Wall Hangers

A guide to the 20 best places in the country to hunt true trophy whitetails and muleys in 2003.

Field & Stream Online Editors

They're not just smarter than the average deer. They're much smarter than the average deer hunter. At some point early in their lives, something clicks in their cervid brains and they learn how to become invisible. People get glimpses of them now and then-huge racks, just barely seen; heavy bodies, vanishing like smoke; monster hoofprints, days old. For all but very skilled hunters and very lucky hunters, taking one of these near legendary bucks remains a dream.

But they are there nonetheless, and every year people do connect. And not only are there areas where you stand a chance of collecting the buck of a lifetime, but there are plenty of them, all around the country, open to anyone for the price of a license. If you need proof, just look at the photographs of the trophy bucks on these pages.

They're out there, all right. Here are the best places to go if you want a crack at one.

1. Maine (Central)
Deer aren't abundant in Maine's deep, big woods. Because the terrain is so vast, rugged, and remote, though, it harbors bucks that grow to tremendous sizes by eluding hunters every season. "Statewide, 20 percent of the antlered-buck harvest is 41/2 years or older," says state wildlife biologist Gerald Lavigne, "but the central counties are among the best."

Gerald Murray took the third-largest typical ever in the state-a net 1862/8 Boone and Crockett buck that would have been Maine's No. 1 typical were it not for an extra tine-by hunting a cranberry bog 18 miles from the nearest paved road and another mile hike in from that. Although Murray got that deer nearly two decades ago, massive bucks continue to come from this remote region every year. In 1996 Christian Oberholser Jr. shot a 2384/8 nontypical 18-pointer in Piscataquis County, and in 2001 David Morrison killed a 176 typical in Penobscot County.

Lavigne recommends deer management districts 7, 8, 11, 12, and 15, where hardwoods, white pines, and hemlocks thrive. Try stand or still-hunting during the rut in early November near rivers, secluded bogs, and clear-cuts.

Nonresident license: $85
207-287-8000; www.state.me.us/ifw

2. New York **(Central Adirondacks) **
This area encompasses over 4 million acres of mountainous terrain rising to 5,300 feet. Much of the vast forest preserve called Adirondack Park is wilderness, and the majority of it is open for public hunting. It is the best bet in the Empire State for a trophy, according to Big Game Unit biologist Kelly Stang, because large portions of it are isolated, allowing bucks to reach older age classes. Both the high elevations and the surrounding foothills, with their abandoned farms and brushy areas, are good.

B&C; bucks aren't common but occasionally one is taken, such as the state's No. 2 nontypical, a 2252/8 from St. Lawrence County. To tag a 125- to 145-class buck, though, is a realistic goal.

Backpack, take a boat across a lake, or canoe down a stream to gain access to lightly hunted land. In Hamilton County, several outfitters offer fly-in service to isolated areas. Stand hunting and tracking deer after a fresh snow are effective techniques.

Nonresident license: $110
518-402-8995; www.dec.state.ny.us

**3. Maryland (Eastern Shore) **
While some suburban areas in Maryland are overrun with deer, the population of the upper Eastern Shore counties of Cecil, Kent, Queen Annes, and Talbot is at just the right level-and rich with big bucks.

"Age-structure data indicates that the number of antlered deer 21/2 years or older in this region's population varies between 37 and 47 percent," says state deer biologist Doug Hotton. One of the reasons it's so high is that hunters in this coastal-plain area are willing to shoot does, taking pressure off the bucks. Over half the harvest consists of antlerless deer, and the buck-to-doe ratio is aincredible 1 to 2. Other reasons for the large-racked bucks: rich soils; large farms that grow soybeans, corn, and wheat; mild winters; and abundant woodlots for cover.

Locations that offer good public hunting include Earlville Wildlife Management Area and C&D; Canal Lands in Cecil County, Millington WMA and Sassafras River Natural Resources Management Area in Kent County, and Wye Island NRMA in Queen Annes.

A 130- to 140-class buck is a real possibility here. Some locals hold out for a 150-class deer or higher. B&C; bucks are taken every season, such as William Shields' 1993/8 nontypical, killed in 2001 in Talbot County. Last season a pending state-record typical was shot in Kent County that netted a whopping 194, and Steve Pesterman took a 190-gross-score 14-point nontypical Pope and Young buck in Talbot County.

Nonresident license: $155 with deer stamp
410-260-8100; www.dnr.state.md.us

4. Virginia (Shenandoah Valley)
Superior genetics, limestone-laced soil, intense farming of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa-plus over a million acres of public land available in the George Washington National Forest-make this 200-mile-long valley a prime destination for hunters after old, gnarly-racked bucks.

"These national forest lands have actually seen a decline in hunters," according to deer program supervisor Matt Knox. That has allowed even more bucks to reach old age.

Nontypicals scoring 211 and 2493/8 were taken from Rockingham County in the Shenandoah Valley. The current state No. 1 typical, a massive 1886/8 net 10-pointer, was shot by Gene Wilson in Shenandoah County in 1985. A buck that claimed the spot as the No. 1 nontypical in the world for blackpowder was shot by James Smith in 1992 on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge-one of the two mountain chains that form the Shenandoah Valley. With a 30-inch spread and 30 points, it scored a whopping 2574/8.

Lots of deer in this region feed in the valley on crops, then head up to the cover and inaccessibility of the forest during the day. Setting up a stand along these travel routes from the low farmland to the mountain ridges is a great way to intercept a buck. Best bets: Augusta, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Page, and Warren Counties.

Nonresident license: $140
804-367-1000; www.dgif.state.va.us

** 5. Ohio (Southeast)**
This part of Ohio leads in several categories. "Counties in District 4 (southeast Ohio) have the highest deer densities (20 to 30 per square mile) and the highest deer harvests," says wildlife research biologist Mike Reynolds. "The region also has a higher percentage of mature bucks in the harvest. Counties with the most entries in the Buckeye Big Bucks Club include Muskingum, Licking, Hocking, Athens, and Coshocton."

With a limit of just one buck per season, hunters take numerous does, keeping the buck-to-doe ratio low. That, along with rich soils, steep hills, and mixed farm and hardwood habitat, makes this region a strong producer of bucks in the 130 to 150 class. Reynolds says more hunters are passing up young bucks, too. "Last year less than 60 percent of the buck harvest was yearlings, down from 70 percent in years past."

Wayne National Forest offers public hunting on over 200,000 acres; focus on white oak stands. Other productive public lands include Tri-Valley in Muskingum County, Egypt Valley in Belmont County, and Zaleski State Forest in Vinton County.

Recent record bucks from southeast Ohio include a 1875/8 typical from Pickaway County and a 2125/8 nontypical from Licking County.

Nonresident license: $111
800-945-3543; www.dnr.state.oh.us

6. Kentucky (Eastern)
Trophy deer hunters were surprised when a 2042/8 net typical-the fifth biggest in the world-was taken in Kentucky in 2000. Yet that is just one of 20-plus B&C; bucks being tagged annually here. And just this past year, Benjamin Brogle of Lancaster took the biggest nontypical ever in the state-a 2601/8 giant (see "Biggest Buck of the Year" on page 65)-and the biggest buck known by B&C; officials to have been taken last season. Count the state's one-buck limit as one reason. Another is a growing herd that has not overpopulated its habitat.

A record-book trophy could be taken anywhere in the state. "Over 60 counties have produced B&C; bucks," says state biologist John Phillips.

While there are more whitetails in western counties, for the best chance at a trophy, head east. "This area has the highest percentage of older bucks," says wildlife division director Jon Gassett. For public-land hunting, try Daniel Boone National Forest, with over 600,000 acres of mountainous big-woods habitat.

Nonresident license: $140
800-858-1549; www.kdfwr.state.ky.us

7. Georgia (Upper Coastal Plain)
It's fitting that the Quality Deer Management Association (www.qdma.com) is headquartered in Georgia. The first countywide QDM regulation ever to be enforced was in Dooly County, where a minimum 15-inch spread is required for bucks to be legal. Now six counties in the state follow QDM rules. Food plots are also used extensively; one helped to nurture a 214 nontypical that was killed last year near Pine Mountain. Although many areas produce trophies, the Upper Coastal Plain-a diagonal band stretching across the south-central part of the state below Macon-is the most consistent region for older bucks.

"Good overall soil quality means not only that crops do well, but the naturally occurring vegetation is of good quality, too," says senior wildlife biologist Scott McDonald. "Combine good nutrition with low deer densities (20 to 35 per square mile), large land holdings, and low hunter pressure and you have the ingredients for growing big deer."

While much of this region is private, McDonald points to Di-Lane, Ocmulgee, and Flint River WMAs as good public lands for older bucks.

Nonresident license: $177
770-414-3333; www.dnr.state.ga.us

8. Alabama (Black Belt)
Alabama hunters used to pride themselves on the number of bucks they bagged, sometimes taking full advantage of the "buck a day" limit to kill 10 or more in a season. That attitude has changed, particularly in the Black Belt region south and west of Montgomery, including Sumter, Pickens, Greene, Marengo, Hale, Dallas, Wilcox, Perry, Lowndes, Montgomery, Bullock, Macon, Barbour, and Russell Counties.

"Many of the hunting clubs and larger land holders in this region have adopted the management philosophy of harvesting antlerless deer and letting younger bucks walk," says Chris Cook, deer studies project leader. "Bucks harvested on these properties tend to be 3-plus years of age." lly here. And just this past year, Benjamin Brogle of Lancaster took the biggest nontypical ever in the state-a 2601/8 giant (see "Biggest Buck of the Year" on page 65)-and the biggest buck known by B&C; officials to have been taken last season. Count the state's one-buck limit as one reason. Another is a growing herd that has not overpopulated its habitat.

A record-book trophy could be taken anywhere in the state. "Over 60 counties have produced B&C; bucks," says state biologist John Phillips.

While there are more whitetails in western counties, for the best chance at a trophy, head east. "This area has the highest percentage of older bucks," says wildlife division director Jon Gassett. For public-land hunting, try Daniel Boone National Forest, with over 600,000 acres of mountainous big-woods habitat.

Nonresident license: $140
800-858-1549; www.kdfwr.state.ky.us

7. Georgia (Upper Coastal Plain)
It's fitting that the Quality Deer Management Association (www.qdma.com) is headquartered in Georgia. The first countywide QDM regulation ever to be enforced was in Dooly County, where a minimum 15-inch spread is required for bucks to be legal. Now six counties in the state follow QDM rules. Food plots are also used extensively; one helped to nurture a 214 nontypical that was killed last year near Pine Mountain. Although many areas produce trophies, the Upper Coastal Plain-a diagonal band stretching across the south-central part of the state below Macon-is the most consistent region for older bucks.

"Good overall soil quality means not only that crops do well, but the naturally occurring vegetation is of good quality, too," says senior wildlife biologist Scott McDonald. "Combine good nutrition with low deer densities (20 to 35 per square mile), large land holdings, and low hunter pressure and you have the ingredients for growing big deer."

While much of this region is private, McDonald points to Di-Lane, Ocmulgee, and Flint River WMAs as good public lands for older bucks.

Nonresident license: $177
770-414-3333; www.dnr.state.ga.us

8. Alabama (Black Belt)
Alabama hunters used to pride themselves on the number of bucks they bagged, sometimes taking full advantage of the "buck a day" limit to kill 10 or more in a season. That attitude has changed, particularly in the Black Belt region south and west of Montgomery, including Sumter, Pickens, Greene, Marengo, Hale, Dallas, Wilcox, Perry, Lowndes, Montgomery, Bullock, Macon, Barbour, and Russell Counties.

"Many of the hunting clubs and larger land holders in this region have adopted the management philosophy of harvesting antlerless deer and letting younger bucks walk," says Chris Cook, deer studies project leader. "Bucks harvested on these properties tend to be 3-plus years of age."