Is this the year you finally bag the biggest buck of your deer-hunting life? We've compiled this information to help you achieve that very goal.
If you are an antler fanatic -- that is a hunter whose goal it is to shoot a trophy buck each year -- then this article has just the information you are looking for. We'll review three key factors that will put you on the right track to a real trophy buck: Antler Point Restrictions, last year's buck harvest, and historical statewide whitetail record book data.
The most influential factor affecting trophy deer hunting in Missouri now and in the future is both mandatory and self-appointed antler point restrictions. Allowing bucks to grow to maturity is the single most influential factor affecting antler growth in whitetails in Missouri. It also happens to be the easiest facet of antler growth potential to manage.
"Age is by far the most important element in growing trophy bucks," said MDC Resource Scientist, Lonnie Hansen. "Next in importance would be deer nutrition and then whitetail genetics."
By now you know that Hansen is the wildlife biologist who oversees the state's white-tailed deer herd. Not only is he a nationally respected scientist, but also an avid deer hunter.
In 2004, the MDC implemented a mandatory "4-point or better on one side" APR in 29 counties. By 2008, the APR were working so well that the MDC increased the number of counties under the restrictions to 68, well over half of our 114 counties.
"In terms of buck production, the Antler Point Restrictions have put more bucks in the 2.5-, 3.5- and 4.5-year-old age classes into the population and the harvest," Hansen said. "A 2.5-year-old buck can be an outstanding deer and a 4.5-year-old buck can reach Boone and Crockett status in Missouri."
If you want to improve your chances of taking a mature whitetail, focus on the 68 counties under APR. Take an extra-hard look at one of the original 29 counties in the APR zone. By now the full effects of antler management are strong in those counties.
ANTLERED DEER HARVEST
Reviewing which regions and counties had the most antlered deer taken in the 2009 seasons can help us identify trends in buck harvest. These statistics include all antlered bucks that were legal throughout the state last year, not including button bucks. Keep in mind that many of the counties throughout the eight different regions are now under APR and bucks must have at least 4 points on one side of their rack to be legal.
We'll break down harvest details in depth later. Guide your search toward specific counties that have high antlered buck harvest in your quest for a trophy buck. Take your scouting one step further by noting which high buck harvest counties are in the state's antler management program.
TROPHY BUCK HARVEST
Missouri's primary whitetail record-keeping organization, The Missouri Show Me Big Bucks Club, has been recording the state's trophy whitetails since 1968. Any whitetail rack that measures 140 inches or more as a typical can be entered; any non-typical 155 inches or better can qualify. The records provided were the most up-to-date available at press time.
"When hunters realize that by passing young bucks, they will actually see more deer and get second and third opportunities, many people are passing even legal deer for even greater opportunities," said MSMBBC Coordinating Officer, Larry Luekenhoff. "I wouldn't be surprised at all to see many of the long-standing record-class bucks fall out of the Top 10 categories."
Looking at the record books, you don't have to be a wildlife biologist to recognize which regions and counties have produced the most trophy whitetails. Don't sell yourself short. Focus on scouting out new hunting areas in those counties.
All 19 counties in the region are now included in the 4-point or better on one side APR. Fourteen of the 19 counties have been under the regulation for six years. These original APR counties include Andrew, Atchison, Chariton, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Linn, Livingston, Mercer, Nodaway and Worth. Those would be the best choices for seeking a record book buck.
The five counties that were new to the APR in 2008 are Buchanan, Caldwell, Carroll, Clinton, and Ray.
Hunters reported taking 15,926 antlered deer in the region last year. That figure is down 1,040 from the previous season. The decline is probably due to the five counties recently added to the APR and the fact there was much standing corn left in farmers' fields last deer season for deer to use as sanctuary.
Top buck producers in the region were Nodaway with 1,337 killed; Harrison 1,360, and Linn 1,276.
