It’s every hunter’s dream to nab a trophy whitetail, but it’s a task that’s easier said than done. While in many cases, luck obviously plays a significant role in these hunts, what can you do to sway the odds in your favor?
In this article, we investigate the world’s biggest bucks, and tell you what the experts have to say about striking out in search of trophy whitetails. Get ready for hunting glory.
Entering The Record Books – By Accident
November 26, 2006 – Merrimack County, New Hampshire
Squinting through the blinding sun on a surprise hunt that wasn’t really supposed to take place, John Klucky had no idea he was about to take down 2006’s New Hampshire state record Whitetail.
However, that’s exactly what he did. The 15 point typical scored 187 2/8 inches, securing the state record for Klucky, who had only had the deer scored after friends convinced him to make it official.
“I’m thankful I had a great scope on my shotgun. Instead of losing the image in the sun’s glare, the crosshairs were almost glowing. I’ll never forget those gold crosshairs.” – says Klucky.
There’s no doubt that Klucky’s buck is a spectacular one, but, what does it take to score a trophy buck like this? Was he simply in the right place at the right time, or is there more to it than that? Did he know something the average hunter doesn’t?
The Statistics of Trophy Bucks
While luck will always play a huge part in the hunt, it seems that studying the data of past trophy bucks can also give us some insight in to what it takes to land one of these beasts.
For example, New Hampshire, despite being a rather small state, actually has a plentiful deer population and over a million acres of public land which is freely available to hunters. That certainly helps, but digging deeper, we can narrow our target location down even further.
More than half of New Hampshire’s record bucks come from just three counties https://www.realtree.com/deer-hunting/antler-nation/2013/new-hampshire-deer-hunting. This includes Merrimack, where Klucky landed his trophy buck, Grafton, and Hillsborough.
Finding Big Bucks: Location, Location
It’s been said time and time again, location is critical to success. While it is possible to succeed without being in the best location, it does make it that much harder for you to be successful and gives you an unnecessary handicap.
So, is it possible to find an ideal place in your home state to nab a trophy bucky? Sure. Horace Hinkley nabbed the second biggest buck in the country in 1955 despite the fact that Maine hasn’t made any of Boone and Crockett’s trophy whitetails record locations.
BUT, could you improve your chances even further by traveling outside of your home state? The data says yes, and the truth is, some states and counties simply report more monster whitetails than others do.
The Boone and Crockett Club’s trophy records go back to 1830, and while these records typically require a subscription to access, you can see a small sample of that data below.
Top States & Provinces For Trophy Bucks
- Wisconsin (426)
- Kentucky (234)
- Ohio (215)
- Indiana (185)
- Minnesota (151)
- Iowa (142)
- Texas (129)
- Illinois (120)
- Kansas (114)
- Missouri (107)
- Saskatchewan (95)
- Alberta (78)
- Illinois (397)
- Iowa (304)
- Wisconsin (304)
- Ohio (295)
- Kansas (263)
- Missouri (252)
- Indiana (218)
- Kentucky (217)
- Minnesota (159)
- Texas (131)
- Saskatchewan (119)
- Alberta (110)
Based on records data, it looks like Wisconsin, by far, is the place to be if you want to nab a trophy buck. 426 typical and 304 non-typical whitetails have been submitted to the Boone and Crockett records in this state alone, with Buffalo, Wisconsin being the county with the most overall entries.
The below counties are also ripe for harvesting your trophy buck.
Top US Counties For Trophy Bucks
- Buffalo, Wisconsin (48)
- Maverick, Texas (28)
- Webb, Texas (26)
- Trempealeau, Wisconsin (22)
- La Salle, Texas (20)
- Dimmit, Texas (19)
- Pierce, Wisconsin (18)
- Richland, Wisconsin (18)
- Vernon, Wisconsin (18)
- Dunn, Wisconsin (16)
- Marathon, Wisconsin (16)
- Sauk, Wisconsin (16)
- Decatur, Iowa (12)
- Highland Ohio (12)
- Houston, Minnesota (12)
- Otter Tail, Minnesota (11)
- Buffalo, Wisconsin (10)
- Licking, Ohio (10)
- Maverick, Texas (10)
- Pottawatomie, Kansas (10)
- Waupaca, Wisconsin (10)
- Coshocton, Ohio (9)
- Crawford, Wisconsin (9)
- La Salle, Texas (9)
Based on our available data, it looks like Wisconsin and Texas would give us the biggest chance of bagging a trophy whitetail. But what if we don’t want just a big deer. What if we want the biggest deer.
Let’s see how our data works with some world record bucks.
20 World Record Bucks and Locations
- Hanson Buck (1993 – Saskatchewan, Canada) Score: 213 5/8
- Jordan Buck (1914 – Burnett, Wisconsin) Score: 206 1/8
- Gibson Buck (1971 – Randolph, Missouri) Score: 205
- Johnson Buck (1965 – Peoria, Illinois) Score: 204 4/8
- Jansen Buck (1967 – Alberta, Canada) Score: 204 2/8
- Smith Buck (2000 – Pendleton, Kentucky) Score: 204 2/8
- Collins Buck (2003 – Saskatchewan, Canada) Score: 203 3/8
- Ewen Buck (1992 – Saskatchewan, Canada) Score: 202 6/8
- Breen Buck (1918 – Bemidji, Minnesota) Score: 202
- Bills Buck (1974 – Hamilton, Iowa) Score: 201 4/8
- Jerman Buck (2004 – Warren, Ohio) Score: 201 1/8
- Stewart Buck (1961 – Kittson, Minnesota) Score: 201
- Cartwright Buck (1991 – Stevens, Washington) Score: 200 3/8
- Swistun Buck (1983 – Saskatchewan, Canada) Score: 200 2/8
- Damery Buck (1993 – Macon, Illinois) Score: 200 2/8
- Tarala Buck (2006 – Saskatchewan, Canada ) Score: 200 1/8
- Lloyd Buck (2018 – Lee, Arkansas) Score: 200 1/8
- Daniels Buck (1995 – Franklin, Kansas) Score: 200
- McGarvey Buck (1991 – Alberta, Canada) Score: 199 5/8
- Brunk Buck (1969 – Clark, Missouri) Score: 199 4/8
Interestingly, based on our data, despite the fact that Saskatchewan scores at the bottom of our top locations for trophy bucks, they are at the top for world record bucks. In fact, the world record whitetail was taken in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1993 by Milo Hanson, and Saskatchewan has produced a total of five monster bucks on our list in total.
However, the second biggest buck was taken in Burnett, Wisconsin. A state which hits the top of our typical trophy whitetails list. Though, the most recent entry on our list, Lloyd’s 2018 buck, was taken in Lee, Arkansas, a state which makes none of the lists.
In short, while some states may produce more entries into the trophy buck registry, they are not necessarily the biggest, and it looks like your best bet for a world record whitetail may mean heading further north. Though there are plenty of big deer to bag closer to home as well.
Finding Big Bucks – The Right Mind Set
Okay, so we’ve got the location down, but how exactly do you find a trophy buck? The woods are a big place and if this was easy, everybody would do it. Well, we were curious as well, so here’s what the experts have to say about trophy whitetails.
Be Extra Mindful of Wind and Terrain
Big bucks didn’t get that way by being stupid. In order to grow to record sizes, these whitetails learn to smartly avoid hunters. That means you must be smarter, and this includes covering your scent and using the terrain to your advantage.
“If the Booner smells you, you will not kill him. But a very important aspect of the wind that many people disregard, is how the wind affects the bucks your hunting. Most mature bucks will not spend much time walking with the wind at their back. Where they eat, sleep, drink and travel all depends on the wind direction. You must set up your ambush in a way that the wind is favorable for the buck to show up in the first place and then not smell you in the process. This is where you have to analyze the terrain versus the wind to pick the most favorable ambush location. It’s difficult to do but a necessity.” – Says Gary Harpole.
Harpole has been guiding trophy deer hunts for 20 years, and in that time he’s learned a thing or two about how to find and nab the big bucks. He has harvested multiple Boone and Crockett Whitetails.
While having the right hunting clothing can help you to mask your scent, there’s obviously more to it than that. Harpole says that hunters must know when to move. They must know when to be quiet, and those skills only come with experience. Learning to sit patiently in the woods, to watch and listen – these things will guide you to success.
A 4-5 year old buck is a completely different animal than the immature bucks you may be used to hunting. These deer hide in out of the way places and finding them can be a real challenge, as trafficked trails will be avoided.
Hunting the bedding areas is, of course, a no no. However, knowing where these areas are allows you to set up your stand in such a way that you will know exactly where the buck will travel in order to set up a great shot.
“…Don’t hunt a stand if the wind isn’t right. That’s a tough call for many hunters. If the wind is blowing your scent into a bedding area or an area where deer are likely to appear, it will defeat you nearly every time. Plan your stand setups that you have options.” – Says Daniel E. Schmidt, editor of Deer and Deer Hunting.
In short, scout more than you hunt – learning the area, knowing when and where bucks will bed down and what routes they will travel, allows you to set yourself up for success. Use this knowledge to position your stand in a way that the buck will not pick up on your scent.
