“It was kind of amazing that I even kept those antlers,” says Wayne Stewart of the rack from the buck he took as a teenager walking through brush on a deer drive in Kittson County back in 1961. “At that time people didn’t pay much attention to horns. We knew they were big but didn’t know anything about scoring or how they would rank.”

Turns out those “horns” had 14 points, 26-inch main beams, and incredible mass-enough to rank ninth in the world record book today at 201 B&C;, and second in Minnesota. The state’s top deer, John Breen’s 202, came from Beltrami County, also in northern Minnesota.

Bucks in this wild north country grow big partly because of the lightly hunted, remote land, and partly due to a cold-climate adaptive mechanism (known as Bergmann’s rule). St. Louis County, east of where Stewart bagged his massive typical, has produced more than 60 B&C; bucks. Recent records include a 1797/8 typical from Beltrami County in 2001 and a 2121/8 nontypical from Koochiching County in 2000. “The winters of 1995¿¿¿96 and ’96¿¿¿97 were severe, but since then they have mostly been very mild,” says research biologist Mark Lenarz. “The deer have recovered strongly, maybe too strongly. We might have trouble controlling them.”

Lenarz estimates that 60 to 70 percent of northern Minnesota is open for public hunting-literally millions of acres. Much of it lies in Superior and Chippewa National Forests, but large state forests and timber-company lands offer thousands of additional acres. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area has true wilderness hunting, but be careful, says Lenarz: “You might canoe in and find your path frozen before you plan to paddle out.”

Nonresident license: $126