Whitetail Bowhunting The Midwest

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The monstrous buck came off the far ridge and headed down the slope along the edge of the bordering brush and tree line. The date was November 18th and it was colder than a well diggers patoot perched in a tree stand overlooking a huge grassy CRP field in west central Iowa. The peak of the rut should have been past but obviously the buck thought there was still hope of finding a cooperative doe or two roaming his stomping grounds 'cause he had his nose to the ground and was covering the open hillside like a hound dog on a "hot" trail.

I didn't need my trusty Nikon's to tell me the buck was a definite shooter as his heavy long tined antlers stood out against the snowy background even at 300 yards. I grabbed my rattling antlers and crashed them together as hard as I could in hopes of getting the rambling buck's attention. I was still clashing and bashing the antlers together when the buck skidded into a sharp turn and headed my way on the dead run. To get to my ridgetop treestand location overlooking a major travelway across the CRP field the buck had to cross a depression below the hill and was out of sight for 30 seconds or so. I rattled aggressively for a few seconds and then hung up the antlers and got my bow into position. The buck broke around the brow of the hill slightly downslope from me and stopped at 50 yards to reconnoiter the situation. What a buck! His massive dark antlers spread 4" past his ears, sported 6-8" forked brow tines, at least 15" G-2's and six other points to match. Somewhat awed, I, conservatively, estimated his P&Y score at between 175 and 180! "Damn! What a buck!"

The doe and fawn decoy I'd placed at the edge of the timber 20 yards above my treestand weren't visible from the buck's position so I figured I needed to entice him closer before he took a notion to slip into the timber behind me and circle to get my wind. I had a Primos grunt call around my neck and gingerly moved it to my mouth. I kept the tube inside my jacket to muffle the sound as I blew a short series of tending grunts. The buck immediately came to attention and started up the hillside, angling slightly away from me. I eased my bow to full draw when the buck passed behind some small trees at 40 yards and when he stopped at 25 yards I concentrated on a spot behind his shoulder and released. I'll never know what went wrong but my arrow sliced across the buck's BUTT instead of sinking in behind the shoulders. Needless to say, the buck bolted back around the hill with a bloody streak beside his tail and then, to add insult to injury, he spent the next hour and a half chasing rival bucks and does on the open hillside 200 yards from my perch. When he finally disappeared over hill I started tracking him in the fresh snow vowing to stay with him until he expired or I did. He quit bleeding long before he quit chasing does and three hours later I lost him entirely in the maze of fresh deer tracks going every which way on the brush covered slopes.

I'd just blown my opportunity at the " BUCK OF A LIFETIME," but there wasn't much sense in getting overly upset and besides, I wasn't the first bowhunter JINXED on this particular chunk of Iowa deer habitat. Greg Miller had missed a monstrous 180 class buck on Realtree video 300 yards from my stand and Bill Jordan, himself, had blown chances on a 150 & 170 class buck within 200 yards of my stand while Bob Foulkrod has spent four days trying unsuccessfully for an equally monstrous buck just across the field from the scene of my innocuous display of bowhunting competence. Maybe I missed because, subconsciously, I didn't want to make such stalwart, high profile, characters look bad when it come to getting "whupped" by a humongous Iowegian buck. Yeah, Right!!!

Actually the real reason I didn't get overly upset with myself was 'cause I was bowhunting right in the center of some of the finest trophy whitetail hunting in the country and throughout the past several seasons had observed a number of humongous bucks traipsing around on our hunting leases. I felt confident that sooner or later I'd have another encounter or two with a Midwestern monster and just maybe this time things would go my way.

