LOCATING A QUALITY WHITETAIL DEER HUNTING AREA
The formula for successful trophy whitetail hunting is made up of many ingredients. Successful whitetail hunters strive to excel in marksmanship, utilize quality equipment, and perfect hunting techniques along with continually scouting and studying whitetail behavior. Although all these components are of the utmost importance in the harvesting of mature whitetails, a wise ole deerhunter once said, “A hunter is only as good as the ground he hunts, and the amount of time he puts in the stand.” There’s allot of truth in that twofold statement. Hunters who consistently harvest trophy whitetails, spend allot of time in the stand. They hunt at every opportunity. The most important factor of the trophy formula is the quality of ground one hunts. The bottomline is, that no matter how knowledgeable or skilled the hunter is, if he or she is hunting an area that doesn’t house mature bucks, the result will be nil.
For the hunters with the resources to seek out a quality location anywhere within the continental United States, the homework begins with identifying which states produce the greatest number of national record book animals. This process begins with researching the statistical archives of two organizations. The Pope and Young Club, located at P.O. Box 548, Chatfield, MN. 55923, Phone (507)867-4144; and the Boone and Crockett Club, located at 250 Station Drive, Missoula, MT. 59801, Phone (888)840-4868. Kevin Hisey, Administrative Assistant, to the Pope and Young Club, indicated there are two books the club offers, which will assist hunters with such research. They are Bowhunting Big Game Records of North America, 1999, and Bowhunting Records of North American Whitetail Deer, 1997. “Bowhunting Records of North American Whitetail Deer is the first book the Pope and Young Club has produced which is a species specific book” (Pope and Young Club, 1999). The entire book features data on whitetail deer only. The book is unique as it offers specific information which has been broken down to levels of state and province. A portion of the book contains area density maps, which highlight “hotspots” in given areas, and contains over 14,000 plus record entries. Bowhunting Big Game Records of North America, 1999, contains a complete update of all record entries through February of 1999. Chris Tonkinson, Assistant to Director of Big Game Records, for the Boone and Crockett Club, suggested that valuable whitetail information can be found in Records of North American Whitetail Deer, Third Edition, 1995 (Boone and Crockett, 1999).
After careful review of the data contained in these works, it was found that the major portion of all record book entries were recorded from a small number of states. This minority of states offers the greatest opportunity for a record book harvest. The Pope and Young Typical Buck entry list is as follows ranked by number of entries in the record books:
STATE AND POSITION
11. New York
16 South Dakota
19 New Jersey
20 North Dakota
22 West Virginia
31 North Carolina
36 New Hampshire
39 South Carolina
40 Rhode Island
The Pope and Young Nontypical Buck entries: (States ranked in numeric order from most entries in records books to least entries in record books.)
STATES AND POSITION
14 New York
15 South Dakota
19 North Dakota
21 West Virginia
25 New Jersey
29 North Carolina
A closer look at state quality of whitetail herd can be taken by adding the number of all Pope and Young entries with the number of Boone and Crockett entries (Following is a top ten listing. States are ranked in numeric order of number of entries in the record books.
Six of the top ten “hotspots” share a common denominator. The National Rifle Association reports some states enforce restrictions on firearm hunters pursuing whitetails. Ten states mandate “shotgun only” during the firearms season. These states include Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, and Rhode Island. Three states impose “shotgun only” restrictions on firearms hunters in designated areas. These are Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia (National Rifle Association, 1999). Roughly, 25% of all states impose “shotgun only” restrictions and have produced 48% of all Pope and Young Typical Whitetail Buck entries, and 54% of all Pope and Young Nontypical Whitetail Buck entries in the United States.
