Sure the rut is exciting, and, yeah, early-season deer can be naive and predictable, but when it comes to shooting the biggest bucks, December and January more than hold their own. Cold and snow make northern bucks—especially those old warriors that are not easily fooled—hungry and vulnerable like no other time of the season. And across much of the South, rut activity is just getting good. All this means that the tail-end of the whitetail season can cough up some absolute giants, and the bucks that follow—including four 200-plus-inch whitetails—serve as proof.
Buck #1: Manure-Spreader Monster
Randy Hunter’s original plan was to hunt a field-edge fence row. But when he got to his spot, he heard a loud noise and looked up to see a farmer spreading fertilizer in the field. So, he decided to hunt a nearby treestand instead.
Hunter was well aware of a giant neighborhood buck known as “Ivory”, but the deer’s core area was on neighboring property, and he didn’t entertain serious thoughts about killing the local legend. “I’d been sitting in the stand for 45 minutes when I saw a doe come out with a huge buck following her,” he says. “Then it hit me, THIS IS IVORY!—the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in 40 years of hunting—and he’s coming my way.” When the big buck stepped out for a clear shot, it looked toward the treestand, stomped, and blew twice—just as Hunter shot. “When the smoke cleared, I could see him running tail-down toward the woods. But I wasn’t sure I’d hit him.”
Hunter called his son to help recover the buck, but when they found no blood or sign of the deer, he started to worry. “As I’m looking I’m thinking, I just missed the biggest buck I’ll ever get a chance at. I was feeling sick when my son hollered at me: ’I got him Dad! Get over here!’
“It’s funny how things work out,” says Hunter. “If it hadn’t been for the farmer spreading fertilizer, I’d have never seen Ivory.” The heavy-racked buck sported 17 scoreable points and had main beams over 26 inches; it gross-scored 225-4/8.
Buck #2: Towering Typical
Minnesota whitetail nut Mike Degeus is no stranger to chasing big deer, but a clean typical on his property was proving to be especially tough. “In 2018, we had the deer on trail cam in summer until he went hard horned, and then he left,” the hunter recalls. “We targeted him all fall, but never saw him until the last week of December. In 2019 we didn’t even have a picture of him until the last week of December. We have a 3-acre bean plot set up for late-season hunting that he would come back to at the end of the season.
In 2020, Degeus and his hunting partners I had zero pics of the big deer, and they were told that the buck was shot about midway through the archery season. “I figured he was dead,” he says. During an extended CWD season that pushed into January, Degeus was hoping to see a mid-150s 10-point that he had on camera all fall. “I was sitting on that bean plot, and the 15 deer already feeding there all looked up at once—and 30 seconds later a big buck stepped into view.” Degeus made good on the shot, and when he walked up on the deer, he realized it was the tall 10.” I really wanted to get a crack at him but didn’t give it very high odds. I just kept grinding I guess.”
Buck #3: South-Texas Toad
Patient is a virtue, which was demonstrated by Brian Rose last month, when he harvested a buck in South Texas on December 19th, the final evening of his hunt. Rose was hunting at the Lonesome Hollow Ranch when the giant buck came out of the South Texas brush right as the sun was setting. “I was hunting in a small field in a mesquite tree with a lock-on stand,” Rose says. “The buck first came in about 30 yards away from me and began to chase one of a group of does out in the field.” The doe led the big buck closer to where Rose waited, and then something spooked the big deer right into Rose’s shooting lane. As the deer was looking across the field in the opposite direction, Rose hit him with a perfect quartering-away shot. “I could not believe what I saw as I came up on him,” Rose says. “The giant drop tine looked like an extra beam. He had a 30-inch beam and scored 226-2/8. The interesting thing is the buck hadn’t been seen out in the field or on camera for at least a month. “I’m glad he decided to reappear at last light that night,” Rose laughs.
Buck #4: Extra-Wide Eight
In addition to being a new mom, Dawn Jensen makes her second appearance in this space, this season. Jensen put her hubby on baby patrol while she enjoyed some muzzleloader hunting in the last days of the Hawkeye State season. “I knew generally where this 5½-year-old buck liked to hang on our farm, and I’d even seen him once on the hoof on Christmas Eve,” she says. “Legal shooting light was closing in on me then, and I was self-filming that hunt, so I gave him a pass and let him walk out of my life.”
As the season was was coming to a close, Jensen grabbed her gear and headed out to a blind in the early afternoon. “The snow was loud, and I thought I scared everything in the section away. As I approached the blind, I was shocked to see that there were deer already out feeding.” As she climbed the blind ladder, she noticed there were bucks out there, too. “I quietly snuck into the blind, pulled out my binos, and identified the wide 8-point I was after. I had to set up all my camera equipment, load the gun, and open the windows—all while praying he didn’t feed off or spook.” She was able to do it all—and make the shot.
Buck #5: Iowa Dream Buck
“I’m on top of the world right now,” says Arkansas native Doug Hampton after tagging a giant Iowa buck that eluded him for two seasons. Hampton got his first look at the big deer two years ago when it was a 170-class 3½-year-old. “Last year, there were no pictures of him, and zero sightings,” Hampton recalls. “That made me unsure about passing him up the first time!”
However, the big deer was back in the summer of 2020. Four days into his hunt, Hampton decided to move his treestand, and it paid off. “I had a sneaky suspicion he bedded down in the deepest ditch in the woods,” the hunter says. “Sure enough, here he came out of that ditch in the afternoon and took my breath away.” But when Hampton ran his grunt call to lure the buck closer, he got spotted by a nearby doe and a yearling deer. The doe immediately jumped backward and started hoof-stomping, and Hampton knew it was now or never. “The buck started heading for the downwind side of the doe and stopped broadside at 80 yards,” Hampton says. “I raised the gun, cocked the hammer, took off the safety, and readied for the shot of a lifetime.”