If you're serious about bowhunting for a trophy buck then "cut to the chase" and start concentrating your efforts on the best trophy producing areas of the country. A little time spent perusing the Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young Record books should soon convince you that limiting your trophy bowhunting ventures to the Midwestern states, of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa with Kansas thrown is as a very attractive alternate, will definitely be in your best interest. The first four states have produced the MOST typical and non-typical bucks entered in Boone & Crockett where the minimum typical score is 170 and the non-typical score is 195. Up until last year, Minnesota held the edge in producing big typical bucks for it's hunters but from my understanding Iowa has since moved into first place and pushed Minnesota to second place followed by Wisconsin and Illinois. In the non-typical category Minnesota still leads the pack followed closely by Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. Minnesota still holds the edge in the total combined production of typical/non-typical bucks followed closely by Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

The Pope & Young records show that Wisconsin leads the pack in the total number of typical bucks killed by bowhunters, followed by Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. When it comes to the total number of non-typical bucks taken by bowhunters, Illinois leads the pack while Kansas moves into second place only a couple deer ahead of Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

It's obvious that Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin are at the top of the heap for producing quality bucks and a bowhunting trip to any of these states could produce a record class buck for the persistent and lucky, bowhunter. However, there are a number of other factors to be considered before heading for one of these states on a quest for the buck of a lifetime.

Several months ago another writer called and informed me he'd just found out that Iowa had overtaken Minnesota as No. 1 in producing Boone & Crockett bucks for it's hunters. He then asked my opinion as to WHY Iowa was turning out so many TROPHY quality bucks. When I was in high school and traveled from my home in southwestern Minnesota to southwestern Iowa several times a year to visit relatives, whitetail deer were almost as rare in Iowa as they were in southern Minnesota. Times certainly have changed and after four years of outfitting for bowhunters and gun hunters in Iowa I felt I had a pretty good handle on the major reasons Iowa and it's neighboring states were able to lead the pack in putting bucks in the record bucks.

Obviously all these states are blessed with a genetic pool that allows mature bucks to reach epic proportions both in body size and antler growth. Of course, none of this phenomenal growth would take place without proper nutrition. This means plenty of available protein, vitamins and minerals. All of these states are major producers of corn, soybeans and an abundance of other deer edibles that provide maximum deer nutrition on a year round basis. Most areas also are exceedingly rich in minerals such as calcium, phosphorous which are extremely important in the production of trophy antlers. These minerals are generally found in both the water and soil which gives the deer a double source for the vitally needed minerals. None of the above would be worth much if the bucks didn't get a chance to reach maturity and here we come to the nitty- gritty of trophy buck production.

There are a couple of important common denominators in all four of the top buck producing states. The first being that most of the hunting land in these states consists of private property which keeps a strict control on the hunting pressure and gives the deer a measure of protection not afforded them on most public hunting areas. The second and probably the most important aspect which ties back to the private lands is the limitation on firearms during the deer season in all or a portion of the states. Iowa and Illinois allow only shotguns and muzzleloaders during their firearms season while Minnesota and Wisconsin limit the gun hunters to shotguns and muzzleloaders in the southern zones and rifles in the northern, less inhabited areas of the state. I would bet that most of the record class bowkilled bucks in these two states are taken in the southern zones. This firearms limitation keeps the deer hunting in these areas on a fairly short range basis and when you try to get "up close and personal" with a mature whitetail buck the odds of the hunter coming out second best increase considerably. The gun seasons in these states are relatively short in duration especially in Illinois which has a 3- day gun season and a 4-day gun season. Iowa holds it's shotgun/muzzleloader season the first week in December which means the bucks are essentially through the rut and much tougher to catch with their mind on something other than survival.

In my humble opinion one of the major factors contributing to the survival and growth of mature bucks in these states is the careless hunting techniques utilized by most of the gun hunters. Minnesota and Iowa allow party hunting which means that as long as there is one unfilled license in a party, all of the hunters can still hunt. Under this archaic and questionable system a single hunter in the party could legally shoot a deer for every party member. This system of party hunting does not sit well with landowners as they take a dim view of large groups of hunters running rampant over their property. In Iowa and my home state of Minnesota, I've watched groups of 20-30 hunters noisily descend on a section of timber or a cornfield and try to drive the deer to their buddies. This may work for does, fawns and inexperienced bucks but a mature buck will either sneak out at the sound of the first pickup door slamming or cautiously sneak back through the haphazard drivers as they nonchalantly crash and bash their way through the cover in hopes of spooking deer to the standers. This past fall I watched two 150 class bucks sneak out the side of an expanse of timber while the hunting group was in the process of dropping off standers. The group never even knew they had been snookered by the trophy bucks. In conversing with numerous groups and individual gun hunters I rarely find gun hunters that pay much attention to wind direction, whether they are stand hunting or pushing deer. Bowhunters certainly know the folly of such careless techniques, especially when mature bucks are involved. Careless gun hunters educating and fine tuning the Midwestern bucks in the art of escape and evasion, in this author's opinion, is a major reason why the mature trophy bucks in these states are not only alive and well but actually increasing in numbers each fall. Certainly good news for bowhunters wanting the challenge of bowhunting a mature, record class buck with a doctorate in survival.