The Northwest region came in third place statewide in the average number of trophy whitetails recorded in the record book per county with 74. It finished second statewide in terms of total trophy entries with 1,399. The top three counties in record book entries are Chariton with 162 entries (4th statewide); Harrison 127 (8th); and Nodaway 108 (12th).
All of this region's 15 counties are now included in the 4-point or better on one side APR. Six of the area's 15 counties have been under the rule for six years. Those counties are Adair, Macon, Putnam, Randolph, Schuyler and Sullivan. They are your best bets for bagging a record class buck.
The nine counties in their second year of the APR are Clark, Knox, Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Pike, Ralls, Scotland and Shelby.
Collectively, all counties in this region showed hunters taking a total of 15,162 antlered deer last year, down 440 bucks from the previous season. More than likely, that was because of the nine new counties in the APR, plus the standing corn factor. Top buck producing counties in the entire region were Macon 1,568; Sullivan 1,317; and Putnam 1,303.
The Northeast region finished second in terms of average number of trophies entered into the record book with 90 per county. It finished third in numbers of trophy bucks recorded statewide with 1,349 entries. The top three counties in record book entries are Putnam at 173 (second statewide); Adair 147 (6th); and Macon 135 (7th).
All 15 of this region's counties are now included in the 4-point or better on
one side antler point restriction area. Boone, Cole, Gasconade, Howard, Maries, Miller, and Osage, have been under APR for six years. Those counties are your top picks for hunting a record book buck.
The eight counties in their second year of the APR program are Audrain, Callaway, Camden, Cooper, Moniteau, Montgomery, Morgan, and Saline.
All counties combined reported hunters taking 15,058 antlered deer last year. This figure is up 2,106 from the previous year's tally. Top buck-producing counties in this region were Osage with 1,498; Camden 1,417; and Callaway 1,399.
The Central region led the state with the highest average number of trophies recorded per county with 106 entries per county in the record book. It also led in total number of trophy bucks recorded with 1,589 entries.
The top three counties in record book entries are Saline Boone with 208 entries (first statewide); Callaway 172 (third); and Cooper 150 (fifth).
Just two of the 12 counties in this region are included in the antler point restriction zone -- Pulaski and Phelps. Pulaski has been in the APR for six years. Once again, it finished dead last among all counties in the region in antlered deer harvest last season with 775 bucks. That was up 243 bucks from 2008! An overabundance of acorns probably had an impact on that county's buck harvest last year.
Phelps County was in its second year of APR management last year and experienced a buck harvest increase from 732 in 2008 to 1,030 in 2009, a jump of 298 deer. That is a textbook example of how buck harvest generally increases after a county's first year under APR.
The remaining 10 counties -- Carter, Dent, Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Shannon, Texas and Wright -- were not in APR last year. They reported a combined increase in antlered deer kill of 1,266 whitetails.
Collectively, hunters reported taking 15,957 antlered deer in the region. That figure is up 3,097 from the previous season totals. Top counties were Texas with 2,259 bucks; Howell 1933; and Oregon 1,579.
The Ozark region came in sixth place in both average number of record book entries per county with 43, and in the trophy buck entry category statewide with 510 entries. The top three counties were Phelps and Texas, each with 76 trophy entries (31st statewide); and Shannon 60 (38th).
KANSAS CITY REGION
Eight of this region's 12 counties have been in the APR program for two years. Those counties are Bates, Benton, Henry, Johnson, Lafayette, Pettis, St. Clair, and Vernon. Combined antlered deer harvest in them was up by 116 bucks last year.
A portion of a ninth county in the region was added to the APR zone in 2009. About half of the southern portion of Cass County was added. As expected, buck harvest was down by 164 in that county last year.
The remaining counties of Clay, Jackson, and Platte are not in the APR and they saw a decrease in antlered deer harvest of 188 last year.
All counties combined reported 9,825 antlered deer killed, which is down 236 from the previous year. Top antlered buck producing counties in the entire region were Benton, 1,555; St. Clair, 944; and Pettis, 873.
