Michigan's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Finding Trophy Bucks

Michigan's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Finding Trophy Bucks

While Region 3 contains the top counties to hunt big-racked deer, your chances of killing a wallhanger in Region 1 and Region 2 are better than they have been in a long time! (October 2007)

Photo by Mark Werner.

Counties in Region 3 continue to dominate the list of bucks with the highest-scoring racks killed in Michigan during 2006, and the same will probably be true this year. However, the trophy-buck outlook for Region 1 and Region 2 should not be ignored, because your chances of taking a wallhanger in those counties in 2007 are better than they have been in a long time.

An example of the caliber of bucks Region 1 -- the Upper Peninsula -- has to offer is one that ended up as road kill in Marquette County last November. The record-book whitetail was struck by a vehicle on U.S. Highway 41 a few miles west of Marquette on the day after Thanksgiving. The driver of the automobile that killed the deer didn't want the animal, so the state police turned the carcass over to Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Mike McDonnell from Negaunee.

McDonnell said the buck was killed after 7 p.m., which was after dark, so the buck may have been primarily nocturnal, which could be one reason why he wasn't spotted by hunters and he lived so long. McDonnell noted that the deer's hocks were not discolored or strong smelling, which is unusual for a mature buck during the rut. He commented that the buck might not have been involved in the annual breeding season, which would further reduce its vulnerability to hunters.

The buck's typical 13-point antlers had a net score of 162 1/8 inches. Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM) paid to have the deer's head mounted by Outdoor Ventures Taxidermy of Marquette so it can be used for educational purposes by both the DNR and CBM. The buck's age was even more amazing. The deer was at least 9 1/2 years old, according to DNR wildlife biologists who looked at its teeth.

Although 9 1/2-year-old antlered whitetails aren't common in the U.P., that is the only region in our state where bucks of that age can be found. I'm confident more remain. More important, the proportion of mature bucks that are at least 3 1/2 years old is also higher in Region 1 than the rest of Michigan. And, after a record mild winter, there will not only be more mature bucks available than normal, but their antler development will be better than normal.

Last winter was so easy on whitetails that the deer weren't as tightly yarded as they often are. Some deer in the southern U.P. may not even have moved to winter yards at all because of low snowfall. Across the northern U.P., permanent snow cover did not arrive until mid-January, and breakup came early, thus deer that did yard up were not in winter quarters anywhere near as long as normal. The fact that last winter was the second mild winter in a row is another reason why the trophy-buck potential in the U.P. is on the upswing.

Region 2 -- the northern Lower Peninsula -- is producing more mature bucks with big racks, too. One of the biggest factors helping that is reduced deer numbers over the past five years. The remaining deer are healthy and achieving maximum antler potential. Hunting pressure has fallen off in response to fewer whitetails, which allows more bucks to live longer.

During the 2006 firearms season, for example, Mark Coselman bagged a 23-point non-typical in Osceola County that is a county record among non-typicals. The antlers had a gross score of 189 7/8 inches and netted 172 2/8 inches. The previous No. 1 non-typical for the county was an 11-pointer that netted 165 3/8 inches killed by Adolph Engler way back in 1939. I don't know any deer hunter who wouldn't be happy with a rack of that size!

Another of our state's top bucks from 2006 was also killed with bow and arrow. This one was a non-typical from Livingston County bagged by Jeanie Flannery from Fenton. She was heading for her bow stand on the morning of Oct. 7 when she heard a pair of bucks sparring.

The same thing applies to a 12-point typical buck Mark Hawley shot in Newaygo County during gun season that netted 160 inches. Hawley shot the deer from a climbing tree stand he positioned in a stand of oak trees. He was only in the stand about 15 minutes when a 6-pointer showed up, so he shot that deer. Then about a half-hour later, the 12-pointer came along after a doe, and he killed it, thus ending his deer season in short order. Because Newaygo County is one of the southernmost counties in Region 2, Hawley was shocked to take a wild buck of that size. In fact, his first thought was that it escaped from an enclosure or game farm.

"When I reached the deer, I started looking for tags or bands," Hawley said. "I thought there's no way this one came out of Newaygo County. He had to get out of a cage."

But Hawley was wrong, because the buck wasn't an escapee. Something else amazing about the buck is that a taxidermist aged the whitetail at 2 1/2 years old based on tooth wear. If that age was accurate, Newaygo County has genetics favoring antler growth, and more whoppers can be expected to come from within its borders in the future. The potential exists for bucks like those taken last fall in Newaygo and Osceola counties to be in any and all counties in Region 2.

There's no question that bucks like those can be found in any and all counties in Region 3. For example, two of our state's highest-scoring deer known taken during 2006 came from Lenawee County. The No. 1 non-typical, according to CBM records, was taken on opening day of firearms season by Scott Norkey from Tecumseh. The 17-pointer he killed had a gross score of 200 inches and netted 191 6/8 inches.

When Norkey shot the buck, he thought it was a 12-pointer he had seen from the same stand while bowhunting the previous weekend. As it turned out, it was a different deer, and the buck Norkey saw during bow season is still out there somewhere because he didn't hear about one matching its description being killed during the remainder of the 2006 hunting seasons.

The second-highest scoring bow-bagged typical entered into state records from 2006 also came from Lenawee County. Greg Lambert arrowed the 10-pointer grossing 171 3/8 inches and netting 168 4/8 on Oct. 24 as it was chasing a hot doe. Although most does are bred during November, some come into heat during late October.

Lambert was hunting from a tree stand in a five-acre wood lot where he has had good success in the past when he got the book buck. He said he didn't have any idea a buck of that quality was in the area. Lambert said the buck was too far away for a bow shot when it chased the doe past his stand the first time. Twenty minutes later, the buck chased the doe back by the bowhunter and he was still too far for a shot. "The third time was a charm," Lambert said. Th

e buck was only 12 yards away that time, and Lambert took advantage of the opportunity to connect on his best buck. The whitetail had a dressed weight of 238 pounds.

The second-highest scoring non-typical buck entered in CBM records from last fall came from Allegan County. The 20-pointer was taken on the fourth day of gun season by Peter Prather. The impressive antlers grossed 194 7/8 inches and netted 187 7/8 inches. Prather said he missed the deer on the second day of bow season and saw him again the week before firearms season began. Look for a detailed account of Prather's hunt for this buck in the upcoming November issue of Michigan Sportsman.

Kent County was the home of the highest-scoring typical bow kill known taken in our state last fall, and it was an 8-pointer. The massive rack is among the top 8-pointers on record in Michigan. The antlers grossed 171 7/8 inches and netted 168 7/8 inches. Specifics about how Jim Powell arrowed this monster buck can be found on page 17 of this issue.

Another of our state's top bucks from 2006 was also killed with bow and arrow. This one was a non-typical from Livingston County bagged by Jeanie Flannery from Fenton. She was heading for her bow stand on the morning of Oct. 7 when she heard a pair of bucks sparring. Flannery sneaked toward the sound, putting herself in position for a killing shot at one of the combatants after the fight broke up. The 16-pointer grossed 188 3/8 inches and netted 185 5/8, but Flannery said the deer she arrowed was the smaller of the two bucks that had been fighting. The antlers on her trophy have a typical 10-point frame, with three stickers over an inch long near the base of each antler. The buck was 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 years old.

Another female bowhunter arrowed a trophy non-typical from Washtenaw County on that very same day, but Kelly Hatch stuck her 16-pointer in the evening. Her deer netted 164 1/8 inches and had a gross score of 172. She was hunting from a tree stand when the buck came along. She started counting points, and when she got up to five and realized there were still more, she decided she'd better shoot the deer and finish counting later, so she did. A second buck with a rack similar in size to the one she killed was with her deer and could still be out there because she didn't hear about one that size taken by anybody else.

A high-scoring non-typical taken with bow and arrow also came from Cass County last year. The 15-pointer had a green gross score of 186 3/8 inches. Joe Tone from Marcellus was the lucky hunter who killed that deer. The rack had not been officially scored when this was going to press, but it probably nets in the 170s. The trophy buck was 4 1/2 years old when Tone shot it. One of Joe's brothers could have shot the whitetail the year before during gun season, but didn't because the deer only had one antler. Assuming the missing antler was similar in size to the one that was intact and later recovered after it was shed, Tone figured the rack would have grossed in the 140s during 2005. If that is accurate, the deer's antlers grew by 40 inches in one year's time. That is a clear example of the value of passing up bucks that are young or have damaged antlers, if you are interested in deer with big racks.

The trophy buck from Marquette County mentioned earlier was not the only one that ended up as road kill last fall. A huge Oakland County whitetail was killed along Woodward Avenue by a vehicle last November. Like the U.P. buck, it was hit after dark. I saw photos of the Oakland County monster and guess it would score in the 160s, if not higher. The rack from that deer had not been measured as of press time.

So, where do the bulk of Michigan's record-book bucks come from? Since all of the entries from 2006 are not yet available from CBM, it is necessary to look at those from the 2005 season to see the trend. To qualify for state records, typical antlered whitetails have to score at least 125 inches if taken with firearms, and 100 inches for bow kills. Non-typical bow kills must measure at least 125 inches to qualify, and gun kills have to be at least 150 inches. Not all hunters who kill bucks that would qualify for CBM records enter them into the record book.

The top 11 counties for Region 3 in 2005 based on the number of CBM entries were Jackson (28), Branch (27), Van Buren (26), Calhoun (23), Clinton (23), Hillsdale (21), Ingham (19), Shiawassee (19), Allegan (18), Cass (18) and Washtenaw (17). Four counties tied with 13 book bucks in 2005.

The top counties for CBM entries in Region 2 were Mason (9), Saginaw (9), Tuscola (9), Newaygo (5), Leelanau (5), Manistee (4), Grand Traverse (4), Osceola (3), Mecosta (3), Clare (2) and Alcona (2).

It is interesting to note that one of the two counties with the most stringent antler restrictions in our state -- Leelanau -- is tied for second place in Region 2 for book-buck entries. Bucks in Leelanau are required to have at least one antler with 3 points an inch long in order to be legal. If those restrictions work, that county may produce even more trophy whitetails in the future.

Another county in the northern L.P. that was under similar restrictions for five years is Clare. There wasn't enough support from hunters and landowners to continue the stringent antler restrictions there, although some hunters probably do so voluntarily. The 3-points-on-one-side rule there boosted production to seven trophy bucks in 2003 and six during 2001. There were only two CBM entries from that county in 2005.

The greatest number of CBM entries for the U.P. from 2005 came from Menominee with seven, followed by Delta with five and Keweenaw with three. Marquette, Dickinson, Ontonagon, Schoolcraft and Luce counties each had one.

Deer Management Unit 122 also has antler restrictions requiring hunters to pass up bucks unless they have 3 points on one side. DMU 122 is in southern Dickinson and northwestern Menominee counties. There doesn't appear to be many book bucks coming from that area.

There are three more DMUs where bucks must have at least 2 points on one side to be legal. Those are Drummond Island, South Fox Island, and a portion of eastern Iosco County, or DMU 135.

Record-book bucks can be taken anytime deer season is open, but the highest proportion of trophy whitetails are taken by bowhunters during the last week of October and the first 10 days of November. The first week of firearms season is good for killing big bucks, too. If conditions are right, the December muzzleloader season can be a good time to score on a book buck as well.

Happy hunting, and be safe!

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