by Darrin Bradley
I stopped climbing halfway up the trunk of a pinoak, to peer out over the sweltering beanfield, as it cooked in the hot August sun. It was a miserable day to begin preseason scouting. This outing had rewarded me with all the luxuries of summer-ticks, deerflys, poison ivy, sweat, and a dry mouth. I finished my climb into the portable deerstand with a old pair of Nikon binoculars in one hand, and a lukewarm soda in the other. Thirty minutes passed before I glassed the field’s perimeter with the aged optics. A mere thirty yards from my position, standing tall in the tender green crop, stood a 150 class nontypical ten point, and a smaller buck, which undoubtedly would have qualified for the Buckmasters Trophy Record Books. At that moment, I knew all the media hype surrounding Illinois had to be true. I had heard stories of the reknown whitetail states. They encompassed Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Ohio. Prior to this afternoon’s preseason scout, in the Land of Lincoln (Illinois), I had never hunted any of them. Over the course of the next sixteen preseason scouts I viewed thirty two more record book bucks.
During my experience as an Illinois archer, I have investigated the underlying factors which have determined the state’s success as a consistent producer of world class whitetail bucks. I believe Illinois and several other states have consistently produced large numbers of world class whitetails as a direct result of weapon restrictions enforced upon firearm hunters.
The National Rifle Association reports some states enforce restrictions on firearm hunters pursuing whitetails. Ten states mandate “shotgun only” during the firearm season. These states are inclusive of Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachuetts, Delaware, Maine, and Rhode Island. Three states impose “shotgun only” restrictions on firearm hunters in designated areas. These include Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia. Roughly, 25% of all states impose “shotgun only” restrictions. This minority has produced the majority of all BTR entries.
The Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Record Book, Third Edition, 2002 ranks the top 75 whitetail bucks of all time. The top 75 bucks recorded reflect all manners of harvest which include Centerfire Rifle, Shotgun, Blackpowder, Pistol, Compound Bow, Recurve Bow, Longbow, Crossbow, Pick-Ups, and Shed Antlers. These top 75 whitetail bucks are viewed in two categories which include both regular and irregular specimens.
These listings are entered by locality as follows: (NOTE: Shotgun mandate states are represented by asterisk or *.)
1. Alberta 15 bucks
*2. Illinois 11 bucks
*3. Indiana 11 bucks
*4. Ohio 7 bucks
5. Sask. 5 bucks
6. Manitoba 5 bucks
*7. Iowa 2 bucks
*8. Minnesota 2 bucks
9. West Virginia 2 bucks
10. Louisianna 2 bucks
11. North Car. 2 bucks
*12. Michigan 2 bucks
13. Montana 1buck
14. North Dakota 1buck
*15. New Jersey 1 buck
*16. Delaware 1 buck
*17. Virginia 1 buck
18. Nebraska 1 buck
19. New York 1 buck
*20. Maryland 1 buck
21. South Dak. 1 buck
22. Kansas 1 buck
39 of the aforementioned 75 bucks, or 52% have been harvested in states which impose shotgun mandate. Of the 75 Buckmasters Whitetail Record Bucks of all time, 50 whitetail bucks originate in the United States. A more staggering statistic concludes that 39 of these 50 United States entries, or 78%, of these whitetails come out of shotgun mandated states. Common sense would dictate any hunter who stay in the United States to pursue whitetails might want to head for a “shotgun state”.
Buckmasters Trophy Records of Whitetail Deer record animal harvest with rifle, shotgun, blackpowder, pistol, compound bow, recurve, longbow, crossbow, pickups, and shed antlers. After calculating the top 2336 bucks in all categories combined one may discover 1273 or 54% of these animals originate from “shotgun states”. When calculating the top 1936 bucks, disregarding all centerfire rifle entries, 1242 or 64% of these animals come from states implementing “shotgun” mandates.
I began recording conditions surrounding whitetail movement in 1994. Throughout 1994, 1995, and 1996 I participated in 253 whitetail hunts in a state (Missouri) allowed rifle hunting during firearms season. Over the course of these 253 hunts I viewed twenty record book bucks. During the 1997 and 1998 seasons, I hunted a “shotgun only” state on 200 occassions. I viewed 35 record book bucks during those 200 hunts. My records reflect that I nearly doubled my chances at viewing “monster” whitetails bucks when hunting in “shotgun only states”. Other comparisions surrounding rifle states vs. shotgun states which I have personally recorded on hunts are as follows:
253 HUNTS IN A RIFLE STATE 200 HUNTS IN SHOTGUN S BTR Bucks
Viewed During Hunts 20 35
Bucks viewed 219 248
Deer Viewed 1171 1710
Archery Shot Opportunities 270 346
Average Deer Seen Per Hunt 4.6 8.5
Average Bucks Seen Per Hunt 0.7 1.2
Average Archery Shots Opportunities
Per Hunt 1.0 1.7
Average Number of Hunts
Needed to get within bowrange of
a BTR buck 50 15
The Boone and Crockett Club reports the following top ten listings for whitetail entries of typical and nontypical whitetails. (Boone and Crockett Club, 1998)
Data collected from Buckmasters Trophy Records reveal additional supporting evidence encompassing:
1. 58% of all Blackpowder entries are harvested in “shotgun states”.
2. 79% of all Pistol entries are harvested in “shotgun states”.
3. 60% of all longbow entries are harvested in “shotgun states”.
4. 88% of all crossbow entries are harvested in “shotgun states”.
Hunters in “shotgun states” are harvesting monster bucks in record numbers. Habitats in these areas tend to be more dense. They also possess many rivers and major tributaries. This reduces hunter accessability. Soils are also excellent in these states, which in turn produces rich food sources high in protein. Agriculture is of the upmost importance in the production of record book racks. A large piece of the puzzle is directly related to nutrition.
The greatest factor influencing monster whitetail racks is, undoubtedly, the lifespan of bucks. Its quite simple. Increased lifespan equals older bucks with bigger racks. 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, traditionally, remain accurate up to one hundred yards. Some rifles exceed the maximum range of a shotgun by four or five times that distance. Therefore, bucks in rifle states have shorter lifespans. The end result is smaller racks in rifle states, and larger racks in shotgun states.
Being born and raised the first 30 years of my life in a state which doesn’t impose any type of firearm restriction on hunters I possessed only one whitetail that was worthy of a trip to the taxidermist. After spending the last 6 years of my life in Illinois I now have 9 bucks hanging in the den. The results of hunting a “shotgun state”.