The 20 Best Whitetail Bucks of 2012

The deer hunts behind these bucks from the 2012 season show just how varied--and good--whitetail hunting in North America is right now. Tagged on the opener or the last day of the season, from deep South to coldest Canada, on a five-star lease or a family farm or public land, every buck in our countdown--be it a state record or personal best, a first buck or a first Booner--has one thing in common: Each is a trophy tale worth retelling.

20. Tadpole Buck
Hunting Louisiana's Tensas National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 7, Alton "Tadpole" McLeod was playing a hunch when he decided to sleep in.

"I've hunted Tensas for 25 years and always had good luck at midday on a full moon," McLeod says, "so me and my buddies started late. It was 10 a.m. before I reached my spot, an area where I'd seen a couple of big-bodied bucks crossing a week before."

Several hours after he settled into his stand, a flock of buzzards roosted nearby and raised a ruckus that, Tadpole thought, surely ruined any chance of seeing a wary buck.

"If I'd been alone, I'd have left," McLeod recalls, "but I didn't want to mess up my buddies' hunt. So I stayed in my tree."

Forty-five minutes later, he watched a buck make a scrape 30 yards away and then head straight toward him. When the giant hung up at 20 yards, presenting only a facing shot, McLeod waited until the buck lowered its head and dropped it in its tracks with a shot to the spine. The 29-pointer netted 206 5/8 inches, good enough to become the state's new No. 1 nontypical, breaking a record that had been on the books since 1983.

19. Woman's Archery Record Takes the Cake
Linet Navarro set a personal best and may have set a state record as well when she shot an Oklahoma bruiser on Nov. 8 that green scores 175 2/8. As a story on newsok.com reported in December, "A check of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Cy Curtis records--a listing of big deer killed by Oklahoma hunters--shows that larger nontypical bucks have been killed by female hunters with a gun, although it appears none have with a bow."

Navarro is an enthusiastic baker who has turned out cakes topped with 3D likenesses of deer, armadillos, gators, and even skunks. She says two kids and a husband who also likes to hunt limits her time afield. Apparently, though, she makes the most of the opportunities she gets.

18. Public-Land Trophy
After watching this whitetail for four years, Bill McKinley of Conrad, Montana, finally got his chance to meet the heavy-racked buck up close during the first snowstorm of the season in late October. McKinley was trying to spot the deer on a tract of public land that adjoins private CRP and grain fields. Thanks to trail camera photos and glassing over several years, he knew the buck used the area to move between bed and feed. Giving up on spotting the deer that day, he was heading back to his truck. As he told Field & Stream rut reporter Jeff Holmes, "It just so happens this buck was taking a different route, and I spotted him at 122 yards. I thought about not shooting him, but I just couldn't pass him up." The moose-like typical antlers posted a score of 170, dragged down somewhat by the narrow 13-inch spread. But by Montana public-land standards, it's a true giant.

17. Ground Expansion
Like most deer hunters, Mark Guinther has experienced ground shrinkage--when a buck's rack looks smaller after the shot than before. But the whitetail he took on the opening day of Ohio's archery season just kept getting bigger and bigger. Sheds found after last season suggested a buck in the 150s to 160s, but when the deer showed up on his trail cam this fall, he looked much bigger, Guinther says. After he put a 10-yard broadside hit on the 24-pointer with his crossbow, Guinther and a buddy couldn't believe how much bigger the buck looked up close. "When I finally got to pick up the rack, I realized the pictures didn't do him justice."

And the news kept getting better. The official score recorded in December added 10 inches to the green score of 196, for a final tally of 206 4/8. Not bad for a deer he originally mistook for a button buck: "When he was walking in, his footsteps were so light," Guinther says, "I thought he was a fawn." Click here for more photos and in-depth coverage of Guither's giant crossbow buck.

16. The 11th Hour Buck
There are bigger bucks in this roundup. But how big should a deer be to count as an unforgettable trophy? How about if you take it with a bow? How about if you take it on the last day of the season? From the ground? Troy Pottenger of Kootenai County, Idaho, took this great buck on Washington state's closing day. Pottenger used the abundant snowfall in the area to figure out where deer were moving to late-season food sources as they recovered from the rut. Then he took advantage of cold temperatures that forced even big bucks to move well before dark. His scouting started with identifying the best feed in the area, then backtracking to find a saddle that was funneling mountain whitetails from ridgeline bedding areas toward a cut beanfield.

Pottenger then discovered some natural cover--a snow-laden Douglas Fir--that put him within bow range of several deer during three consecutive evening hunts. On December 15, his patience paid off with a mature 4 x 5 that grossed around 140.

15. What a Difference a Day Makes
On Nov. 19, Mauricio DeLoera was fed up with deer hunting--so frustrated with not finding a buck during Oklahoma's gun season that he decided to quit for the year. On Nov. 20, he decided at the last moment to go afield with a friend.

Good thing he did: The Oklahoma City hunter shot this gnarly 35-point Lincoln County nontypical after luring it closer with a can call. Taxidermist Mike Chain says the rack has a good chance at setting a new state record. "It's real unique and real big," Chain says. He wouldn't say how big, noting that DeLoera wanted to wait until an official score is tallied after the drying period. The rack will have to be truly remarkable to top Oklahoma's No. 1 nontypical, a 248 6/8 inch 18-pointer taken by Michael Crossland in 2004.

14. Tag Team
Lindsay Groom wasn't a hunter when she met her husband, Kevin, but after two years of marriage to a serious whitetail fanatic, she's was so gung ho for big bucks that she was ready to hunt on her wedding anniversary. As it turned out, the wind wasn't quite right, so she had to wait until the next day, Nov. 7, to arrow this 150-class 13-pointer near Groveport, Ohio. Groom, a culinary school graduate who enjoys preparing the fruits of her and Kevin's harvest, credits her husband with helping her scout and hunt a specific trophy buck, but she isn't shy about making sure his preparations are first-rate. When they settled into their blind, which Kevin had brushed in a few days earlier, Groom felt he'd left too little room to shoot. "We had a nice little whisper argument about 30 minutes before the buck came in," Groom says with a laugh, "but we got it figured out. He had to break a few branches before we sat down." Click here for more on this deer-hunting couple.

13. What October Lull?
Don Higgins overcame the limited deer movement that marks the October lull to tag a 6-½-year-old 12-pointer that he's been watching for 5 years. Higgins first spotted the central Illinois buck when it was a 2-½ year old, and as he told Field & Stream Rut Reporter Scott Bestul, two things became clear as he watched the buck over the years. "First, he was a real homebody; I almost never saw him leave my farm in the five seasons I knew him. When he was older, I watched him chase a doe off the property during the rut, but he immediately turned around and came home. The second thing that stood out about the buck was that he wasn't afraid to travel in daylight."

Because he knew the deer so well, Higgins was able to figure out where it was bedding and feeding, and he got himself in position to intercept the 12-pointer as it moved between the two spots--proving that with the right intelligence, the classic ambush can be effective even at a time of year when that bed-to-feed journey is often a very short trip. Click here for more on Higgins' October lull buck.

12. Power Play
Dakota Owens and his father, Chris, were fortunate to draw a special permit on Dalton Utilities land in northwest Georgia, but they worried their hunt was over before it started. Arriving at their stand site before dawn for the November adult/child hunt, they saw deer eyes shining in the woods and decided to wait until daylight to walk in. When they reached their stand at a pinch point in a hardwood hollow that led to a big swamp bordered by a pine thicket, they immediately had deer blowing at them from a hundred yards away. Instead of giving up, Chris blew a grunt call, which settled the deer down.

Later that morning, father and son watched a wide, tall 10-pointer walk past their stand. As Chris told Field & Stream rut reporter Eric Bruce, he was sure it met the utility company's QDM standards, but Dakota was less certain. "I kept whispering to Dakota, 'Shoot him. Shoot!'" Chris recalled. "Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but was more like five seconds, he pulled the trigger." After the buck fell, Chris says Dakota was all smiles. The buck's rack sported 22-inch main beams and a 19-inch spread, well beyond Dalton's 16-inch minimum.

Bruce and guide Tony Klingler with “The Rock.”
Bruce and guide Tony Klingler with “The Rock.”Joshua Bruce

11. Giles Island Giant
While Mississippi might not make most short lists of big-buck states, a whopper taken on the 9,000-acre Giles Island hunting plantation during the December rut shows just how much potential Magnolia State whitetails have under optimal management conditions. As Field & Stream's Eric Bruce reported, guides first spotted this buck last year; it had a damaged main beam on one side but was impressive enough on the other to make it a buck to watch for in 2012.

That proved to be easier said than done: "The Rock," as guides nicknamed the giant, never showed itself--until December 20, when Joshua Bruce of Alexandria, Louisiana, and guide Tony Klingler spied The Rock chasing a doe. Bruce made a 170-yard shot with a Remington .30-06 to bring the buck down. The rack unofficially gross-scored 242, with 20 scoreable points.

