Is this the year you set your sights beyond your own home hunting boundaries and go after that faraway buck with true record book potential? Or maybe your local hunt houses a monster with record potential and you're wondering if you should just focus on things right there? North American Whitetail has taken a look at Boone & Crockett's Trophy Search, showing which ones offer a realistic choice at a true B&C trophy this season. Despite concerns about the drought that slammed much of the country, as well as disease outbreaks that can have a huge impact on trophy potential, this year has the chance to be a monster-producing year. Here are our picks for the top eight states to kill a giant buck in 2012.
Last year Illinois was a perennial whitetail record producer, partially as a courtesy to the famed Pike County and partially due to every other awesome acre of agriculture in the state. The Land of Lincoln didn't produce the most B&C bucks last year at 27, but it did produce the most among the top 50 typicals and non-typicals with a total of 15 on both lists. Of the top 15, eight were typicals and seven were non-typicals, including Travis Cockburn's gnarly 30-point Williamson County buck, which scored 247 2/8 inches to earn a spot as the second largest whitetail killed in North America last season. Some biologists fear record drought across much of country and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), both of which are hammering Illinois herds right now. This could sharply impact not only the number of deer hunters in the field, but the size of the bucks as well.
'A lot of bucks are going to have difficulty reaching their full antler potential this year due to the drought, ' says whitetail biologist and Growing Deer TV host Dr. Grant Woods. That being said, they aren't going to disappear, either. A big buck last year may not leap up in size like he would with optimal feed and water, but it's doubtful he's going to shrink much either.
Where EHD is concerned, Illinois' last big outbreaks were in 2007 and before that in 1998. How many bucks did the state put in the Top 50 Typical and Non-typical lists those years? A total of 32, which indicates that despite years where deer herds suffer EHD outbreaks, the odds for taking a record buck remain as high there as they do elsewhere.
While Pike County still gets the ink, a growing number of hunters are starting to believe the odds of a hunter scoring one are beginning to get played out. Hunts here can run you top dollar and because lease rates are so high, outfitters are forced to run herds of hunters through the season. If you can swing it with a top outfitter there, go for it; but if not, look elsewhere in the state, particularly toward the Indiana line, which is producing ample beasts itself. Of the 27 Illinois bucks to make the records last year, two hailed from Pike.
Speaking of Indiana, the Land of Lincoln's eastern neighbor, the hunting there has gone off the hook in recent years, though the state still blissfully dodges much of the big buck ink that is spilled in magazines each year. If things keep going as they have, that could be coming to an end, though the drought and an EHD outbreak there are both working to keep Hoosier hunter expectations tempered. The state ranked fourth overall in record bucks last year with 24, but took the number two spot of top 50 placements with four typicals and nine non-typicals. Female hunter Audrey Sharp also posted the number one buck shot last year with a Posey County monster that scored 249 1/8. The entries come scattered from across the state, but the northern counties seem to put up more entries with multiple B&C bucks biting the bullet last year in Newton, La Porte, LaGrange and DeKalb counties. Tags are over-the-counter and when compared to what a non-resident will spend in many big buck states, that's still a bargain.
With excellent farmland habitat and genetics, as well as some of the most rigid non-resident draw odds for whitetails in the country, and with a non-resident able to draw a tag about once every three years, Iowa continues to produce some of the best chances to see a real record buck while hunting. The state produced 11 B&C entries last year, tying it for seventh with Missouri (considered a worthy alternate to the Hawkeye state in the years a non-resident doesn't draw a tag), and remains one of the most sought-after places to hunt big bucks in the nation's heartland. Expect to pay for the opportunity, however, with hunts running upwards of $5,000. For the guy with the cash and a tag, it's worth it.
While it is the pure Midwestern states of Kansas, Illinois, Iowa and even Missouri that garner the attention of trophy antler seekers, the tri-state action found in Indiana, Kentucky and, yes, Ohio, are frankly worth more of a look. Geographically closer to the majority of the United States population and yielding over-the-counter tags, available outfitters, fair stretches of public land and prominent B&C listings, a hunter could make the argument that some of our top five are misplaced. Ohio certainly has brought more attention to itself in recent years, and last year tied for fourth with neighbor Indiana in overall record entries. Nine of those fell on the top 50 lists, seven of them counted among the top 50 bucks taken all season in the country.
We wavered on the final spot on our list, teetering between hunt-worthy Missouri and going north of the border for a chance at a true bruiser buck. Ultimately, when we considered body and antler size, this Canadian destination won out. Alberta (a province, not a state by the way) put nine bucks on the B&C record books last year (beating out Saskatchewan by three) with three of them landing on the top 50 non-typical list, ranging in size from 217 inches down to 207. Non-residents must hire a guide and hunts can get pricey, but the chance to experience true Northern big buck hunting is something every serious deer hunter must do at least once in their lifetime. Looking at the record animals pulled from the province over the years, the experience won't be a wasted one.
The hopes and dreams of some of this country's biggest buck chasers go through Kansas, with the state on many must-visit lists. That being said, you're also going to pay for it. Fully guided Kansas hunts command in upwards of $4,500, and non-residents must also go through a draw process in order to obtain a tag or pay a premium for a guaranteed landowner tag. While Kansas sits among some of the hardest states hit by this year's drought, it remains to be seen how negatively it will impact the season. Last year the state ranked sixth overall with 16 record book entries, but third among combined top 50 typical and non-typical lists with 11. It's an expensive hunt and the hunting this year promises to be tougher than in recent years. Still, the Jayhawk state should produce a handful of records worthy of its position on this list.
Down-N-Dirty Outdoors' Jason Kidd is a homegrown western Kentucky boy proud of the hunting his state has to offer. He contends that the Bluegrass state offers deer hunters one of the best opportunities for a true trophy buck in the Southeast. Actually, he is wrong. It offers any hunter in the U.S. — period — a real chance for a trophy buck. Last year Kentucky led the pack in the number of B&C entries with a total of 34. Despite this number one ranking, only eight of them figured among the top 50 typicals and non-typicals. Western Kentucky is where most of the big buck action will be found, but note that the area has also been hit hard by the drought. Kidd says trail camera photos and hunter sightings don't indicate a lack of big buck spottings, so hopes remain high that Kentucky will figure among the top tier states.
Led by the repute of Buffalo County, Wisconsin still sits high among states that deliver record bucks year in and year out. The state generated a whopping 30 B&C whitetail entries last year (second overall), with nine of them making the top 50 lists. Only two of the 30 came from Buffalo County, indicating that the attention and hunting pressure there may finally be forcing expectations to level out somewhat. On the other hand, nearby Dunn and Pierce counties are putting up decent numbers, showing hunters that the entire region of the state is worth a look. Sometimes cheaper hunts with similar odds may be found among Buffalo's neighbors.