If you want to kill a world-class buck, you have to hunt where he lives. Here, in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, that's not a problem. . . . (November 2009)
Every deer hunter dreams of shooting a monster buck. Whopper whitetails can evolve essentially anywhere deer live in our resource-rich state. But Buffalo County in western Wisconsin has a proven track record for producing more trophy bucks than any other Wisconsin destination.
Bob Decker's state-record non-typical bow kill from 2008 is the latest proof produced in the state which shows that Buffalo County is still producing some serious racks.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Naze.
Over the past 20 years, the pastoral, rolling landscape with deep valleys bordered by the Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers on the west and northwest, Trempealeau River to the southeast -- and bisected by a host of smaller creeks and coulee streams across lower elevations -- has given up more big bucks than perhaps any county in the world.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' one-year moratorium on Earn-a-Buck rules will undoubtedly result in a 2009 spike in the state's antlered deer harvest. Since Buffalo County has led the state as the top trophy deer venue from 1991-2007, with nearly three times the trophy buck harvest of second-place Dane County, conventional wisdom says this will be the year of years for record-book bucks.
Will the one-year waiver in EAB rules have a negative impact on trophy deer harvest in Buffalo County and other EAB units in years to come? Nobody can say until data from the next few years is analyzed.
"EAB was the best thing the WDNR ever came up with for growing trophy bucks," Steve Ashley, director of the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club, said. "Every EAB county rates right at the top for producing trophy deer in Wisconsin," he continued. "In its previous form, EAB wasn't perfect, but our records clearly indicate it was an overwhelmingly positive concept."
Whitetail biologists agree that it takes three factors to grow a rack of dreams -- habitat, good nutrition and age. Tagging a respectable 130-inch buck this autumn will deprive you of the possibility of shooting this same animal in 2010, when it would likely score 150 inches. With EAB no longer in place, the 130-incher you pass up might possibly be harvested on adjacent property by a hunter content with shooting a "decent" buck.
Decades of intensive habitat management on the already outstanding landscape of Buffalo County have resulted in a natural laboratory to grow big bucks faster. Taking EAB off the table increases the odds that an antlered deer will have a bad day.
But on tracts of land in Buffalo County, where precise food plots, bedding areas and similar habitat have been sculpted to nearly ideal parameters, those who control access to the land have generally adopted a "let it go, watch it grow" philosophy when the moment of truth in dropping the hammer or loosing the bowstring arrives.
Buffalo County bowhunter and outfitter Cory Mielke says he is confident hunter ethics will trump a need for quality deer management like EAB in Buffalo County, citing statistics from client success in his High Tines Outfitters operation last year.
"We had 46 clients harvest 13 trophy bucks in 2008," Mielke said. "The average score of these animals was 144, with the biggest buck (measuring) 171 inches. Almost every one of our clients had an honest opportunity to shoot a buck, but they chose to pass up the shot because they were waiting for a better animal."
Mielke said his High Tines Outfitters operation charges $2,150 for a five-day all-inclusive hunt. Last year, only six clients were Wisconsin residents. The fact that 33 hunters forked over substantial cash for the opportunity to shoot a trophy buck on the 4,000 acres Mielke leases or owns in Buffalo County and went home with just doe meat or nothing at all says a great deal about the deer hunting dynamic here.
Would High Tines' successful harvest percentage have been higher if clients could pass on the doe in anticipation of the buck that might be trailing her? This season will provide a clear indicator.
According to Mielke, 10 deer hunting outfitters operate in Buffalo County, controlling about two percent of private lands. He said approximately 15 percent of this prime deer country is privately leased.
Because hunters are willing to pay big bucks to chase big bucks, it isn't easy to gain permission to decent deer land by merely knocking on farmhouse doors. Some farmers will allow solo hunters or small groups access to their property for cash, the amount of which is open to negotiation. In other cases, there are essentially two groups of deer hunters on private lands: family members and extremely good friends of the property owner.
Farming is the major source of income in this part of the state. Hunting-driven tourism is the No. 2 industry in Buffalo County, a fact not lost in the county's proactive chamber of commerce. The county Web site is www.buffalocounty.com. This link will get you to all amenities needed to plan a visit to the area.
Those hunters who are not independently wealthy, related to county residents or otherwise hooked up have three outstanding public wildlife areas to choose from within county borders.
The smallest is Big Swamp Wildlife Area at 844 acres. This property is located five miles west of Mondovi with access on the south side off County Highway A. As you might expect, a great deal of this WMA is marsh country. For more detail --including a map of the area -- log on to www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/wildlife/wildlife_areas/bigswamp.htm.
The Whitman Dam Wildlife Area located three miles south of Cochran across from Merrick state park has considerably more woodland habitat. For more information, contact the park office, or log on at http:// dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/wildlife_areas/whitman.htm.
About one-sixth of the sprawling Tiffany Wildlife Area lies west of the Chippewa River in Pepin County. This 13,000-acre project is located west of Highway 25 and mostly north of Highway 35 between Nelson and Durand. Internet access to this hunting opportunity is available at http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/wildlife/wildlife_areas/tiffany.htm.
Several of the 20-plus Boone and Crockett non-typical bucks gross scoring 170-195 were harvested on Buffalo County public grounds last year.
But it was a 16-point non-typical whitetail harvested in Buffalo County by Bob Decker of Eau Claire last Nov. 1 that put the deer-hunting world on its ear. Dec
ker's new state-record bow kill had a 28-inch inside spread and green-scored an amazing 233 inches.
"The circus attitude surrounding the harvest of the Decker buck last fall is nothing short of amazing," WDNR wildlife technician Gary Wolf said. "There are probably several more bucks with that kind of headgear wandering around Buffalo County right now. We have textbook habitat, including mineral-rich soil, which is conducive to antler growth.
"Age is a primary determinant in growing trophy racks. Bucks have the potential for growing big racks all over the state. In Buffalo County, the racks simply grow big faster.
"The best chances for shooting a big buck in Buffalo County come during the rut," Wolf continued. "Mature whitetail bucks have incredible native intelligence. Fortunately for hunters, their thinking gets a little foggy when these bruisers start seriously chasing does. The last week in October and first week in November are the best opportunities to catch a buck making a mistake."
Hunting pressure -- true hunting pressure -- is greatest on Buffalo County's big bucks during the rut, when virtually every productive location on every tract of land in the Quality Deer Management program has a serious bowhunter waiting patiently for his buck to appear.
This is the major reason bowhunters harvest an overwhelming percentage of trophy bucks in Wisconsin every year. Last season, the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club recorded three trophy bucks taken with firearms and 27 by bow.