Best Spots for Bowhunting Minnesota's Trophy Bucks
May 13, 2015
The Pope & Young Club is based in the southeastern Minnesota town of Chatfield. So it's only fitting that the surrounding area offers exceptional bowhunting for big whitetails.
Wisconsin, to the east, gets more attention for king-sized archery bucks. And understandably so — the Badger State has put more into the P&Y records than any other state or province in North America.
But Minnesota definitely can hold its own.
In particular, the part of Minnesota lying just across the Mississippi River from famed Buffalo County and other western Wisconsin hotspots is home to great bowhunting for trophy deer.
For whatever reason, archery hunting hasn't caught on with as many deer hunters here as in some other Great Lakes states. While Michigan leads all states in bowhunter numbers, and the percentage of deer hunters who pursue deer with archery gear, Minnesota lags way behind in both areas.
Perhaps the strong gun-hunting tradition and one-buck limit cause most whitetailers to focus on the November firearms season instead. Whatever the case, the Minnesota deer woods tend not to be crowded during archery season.
And there are plenty of trees to hang a stand in, especially in the northeastern half of the state. The state known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" has even more potential bowhunting spots. It's just a matter of deciding which one's right for you.
Where do you start your quest for a Minnesota bow buck? It makes sense to study the accompanying map. What jumps out, when looking at this map of P&Y entries, is that most productive counties tend to be oriented along a southeast-to-northwest axis across the state.
Without question the greatest concentration of "book" deer is in the southeastern corner's "bluff country," which features timbered ravines interspersed with flat, fertile farmland. The drainages and thick cover (a blend of hardwoods and conifers, including cedars) afford bucks protection from both hunters and predators.
Plus, the many south-facing slopes offer deer relief from the harsh north winds and heavy snows that often make Minnesota winters a challenge for wildlife.
Moving generally northwestward from that corner of the state, the land flattens out considerably, but the prospects for P&Y deer remain solid. Several counties around the Twin Cities are proven producers of record-book qualifiers.
In fact, Curt Van Lith's 197 6/8-inch typical was shot in Wright County, just northwest of Minneapolis, in 1986. At the time, this massive trophy ranked in a tie for the all-time No. 2 spot in P&Y, trailing only Mel Johnson's 204 4/8-incher from Illinois. Even now the Van Lith buck is tied for No. 4.
Moving northwestward toward the North Dakota border, the trophy potential remains good. Open farmlands abut heavier woodlands, offering whitetails the classic edge habitat in which they thrive. And the top end of antler size is impressive, with many trophies in the P&Y records.
In fact, the club's first world record in the non-typical category came from Otter Tail County in 1959. Traditional bowhunter Don Vraspir shot that bruiser when it ran into bow range in a swamp.
Scattered across Minnesota are many other areas worth bowhunting. In the flatter farm country to the southwest, whitetails are largely bunched around waterways or on grassy, weedy tracts enrolled in the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
One of the all-time classics in the entire whitetail world was John Breen's 202-inch 5x5 typical buck killed in 1918 in northern Minnesota near Bemidji. Check out this Big Buck Profile from NAW TV:
In the heavily forested north, areas of regrowth timber are favored for their concentrated browse, due to the overall lack of farm crops.
So if you're an archer and want to give Minnesota whitetails a try, there's ample opportunity. The season kicks off in September and runs through December.
Bucks tend to be coming out of velvet just before the opener, but some fuzzy-racked trophies are taken each year. (In fact, Jim Kostroski's former No. 1 P&Y velvet non-typical was shot in Olmsted County in September 2003.)
Check out this Big Buck Profile from NAW TV of the Kostroski buck:
Literally millions of acres of public bowhunting land available, so you don't even need private connections to make your hunt happen. Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota offers nearly 4 million acres of habitat, though deer densities there tend to be lower than farther south.
Some of the more popular trophy areas are Whitewater Wildlife Management Area in the bluff country and Itasca State Park in central Minnesota. The annual quota hunts at Camp Ripley north of St. Cloud occur also draw a lot of applicants and produce great bow bucks; Scott Okonek's current P&Y state record in the non-typical category came from there in 2009.
No matter how your broadhead slices it, Minnesota is a vast state with promising potential for the bowhunter. To learn more about the varied trophy buck opportunities it offers, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.