The Land of Giants: Where the Biggest Bucks Were Killed in the Last Five Years
There is a sect of hunters that devote all their time in the woods to one thing: targeting the biggest whitetails walking the Earth. Some call them trophy hunters, but when they hang a rack on the wall, they don’t see trophies. They see years of dedication. They remember the heartbreak when the hunt didn’t go their way. They remember the ultimate high of finally harvesting the smartest, oldest and biggest deer of the herd. These are the bucks all hunters dream about.
Few are able to put in the time, money and discipline needed to make that dream a reality. Yet some do, and it all starts with hunting on land where they live.
We analyzed where the top-200 record book typical and non-typical whitetails were shot in 2010 to 2015*.
After pouring over record book data in an attempt to identify these big-buck neighborhoods, here are some takeaways.
The Usual Suspects
When you look at state level data, the states you’d expect to be present on the list are… Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and so on. But when you look deeper and tally the top bucks shot on the county level, there are some surprises. Buffalo County, Wisconsin, is there, but farther down the list than we expect. Same with LaSalle County, Texas. The list of counties with three or more record book entries of typical deer and non-typical deer in the top-200 over the past five seasons is populated with some you may never heard of:
Otter Tail, Minnesota (8)
Vernon, Wisconsin (5)
Edgar, Illinois (4)
Marion, Iowa (4)
Winneshiek, Iowa (3)
Guthrie, Iowa (3)
Wabasha, Minnesota (3)
Houston, Minnesota (3)
Coshocton, Ohio (3)
Highland, Ohio (3)
Noble, Ohio (3)
LaSalle, Texas (3)
Buffalo, Wisconsin (3)
Dunn, Wisconsin (3)
*Source: Boone And Crockett Club
Hunting Land in the Top-4 Counties for Giant Bucks
Otter Tail, Minnesota
Average Price Per Acre of Raw Land: $2,148
The soil in Otter Tail, Minnesota, is suitable for growing the crops deer love. There is also habitat where the deer can survive predation. Most of the tracts are a mix of timber, farmland, prairies and wetlands that provide edge habitat where giant whitetails thrive.
The Winter Severity Index (WSI), a general measure of winter conditions based on the premise that prolonged cold temperatures and deep snow can reduce overwinter survival of whitetail deer, has been relatively low in Ottertail County over the past five years. In Minnesota, the WSI is calculated by accumulating a point for each day with an ambient temperature less than or equal to 0 degrees F and an additional point for each day with a snow depth of greater than or equal to 15 inches. End-of-season WSI values of 180 or more indicate a severe winter, and Ottertail County never had a value over 140 in the years 2010-2015.
Average Price Per Acre of Raw Land: $3,460
In 1862, Bad Ax County was renamed Vernon County. The name Vernon was chosen to reflect the county's green fields of wheat and to evoke Mount Vernon. The county is home to the headquarters of Organic Valley, the world's largest cooperative of family farmers.
It’s fun to speculate what’s going on in Vernon County. Some believe that the record books can be misleading because hunters in the county might not want it to be like Buffalo County, where the secret is out. Many outfitters have set up shop there, land prices have increased and it caters to a lot of non-resident hunters who probably have no hesitancy of reporting their record book bucks.
Vernon County has the same dirt – soil with the calcium and magnesium that allows deer to grow large antlers - as Buffalo County, and if a buck live to 5-1/2 years, he’ll probably be a monster. But hunters in Vernon County might be a little more tight-lipped about the quality of the deer herd there.
Average Price Per Acre of Raw Land: $5013
Hunting land prices in Edgar County can give some land buyers sticker shock, but it’s important to remember that most properties in the area provide income through cash renting the land for farming. The county is a powerhouse producer of corn and soybeans.
We asked Illinois Land Specialist, Joe Gedzic, “What are the reasons to invest in land in the area?”
He said it has some of the most fertile soils in the nation, which leads to a great return on investment from farm income and CRP. In addition, there is also timber value on most tracts. The average price per acre is always increasing, sometimes by large percentages, making the land, if priced fair, generally easy to flip.
And having three typical bucks on the list of the top-15 biggest bucks harvested in Illinois during the past five years doesn’t hurt either.
Average Price Per Acre of Raw Land: $4,314
Marion County may not have produced many record book bucks yet, but the ones it has are near the top of the list. Four of the county’s 11 biggest deer were shot during the past five seasons. All of those four are among the top 15 in the state in their respective category.
The genetic potential is there, the nutrition is there, and hunters have been practicing Quality Deer Management. It’s filled with big-buck neighborhoods you may want to consider buying hunting land in if it’s your dream to chase giant whitetails.
Now all this is not to say that you can't kill a giant deer wherever the genetics, nutrition and a little bit of luck is favorable. Just look at the top of the Boone and Crockett entries from last season. The biggest buck entered so far was a 195-2/8" behemoth shot in Drew County, Arkansas. That's the beauty of hunting. Everytime we go out, we can get our hopes up that the deer crunching the leaves behind the stand we're in is one we have only seen in our dreams until now.