Kentucky Deer Forecast -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks

The big-buck parade continues in our state, with trophies being taken throughout the Commonwealth -- especially in the areas highlighted here! (Nov 2006)

Will you find a trophy buck behind every rock and tree in Kentucky? Maybe not! But there are enough trophy bucks in the Commonwealth that a good percentage of hunters are coming across them on a regular basis. Kentucky deer biologists expect that to continue to be the case this season, too.

Of the 54,000 bucks reported taken in the Bluegrass State last season, 27 qualified as Boone and Crockett (B&C) Club record book trophies. That's one out of every 2,000 bucks. In 2004, one of Kentucky's exceptional record-buck years, the ratio was one trophy-class buck out of about every 1,500 taken. According to Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) deer biologist David Yancy, an average year yields 25 B&C qualifiers.

If you follow the story of Kentucky's big bucks pretty closely year to year, you'll recognize that in some counties you can almost set your watch as to when a trophy whitetail is going to show up. There are also spots where big bucks seem to crop up out of nowhere at times, or in a place where ones are rarely taken. The truth remains that Kentucky can produce a trophy buck about anywhere, anytime.


In the far western part of Kentucky, more trophy whitetails have shown up in recent years. This is mostly due to expanding herds in those counties. While the Purchase Region isn't considered absolutely superb deer habitat, densities have improved in many of the interior counties. Growing herd sizes, combined with a one-buck limit, is yielding dividends for anyone in search of that elusive wallhanger.

Interestingly, however, last season it was the border counties that made an excellent showing in trophy production, including the top non-typical listing "racked" up by Dann Hughes out of Trigg County. With his muzzleloader, Hughes dropped a giant 249 3/8 bruiser that was far and away the best of the non-typicals in 2005.

The top non-typical bow kill came from Crittenden County last season, when a very impressive 197 4/8 buck made a fatal mistake and drifted in close to hunter Sean Shuecraft.

I'm sure Shuecraft has now introduced this buck to the view from the inside of his den. Crittenden County has produced some really top-shelf bucks in Kentucky's rich trophy-deer history, and it came through again last season. It's a county to remember if trophy chasing is your game.

A third non-typical -- again from Trigg County -- checked in by Morgan Booth netted 195 4/8, which will place Booth on the All-Time B&C list from Kentucky. It takes a 195 0/8 score for a non-typical to make the All-Time record listings, and a minimum 185 0/8 for B&C's three-year awards book.

But we're not finished yet in the Purchase Region. Christian County hunter Mark Jenkins knocked off a superb 189 3/8 non-typical with a gun. Ballard County gave up a 161 1/8 typical to Brett Wilson with his crossbow. Ken Carson grounded an excellent typical out of Caldwell County that scored 160 2/8.

The Purchase Region tallied six record-book bucks during the 2005 season, which is an excellent showing. This matches, right on the nose, the number of record-class whitetails from that region in 2004. The difference is that in 2004, nearly a dozen more trophy bucks were taken statewide. So percentage-wise, the Purchase Region had an improved trophy season over the previous year.

"I believe the Purchase is in its heyday for big bucks right now, with numerous counties reaching their potential given the quality of habitat and herd densities the landscape can support," said Yancy.

"We're getting a good solid showing from counties like Trigg, Christian and Crittenden, especially. You'll notice those counties multiple times on the list from 2004, and other past seasons -- which shows their consistency in trophy production and the success of hunters trying to connect with a record-class animal," said Yancy.


In 2004, nearly 20 B&C class bucks were taken from the Green River Region, the strongest producer of trophy whitetails anywhere in the Bluegrass State. That's not likely to change -- but it's risky to say "never," isn't it?

Well, not so risky just yet, as the 2005 season indicates.

Another monster buck wasn't harvested per se. But nevertheless, Jerry Johnson came across one from Hart County last season that registered 226 1/8 as a non-typical.

In 2004, two other big bucks were taken, and Hart County has a boatload of trophy whitetails to its credit over the last 10 years. This county keeps pumping out big bucks annually, it seems, and would be an excellent place to find some farms to hunt on within the Green River Region.

