers reported to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources from 2009, and the story about those trophies unfolded with some unique highlights to say the least.
Seven Bluegrass State counties produced two or more trophy class whitetails last season, and seven of those trophy bucks broke into Kentucky's Top 100 All-Time typical and non-typical lists last year. So, is that a good indicator for the 2010 season? Let's have a look.
Before we get to some of the specifics from the most recent season, we can glean quite a bit of knowledge about places in Kentucky that hold higher potential for world-class whitetails from historical data and the deer management approach the KDFWR has taken.
It's pretty hard to argue that the one-buck limit imposed in Kentucky hasn't increased the potential for bucks that are older and have better developed racks. This single management concept has done more than anything else to help the state's whitetail buck population blossom into one of the most coveted trophy deer destinations in the nation.
You quickly realize every region in the commonwealth is represented. One out of every four Kentucky counties gave up a B&C class buck last season. That's exceptional, considering significant differences in quality of habitat, hunting pressure and weather conditions.
In breaking down where big bucks are coming from, both traditional producers and some counties not usually found in the mix show up. You can't always rule out a county because it doesn't yield giant bucks every year. Those odd pop-up trophies actually show up a lot in Kentucky. You just never know -- you still might end up the coming season with the buck of a live time.
Let's try to put the odds a little more in your favor for encountering a high quality buck this season. We'll take a look at the state by region and see what each offers in trophy-buck potential, starting in the east.
In the Northeast you find both the largest and smallest counties in landmass in Kentucky. Each produced a B&C class buck in 2009.
You can't quite throw a rock from one side of Robertson County to the other, but when it comes to showing up big for trophy whitetails, this little chunk of acres was all bowhunter Chris Caldwell needed to score a dandy 166 P&Y typical buck last season. Also, the No.1 typical scoring 171 B&C taken by Jim Whisman with a muzzleloader came from Robertson County the previous year. It seems likely the county will loom large again in 2010. Perhaps a modern gun hunter will complete the cycle this fall.
To the immediate north and south of Robertson, Bracken and Nicholas counties respectively were also yielded record book typicals in 2009 with record book typicals. This block of counties seems promising for the upcoming season.
A second strong block in the Northeast Region for trophy-buck potential is led by Lewis County on the Ohio River. Harlan Flinders' monster 187 2/8 buck topped the 2009 season, as well as being as one of seven that broke into Kentucky's top 100 typicals of all time. Lewis County has consistently given up exceptional bucks for the past decade. Impressive as well was the harvest of three B&C qualifiers from Lewis County in last year. Only one other time in the past five years have such bucks come out of the same county in a single season. That happened back in 2006 and was also in Lewis County.
The other two last year were Samuel Singer's 164 6/8 B&C and a 160 P&Y bow-kill by William Gunter.
The Northeast's Greenup and Carter counties also chimed in last season with trophy kills, rounding out that second block of counties in the region where potential is very good for this season. Of special note, Jessy Kegley's 178 7/8 typical buck was the best reported in 2009 by an archery hunter.
As mentioned earlier the largest county in Kentucky is in the Northeast region. Muzzleloading hunter Chris Brown downed a superb 185 6/8 B&C buck last season in Pike County. This buck was the only one taken by black powder that qualified for a B&C non-typical trophy listing in 2009. Pike County contains rugged territory, but that may be one reason why some bucks there have good potential to live longer and attain a higher quality headset.
Last season, even the state's toughest region for finding trophy bucks gave up five record-book whitetails. Biologists from the KDFWR suggest that's as a sign of more good things to come.
Lynn Hensley's 188 2/8 gun kill in Whitley County, followed by Hurley Combs, Jr. with his big 186 bow kill in Pulaski County accounted for the two non-typicals from the Southeast Region last season. Both counties have yielded trophies in past seasons, and carry good genetics for heavy antlered bucks.
Three counties with lesser historical reputations proved to have potential for trophies. Those are Estill, Lincoln and Perry counties. Buford Mattingly knocked down the No. 5 typical last season from Estill County, while hunters Ralph Hines and John Brewer added 160-class typicals from Lincoln and Perry counties.
