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Buffalo County's 'book' bucks inspire hunters searching for a trophy

This is the first in a three-part series on Buffalo County's unique place in deer hunting history

Nov. 11, 2011   |  
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Buffalo County — by the numbers:

(2010 data)
Population: 13,587
Square miles of land: 671.64
Persons per square mile: 20.2
Gun harvest: 5,788 (2,064 bucks)
Bow harvest: 1,946 (1,156 bucks)
Ag acres in corn: 67,500
Ag acres in soybeans: 24,000
Ag acres in oats: 7,000
Ag acres in alfalfa: 3,600

About this series:

Data for this article was compiled with assistance from Boone and Crockett Club’s online trophy database, and from the Wisconsin Buck & Bear Club’s Director of Records. For more on B&C’s Trophy Search or its 13th edition of the Records of North American Big Game, visit www.booneandcrockettclub.com or call (406) 542-1888. For more on the Buck & Bear Club, including its 500-page trophy records book and the 2011 Whitetail Classic magazine, visit www.wi-buck-bear.org.

On the web:

Visit Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com’s deer hunting page for headlines and photos from around the state: http://www.wisconsinoutdoorfun.com/section/wof07\

The Wisconsin DNR’s deer hunting page http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/HUNT/deer/ contains a wealth of whitetail hunting information.

Buffalo County's website:

http://www.buffalocounty.com

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Read the second and third parts of this series on Buffalo County.

It’s been said that killing a buck big enough to make the Boone and Crockett records book is a one-in-a-million shot.

That may be true in some places, but not in Wisconsin, and especially not in Buffalo County.

Last year, nearly 100 Wisconsin bucks cracked the minimum requirements, a net 170 inches of antler for a typical and at least 195 net inches for a non-typical.
With a combined 877,000-plus gun and bow deer licenses sold in 2010, last year’s “Booner” count comes out to roughly one out of every 9,232 hunters.

More on hunting: Hunting news from around the state | Your hunting photos | Build a map | Visit our hunting forum | We're blogging about hunting | The history of deer hunting in Wisconsin

Of course, those are still very long odds. But if legally tagging a wild Boone and Crockett whitetail is something you’ve been dreaming of, there are ways you can improve your chances: hunt smart, hunt hard and hunt in Wisconsin’s Buffalo County.

Archers tagged several 170- to 185-class whitetails in Buffalo County in September and October; with the rut at its peak, it’s very likely even more have been or will be taken this month.

Share your trophy buck and bear shots | Browse 2011 trophy shots

A 13-pointer with a 23-inch inside spread and a 10-1/2-inch forked flyer was one of the heavyweights arrowed. A photo of the unique trophy is posted at www.bluffcountryoutfitters.com.

Firm figures are impossible to come by, but it’s estimated that 8,000 or more hunters take a stand in or on the rugged bluffs, deep valleys, fertile farmlands and vast marshes and bottomland forests of Buffalo County each year.

Find public hunting land in Buffalo County | around Wisconsin

Last season, “BC” hunters recorded at least seven bucks big enough to make Boone and Crockett, or about one out of every 1,200 license-buyers.

If you count only the giants that were taken on leased land — either private or outfitter leases — the odds may be one in hundreds, or roughly 20 to 30 times better than the national average.

Pope & Young-caliber whitetail bucks, those scoring at least 125 typical or 155 non-typical, are even more common. In fact, many Buffalo County outfitters advertise shooting opportunities of 30 to as high as 90 percent for a P&Y-minimum buck.

How does Buffalo County do it? Hunters there ‘Let ‘em go, let ‘em grow.’

Growing bucks in Buffalo County

Buffalo County ranks No. 1 in the nation in the number of Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett record book bucks per square mile.
Here are some key reasons why:

• Challenging terrain with a lot of security cover — steep bluffs, deep valleys, vast marshes and wet, forested river bottoms — reduces easy access while providing plenty of hideouts.

• Opportunity is not only limited by difficult terrain and relatively few roads; to hunt private land, you’ll almost always need to own or lease property, be a friend or relative of a landowner or hire an outfitter.

• There’s an abundance of good food. More than 100,000 acres of corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa seasonally supplements the native vegetation and mast crops, while food plots, baiting and feeding are wildly popular.

Most importantly, though, a large percentage of hunters pass up younger bucks. Many also target a specific number of adult does each year to better balance the herd ratio.

Steve Ashley of Glenwood City, Director of Records for the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club, said Buffalo County was shotgun-only and either-sex deer hunting for opening weekend of the gun season for many years; that was followed by seven days of any firearm, but bucks only.

“That one rule probably did more to help Buffalo County than anything else,” Ashley said. “My best guess is more bucks are now being harvested (with rifles allowed) opening weekend.”

Earlier, though, as word of BC’s success stories spread, so did passing on young bucks around the state. Ashley also believes earn-a-buck had a tremendous influence on what many hunters were seeing. The controversial management tool was shelved outside the CWD zone the past three seasons and was taken away permanently — at least as permanent as politics can be — by the legislature this year.

Surveys showed a majority of hunters didn’t like being forced to shoot an antlerless deer first, but Ashley thinks the tool was directly responsible for Wisconsin’s rise to the top in Pope and Young record book bucks.

“It’s the reason our trophy numbers have soared,” said Ashley, who noted that Wisconsin’s top 10 P&Y-producing counties have all had multiple earn-a-buck seasons in the past decade. Some even had units in the first EAB season in 1996.
“You had a lot more bucks reaching an age class they normally wouldn’t have,” said Ashley. “That opened a lot of people’s eyes.”

If earn-a-buck hadn’t been overused and the rules would have been tweaked even more, Ashley said he believes it could have survived. In the end though, he said at least its use showed more hunters what ‘Let ‘Em Go, Let ‘Em Grow’ can do.

More from Kevin Naze: Field Guide columns | More outdoor columns | More outdoor blogs

Read more about what makes deer hunting in Buffalo County special tomorrow on Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com.

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