This region's rich agricultural territory produced a total of nine trophies last season, again more than any other single management region in Kentucky. What's interesting to note is that those nine monsters all came from different counties last season. That should tell you just how widespread the potential is for a trophy buck to pop up nearly anywhere in this section of the state.

Historically, with the exception of counties along the Tennessee border and those with bigger cities, all have produced big bucks, many more than one in a single season. But as Kimberly Hester proved last year, you can't rule out spots like Warren County -- because somewhere outside of Bowling Green, she found a 189 1/8 non-typical in her sights and subsequently put her name on the record list during last year's gun season.

Other traditional producers include Butler County, where Kevin Phelps downed his gun-kill 194 4/8 non-typical. Ohio County gave up another trophy, this time to Jeremy Allen with his 167 0/8 typical, while Muhlenberg County produced a 162 6/8 typical for bowhunter Jeff Vincent.

Other top bow kills were reported from the Green River Region. In Henderson County, Nick Sandefur bagged an All-Time book scoring of 171 7/8. Jack Hayden found his shot true on a 162 6/8 typical buck in Breckinridge County. Both of these achievements support the fact that historically, counties in this region provide some of the best quality buck hunting there is. And like the lottery, somebody's going to win. And it might as well be you!

Last season, a couple of other big bucks of note proved that sometimes smaller, less-heralded counties can give up a wallhanger. Kevin Lamar's 177 1/8 typical from Hancock County was fourth-largest on the list, and Ronnie Garmon found a deer of a lifetime slipping around in Barren County in 2005.

You've got to be prepared to recognize sign from big bucks and patterns when you see them, because in these counties with high potential, these exceptional deer can sometimes be right in your lap.


This past season, it appears that Kentucky's bowhunting corps faired very well on trophy-caliber bucks in the Bluegrass Region. We'll see if that continues to be the case this year.

"The Bluegrass does have some good potential for big bucks. With the significant hunting pressure it gets during the gun season, maybe bowhunting is the way to go to see some of these bucks, early on," said Yancy.

Maybe that's so. Cliff Willoughby would probably agree that a long archery season is an advantage in hunting trophies, simply because it allows you to be out there the entire time. Last season, he dropped Kentucky's best typical archery kill, a big 179 0/8, in Shelby County. That county has an excellent deer herd and is consistently showing up with its counterpart, Owen County, as a top harvest spot in Kentucky.

We mention Owen because a second big bow kill in this region occurred last season, when Eric Henage stroked a 162 2/8 typical there as well. Statewide, in fact, string-pullers placed eight B&C bucks in the books, and another two were taken with crossbows in 2005. It was one of the best years for bowhunters, as they roared back on the scene after scoring only one trophy in 2004. Somebody got serious with the stick-and-string, didn't they?

A third entry from the Bluegrass, unsuspectingly by some, I'd guess, came out of Fayette County. In this highly urban county, the territory for gun hunting is limited, but Danny Jones managed to down a fine 163 6/8 typical last season. In recent seasons, there have been several excellent bucks taken from Fayette.

Deer do exist there, but a lot of land is not open for hunting. Eventually, bucks living the high life, like racehorses, get out of their usual haunts. And sometimes, you just get lucky when a big one steps out there in range.

"I expect we'll see a few more extra-high-quality animals from this region this time around, which usually averages six or eight over the course of a season," said Yancy. "There are a lot of eyes out there, and also a lot of deer. If hunters do their homework and practice restraint on shooting small bucks, they have a good chance to kill a nice deer -- perhaps even a record-class one," the biologist said.

The best counties in the region include Henry, Pendleton, Larue and Hardin. That last one has given up one trophy after another, the most recent being a huge 196 7/8 non-typical for Jamie Sadler last season. Hunters on Ft. Knox (when it's open) or in the surrounding area, tend to score very well on big bucks each year.


"We've suggested for some time that hunters in the Southeast Region will have improving chances of scoring big bucks. Last season may be a inkling of what we think can develop," said Yancy.

The Southeast Region contains Kentucky's poorest overall deer habitat, so it doesn't have the production of deer that most other regions have. Hence, the county has more protective management of does, so the land can reach the best numbers of deer that it can potentially support.