"We like seeing trophy quality bucks showing up from counties that normally don't put many big deer in the books," said Dr. Tina Brunjes, the director of the KDFWR deer and elk management programs. "It indicates herds are probably in good balance, some bucks are attaining older age which we like, and hunters are having success.
"Those are all good things to know for wildlife managers," Brunjes concluded.
In the heart of Kentucky, the Bluegrass Region really contributed to the 2009 season big buck lists. It produced a total of 17 trophy whitetails coming out of 14 different counties. Woodford, Hardin and Henry counties produced two each last season.
Clearly the most talked about buck taken in the state last year came from this region. Kentucky's top non-typical last season was shot by Michaella Monroe, or Mikie as her friends call her. Then 14 years old, she dropped a mass
ive 219 5/8 B&C buck in Spencer County. Monroe's buck shot her into No. 28 on the state top 100 non-typical list.
The second best scoring non-typical last season also came out of the Bluegrass for David Gray. He returned home with a 210-plus behemoth from Trimble County. That placed him at No. 42 for non-typicals statewide and No.1 for Trimble County.
With the exception of Woodford County, nearly all the other trophies last season were from outskirt counties close to the borders of the regions. In Madison County, bordering the Southeast Region, a second female hunter, Mitzi Mobley, connected with a 160-class buck.
Six counties that gave up trophies border the Ohio River. Counties in this 600-mile river corridor have for years been good choices for finding big bucks.
Pendleton County deserves special note, given the state's top typical came from there 10 years ago. Also it continually shows up on the list of B&C producers, including in 2009.
Boone, Kenton, Owen and Henry counties have some of the highest deer densities anywhere in Kentucky, which sometimes means there are fewer big bucks because of so much competition for habitat. However, last season trophies came from all of those spots. It is also worth noting that Henry County gave up Kentucky's No.1 all time non-typical. Chris Crawford killed that deer, which scored 271 7/8.
Owen was the top county in Kentucky for producing antlered bucks during 2009. Photo by Polly Dean.
GREEN RIVER REGION
It was a very typical season for wall hanger bucks in the Green River Region in 2009 Several familiar counties produced list makers -- all but one of which were typicals.
The best typical last year from the region was a Webster County buck that James Voges downed. It scored 182 5/8. That placed him No. 28 on Kentucky's all-time typical B&C rankings.
Deidre Bryant, another teen deer hunter, killed a monster last season. Her deer was the only non-typical qualifier from the region. The Hart County buck's rack scored 196 6/8 B&C.
Hart County owns a number of other spots at the top of Kentucky's trophy deer lists. It is a proven legitimate hotspot.
Two other counties on the list of seven with multiple trophies last season were Ohio and Muhlenberg. Kentucky's fourth female hunter to kill a B&C buck was Andrea Davis. She dropped her 165 1/8 B&C typical in Muhlenberg County
Dustin Flener also hit the mark in Muhlenberg County with his big 163 7/8 P&Y bow kill last season.
You will also find Ohio County several times in both the state's typical and non-typical top 100. That's where Noel Jones and John Warren took their two typical trophies that scored in the mid 160s last season.
Counties in this rich agricultural habitat in the Green River Region in are some of the absolute best for trophy production. There were eight from this region last year, and there could be more this season. In most recent seasons, the number this region gives up is closer to a dozen.
Though the Purchase Region is probably the least likely area of Kentucky to come up with trophy whitetails, it still manages to put a few in the books each season.
This region just doesn't have the suitable habitat for big whitetails.
Still, Graves County did produce a dandy non-typical for gun hunter Danny Barclay last season. His 188 5/8 was the lone B&C qualifier reported from the region in 2009.
Graves County is the leader in deer harvest in the region.
The Purchase doesn't produce a lot of big bucks, but it seems to make up for that in quality. Consider that half the top six non-typicals on Kentucky All-Time list come from Purchase Region counties. One each was taken in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Livingston and Christian counties are the two other best trophy producers in recent years, and are worth scouting for higher quality bucks.
SUMMING IT UP
Kentucky deer hunters are fortunate that whether hunting in the Purchase Region to the far west, or the Southeast region on the other end of the state, any county could give up a record-book quality buck.