Wisconsin Whitetail Outlook 2008 -- Part 1: Finding Trophy Bucks

Wisconsin hunters have opportunities to bag a trophy buck anywhere in the state. Our experts tell you how to increase your odds of success.

Deer hunters have different reasons for hunting -- some prefer a tasty tenderloin of venison, while others pine for a huge rack to hang in the den. If you fall into the latter category, the good news is that Wisconsin is a terrific state for hunting big whitetails.

Keith Warnke, big-game specialist with the DNR, said, "Just about anywhere in the state you have the possibility of a trophy buck. If you look at Pope and Young and Boone and Crocket, you'll see that every county in Wisconsin is either orange or red. Orange stands for 11 to 30 trophy bucks registered and red means 31 or more trophies registered."

So how do you increase your odds for bagging a trophy? Well, there's the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is to pay for an outfitted hunt on private land. If you want to be nearly guaranteed a trophy whitetail, private preserve hunting is the way to go.

If you want to get a deer the old-fashioned way, your only choice is to work really hard. That means scouting and hunting in secluded places, far away from roads and ATV trails. It means putting in your time in the woods beginning as early as February looking for sheds and other sign. You should find and pattern a big buck well before the season, then leave him alone. Constant disruption will cause that buck to change his behavior leaving you high and dry when the season starts.

Once you have made the commitment to do the scouting, you should decide what counties and zones you are going to hunt in.

"Your odds at a trophy are highest in deer management units that have been in Earn-A-Buck (EAB) for the previous two years," Warnke said. "This would include all chronic wasting disease units, many western units and Fox River Valley units. Hunters in these units are required to shoot an antlerless deer first before hunting for antlered deer."

What this policy has done is reduce the mortality of big bucks -- hunters are unable to take a buck until they fulfill their tag requirements -- and hunting pressure. Often, after a hunter has a deer in the freezer, he or she hunts less.

But what makes a big buck in the first place? The joke is that it takes three things to make a trophy buck: age, age and age. But in reality, it takes age, proper nutrition and habitat. Most Wisconsin hunters would be hard-pressed to pass on a 3-year-old buck walking under their stand if they had a buck tag. However, in recent years, the EAB has forced hunters to do exactly that. They have to pass on the bucks, which gives many animals the chance to get older and bigger.

If you do see a 3-year-old buck or older, chances are he is big and healthy. Wisconsin's many agricultural fields provide good nutrition for deer. This coupled with Quality Deer Management units and increased awareness in food plots, has provided an outstanding food source for deer.

One exception is the Central Forest region. In counties such as Wood and Juneau, the land is not farmed as intensely. Instead, there are large tracts of pine forest and the nutrition sources can vary from place to place.

The best counties are Iowa, Richland and Dane; however, much of this land is privately owned. In the northwest, Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson counties are known producers of bucks, with Marathon County in central Wisconsin being one of the highest number producing areas in the state. Other counties to mention are Waushara, Shawano, Marquette and Green Lake. All of these counties have a good mix of habitat, nutrition and EAB.

Another very intriguing piece of data is the antlered buck density per square mile of deer range, which is not to be confused with the density per square mile of total area. After all, we aren't going to hunt in shopping malls and the like, so for the purposes of this article, we'll focus only on suitable habitat.

One of the best units is Unit 66 near Oshkosh. This unit had a harvest rate of 9.5 antlered bucks per square mile. This unit is a good example of a unit that has been in EAB for the last three years. Yet, there are two ways to look at this number. On one hand, there are plenty of bucks; on the other hand, these bucks may not get the chance to live to a ripe old age. By contrast, look at Unit 4 that averages 2.2 bucks per square mile, yet this area has low hunting pressure, is rather roadless and is mostly public land. Bucks here can live to a ripe old age. The bottom line is that you can choose the hunt you want. The harvest density data for all units can be found on the DNR Web site.

Another good indicator of big bucks is the ratio of adult does to adult bucks. The optimum ratio is 1:1. You want to find areas that are as close to that number as you can find. For example, Unit 4 has a 1.1:1 ratio. Unit 13 has a 1.2:1 ratio, and most southern units have a 1.5-2:1 ratio. Many of the northern units, on the other hand, have a 2:1 ratio.

We all remember last year's long snowy winter, yet for most of the state, the winter had a mild effect on deer numbers.

"The impact of the winter had a normal or average effect on deer populations in the northwest and southern parts of the state," Warnke said. "The only place it had an impact was in the northeast because the snows piled up and stayed for long periods of time. Basically, this is the area from Ashland to Ladysmith and to the east. Also, the Central Forest saw some impact as well. This area has less agriculture to sustain deer through a snowy winter."

In the agricultural parts of the state, the winter wasn't severe enough to have much effect. There was a good break in the weather in late March and early April that helped sustain the deer, plus many were concentrated around a food source during the coldest parts of the winter.

It's back. Whether you like it or not, the October antlerless season, Oct. 16-19, is back in EAB and herd control units. Some see the October season as a chance to qualify for a buck during the regular season, while others, mostly bowhunters, think the increased pressure forces deer into nocturnal patterns, thus reducing their chances during the bow season.

There are also additional areas now classified as EAB. If you hunt in one of these units and you killed an antlerless deer last year, you have qualified for EAB and should be getting a DNR sticker in the mail. If you didn't get an antlerless deer last season, you must harvest an antlerless deer before you can take a buck. Be sure to check

the new regulations and your tags before going into the woods. Now, let's look at where hunters got trophy bucks last season.

The Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club officially recorded 285 trophy bucks in 2007 -- 82 percent taken by bowhunters, 15 percent taken with a firearms and 3 percent were roadside kills, found by residents or bought.

This 18-county region in the west-central part of the state is by far the best for trophy bucks. In 2007, hunters registered a whopping 109 trophies with the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club. A Monroe County hunter registered a non-typical buck that scored 200 1/8.

For the second consecutive year, Buffalo County was No. 1 in the region and the state with 31 WBBC trophies registered -- the largest a 184 1/8 typical. Twenty-nine were taken by bow and two by gun. The county also continues to produce good deer numbers, with 3,198 taken by bow and 8,066 by gun. Of those totals, 3,290 were antlered deer.

The neighboring county of Trempealeau finished second in the region and state with 12 trophies, 10 bagged by archers and two by gun hunters.

(Data courtesy of the Wisconsin Buck & Bear Club)



Vernon County came in third with 11 registered trophies. Nine of these monsters were taken by bow, leaving only two taken by gun.

Hunters in the 18-county northern region saw a big decrease in the number of trophies registered with the WBBC. In 2006, 71 trophy bucks were recorded but only 40 in 2007. The top counties were Polk, Taylor, Douglas and Baron. Polk has been the top county for the last four years in the northern region.

Last year, seven trophies were recorded from Polk, a decrease of six from the year before. Five big bucks were taken by bow and two by gun. Archers killed 1,103 antlered deer in 2007 out of a total bow kill of 2,652 animals. Gun hunters were successful on antlered deer as well. Of the 11,276 deer registered during the firearms season, 3,715 were bucks.

Taylor County came in second with five trophies registered. All five were taken with a bow with the largest scoring 154 5/8. The countywide archery kill was 2,519, and the total gun harvest was 7,908. The harvest of antlered deer was 3,420 in the county.

Of the four trophies taken in Douglas County, two were with a bow and two with a gun. During the archery season, 2,2,67 deer were harvested, of which 765 had some horns. During the gun season, 8,974 whitetails were dropped with 3,664 having antlers.

The northeast region of the state did very well in producing trophy bucks. It is the second highest region in the state, with a total of 66 bucks registered last year with the WBBC. A Shawano County hunter registered a non-typical buck with a rack score of 214 6/8. This region consists of 16 counties and the top-producing county in this area was Marquette with nine trophies.

All nine of the trophy bucks in Marquette County were taken by bow. During archery season, 563 antlered deer were taken out of the total bow season figure of 1,790. During gun season, 6,797 deer were harvested, of which 1,926 were antlered.

In second place is Shawano County with eight trophy bucks. Six were taken with a bow and two with a gun. Of the total harvest, 4,440 animals were taken with a bow, of which 1,027 were bucks. During the gun season, 10,713 whitetails were taken, of which 3,354 were bucks.

Tied for third place are Outagamie and Waupaca counties with seven big bucks each. In Outagamie County, six were taken by bow and one was purchased. The Outagamie total archery harvest was 2,408, of which 579 were bucks. The total gun number was 4,595, of which 1,393 were bucks.

In Waupaca County, four trophies were taken by bow and three by gun. The Waupaca totals were more impressive with 4,976 animals taken during the archery season, of which 1,298 were bucks. During the gun season, the county posted 10,983 deer, of which 3,424 were bucks.

This region consists of only eight counties, most of which are metropolitan in nature. This year, Washington County beat out the traditional favorite, Waukesha. In Washington, four big bucks were registered and all were taken with a bow. The countywide archery season harvest was 1,341, with 418 being bucks. During the gun season, the county total was 2,138, with 641 being bucks.

Tied for second are Waukesha and Walworth counties, both with one big buck each. Both were taken with a bow. Waukesha posted an archery total harvest of 1,401. Of those animals, 362 were bucks. The gun season was better with 1,546 animals harvested, of which 434 were bucks.

Walworth County only harvested 548 whitetails during the archery season, of which 138 were bucks, and 1,366 animals during the gun season with only 348 being bucks.

This region has 12 counties, many of which are in the chronic wasting disease management area. This area registered 64 bucks, including a monster non-typical from Green County with a score of 210 6/8. Close behind was another non-typical from Dodge County with a score of 204 7/8.

The top county by far was Sauk with 14 trophies registered. Eleven were taken with a bow and three with a gun. Archers took 1,619 deer, with 432 of them being bucks. During gun season, hunters took 8,856 whitetails, 2,566 of which were antlered.

It is a bit of a surprise that there are still so many deer in Dane County given the CWD management tactics. Yet, hunters registered seven trophies, and all except one were taken with a bow. Archers shot more does than bucks during the archery season with 418 bucks and 1,047 does for a total of 1,465. Gun hunters did better with 1,297 antlered and 3,278 antlerless whitetails for a total of 4,575.

Another county with seven registered trophies is Green County. Four were taken with a bow and four with a gun. The total archery kill was 551, with 158 having antlers. The total gun kill was 2,654, with 763 being bucks.

If you get a buck of a lifetime, consider having it recorded with the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club. There are official scorers located around the state who can measure your deer. To find out more, go to www.wi-buck-bear.org or call (877) 273-6408.

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