The Southwest. No, it doesn't have the reputation as a mule deer mecca like neighboring states to the north do. However, for hunters willing to burn some extra boot leather this region still produces solid hunter success rates and even some top-end bucks. Although a prolonged drought has area biologists and some local hunters, a little concerned about the area's mule deer populations, there are several bright spots where hunters enjoy good chances for punching a tag this season.
Topping Arizona's mule deer opportunities is the vast Flagstaff region, which stretches across much of the northern part of the state. Because of successive mild winters and excellent fawn recruitment, deer populations are up and buck/doe ratios are strong.
This area is home to the famed Arizona Strip and Kaibab Plateau, which is arguably one of the best areas in the Lower 48 to tag a giant buck. That being said, demand continues to increase, and permits in this region are becoming increasing difficult to draw. Still, when you're lowering the crosshairs on an Arizona monster, you'll realize it was worth the wait.
The aforementioned "Strip," (units 13A and 13B) offers buck/doe ratios around 35/100 and 55/100, respectively, and those numbers seem to be in an upward trend. Because deer numbers have increased the past few years, tag allocations have also followed suit, giving hunters slightly better odds for attaining one of these coveted tags. Hunter success typically reaches as high as 70 to 80 percent in these units.
Although unit 12B lives in the shadow of the 13s, it also can be an exceptional unit for chances of tagging a heavy-antlered buck. This is a migration unit that attracts deer from the North Kaibab and Utah's renowned Paunsaugant Plateau during the winter months and routinely produces mature bucks during the later part of the season. Typically, hunter success is as high as 70-plus percent once the temperatures drop and the snow flies.
In the Kingman region, AZGFD big-game specialist Erin Butler said unit 17B has seen the largest increase in overall deer numbers, with buck/doe ratios hovering around 35/100. She attributes 17B's increased deer numbers to improved habitat conditions. Be forewarned, however, 17B can be a physically difficult unit to hunt. Still, those who work hard can find antler gold. Success rates typically top out around 30 percent.
Encompassing the Sonoran Desert in the extreme southwest corner of Arizona is the Yuma region, and according to AZGFD big-game specialist Bob Henry, despite the dry conditions the region has experienced the past few years, deer numbers seem to holding their own for the most part. Deer densities are low across this region, but quality desert bucks are harvested every season. The key to finding bucks in the open terrain the desert provides is spending more time behind the glass than actually hunting. Doing so can pay big dividends, Henry said.
Unit 41 offers good opportunities in this desert region, and has a buck/doe ratio of nearly 35/100. Unit 39 can also be a dandy, and hunter success generally hangs around 20 percent in both units.
Unit 20C is another good location to find a desert hat rack. It offers a buck/doe ratio around 30/100, and historically hunter success rates have been around 20 percent. Henry said that regardless of which desert unit you spend time in, success rarely comes easily. The hunter who puts in the extra effort generally has a good hunt.
Arizona is no doubt the Coues deer capital of the Lower 48, and there is no better place in which to lower your crosshairs on these pint-sized bucks than in southeast Arizona. According to AGZFD big-game specialist Jim Heffelfinger, although there are some good mule deer opportunities across this region, the Coues deer get the most attention. Some of the best Coues opportunities are found in units 36A, B and C. Over the past few seasons hunter success has been really good in these units, and Heffelfinger expects that to continue. Unit 35A to the east should also offer good opportunities, and the latest AGZFD survey show buck/doe ratios around 25/100.
Unit 29 can be very good for Coues deer as well, and with the recent wildfire that scorched much of the unit, Heffelfinger said it will only get better. History has proven that wildfires greatly improve Coues deer habitat, and the deer herds generally respond well in both quantity and quality.
Heffelfinger admitted that chasing Coues deer in this part of Arizona can be tough. These are smaller deer that seem to disappear into their surroundings. Keys include spending time behind a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, and developing a stalk once you have a good buck bedded.
New Mexico offers many locations that hold good mule deer numbers and even some that have to potential of producing a true wallhanger. Success rates are typically pretty good across the state, with rifle hunters naturally topping the list with a success rate averaging 25 to 30 percent, followed by muzzleloader and archery hunters, who typically enjoy a success rate around 20 percent. Private land hunters do better overall, with an overall success rate near 50 percent.
One of the better regions the Land of Enchantment has to offer the willing deer hunter is found in the northwest. Not only is it home to the fabled "2" units (2A, 2B and 2C), which are known to produce some of New Mexico's top-end bucks, but there are also several other locations where buck numbers are solid, and the opportunity for a trophy is a real possibility.
Whether you're talking about numbers of opportunities or the quality previously mentioned 2A, 2B and 2C units are arguably the best New Mexico has to offer. Annually, success runs extremely high, topping 70 percent during some seasons, with the highest success coming later in the season, when deer migrate south out of Colorado. Needless to say, these are high-demand hunts, and the chance of drawing one of these coveted tags is extremely slim. However, those who do will see an ample supply of bucks. Buck/doe ratios hover around 35 to 40/100, and according to Bill Taylor, who is the region's top big-game wildlife biologist, hunters shouldn't shoot the first forkhorn they see. As he explained it, "You never know what might be over the next ridge."
The Zuni Mountains region of unit 10 is also a good area in the northwest. According to Taylor, the recent management survey showed a buck/doe ratio around 35/100, but despite these good numbers, this can be a tough unit to hunt. Deer population seem to roam in isolated pockets throughout the region, so to hunters often have to work very hard to locate deer, according to Taylor. However, once the deer have been located, it can be a really good hunt. Success rates across the Zunis average around 25 percent most seasons.
The Jamez Mountains of unit 6 can also yield good hunting opportunities, with hunter success generally in the 30-percent range. But similar to unit 10, success in this area involves a lot of work to search out a quality buck. But with a buck/doe ratio hovering around 25/100, you know there are some older age-class deer living there.
Although the northeast region has been experiencing dry conditions the past few years, NMGF big game biologist Ryan Walker said there are some good units that public land hunters can stake their tents in this season. Topping the list is unit 51B. It offers lucky hunters prime sagebrush habitat, which is ideal winter range that hunters typically do pretty well in during the later seasons. Overall hunter success in the latest 2012/2013 published report showed an average success rate of 38 percent, and with a buck/doe ration hovering around 38/100, you can bet there are some quality buck living there.
Unit 51A will also offer good opportunities. Its scenic peaks hold good numbers of bucks, and the unit generally spits out an overall success rate near 25 percent. Unit 41 also continues to produce some nice deer, Walker said. Because of its topography, though, finding the big bucks tends to require a lot of leg work. Success rates can be extremely high, averaging around 50 percent throughout the season.
Encompassing the Chihuahuan Desert, unit 33 will also be a pretty good area this season, said NMGF biologist Ryan McBee. "Although numbers are not increasing, they are stable and hunters who drew tags should have a pretty good hunt."
The latest survey shows a buck/doe ratio in the mid-30s/100. Because the unit harbors good deer populations, not only will hunters see good numbers of deer, but there's a good possibility of seeing a good buck as well. Providing hunters with both a mountain adventure and desert country in which to roam are units 30 and 32. Although these southeastern units are managed to offer hunters the opportunity to see a lot of deer, with buck/doe ratios around 30/100, the possibilities at a mature buck definitely exist.
According to NMGF habitat biologist Kevin Rodden, mule deer herds are on a downward trend across the southwest. Recent drought conditions coupled with poor habitat conditions have led to poor recruitment the past several years. Despite this, unit 23 is continues to hold its own, and because the NMGF has reduced license numbers in this unit, those that do have a tag should have a good hunt. Last season rifle hunters boasted an overall success rate of 25 percent, and archery hunters were slightly lower at nearly 20 percent.
Harboring the Pelencillo Mountains in the southwest corner of the state is unit 27, and according to Rodden, it can also offer really good deer hunting opportunities. Buck numbers are stable, and with rifle hunter success rates averaging slightly better than 30 percent last season, Rodden does not see why hunters shouldn't experience the same results this season.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '