Make no bones about it: There are a ton of bucks carrying massive bone in Missouri. And with over-the-counter licenses and a long archery season, the Show Me State can show hunters a thing or two about trophy bowhunting.
Last year, more than 140,000 bowhunters bagged in excess of 46,000 whitetails, so your odds of at least seeing deer are good in most areas of the state.
Many areas have produced a passel of trophy deer, too. Check out the Pope & Young records, and you'll see that far-western Jackson County has the most all-time entries (76), followed by St. Louis (75), Boone (73) and Callaway (60). But recently, the trend has shifted to the north, with the top trophy-growing areas all found "above" the Missouri River.
In fact, most of the top counties of recent years actually border Iowa.
According to Missourian and deer biologist Dr. Grant Woods, the reason is simple.
"As you travel north, the soil quality gets better," says the host Growing Deer TV. "You have a lot of intensive agriculture, which gives deer plenty to eat."
Here's a little-known fact that has enormous ramifications on an area's trophy-growing potential: The more soybeans grown in an area, the more monster bucks it tends to produce. In fact, if you were to lay a U.S. map of the trophy buck hotspots over a map displaying areas with the most soybeans grown, the two line up perfectly!
What makes this important to our current discussion on Missouri trophy bucks? The state ranks sixth in the U.S for annual soybean production.
Of course, bucks need more than just ample food to grow big, heavy antlers. They also require time to mature, which is often up to hunters to provide.
"Implementation of antler point restrictions (at least four points on one antler) and increased hunter selectivity have made the mixed habitats comprised of rolling hills, row crops and hardwood forests very productive areas for producing bucks in older age-classes," explains Jason Sumners, deer biologist with Missouri Department of Conservation (MDOC).
Despite the apparent success of antler restrictions, this year it's been lifted in 14 counties, and the Columbia/Jefferson City Urban Zone has been eliminated.
As part of a joint research effort between MDOC and University of Missouri, hunters in several counties could see deer wearing GPS collars. Officials emphasize that they don't want the presence of a collar to influence a hunter's decision on whether or not to harvest the animal.
Bowhunters are also encouraged to record the number of deer, turkeys and furbearers they see while hunting. The information helps MDOC personnel set hunting regulations. While the main registration period for this survey has passed, you might still be able to send an email to Rachel.Boss@mdc.mo.gov with the subject line "Bowhunter Observation Survey" and get an observation survey sent to you. After the season is over, these are to be returned in a postage-paid envelope.
A 15-point, 188 5/8-inch buck taken by Eugene Bausch in Macon County in 2001 is the largest typical ever arrowed in the Show Me State.
In Pike County, bowhunter Randy Simonitch bagged the top non-typical, a 33-point, 269 7/8-inch beast that had been camped out in a 20-acre soybean field. In an incredible act of charity, Randy's neighbor called him when she spotted the buck in the bean field on an October morning. After about an hour of stalking, the archer arrowed the monster deer at 25 yards.
Check out the Big Buck Profile on the Randy Simonitch buck from NAW TV: