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Best Spots for Bowhunting Minnesota's Trophy Bucks

Best Spots for Bowhunting Minnesota's Trophy Bucks

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.

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.

Just four days into his bowhunting career, Blake Citrowske arrowed this impressive 183-inch Minnesota beast dubbed "Swamp Donkey."

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.

Jeff Iverson's monster bow kill during Minnesota's opening weekend of bow season in Houston County shows the quality of bucks the state is capable of producing.

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.


Though not a heavily bowhunted state, Minnesota's southeastern corner produces tremendous bucks like Danny Thompson's 170-inch brute.

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.

Dave Weyandt took this great 191-inch brute in eastern Minnesota last season. Photo courtesy of Realtree.

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.

Kyle Heuerman

Any serious whitetail hunter knows that it's not often that we get a second chance on the buck of a lifetime, or even a first chance for that matter. But luck was on the side of Kyle Heuerman and his girlfriend Jennifer Weaver when they put an arrow through this 196-inch Illinois brute. Read the full story.

Joe Franz

We estimate he was 7 1/2 years old. That's based on photos from 2010, when he clearly wasn't over 3 1/2. When I got him he weighed over 300 pounds on the hoof, as suspected. Official B&C measurer Glen Salow came up with a 'green ' gross score of 258 7/8 inches. After the 60-day drying period, he again taped the rack. This time he got a gross non-typical score of 261 3/8, with a net of 230 7/8. The gross score evidently makes this the highest-scoring wild whitetail ever harvested on professional video. Read the full story.

Jon Massie

Jon's no stranger to free-ranging whitetails across the central plains, having guided a number of clients to trophies and harvesting many big ones himself. In fact, going into 2013 he'd shot two net Boone & Crocketts: one a non-typical scoring over 200, the other a typical from public land. With such success behind him, Jon felt all of his hunting dreams already had come true. At least, he did until a buck he'd never seen showed up on one of his trail cameras. Read the full story.

Tom Boyer

Knowing I couldn't even come to my knees without breaking the little concealment we had, I decided to lie on my left side, using my left elbow for as solid a rest as could be achieved within the slight incline of the old fencerow. But when I shouldered the rifle, the sight of the crosshairs oriented at a 10-4 o'clock angle was definitely a different look from the normal 12-6 position we all practice from. Even so, I didn't figure that would matter if I aimed at the right spot and squeezed off a clean shot. I settled the crosshairs where I needed to place the bullet and steadied the rifle. Whispering 'fire in the hole ' while floating the crosshairs on the spot, I gently squeezed the trigger until the recoil removed the buck from my view. Read the full story.

Teddy's Buck

With a whopping 40 inches of non-typical growth, he has a gross Boone & Crockett score of 215 3/8. The rack's 21 6/8-inch inside spread certainly helps to show off its unique character. He was just a special deer, and very much a result of patience in both management and hunting. Read the full story.

Ryan Sullivan

Ryan Sullivan was only 19 when, during the 2013 season, he arrowed an Arkansas buck of gigantic proportions. Like many of his fellow Arkansans, Ryan is a deer and duck fanatic. For several years, however, he gave up most of his duck season to lock horns with the world-class buck. Read the full story.

Junior Key

Junior's outstanding whitetail is the biggest ever recorded from Monroe County, and he ranks as one of the Bluegrass State's top bucks from the 2013-14 season. This great non-typical also is the latest member of Kentucky's all-time Top 30 list. Read the full story.

Mikell Fries

At 16 yards, Mikell took aim at the giant and released his arrow. In an instant, the shaft had passed through him. The deer instantly whirled and ran out of sight . . . but then, within seconds the archer heard him crash to the ground. 'I remained in the stand for several minutes to gather my thoughts and calm down, ' Mikell says. 'I'm sure the entire encounter only took a few minutes, but it seemed an eternity. ' Read the full story.

Bill Robinson

Three double-digit tines of 10 2/8 to 13 5/8 inches, plus 7 1/8- and 9 3/8-inch brows and a 21 3/8-inch inside spread, add plenty to this regal crown. Put everything together and you have a gross 9-point frame score of 193 6/8. That's as big as it sounds. Typical asymmetry and 11 6/8 inches of abnormal points total 25 1/8 inches of deductions, so as a typical, the deer nets 'only ' 168 5/8. But the 8×5 rack's total gross score of 205 4/8 is much more reflective of its stunning size. Regardless of score, the Robinson buck is clearly a marvel of nature. Read the full story.

Nick Drake

The action was fast and furious right from the get-go. At daybreak a doe busted through the cedar thicket with an eight-point suitor following close behind. The doe, however, wanted nothing to do with her pursuer and jumped into a nearby pond in an attempt to flee the buck. This, however, wasn't the last of the action. Nick continued to watch several bucks harass does throughout the morning, but chose not to take a shot at them. Read the full story.

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