December 28, 2021
By Josh Honeycutt
From opening-day giants to first bucks ever, the 2021 deer-hunting season was a good one for whitetail hunters in the U.S.
Game & Fish chronicled many of those harvests through the fall.
Here's a look at our Top 10 most popular big-buck stories from the 2021 season.
1. 211-Inch Bluegrass Giant
Neal Kirkpatrick didn't waste time filling his Kentucky tag. He got it done in one sitting.
Neal Kirkpatrick started hunting deer at the age of 9 and credits his grandfather with getting him into the outdoors at such an early age. Eventually he found waterfowl hunting, which has consumed his time in recent years, but he finds his way back to the deer woods every season.
"It became a yearly tradition for me," he said. "I ventured away from deer hunting because of my passion for waterfowl hunting, but there's nothing like harvesting a buck with a bow. I rarely hunt with a firearm."
While Kirkpatrick loves to hunt whitetail deer, and chasing giants is part of that, he never imagined he’d wrap his tag around a 5-year-old, 200-plus-inch buck this season. He especially didn’t expect it to happen during his first year on a new farm.
2. Early Season Giants in the Sunflower State
Two hunters, with assists from their fathers, fill tags with a pair of dandy deer.
Kansas has one of the best deer-hunting reputations in the country, frequently producing awesome hunts for monster bucks. It should come as no surprise that the early season of 2021 delivered these two brutes.
Clay Craft’s "Monster in Oz" buck, taken with a compound bow on Sept. 15, scored just under 190. Blake Lassiter’s "Opening-Day Dandy" was a nice 170-inch-plus buck taken on Sept. 13 with a muzzleloader.
3. Monster Georgia Non-Typical Buck in Full Velvet
This deer never shed its velvet or rack in 2020. It stayed in velvet and kept on growing.
Last season, Georgia deer hunter Benny Overholt passed a good non-typical buck in velvet that he estimated to be five years old.
The deer walked within 10 yards of his tree stand, and Overholt was able snap a quick photo of it as it passed by.
Fast forward to the 2021 pre-season when the same buck started showing up on trail cameras, and Overholt noticed there was something decidedly weird about it. He determined that the deer never shed its rack after last season, and even remained in velvet the entire time.
4. Show-Me State Monster Bucks
This trio of hunters tagged huge whitetails in the opening days of the Missouri archery season.
While states like Kentucky, Maryland, Montana and Nebraska were first out of the gate, Missouri came on strong when its archery deer season opened in mid-September.
Since then, several big whitetails have fallen, including these three bucks taken by Philip Blanford, Alex Bittick and Clint Schwach.
Here are the stories of those giant bucks taken between Sept. 15 and 18.
5. The Stories Behind Two Giant Kentucky Opening Day Bucks
The Bluegrass State has one of the earliest openers in the country and some huge whitetails. This can lead to some incredible hunts for bucks in velvet.
Few states offer a good shot at a velvet buck, but Kentucky is one of them.
Opening day of deer season 2021 didn't disappoint with reports of Bluegrass State bucks taken by bowhunters measuring 170-plus inches.
It was on Sept. 4 when Jamison Standard and Casey Reed tagged two of the biggest deer from opening day.
Here are the stories of those giant bucks.
6. 3-Year Quest Ends with Huge Typical Whitetail
Oklahoma is one of the most overlooked, underrated deer-hunting destinations in the country.
The Sooner State is primed with big deer, and lots of them, but a good many hunters continue to look elsewhere when chasing monster whitetails.
Those who call Oklahoma home know what's up, though, including Clay Algeo.
Algeo hunts family land in the northeastern region of the state, and spends almost every weekend on the property, whether he's hunting, fishing, managing habitat or just relaxing. He's very familiar with the area, and knows where deer frequent, including the best bedding areas.
He also knew he had a 4 1/2-year-old giant on camera.
"I have been watching this deer for 3 years," Algeo said. "I first took notice of him as a 2 1/2-year-old. As a 3 1/2-year-old, he grew into a 150-inch deer. I knew if I passed him, he had the potential to be something special. I closely monitored the deer via glassing and trail cameras. This summer, his growth exceeded my expectations.”
7. Crossbow Hunter Bags Ohio Buck Nicknamed 'Blades’
After years of chasing it, Kevin Miller finally caught up to this giant Buckeye State whitetail.
Kevin Miller had two years of history with a buck he called "Blades."
"I have thousands of trail camera pictures of him from 2020 and 2021," Miller recently told Game & Fish. "I have a buddy a few miles down the road that had him for three years prior as well, which helped give us a good age on him."
Miller lost count of how many days he hunted the buck during the 2020 season. During the off-season, he gained permission on nearby properties and was able to learn more about the deer. This drastically changed how Miller hunted it this year.
On Oct. 17, Miller set out for his ninth attempt this season at arrowing the buck. A cold front had pushed through, dropping the temperature about 20 degrees bring the wind direction he needed to hunt the giant.
8. Bowhunter Arrows 200-Inch Ohio Hammer
Ohio hunter ended a three-year journey for a monster Boone & Crockett whitetail.
Cody Frank first encountered this giant 6 1/2-year-old buck in 2019 but decided to give it another year to grow. Then, in 2020, he never caught a glimpse of the buck or captured a single trail cam image of it. Things changed this fall when the buck returned.
"I immediately started doing everything I could to keep him close, knowing he was going to start to travel again soon looking for those first does in estrus," Frank recently told Game & Fish. "I made mock scrapes everywhere I could within my food plot. I used cell cameras to limit pressure of going in and out and was very careful with my wind."
On Oct. 23, the 15th or so day he'd hunted the deer, everything came full circle. The weather was overcast and drizzling rain. A cool, 60-degree breeze blew out of the northwest.
9. 190-Plus Prairie State Whitetail
'Deer fanatic' Illinois hunter harvests giant late-October 10-pointer
Illinois hunter Mark Hayes loves to hunt big, mature deer.
"I'm a deer-hunting fanatic, to say the least," Hayes recently told Game & Fish. "Deer hunting is amazing. I mean, they are coast to coast and from our southern border to the northern border. It is something everyone can do."
Hayes and his hunting buddies had multiple years of history with a giant buck that frequented the area they hunt. Last year, the buck spent most of the time on their property, though they didn't pursue it in hopes it would grow bigger in 2021.
It didn't. Instead, it remained a 190-inch deer, but lost its abnormal points and cleaned up into a big typical 10.
On Oct. 27, with cloudy skies, temperatures in the 50s and 15- to 20-mph winds, Hayes thought the conditions were good enough that he might see the buck during daylight.
10. Youth Hunters Bag Their First Bucks
With family members by their sides, these youth deer hunters notched their first harvests.
Not many things make a deer hunter happier than to see a son or daughter bag their first whitetail.
It’s an exhilaration that will be lovingly remembered and shared at future get-togethers like family vacations and deer camp.
"It was a special evening I'll never forget," Illinois teen Rylee Bigham said after she harvested a large whitetail buck while hunting with her father this fall."
Game & Fish has received several reports of youth hunters reaching the first-buck milestone during the 2021 season, so we thought we’d share some of those stories.