October 21, 2015
You've probably heard the phrase, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." Well, for the purposes of this article we will replace the word "beauty" with "trophy."
For those of us Missourians in the deer-hunting world, the definition of what constitutes a trophy is all in the eyes of the beholder. For example, I have been deer hunting since 1972, and at 52 years old I have a much different idea of what a trophy is today than I did in 1972. Or throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, for that matter.
In my formative years as a deer hunter, any deer with antlers on its head was a trophy to me. Down in the Ozarks deer sightings weren't overwhelmingly common back in the 1970s and seeing a buck was a real bonus. If you saw or shot a 2 1/2-year-old buck, that feat was really something back in the day.
However, as I matured as a deer hunter and had harvested many deer, and as deer numbers in Missouri increased and age structures of the herd changed, my definition of what I view as a trophy buck has changed as well.
Today I am very selective as to what kind of buck I harvest. A particular buck does not have to have a set number of antler points, antler configuration, or even score a certain amount of inches in any of the trophy books for me to harvest it.
I won't shoot a basket-racked buck anymore. Down at our farm in the big woods of the Ozarks, I'm looking for a 3 1/2-year-old buck or older to take each year. However, if the right 2 1/2-year-old buck hung around my stand too long on the last couple of days of any of the current deer seasons, he might just end up in my freezer and his rack on my wall.
RECIPE FOR TROPHY BUCKS
Whatever your idea of a "trophy" buck in Missouri might be, there are three ingredients that are necessary for an antlered deer to reach its antler-growing potential: genetics, nutrition, and age.
"I've heard folks describe it as a three-legged stool," said Jason Sumners. "Without any one of the legs you just kind of wobble around and don't reach full potential."
In case you didn't already know, Jason Sumners is the Missouri Department of Conservation's resource scientist/biologist who helps oversee our state's deer herd. But Sumners is not just a scientist; he is an avid deer hunter.
"Most of the limitations for antler development in bucks in the Midwest is lack of age," Sumners said. "Missouri typically has good nutrition, and mild conditions are not stressful to the deer."
According to Sumners there is little to nothing you can do about genetics in wild and free-ranging deer.
"Hunters should not even worry about that one (genetics)," he said. "However, genetics are often used as an excuse as to why hunters aren't meeting the desired antler potential on their land."
Some hunters try to cull bucks with undesirable racks out of a herd. For instance, a buck with 4 points on one side but a fork on the other may be considered a cull buck — one that should be removed from the breeding stock.
"In the wild, so many deer participate in breeding, the removal of one deer from a local population is just inconsequential," Sumners said. "Culling is simply a myth among wild deer populations."
Culling is also ineffective because there are so many factors that go into how a particular buck's rack might look during any given year. A poorly developed rack on one side might be because of injuries that particular buck sustained — no reflection of its genetics at all. Poor body conditions because of a lack of good food sources in a given year might also affect antler growth.
"A lot of times, especially in young deer in early antler development between the ages of 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 years old," said Sumners, "(rack size) is not all that predictive as to what that buck's antler potential will be later in life.
Other factors like what time of year a particular buck fawn was born, whether it was early or late in the spring, might play a role in what its first set of antlers will look like. It could be a spike or it might be a 10-pointer."
Some regions of Missouri are simply more apt to grow big-antlered and big-bodied bucks. That's because they have specific characteristics that make them better potential trophy buck meccas.
One of the main factors that make a specific region a real trophy producer is the quality of the soil there. Good, mineral-rich dirt helps grow lush, mineral-rich plants, and those plants the deer eat help make them big in body and in headgear.
Of course the glaciated plains of north Missouri are famous for their dark, mineral-rich soil, and that's why the northern part of our state is famous for producing big bucks. Other honorable mentions are the farmlands just north and south along the Missouri River corridor.
"If you're serious about killing a 170-inch buck or better, then you better concentrate on hunting somewhere that has good dirt," said Sumners. "Good dirt and low hunting pressure are something to look for."
RECORD BOOK ENTRIES
The Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club are the standards by which trophy whitetails are measured in this country. Both clubs have their own minimum standards for bucks to be recognized in their club record books.
Bucks must have 170 inches of measured antler to qualify for entry as a "typical" in the Boone and Crockett Club or 195 inches as a non-typical. To be eligible for the Pope and Young Club, which is archery only, a buck must net a minimum score of 125 inches as a typical or 155 inches as a non-typical.
The record books are proof positive and reveal what Jason Sumners said about mineral-rich soils and big bucks going hand in hand. The latest compiled record book entries show that the Northeast Region of Missouri clearly leads the way in producing trophy bucks with a combined 668 B&C and P&Y bucks credited to that region.
You might say, it's mineral-rich soil. The top counties in combined record book entries in the northeast region were Putnam with 77, Pike 72, and Lewis recording 61.
The Northwest Region of Missouri comes in second place with 561 combined trophy bucks. That region also is known for its good mineral-rich soil. The top three counties in the region were Nodaway with 51 trophy bucks, Harrison 47, and Chariton 44.
Coming in third place in the number of combined B&C and P&Y trophies is our Central Region, with 486 trophy buck entries. As we mentioned earlier, the Missouri River corridor also is known for its mineral-rich dirt and the central region has many counties along the Big Muddy. Top counties in this region were Boone with 80 record book bucks, Callaway with 77, and Howard 38.
Kansas City came in fourth with a total of 338 record book bucks. Top counties were Jackson 84, Vernon 49, and Clay 38.
The St. Louis Region ranked fifth in the total number of record book entries with 329. Fifth out of eight regions is incredible considering that this region is the smallest of all our deer regions. The top three counties were St. Louis with 84 record book bucks, St. Charles 66, and Lincoln 58.
Ranking in sixth place is the Southwest Region with a combined 202 trophy buck entries. The top three counties were Greene with 30, Laclede 21, and Cedar 18.
The Ozark Region ranked seventh in the combined number of record book bucks entered with 134 entries. The top three counties in that region were Phelps with 22, Ozark 17, and Shannon 16.
Last but not least, the Southeast Region finished eighth in combined trophy buck entries with 119. The top three counties in that region are Stoddard with 26 trophy-buck entries, Wayne 16, and Bollinger 12. Stoddard County has real potential for producing trophy bucks.
EFFECTS OF ANTLER POINT
Antler Point Restrictions were first introduced in Missouri in 2004 and were expanded in 2008. At that time 69 of Missouri's 114 counties were partly or completely APR counties. However, recent findings of whitetails testing positive for Chronic Wasting Disease has forced the MDC to remove 19 of those counties from the APR program.
Counties taken out of APR are Adair, Boone, Callaway, Chariton, Cole, Cooper, Knox, Linn, Macon, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan, Osage, Putnam, Randolph, Scotland, Schuyler, Shelby, and Sullivan.
Currently there still are 50 counties, all or in part, within the APR jurisdiction.
"We are definitely seeing the benefits as far as the age structure goes for our antlered buck population, but only to a certain degree," said Sumners.
In counties that are or were in APR, 1 1/2-year-old bucks made up just 25 percent of the deer harvest. In counties where APR were not in place, 1 1/2-year-old bucks made up 50 to 55 percent of the deer harvest. Those numbers clearly show that APR is keeping more of our 1 1/2-year-old bucks alive to grow at least another set of antlers.
The "only to a certain degree" that Sumners referred to is the fact that it appears that hunters have shifted their focus from 1 1/2-year-old bucks to 2 1/2-year-old. They aren't letting the 2 1/2-year-old bucks live to that third year where significant antler size increase takes place.
"In our APR counties, 2 1/2-year-old bucks account for 40 to 50 percent of deer harvest while that same age-class only makes up 25 percent of the harvest in non-APR counties," Sumners said. "So you see how that has flip-flopped from before."
Furthermore, in APR counties, 3 1/2-year-old bucks account for 30 percent of the deer taken while in non-APR counties that age-class only accounts for 20 percent of the antlered harvest.
So if you are looking to shoot a 2 1/2-year-old buck or older, it makes sense to start looking in one of the APR counties or in one that has just had the APR lifted.
ANTLERED BUCK HARVEST
I'm a numbers kind of guy and have always been intrigued by percentages. I think you can look at numbers and they can give you an edge in anything. So with that being said, here's how each region fared last year in terms of antlered buck harvest.
This might help sway your decision on where to hunt for bucks this coming season. The Southwest Region came in first place with 17,886 antlered deer taken. Second place went to the Central Region with 16,495. Third place went to the Northeast Region with 16,298 followed by the Ozark region 15,354; Northwest Region 14,954; Southeast Region 12,263; Kansas City Region 10,879; and St. Louis Region 9,659.
Personally, I believe you can find a trophy buck just about anywhere in Missouri these days. It all depends on how much time you have to spend on scouting and hunting as to whether or not you get that trophy buck you've been dreaming about. Jason Sumners agrees with me.
"I feel like I should have a reasonably good opportunity to kill a deer that is 140 inches, depending on the time and effort I put into it," he said. "We've got a lot better quality bucks roaming border to border than we have had previously."
It all goes back to the beginning of this article. The definition of what makes a trophy buck lies within the eyes of the hunter.