The KC region came in fifth place in average number of record book entries per county with 61 and fourth statewide in number of bucks entered into the record book with 727 trophies recorded. The top three counties were Jackson with 94 (17th statewide); Pettis, 91 (19th); and Benton, 89 (21st).
ST. LOUIS REGION
Three of this area's eight counties currently participate in the APR. All of Lincoln County and portions of Franklin and Jefferson counties are included in the management program. Warren County was removed from the APR last year as was the northeast corner of Franklin County. Most of Jefferson County was added last year with the exception of the northern one-fourth of that county.
Would this 2 1/2-year old 9-pointer be considered a trophy buck? It would be a trophy to a young hunter like the author's son, Tony Kalna III. Photo by Tony Kalna Jr.
The portions of Franklin County currently under APR have been in the zone for six years. Buck harvest was up 508 deer in the county. Lincoln County, with two full years of APR under its belt, enjoyed a slight increase in antlered deer harvest of 78 last season. The portion of Jefferson County just out of its first year in APR experienced a 301-buck harvest decrease last year as expected.
The remaining five counties not in APR in the region last year were Crawford, St. Charles, St. Louis, Warren and Washington. Those counties experienced an increased antlered deer kill of 631 whitetails.
Hunters reported taking a total of 8,978 antlered deer in the region last year, an increase of 916 from the previous season. Top counties in antlered buck harvest were Franklin 1,774; Crawford 1,668; and Jefferson 1,206.
The St. Louis region came in fourth place in average number of record book entries with 72. It finished fifth statewide in number of trophy bucks entries with 574. The top three counties were Franklin with 115 entries (9th statewide); Lincoln, 90 (20th); and Warren, 82 (27th).
Three of the region's 17 counties were in APR last year. Barton, Cedar and Hickory counties were first added to the APR program in 2008. After two years those three counties enjoyed a 272-buck harvest increase.
The remaining 14 counties not in the APR last season were Barry, Christian, Dade, Dallas, Greene, Jasper, Laclede, Lawrence, McDonald, Newton, Polk, Stone, Taney, and Webster. Those counties enjoyed a 1,456 increase in antlered deer harvest last year.
Collectively, all 17 counties reported 15,239 antlered deer harvested, and an increase of 1,728 antlered bucks taken last season. Top three counties were Laclede, 1,572; Dallas, 1,178; and Taney, 1,147.
The Southwest region came in eighth in both average number of record book entries per county with 21, and in number of trophy bucks in the record book with 363. The top three counties were Laclede with 62 (37th statewide); Hickory, 39 (51st); and Barton at 30 (55th).
None of the 16 counties in this region are under APR. This 16-county section finished in sixth place statewide with 11,661 antlered deer taken last year, up 1
,203 from 2008. The top three counties were Wayne with 1,858 (3rd statewide); Bollinger, 1,467 (12th); and Perry, 1,046 (38th).
The Southeast region came in at seventh place in average number of record book entries per county with 23 and in total number of trophy bucks with 392. The top three counties were Cape Girardeau with 53 (41st statewide); Ste. Genevieve, 52 (42nd) and Wayne, 49 (45th).
Data regarding harvest effects of Antler Point Restrictions, antlered buck harvest data from last season, and historical record book entries from each county in Missouri should give you an idea of where to zero in on your trophy buck this year.
Generally speaking, Missouri's biggest bucks in antler and body will come from counties north of the Missouri River and along the Missouri River corridor. Counties in those regions have the best overall deer habitat and have produced the heaviest and largest-racked whitetails in our state. But the bottom line is that a trophy buck could come from any region or county in Missouri. If you are really serious about shooting a record-book whitetail, then you should focus on APR counties, counties with the most record book entries, and those with the most big bucks killed recently.
We've done all the number-crunching homework for you. Now put that data to work and finish your homework assignment by locating prime places to hunt and knocking off a giant buck of your own!