Licensing procedures and the number of bowhunters (hunting pressure) varies considerably with each state and might be a major factor in your choice of the state for your next big buck bowhunt . Wisconsin is at the top of the chart in producing P&Y bucks but it also ranks No. 1 in numbers of bowhunters with some 300,000 archers in the field each fall. This is roughly 10 times the number of total bowhunters Iowa puts in the woods and fields each fall. There are no figures available for the rate of success on bowhunters killing record book bucks but it stands to reason that Wisconsin's success ratio of bowhunters to record class bucks taken would be much lower than the other states with less hunting pressure. This is something to keep in mind when researching your future bowhunting areas. Non-residents may purchase licenses by mail or across the counter from Wisconsin license vendors but if you purchase a license after the archery season opens there is a 72 hour waiting period before you can begin bowhunting.

Minnesota has unlimited archery licenses that are available from license vendors throughout the state. Improving the situation, a few years ago Minnesota did away with a five day waiting period from the time you purchase your license until you can take to the woods with your bow and arrow set. In 1997 Minnesota hosted a total of 72,832 bowhunters well below the numbers hunting Wisconsin and Illinois but still almost twice the number that Iowa has.

Six years ago Illinois did away with the limited drawing for non-resident licenses and liberalized it's license vending procedures to allow non-residents to purchase archery licenses across the counter with no waiting period before they can go bowhunting. In 1997 Illinois had 426,191 bowhunters pursuing it's whitetails and they harvested a total of 36,763 deer for a success of approximately 8.5%. In the past several years there has been a proliferation of outfitters setting up business in Illinois and finding premium deer hunting without paying a stout lease, or trespass fee is getting tougher each year. There are a number of quality outfitters in the Land of Lincoln but there are also an equal number that are in it for the "dollars" and don't have a clue about good game management or providing a quality bowhunting experience so do your homework and research when planning an Illinois bowhunt.

There is little doubt that Iowa would be an excellent choice for a trophy buck with it's limited number of bowhunters and high population of quality animals if it weren't for the licensing situation which as of January 1999 just took a turn for the worse, as far as bowhunters are concerned. During 1999's legislative session the Iowa Bowhunters Association hired a lobbyist to successfully fight for a law limiting the number of bowhunters to 35% of the total non-resident licenses sold. This regulation has severely cut the number of non-resident bowhunters drawing archery licenses in Iowa and eliminate as many as 2/3's of the bowhunters, that have enjoyed challenging Iowa's big bucks, in some areas during past seasons when all non- resident license applications were lumped together. This restriction may help accomplish IBA's goal of eliminating bowhunting competition from non-resident bowhunters but it has also greatly increased the number of non-resident firearm hunters which the bowhunters must compete with. To make matters worse, this year Iowa will have the most expensive Midwest any-sex license weighing in at $308. Fortunately there are many open-minded individuals in the state including many of the farmers, whose crops and land are supporting the growing deer population, that don't hold with this philosophy, so things may change in the near future. Howling from non-residents has put a bit of pressure on Iowa's DNR in recent years and a few years ago Iowa instituted a preference point system, which increase your odds of drawing out in the second year of application after not drawing the first year.

There has never been better opportunity for bowhunters to tangle with a truly magnificent whitetail buck but it's going to take some homework and research to pick the location where your chances of success are the highest for a quality buck AND a quality hunting experience. Right now the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa would definitely be the best place to concentrate your search efforts.

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