Fourteen of the twenty-one highest scoring whitetails have been harvested in the United States. Seven of the thirteen entries from the United States were submitted from states imposing shotgun mandates upon firearm hunters. The “shotgun states” comprise 33% of the top twenty-one Boone and Crockett listing entered from the United States. Quite impressive, considering a mere 26% of all states require the use of shotguns for whitetail firearms harvests. These statistics do not encompass the Rompola buck from Michigan. The Boone and Crockett Club top ten listing for whitetail entries of typical and nontypical whitetails:
HUNTER SCORE LOCATION
1. Milo Hanson 213 5/8 Saskatchewan
2. James Jordan 206 1/8 Wisconsin
3. Larry Gibson 205 Missouri
4. MJ Johnson 204 4/8 Illinois
5. Stephen Jensen 204 2/8 Alberta
6. Bruce Ewen 202 6/8 Saskatchewan
7. John Breen 202 Minnesota
8. Wayne Bills 201 4/8 Iowa
9. Wayne Stewart 201 Minnesota
(Tie for 10th typical position)
10. Peter Swistun 200 2/8 Saskatchewan
10. Brian Damery 200 2/8 Illinois
HUNTER SCORE LOCATION
1. Picked Up 333 7/8 Missouri
2. Picked Up 328 2/8 Ohio
3. Tony Fulton 295 6/8 Mississippi
4. Unknown 284 3/8 Texas
5. Larry Raveling 282 Iowa
6. James McMurray 281 6/8 Louisiana
7. Joseph Waters 280 4/8 Kansas
8. Neil Morin 279 6/8 Alberta
9. Doug Klinger 277 5/8 Alberta
10. Del Austin 277 3/8 Nebraska
As depicted below from the Pope and Young records, 80% of the top ten typical entries, and 20% of the top ten nontypical entries originate from states which require shotgun usage by firearm hunters. The Pope and Young Club top ten typical/non-typical whitetail entries:
HUNTER SCORE LOCATION
1. Mel Johnson 204 5/8 Illinois
2. Lloyd Goad 197 6/8 Iowa
3. Curt Van Lith 197 6/8 Minnesota
4. Don McGarvey 197 1/8 Alberta
5. Berry Peterson 195 7/8 Minnesota
6. Robert Miller 194 2/8 Iowa
7. Stuart Clodfelder 194 Colorado
8. Steven Tyer 194 Iowa
9. Roy Allison 193 5/8 Iowa
10. Sam Collora 193 3/8 Iowa
HUNTER SCORE LOCATION
1. Del Austin 279 Nebraska
2. Kenneth Fowler 257 Kansas
3. Kenneth Cartwright 250 6/8 Kansas
4. Clifford Pickell 249 6/8 Kansas
5. Richard Stahl 246 3/8 Kansas
6. Robert Chestnut 245 5/8 Illinois
7. Douglass Sievert 245 4/8 Kansas
8. Dean Dwernuchuk 241 2/8 Alberta
9. Douglas Whitcomb 240 Kansas
10. Ronald Osborne 238 6/8 Ohio
To further investigate world class whitetail hunting localities, look no further than the Boone and Crockett Record Books. Only twelve typical whitetails, at the end on the 1997 scoring period, have exceeded a net score of 200. Five of these animals, 41%, came from “shotgun states”. Forty two, nontypical specimens have exceeded a score of 250. Sixteen of these, 38%, were harvested in “shotgun states”. A higher ratio of whitetail entries was found in states permitting only shotguns during the firearm season. These states had 7.7 times more entries than states allowing rifles.
It appears hunters in “shotgun states” are harvesting monster bucks in record numbers. The greatest factor influencing monster whitetail racks is undoubtedly, the life-span of bucks. Increased life-span, simply, equals older bucks with bigger racks. Bucks in rifle states have shorter lifespans. The end result is smaller racks in rifle states, and larger racks in shotgun states. Firearm hunters utilizing rifles have the ability to harvest whitetails at greater distances than hunters equipped with shotguns. The further one can shoot, the greater the odds are for success. Shotguns, are, traditionally, accurate up to one hundred yards. The “shotgun states” allow firearm hunters to use muzzleloaders in substitution for shotguns. Advancements in technology surrounding muzzleloaders have increased shooting distances to nearly 200 yards. Reloading time can be minimized quickly, with a little practice. Some rifles exceed the maximum range of a shotgun by four or five times the distance. The Boone and Crockett Club pooled a random sample of Boone and Crockett Whitetail Buck entries. The random sample group was examined to determine what caliber of firearm was used for harvest, Boone and Crockett, 1993. The results are as follows:
Shotgun Slug 509
7 mm magnum 73
shotgun shot 13
In the Boone and Crockett Club’s 23rd Big Game Awards, the organization reports its 1995-97 scoring period which updates the overall listing of awards. During this period 1,048 new whitetail buck entries were recorded. 530 of these listings were entered from the “shotgun states”. The answer to locating a quality state for mature whitetail hunting may lie in the restrictions imposed on its firearm hunters.
Another factor is that habitats in these areas tend to be more dense. They also possess many rivers and major tributaries. This reduces hunter accessibility. Soils are also excellent in these states, which in turn produces rich food sources high in protein. Agriculture is of the utmost importance in the production of record book racks. A large piece of the puzzle is directly related to nutrition.
After a careful review of the information which is offered for each state, the task is now to choose which state to hunt. I have been fortunate enough to hunt numerous localities which are inclusive of Montana, Illinois, Texas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and provinces in Canada, as a representative of North American Fish and Game. I have harvested mature bucks in most of those states.
For those who don’t have the resources to chose any area in the United State of America to hunt whitetails, don’t panic. Keep reading and use the suggested format outlined in this chapter to locate the most productive ground possible. Infrared camera have proven that big bucks reside in areas once seen as hopeless. Make the most of the situation.
After pinpointing the state intended to hunt, it is time to get more information. Contact the state’s Department of Natural Resources. A list of phone numbers to access information of states which have recorded a Whitetail Pope and Young harvest are as follows (The listings are in quantitative order of recorded Pope and Young entries):
STATE PHONE NUMBER
New York 518-457-7267
South Dakota 605-773-3151
New Jersey 609-292-2965
North Dakota 701-328-6300
North Carolina 919-733-4984
New Hampshire 603-271-3422
South Carolina 803-734-3888
Rhode Island 401-277-2774
Wildlife codes vary from state to state. Request specific data from the conservation department of your chosen state surrounding wildlife regulations. Gather information including, bag limits, possession limits, tag data, weapon restrictions, and open/closing dates of the whitetail season.
After selecting the area of choice, and obtaining a copy of the state’s wildlife code, it is time to pinpoint a specific county or region to hunt. There are a variety of ways to discover prime locations within each state. The least expensive and most easily accessible ground in any state to hunt is the public ground, which is owned and managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Most states offer an abundant amount of state owned hunting land anyone may hunt. Most of these areas are nonrestricted, however a portion of these areas enforce hunting restrictions upon individuals who are seeking specific game. For example, the State of Illinois offers literally thousands of acres for public hunting, however the region located at Clinton Lake requires that archers check in a doe before shooting an antlered buck. Although this mandate may decrease the archer’s opportunity at harvesting a mature buck, the positive side to this is state agencies are beginning to practice whitetail herd management aimed at producing larger bucks. Prior to hunting public ground, one must thoroughly research and determine the wildlife rules surrounding that particular tract of public ground. Public ground can be a tricky place for one to harvest a trophy whitetail, for the simple fact it is just what it claims it is...public. A vast majority of public ground has been overhunted. When hunting on public ground, seek out the most remote sections on that given tract of land. As a sidenote, ask the DNR which pieces of public ground were most recently open to public access. The most recent pieces are often the most promising, have not been overhunted.
There are other approaches in determining whitetail “hotspots” within a given state. Bowhunting Records of North American Whitetail Deer, First Edition, is unique and resourceful in locating state “hotspots” for all fifty states and provinces. The publication contains deer density maps of the states which have Pope and Young Record Book entries. As depicted below, a map of each state is illustrated, separated into counties with color designations. The darkest shaded counties represent counties which have historically recorded the highest number of trophy entries. This will quickly help anyone determine big buck “hotspots” of the state.
Another strategy in determining the most opportunistic regions of a state, is by obtaining records on annual deer harvests over the past several years. This can be accomplished by, once again utilizing and, requesting these records from the state’s DNR. Amazing discoveries can be made by utilizing this practice. Illinois contains 101 counties. After reviewing the Illinois DNR annual whitetail harvest records of 1996, it was found that 45 counties, lying along the major river drainage areas, accounted for more than one half of the total deer kill. Instead of requesting the records, simply ask DNR staff which county or area of the state offers the greatest opportunity for a whitetail harvest. Most agencies are “hunter friendly” and will gladly offer assistance.
Once the state and county have been chosen, it is time to seek out a particular tract of ground to hunt. It may be approached in three ways. The quickest and most successful way to find a quality hunting location is by using an outfitter. The rewards of utilizing this approach are often the most rewarding. A guide or outfitting service can usually walk right to the deer, and provide lodging accommodations. Most outdoor magazines contain a section which advertises respectable outfitting agencies. North American Whitetail Magazine has introduced a special outfitting advertisement section entitled, “On the Trail.” “On the Trail” is dedicated to helping readers to select an outfitter and the appropriate products for a variety of areas across the United States and Canada.
The second strategy to locate a specific piece of land to hunt is refered to as, “The Old Fashioned Way”, seeking out private landowners and asking them for permission to hunt. First purchase a county plat book from the area farm service office. This practice seems like a step back in time, and can often be quite difficult and discouraging. Most farmers and landowners are “gun-shy” about permitting outsiders and strangers to hunt, and rightfully so. Landowners tend to be frightened of the liabilities which may arise from permitting individuals to hunt. A landowners greatest fear is the destruction and disrespect of the property. Most landowners dislike tire ruts, littering, poaching, accidental livestock kills, fence cutting, trespassing onto adjoining landowners, safety hazards, fires, or “breaches” of violations of their agreements.
The third approach for obtaining a quality hunting location is through land leasing. Some DNR agencies offer a public courtesy which connects potential leasee’s with participating landowners. Inquire about such programs when speaking with the DNR. Advertise in local newspapers in the area chosen to hunt.