Not always, but when herds are being managed to grow, the increase in numbers often seems to yield a side benefit of more trophy-class bucks. Maybe it's because higher numbers of bucks are in the herd, or because some hunters are taking their one antlered deer as soon as they see any buck at all. This results in additional older bucks living one more season and reaching that elite size.

Older bucks are smarter and less apt to be the first to venture into the open -- which is why a lot of smaller bucks get taken early.

Another possibility is that in the Southeast Region, fewer hunters venture into the much tougher terrain and heavily wooded areas; thus, bucks can elude them easier and live longer. And lastly, in some counties, it appears that historically, some very good genetics are present in the herd.

In the southern part of the Southeast -- specifically, the Pulaski, Wayne and McCreary counties -- hunters who've followed Kentucky's trophy trail over the years know that these areas own several spots at the top of the state's big-buck listings. They don't give up an entry every year, but have placed enough deer, and top ones, that they must be considered top areas to try.

Before last season started, Yancy said that considering these odds, it was time for someone to score in those counties again. And the biologist was right on the money! Two upper 170-class typicals showed up, one each in Wayne and Pulaski counties. It's ironic how predictable history can be, especially if you study it really hard. It's equally ironic how sometimes, no pattern whatsoever exists and a big buck comes in from somewhere completely out of left field. For so many, that's the crux and the allure of hunting -- trying to outguess nature's way.

Michael Dobb's bow-killed buck and Darrell Scruggs' gun-killed trophy accounted for two of the five Southeast list-makers for last season. Greg Wilson's Jackson County non-typical gun-kill scored 232 6/8, and made a tremendous stir in the region when word on his monster got out. It ranks second for non-typicals taken last year.

And perhaps the hottest county in this region lately, Casey County, proudly added two more big bucks to the list, one of each classification type. Last season, Lester Roy brought a big 196 1/8 non-typical rifle kill out of the field. And meanwhile, back at the farm somewhere else in Casey County, Brad Calvert had zinged his 176 4/8 bow-kill buck. Both made the all-time book, eclipsing the 170 minimum for typicals and 195 minimum for non-typicals.

It's worth noting that there were also two trophies from Casey County in 2004. Casey has dotted the list further in the past two years, and is on the verge of being one of those spots we alluded to that you can almost set your clock by -- it's going to produce a trophy buck for somebody.


Surprise, surprise! Guess what the top county in the Northeast Region is again? Lewis County, but of course!

Our final region holds perhaps the best county in Kentucky for trophy whitetails. Dale Mustard is last year's big winner with his chart-topping 187 3/8 typical record. Lewis County keeps on putting big deer in the books. And the county always seems to get on top of some chart, whether it's Kentucky's all-time list, or annual season list. There's no disputing, Lewis County has some big old bucks.

Of the other two big bucks taken in the Northeast last season, one could have been expected, if past seasons are any indicator. And the other one sort of snuck in under most people's radar.

Bracken County also has several good deer in Kentucky's records. While gun hunting up there last season, Mike Florence connected with a 190 5/8 non-typical. His trophy was among an unusually high number of non-typicals for an average Commonwealth season. Twelve bucks were reported as non-typicals last year.

Bobby Crowe added

his crossbow kill of 193 5/8 out of Montgomery County, where not too many big bucks have been taken. Who knows, maybe Crowe has started a trend?

Other top counties to hunt in the Northeast Region include those along the Ohio River corridor, where pretty good stretches of bottomlands provide higher-quality habitat for deer and to some degree, better hunting terrain for sportsmen. These are places where crops are grown that generally improve the health of individual animals, and offer the nutrition necessary for best antler growth.

"I think we'll have as many or more trophies out of the Northeast this season as we saw last time. This region still has potential for better quality deer hunting, as some of these county herds still are still growing, numbers-wise," said Yancy.

"Hunters have to scout hard, be selective and help do their part -- as the on-the-ground managers of our deer resource -- to have the best chance for a trophy whitetail to wander in their sights during the season," he concluded.

All told, there's nothing to concern Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologists that the quality of buck hunting is in any kind of pending trouble. The state has enjoyed being among the national leaders in production for several years.

Managers have shaped the herd into one that hunters can be proud of, and that many have benefited from, in experiencing a deer hunt that they've dreamed of.

Perhaps your dream will be fulfilled this season, too.

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