The Biggest Early-Season Bucks of 2021
Five 200-plus inchers, a 190-class typical, one crazy cactus buck, and a whole lot more incredible deer already tagged this season
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Every year, we run a gallery of whopper early-season bucks, and I always take the opportunity to remind the surprisingly large number of deer hunters who never the woods until November that the early season is one of the best times to hang a tag on a monster. I hope the message has gotten through and that more of you took advantage of this season’s first opportunity. But for any of you hold outs, this year’s crop of early-season giants should change your mind for 2022. A lot of great bucks have already hit the dirt. Here are some of the very biggest.
1) Monster Velvet Muley
Saskatchewan teen Audrey Ediger and her dad first spotted this buck in late august and went every morning and night to scout the monster until opening day. “I spent the first three days of bow season at school before I could hunt on Sunday,” says Ediger, 14. “We found the buck we’d been watching, and then started our stalk through a canola field. After finding a sprayer track, we followed it to within 35 yards, then settled in to wait.” And it was a long one. “Finally, after four hours, he stood up and browsed to within 30 yards, and I let my arrow fly!” Audrey used a Diamond Edge 320 compound bow to kill her velvet giant, which green grossed 251-4/8 B&C and will rank among the top velvet muleys killed in the province.
2) The Prodigal Buck
Mark Drury is as adept at reading big buck behavior as he is famous for killing those deer. “We started getting velvet pics of this deer in 2018, when he was 3½ years old,” Drury says. “But he would disappear from my farm almost as soon as he shed velvet. So, when he showed up again this summer, I felt he would repeat the pattern he’d exhibited for the last three seasons.” Drury was pleasantly surprised when he started getting hard-antler pics of him in the middle and latter parts of September. The buck did vanish on September 30, however, and Drury assumed he’d moved to wherever his rut range was and wouldn’t return. But then he got another pleasant surprise. “I got a pic of him on the night of October 6. We decided to give him a try the next day, on a Biologic Deer Radish plot, and I was amazed when he showed up.” Drury’s prodigal buck grossed 216⅝ inches and is his second-largest buck ever.
3) The Early-Season Triple
Wisconsin hunter Brandon Wikman kicked off his 2021 season by traveling to Kansas to take advantage of their early muzzleloader season. “I hunted with a long-time friend David Schotte of Blue River Whitetails in Kansas,” Wikman says. “Although this particular buck was quite consistent on trail cameras while in velvet, he began altering his pattern after velvet shed. When I arrived on the opening day of early muzzleloader season, the deer was bedding in a small block of timber surrounded by soybeans. I was pretty confident that I’d get a crack at him with enough time put in a stand overlooking beans. On the first evening, he stepped out and I killed him after only a 2-hour hunt.” Wikman’s Kansas buck green grossed 174 inches and is pictured in the lower left in the photo collage above.
Wikman didn’t have to wait long for his Wisconsin buck either. “I didn’t hunt the archery season opener because it was so warm. I waited for a pending cold front to slip into a stand that I knew was close to where this buck was bedding. I sat in the stand for no more than 20 minutes before I killed him at 20 yards.” That buck rough-scored 150 inches and is on the lower right above.
Then Wikman turned his attention to Illinois for their October 1 bow opener. “The buck on my mind was well-known in the neighborhood as ‘All Star,’ but I just referred to him as ‘Brows,’ considering his unusually unique set of brow tines. I’d made the trip to Illinois three times to replant food plots, which were getting destroyed by army worms. I finally got a crop of brassicas to grow, and he began feeding in the plot on a semi-consistent basis. The day I went in for the kill was rainy and overcast, and he stepped out at 42 yards with a few does.” Wikman made good on the shot, and the buck green grossed 187-4/8. It’s the towering typical at top in the collage above.
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4) The Second-Chance Slammer
Kentucky hunter Brandon Williams decided to pass up a 30-yard shot on this buck on opening day of the 2020 bow season. “He disappeared for a while, but then a farm hand found one of his sheds earlier this year,” Williams says. “I started getting trail cams out in June of this year and immediately got pics of him. I watched him grow all summer.” On opening day of bow season, Williams got into his stand at about 4:30 and had a three hour wait before things got interesting. “He came through about 7:30, and I made good on the 12-yard shot.” The buck is a main-frame 12-point with two kickers on his left side and grossed 184⅞ inches.
5) The Long-Shot Trophy
Thanks to some careful preseason practice, Canadian native Lane Hodnefield was totally prepped for a giant-buck encounter on the Saskatchewan archery opener. “I’d been watching this buck since mid-August, and I regularly practiced shots from 80 yards away,” he says. But when Hodnefield spotted the buck at half that distance on September 15, things didn’t turn out as he’d hoped.
“My first shot from 40 yards hit some brush,” he says. When the buck trotted to a distant hill, Hodenfield followed after him. “I ran to the same hill he did and took a longer, 85-yard shot and came up with a trophy. I was with my best hunting buddy, Cody Hutchinson, and it was a pretty special day for both of us.” Hodenfield’s buck grossed 222-1/8, which included 57 inches of abnormal points.
6) The Quadruple-Drop Giant
“I honestly don’t know how exactly to score a buck like this guy,” says Ben Maki, father of teenager Hawkins Maki, who arrowed the buck pictured above. “He has four drop tines, several nontypical characteristics, and even a little white velvet. He’s been on our farm for a few years, but his rack went crazy this year. My son Hawkins saw the first trail camera pictures and was dead set on targeting him. On opening day of Kentucky bow season, Hawkins let five other bucks pass until this impressive deer showed up. He made a great shot and the blood trail was extremely short. Hard to top that for a first bow kill!”
7) The Surprise Booner
No one was more surprised than Evan Emerson when his trail cams revealed the presence of a monster whitetail on the farm his family owns. “Honestly we just randomly got him on camera,” Emerson says. “We knew the neighbor had him on camera and figured out where he was bedded.” But when Emerson got pics on his property, he hunted the area as soon as he could. “I sat in a patch of grass, and he came out at 90 yards. So I set up closer the next day, and he walked right down the same trail at the same time.”
Emerson made a solid bow shot, and then the work began. “We have a river nearby, and he ran right toward it and died right there in the water,” Emerson says. “Seriously, North Dakota is famous for being flat, but I’ve never worked harder than I did getting that buck dragged out of that water.” Emerson’s buck has 11 abnormal points and rough-scored 185 B&C.
8) The Tall Boy
The Virtue TV show host, noted whitetail expert, and good friend Phillip Vanderpool posted pics of this incredible buck and congratulated his buddy Kinzer Knust in the Facebook post above. As far as we have been able to learn, Knust’s Iowa buck has not been scored yet, but should flirt with the 190-inch mark.
9) The Buffalo County Bruiser
We don’t have much detail on this Wisconsin giant, but we do know this: Kurt Hurlburt was hunting in Buffalo County the evening of September 25 when this incredible buck walked into bow range. The buck is said to have 30-inch main beams and gross 193 B&C. We will update this one as soon as we have more information.
10) The Hot-Wired Whopper
Plentiful roosters are only one benefit to hunting South Dakota pheasants; you might also spot a world-class whitetail. That’s what Mike Beadle did last fall, when he laid eyes on a giant buck while chasing birds. Beadle hung trail cams early this summer and zeroed in on the buck, then spent the first week of the archery season hunting the monster. On September 12 Beadle was set up in a shelterbelt when the buck walked into bow range. Along with the tangle of fence wire, the buck sported 26 scorable points, including double drop tines. The monster green grossed 218⅞ inches and netted 209⅞, which could place the buck among the top-three bowkilled nontyps in the state record book.
11) The Heat-Wave Hog
It may have been warm for the Kansas early muzzleloader season, but Blake Lassiter had a target deer on his mind. “My cousin originally spotted a buck while checking oil wells about two weeks before the season began,” he says. “We set up a camera in the approximate location. My dad got a picture of him a week before the opening day, and we decided to make him the priority.”
While Lassiter worried about the weather on opening day, he went ahead and hunted the Kansas farm owned by his cousin. “When I got to the blind about 3:30 on opening day, the temperature was 97 degrees, but the wind was perfect,” he recalls. “Initially, I saw several does and yearlings, as well as one small 8-pointer.
Late in afternoon, a few does came in to graze, and finally, with only about 10 minutes left of legal light, a group of four bucks waltzed in. “Two of the bucks looked like they’d score 130 or less, and one was about a 140-inch 8-pointer. Then I saw the left side of what looked like a monster 8-pointer. That’s when he turned, and I saw the main beams almost touch. I knew it was the big buck. He turned quartering to me, and I had just enough light to be sure it was him.”
Three seconds after firing, Lassiter heard a loud crash. The big buck dropped only 20 yards from where Lassiter shot him, and the Missouri resident had a trophy he’d never forget—a 12-point buck that had two kickers on his left brow, a busted G4 on the left side, and palmation on several tines. The Kansas giant green-grossed 172-4/8.
12) The Youth-Season Slammer
It’s always cool when your kid kills a buck with more tines than there are candles on his birthday cake. Long-time Drury Outdoors pro-staffer Eric Bothun took his son out for Iowa’s youth season in the northeast part of the state. Trevyn, 6, kept his cool when this huge-bodied 12-point appeared and made a great shot.
13) Tines for Days
There are higher-scoring bucks in this gallery, but no other almost-perfectly-clean 9-points that score 164¾. Heath Rayfield was on a Kansas early muzzleloader hunt at Double Nickel LLC, with his good friends Cody and Kelsy Nickels, when he tagged the tall-racked giant.
“I was hunting on the fourth day of the muzzleloader season,” Rayfield says. “I saw the buck go to bed early that morning, so I slipped in that afternoon with my turkey chair and CVA Paramount .40-caliber in hand. I settled in on a small hill out in the CRP grass.”
As the sun hung on the horizon, Rayfield spotted the buck. “I saw him coming through the grass, and he heading straight for me,” he says. Rayfield made good on the shot and tagged a Kansas giant that had only a 15-inch spread, but 25-inch main beams, 13-inch G2s, and over 45 inches of mass measurements.
14) The Cactus Georgia Giant
I suppose there are crazier-racked wild bucks out there, but we didn’t find any for this gallery. Benny Overholt’s early-season Georgia buck might stymie most B&C measurers, but that doesn’t stop it from being one incredible whitetail.
15) World-Class Class
We know what you’re thinking: there’s no way this is a wild buck, so what’s it doing in a gallery full of them? Well, here’s why. The hunter, Blake Keating, handled the situation perfectly. Keating’s trail cams started lighting up with pics of the monstrous buck in summer, and while he wondered if the buck might not be wild, the deer wore no ear tag, had no obvious split in the ear, nor had any other signs of being from a game farm. And there’s no doublt insanely huge nontyps do exist in the wild. He patterned the buck and made the kill. When word of his buck spread, Keating finally learned the buck’s history and never tried to pass him off as anything but what he was. Officials at B&C learned of the buck and noted that while they obviously couldn’t accept the buck in the record book, they commended Keating for getting the buck out of the wild herd.