10. Bestul Shoots Hurteau
After taking exception to a classic Dave Hurteau "Shoot Me Down" rant that called on hunters to stop naming bucks, Dave's Whitetail 365 blog partner Scott Bestul posted a request for readers to help him name the buck he'd been stalking since 2011. Buckhunter took the prize when he commented, "There is only one name to give a deer as sly, smart, and cagey as the one in the photo. Dave Hurteau. Later this fall, your blog title will say, 'How I Shot Dave Hurteau.'"

And so it came to pass: In late September, Scott arrowed the four-legged Hurteau (after the big buck entered a newly cut cornfield in the same spot five nights in a row) then wrote all about it under Buckhunter's headline.

Dave has only himself to blame. He said, "Shoot Me Down."

9. 10-year-old Tags 18-pointer
Every deer season brings tales of kids who tag nice bucks, usually with a helpful father or uncle looking over the youngster's shoulder. But 10-year-old Jack Dekeyzer of Louisiana got his trophy all by himself, during his first solo hunt on the family farm. Hunting on January 2, he watched two deer walk into a food plot and noticed that one had two large double main beams. "He just stood their looking at me," Jack told the Town Talk newspaper. "I had to wait until he turned. When he was broadside, I shot and my bullet hit him in the lungs, right behind his heart."

Though only 10, Jack is hardly a beginner, according to his dad, Peter Dekeyzer, who dropped the boy at the stand before settling into his own stand 400 yards away. "Jack has been hunting with me for several years now and has already killed four does and a little bitty 'hill' deer that had 9 points with a 10-inch spread," Peter said. "So when he asked if he could hunt by himself, I really didn't give it a second thought."

8. Peach State Prize
Fletcher Culpepper was halfway up his ladder stand in late October when he spotted this 230-class Georgia giant staring straight at him. The Sylvester native kept his composure and froze in place until the 22-pointer and two other deer finally went back to feeding. Then he scrambled into his stand and raised his rifle--only to find the deer had disappeared. He blew his grunt call and watched the buck step into a mowed path, where it hesitated for several minutes before exposing enough vitals to give Culpepper a shot.

Green-scored at 233 2/8 net, the 22-pointer should rank as the third largest nontypical ever taken in Georgia, but Culpepper had no idea how big a deal the buck was until the game warden asked to have his picture taken with it. "It would have been hard to make me feel any better, but the warden told me, 'Man, I've been doing this 18 years and I've never seen anything like that.'" Click here to read more about Culpepper's 230-class buck.

7. Fitty-Point Buck
"Irregular" hardly seems an adequate term to describe this Kentucky wonder ("otherworldly" might be more accurate), but the 50-point velvet freak shot by Thad Cartwright of Browder, Kentucky, on September 3 is indeed a new world record in the Buckmasters scoring system's irregular category. Cartwright downed the buck on the third day of the Kentucky archery season in Muhlenberg County after watching it on trail cameras throughout the summer. The rack measured 283 5/8 inches, beating the previous record by nearly 40 inches.

Cartwright, a 20-year-old University of Kentucky student, first spotted the buck--and a clue to his outsized rack--in 2011. After hunting the 170-class, 19-pointer most of the 2011 season, Cartwright and his father noticed the buck suddenly losing weight. Close examination of trail cam photos showed why: It had apparently been wounded during the firearms season. Though the buck survived, Cartwright thinks the wound explains the wild antler growth in 2012. No one disputes that it's one heck of a crazy rack. Read more about Cartwright's record buck here.

6. Sunflower State Stud
Jay Price, an auto-body repairman in Baxter Springs, videotaped this 24-point southeastern Kansas monster for three consecutive days before getting close enough to stop it with an arrow on October 3. A rough score of the massively palmated rack turned in mass measurements of 17, 15, and 13 inches. With 25-inch main beams and a vertical height of 2 feet, the nontypical rack estimated at 246 inches could go Top 10 Pope and Young for Kansas, depending on the outcome of an official score that's scheduled this month.

5. Texas Topper
Secrecy shrouds the official score of this east-Texas trophy buck, but several reports are referring to the 28-pointer as the pending Pope and Young nontypical state record for Texas with room to spare. What is known: The chocolate-horned giant arrowed at 15 yards from a ground blind by A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, shortly after dawn on opening day was a free-ranging buck. It was taken on a 12,000-acre low-fence cattle ranch in San Jacinto County that Downs and his brother have hunted for several years.

Downs is reportedly awaiting official certification from Boone and Crockett before releasing the score. Joe Elerson of the Daily Review in Athens, Texas, who attended the scoring by certified measurers from Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett, reported that "the final tally on the score sheet may shock you." Bob Sweisthal, who is the official Pope and Young scorer and also Downs' taxidermist, initially green-scored the buck at 237 6/8, well above the current top Texas nontypical archery buck, which netted 229 6/8.

4. Warrior's Whitetail
Twenty-three-year-old Army veteran Quinton Picone set a new base record at McAlester Army Ammunition Plant near Panola, Oklahoma, during his first ever deer hunt on Oct. 12. Picone, who sustained wounds to his right hand and lost both of his lower legs to an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan in 2011, was participating in the fourth annual Wounded Warriors Hunt organized by the U.S. Army and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. He took the buck with a crossbow and used a special hydraulic lift blind designed for hunters with physical disabilities. The 9-pointer showed up an hour into his first day of hunting. It weighed nearly 200 pounds and field-dressed at 175 pounds, ranking it as the heaviest deer every taken at McAlester.

The hunt at McAlester--one of the top lottery deer hunts in the country--was a homecoming for Picone, whose father works at the bomb-making plant and storage facility. About 20,000 hunters each year vie for 1,500 tags at McAlester, which is known for its abundant population of trophy bucks. Picone also took a doe on the second day of his two-day hunt.

Daigle with his buck from Massachusetts.
Daigle with his buck from Massachusetts.Dan Daigle

3. Record Duo
November produced not one, but two potential state-record bucks for Massachusetts. On Nov. 14, electrical lineman Dan Daigle of Rutland used a mock scrape, deer scents, grunt calls, and a bleat can to lure a 198-inch 16-pointer into bow range. Though Daigle's buck is vying for a nontypical record, it sports an extremely symmetrical rack, giving up only six inches in deductions. Officials at the Northeast Big Buck Club say the rack should have more than enough bone to surpass the current top nontypical bowkill, a 190-inch buck from 2011. Read more about Daigle's record Massachusetts buck here.

Further evidence of the state's status as an up-and-comer for big bucks is the pending muzzleloader state record shot November 26 near the New York-Massachusetts state line. Craig Luscier shot the 210-inch buck, which should be the largest hunter-killed nontypical ever taken in Massachusetts.

2. No. 1 With a Bullet
Oklahoma whitetail fanatic Devin Moore hung tough to kill this big typical on the last afternoon of a 6-day hunt near Slave Lake, Alberta. Moore and his guide, Aaron Franklin of North Alberta Outfitters, encountered the 17-pointer in a big clear cut on November 30, also the last day of the firearms whitetail season. Initially mistaking the giant for a 150-class deer, Moore had to fight a frozen firing pin in subzero temperatures before getting off an errant 200-yard shot. When the buck ran toward him after the miss, Moore settled down and made the most of his second chance, dropping it with a second shot at 175 yards.

A Safari Club International master measurer scored the rack at 207 7/8 typical, making it the biggest free-ranging typical taken with a rifle in SCI's northwestern whitetail category. (The overall No. 1 is a 220 3/8-inch buck from Alberta taken with a bow in 2001 by Wayne Zaft.) Because Moore's buck is a potential top 20, it will be subject to rescoring by a master measurer after a 60-day drying period.

Moore tried to buy a seat for the rack on his return flight home. When that failed, he chucked his plane ticket and rented a car for the 2,100-mile drive. Said the happy hunter, "I wasn't taking any chances." Read more about Moore's record Canadian buck here.

1. King Without a Throne
The buck that generated the biggest headlines in 2012 wasn't even shot this year: The Johnny King buck, a potential world record typical that was a subject of controversy since Boone and Crockett first scored it in 2006, got another shot at glory when the conservation group convened a special scoring panel at its Missoula, Montana, headquarters to review the rack. Two two-man scoring teams working independently came up with the same result: The King Buck is not a world-record typical. The problem, as Boone and Crockett measurer Buck Buckner explained to Field & Stream whitetail columnist Scott Bestul shortly after the scoring session concluded September 23: "The panel determined that the 3rd point on the right side was an abnormal point and had to be deducted. This automatically makes the matching 3rd point on the left side abnormal, too, which then also had to be deducted from the score."

As a result, the final B&C tally for the buck Johnny King shot on a Wisconsin farm six years ago is 180 typical. That would rank it 78th among Wisconsin typicals and 964th overall. King and the antler collector who bought the rack from him, Jay Fish, were in Missoula for the scoring and were not happy with the results. "Before they left with the rack, they claimed we were inconsistent in our procedures and that we had not heard the last of this yet," Buckner said. Will the story continue? Only 24 percent of respondents to a Field & Stream poll said the panel results did not end the King Buck controversy for them.