Big-River Bucks

Why major waterways produce trophy whitetails.

Field & Stream Online Editors

I shot one of my largest bow bucks on a farm overlooking the Big Muddy. As I dressed the 226-pound 10-point, I made no particular connection between the broad, scenic backwaters in the distance and the buck at my feet. But I didn't know then what researchers know now: There's a correlation between big rivers and big bucks.

The Mississippi River system, as one example, is growing some of the country's finest whitetails. In fact, three of the top trophy-producing counties in the nation-Wisconsin's Buffalo, Illinois' Pike, and Iowa's Allamakee-are all adjacent to the Big Muddy.

Noted researcher Dr. Karl V. Miller (see "Ask the Deer Professor," page WH3) says the relationship makes perfect sense. "Annual floods provide an influx of minerals important to whitetail growth. Riverbottom floodplains therefore contain some of the best soil," he says. "And good dirt equals good antlers."

"Higher mineral contents and improved forage also result in deer with higher body weights compared to those living in areas with poorer soil," says retired Mississippi State University researcher Dr. Harry Jacobson. "What's more, riverbottom woodlands commonly remain the last undisturbed blocks of big timber out there." They're hard for hunters to penetrate, so more bucks survive to maturity within them.

Genetics may be the final link, says wildlife biologist Dr. Grant Woods of Woods & Associates. "Riverbottoms serve as travel corridors for deer, especially during the rut," he notes. "As a result, the genes of quality bucks are readily distributed up and down the river corridor."

Perhaps best of all, you don't have to live within driving distance of the Mississippi to take advantage. Lands adjoining the Ohio and Missouri Rivers also consistently produce trophy bucks.