“…When it comes to tree stands, wind placement, camouflage and background cover are way more important than how high the stand is hung. Also, the less you trim for “shooting lanes,” the better. Spend time in summer analyzing everything, and place the stand in a spot that maximizes all of these factors.” – Schmidt continues.
If you need to study up on what kind of terrain you should be looking for when seeking out more mature deer, this article has some insight which could be useful.
Plan Ahead and Bring The Right Gear
We’ve already talked about how scent and terrain factor into the equation, but what happens when you find your once in a lifetime buck? Will you have the skills, knowledge, and the right gear to make the shot?
One of the biggest things many experts stress is learning to use your gear. There’s nothing worse than finding your trophy buck and missing the shot because you didn’t spend enough time learning to use your gear properly! If a .30-06 is your go-to, then you should make yourself intimately familiar with your chosen rifle and ammunition before you ever get into the tree stand.
Practice, practice, practice.
However, there are also some key pieces of gear which you might want to consider adding to your pack to up your chances at success. Here’s what the experts had to say about gear that they like to bring on their hunts.
A rangefinder helps you eliminate uncertainty when taking your shots. If you know the actual distance to your target you’ll be much more confident when taking the shot. Knowing when to take the shot, or when not to shoot, is very important.
Michael Hunsucker, host of the Heartland Bowhunter television series always carries one in his pack and implores other hunters to do the same.
“With so much time and effort invested in a single opportunity at a deer it just makes sense to use these invaluable tools.” – Says Hunsucker.
Some scopes, like some of the ATN models have built-in range finders, which can be helpful if your gear budget is tight. Though a dedicated rangefinder from Vortex, or Leupold would be a much better option depending on budget. A good spotting scope doesn’t hurt either.
Many experts recommend picking up one of these rather inexpensive devices. They allow you to test the wind on your hunt, and they can be used both in the stand and on your walk to it to make sure you’re not sabotaging your hunt.
“Success in the field is all about playing the wind, and a simple little bottle filled with powder allows me to know where the wind is at all times,” says Casey Keefer.
Keefer is the host of the Sportman’s Channel show ‘Rival Wild’, and says using a wind indicator lets you see your true adversary – the wind that’s giving away your location to your prey.
We’ve already talked about rangefinders but what about other gear? A nice pair of binoculars are also important to a good hunt.
“..I spend 80 percent of my time behind the glass and about 20 percent of my time actually hunting,” Keefer says. “Don’t cheap out here.” – Says Keefer.
While you don’t need to spend a small fortunate to get a decent pair of binoculars, you also shouldn’t go bottom of the barrel here either. A good set will last you a lifetime and it’s a worthwhile investment.
If you need some help choosing binoculars for your hunting setup, we’ve done quite a few articles covering the topic. Our vortex razor vs viper comparison or our Nikon prostaff 3s vs 7s article can help get you started.
Warm Gear, Backup Gear, & Creature Comforts
Moving from your tree stand could become a mistake that ruins your hunt. Remaining comfortable keeps that in the range of reality, and that means not only wearing warm boots to your tree stand, but also bringing some other creature comforts.
“…One of the keys to taking big bucks is staying on stand, and one of the keys to staying on stand is remaining comfortable.” – Says, Pat Reeve.
Pat Reeve and his wife Nicole host the award-winning Outdoor Channel show ‘Driven’. Pat has personally taken a whopping 95 record book bucks, including a 200″ in Illinois in 2005, the largest typical taken on camera to date.
Pat and Nicole, who hunt in Minnesota, are very partial to hand warmers. In fact, they go through so many of them that they add them to their hunting budget for the season. Throwing these warmers into your clothes or boots can drastically up your comfort level on the stand, so don’t under estimate them!
Pat also likes to bring warm soup in a Yeti thermal thermos to keep nutrition and spirits high during the hunt.
Finally, don’t forget to have a back up plan. Sometimes things happen. Bringing some spare pieces of clothing, especially those which can be layered, with you in your pack could save the hunt. Think things like an extra beanie, or shirt, a waterproof, warm hunting bib, face mask, and extra socks, just in case.
Hunters have become more and more aware in recent years of just how vocal deer are. As a result, nearly every professional uses deer calls to some degree. While these calls will require a good deal of practice to master, it’s definitely worth having one in your hunting pack.
“I always carry (a grunt tube),” says Keefer.
The kind of call you use is up to your personal preference, and some hunters, like Pat and Nicole Reeve, actually carry multiple kinds of calls and a ‘Battle Bag’ call.
The “battle bag” is a contraption filled with little polymer sticks that replicate the sound of antlers colliding, as they would in a fight between two bucks. This sound would obviously draw the attention of other bucks in the area.