by Naomi K. Shapiro
Being a lifelong resident Cheesehead, most of my outdoor experience is in Wisconsin. We're going to talk about deer management zones, and which one(s) can give you the best chance of getting a true trophy buck. We'll be using Wisconsin as an example, but you can certainly easily adapt what we'll say here, to your particular needs and demographics.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) breaks Wisconsin into multiple whitetail management zones, and while I take NO POSITION on this matter, I would be less than a candid, objective reporter, if I didn't say that there appears to be an ever mounting dismay among deer hunters – both individually, and as members of hunting and conservation affinity groups - - about how the DNR both sets up management zones, and the regs that go with a particular zone. Indeed, the hue and cry over the entire deer hunting subject has increased since the last couple of Wisconsin deer hunting seasons have not been that good. A particular item of conflict is what is the true size of the Wisconsin deer herd, and how that number is determined. No need to go further, except I want you to be aware that because the DNR "says it so," doesn't make it "so" for many Wisconsin deer hunters. 'Nuff said.
What most hunters are interested in which areas of the state have the largest concentration of big bucks. A map of Wisconsin, and a look at the various deer management zones don't really tell you a lot. There's the northern hardwood forest (usually called the "ceded territory" – and which consists of about the northern third of the state). There's the central cropland area, with lots of agriculture, and a good amount of private land. And then you hit the southern part of the state, with the Mississippi River valley, cliffs, bluffs and rolling hills. So initially a hunter doesn't really know which area to hit.
This monster buck was taken in Lafayette County Wisconsin by Brett Gill -
Lafayette County is another great hot spot for big deer.
The buck had 10 points and a 18.5 Inch Spread
There are publications put out the DNR, along with information from hunting groups, that show what was harvested the past season or seasons, where, and when. This will at least give you a first-step in trying to determine where to hunt.
Now, every area is going to have its share of big bucks. You'll have to determine which area gives you the best chance of success, and then your availability to go to that area is also something to consider. It's not easy.
I lived on a lake in the middle of a national forest in far northwestern Wisconsin for 15 years. I saw lots of deer- - and some numbers of big bucks. But however many I saw, there wasn't a season that went by that a good number of experienced hunters came up with zilch, and left empty handed. In the ceded territories of northern Wisconsin there is a LOT of public land, but deer numbers per acre are relatively low in comparison to other areas. There's less food and forage, there are predators (wolf packs in northern Wisconsin are growing yearly - -with plenty of complaints from farmers and hunters, alike), and there are special groups that are allowed to hunt deer year around.
As you move into the central Wisconsin area, you have plenty of cropland, and there are plenty of deer to target. While there still are tracts of fabulous public land and forests available in the central Wisconsin area, private land is very widespread. This is however, all good land to hunt. It's the area that guide Phil Schweik lives in. He suggests getting permission to hunt from a private landowner, lease some land, or try the public land. Central Wisconsin still remains somewhat of a "step child," as far as hunting and fishing enthusiasts are concerned, but I can tell you it's an absolutely "kingdom" of great hunting and fishing. I can personally attest to that. It's "undiscovered," and is sadly more a "drive through" than destination for hunters and anglers.
The southern part of Wisconsin is pretty highly populated as compared to the areas further north. You've got some nice pockets of deer - -and from what Phil Schweik says, the southwestern portion of Wisconsin gives you the best chance of getting a trophy buck. But don't pack up your truck quite yet. There's plenty of private land/farms, and the big deer live in very rugged terrain. You've got rolling hills, bluffs, the Mississippi River valley, plenty of thick brush and plats of forest. You had better be in TOP PHYSICAL SHAPE to hunt these areas, or forget it. You'll be trudging up and down hill and dale, moving through thick brush, boulders and trees. Also, because of the terrain, hunters are often limited in the distance they can shoot. You're going to work for that trophy buck in this area –and that is fact. Also, comparatively there isn't that much public land, so what there is, and people knowing how many big bucks there are proportionately to other areas of state, means very heavy hunting pressure. So there are trade offs. Indeed some of Phil's friends who have hunted these areas passed up any number of good sized bucks during a hunt, thinking that the "big one" will come around, and then they ended up with nothing. There's no guarantee - -trust me on that one.
OK. OK. I know. You want the specific areas Phil Schweik is talking about. He says that Buffalo County always has a proportionately excellent trophy buck harvest (Alma is a town in Buffalo County for you Google Map aficionados). The LaCrosse area is also quite good. Both of these areas and south of them, along the Mississippi provide some top opportunities for a big buck. Again - -nothing is promised. Lots of deer hunters come to these areas and get skunked. My best suggestion? Hire one of the area guides - -they'll know the best places to hunt and what are the "hot spots" for that particular season. And that goes for central, as well as Northern Wisconsin. There is no substitute for an experienced, top-flight local guide. Eagle River in far northeastern Wisconsin is a mecca for hunters, and they've got some excellent guides. And in the central Wisconsin area, who better than Phil Schweik – none that I know of.
By the way, we've been asked for Phil's biggest buck of all time. He got it bow hunting a couple of years ago in central Wisconsin. It was a 12 pointer, that scored 162 on the Pope & Young rating scale. It dressed out at 185 pounds - - and figure another 50 pounds before it was dressed out. "That ain't shabby."
So there you have it. Forget the fancy upscale TV shows showing all those smiling deer hunters holding on to some big rack they just got. The "real world" is quite different. Deer hunting is fabulous fun, but don't think that just because you go out, that you're for sure you're going to be successful. Preparation, knowledge, and hard work are all needed, and if you mix in a sprinkling of luck, you may indeed get yourself one heckuva prize buck.