The deer crumpled at the shot, and Hampton walked up to a buck that sported 28 scoreable points. “I actually didn’t sleep much that night,” he laughs. “I was afraid to wake up to find it had all been a dream!”
Buck #6: Deep-South Dandy
Austin Ashley of Raleigh, Mississippi, had to wait a bit for his 2020 Christmas present, but the buck he tagged on December 29 was worth it. Ashley and his family had been chasing a buck they’d nicknamed “Dagger” since 2018. “I hunted him hard that fall, but like most old bucks, he was elusive,” Ashley says. “But during the fall of 2019, he just turned into a ghost. We only had one trail-cam pic of him the whole season. The only way we knew it was him for sure was because of a dagger-like tine on his right main beam.”
When Ashley started the 2020 hunt for Dagger, it took some scouting and a well-placed trail camera before he could figure out where Dagger was hiding. “He was using a specific spot we don’t go into much, and he just wasn’t coming out into the fields,” he says. “I walked into that spot and didn’t want to do anything to make it look different, so I sat down against the side of a big tree.” When Dagger appeared, Ashley’s nerves kicked in. “I was shaking like a leaf,” he laughs. “When I called my dad and my wife after I’d shot, they couldn’t understand a word I was saying because I was so excited. We unofficially scored him at 214. He may be a little more or less, but he’s a big buck either way.”
Buck #7: Second-Sit Stud
Minnesota hunter Kyle Dulek had a simple goal when he headed out for a December muzzleloader hunt. “I’d already shot two really nice bucks (Minnesota allows group bagging under its new CWD rules), so I was after a nice doe that might win our group’s big-doe contest,” Dulek says. “But I decided to head to a stand where I’d hunted a monster buck the fall before. I’d had one pic of him in 2018, and he looked huge then. In 2019 I had lots of pics of him in what I figured was his core area, and I hunted him hard all that fall, but he disappeared. I think I pushed him a little too hard. This year I only hunted that stand one time and waited for the perfect wind. I didn’t see him, but that’s the stand I picked for the muzzleloader doe hunt.”
Dulek settled in at 2:30 and at 4:00 a small doe appeared. “She was around me forever, and finally I heard another deer approaching from behind. I could see it was a big-bodied deer, and when it stopped to work a scrape about 80 yards away I knew it was a buck. Finally he turned enough so I could see one side, and I didn’t need any more of a look than that.” When Dulek walked up to the buck, which sported 25 points and grossed 223-6/8, he recognized it immediately from the pictures. “I shot him with a Thompson/Center Omega that I won at a banquet,” he laughs. “It was the first deer I’d ever shot with it!”
Buck #8: Buckeye Public-Land Bruiser
Summer Hathaway has been making the trip from her Vermont home to hunt Ohio’s late-muzzleloader season for the last three years. “My dad goes down there every fall to bowhunt, and I go along when he returns for the muzzleloader season,” she says. “Dad had found a new area that looked really good, and we split up to cover it. He was still-hunting some high ground, and I was working along a creek bottom when I spotted some deer on the ridge above me.” Summer wasn’t sure if there was a buck in the group at first, so she snuck closer. “I was working toward them on my hands and knees and stopping to glass when I saw that one was a huge buck.” She steadied her gun against a tree and made the shot. “When my dad finally got there, he couldn’t believe the size of the buck! I shot the deer at about 1:30 p.m., and we didn’t get him back to the truck, which was 4½ miles away, until well after dark. But it was worth the effort!” Hathaway’s main-frame 6X6 grossed 194-4/8.
Buck #9: Sleepover Slammer
With the clock ticking on the Kansas archery season, Phillip Vanderpool knew he was going to have to get aggressive if he was going to get within bow range of “Hoss,” a mature buck he’d set his sights on for the fall. “I’d been hunting and managing this 43-acre property for five years and had never taken a buck off it,” he says. “I thought I’d have a good shot at Hoss as he was a pretty regular and visible visitor to the property, even though he was 5½ years old.” Vanderpool had actually seen the buck five different times during the season, but something always prevented him from getting a shot. With two days left, he knew he had to get aggressive, so he went to his blind on December 30 in the afternoon, prepared to stay overnight. “I knew I couldn’t get in there for a morning hunt without busting deer in the open terrain. Well, Hoss didn’t show that afternoon, so I tucked in my insulated bodysuit, settled in my chair, and slept overnight. It got down to 14 degrees, and I didn’t have a heater because I was worried about the scent scaring deer.”
Dawn broke, and while Vanderpool saw several deer, Hoss didn’t show. “I knew I had to stick it out, and about 11 in the morning, my wife Rhonda joined me in the blind. She told me something good was going to happen.” The afternoon was slow, but about 3:45, Vanderpool was filming a shed buck that walked past the blind when Rhonda said, “Buck coming!” Vanderpool looked up, and Hoss was walking in. “My heart was beating out of my chest. Hoss was on pins and needles, too, and I drew on him two different times. Finally he turned to leave, and I was able to make a perfect shot. I haven’t scored this old warrior, but I know he’s a gross B&C buck.”
Buck #10: Ghost Buster
The buck Myles Tomsche was chasing came by his nickname “Ghost” honestly. “I saw him once at a distance during the archery season in October,” Tomsche says. “I could tell he was nice, but I wasn’t sure how big. After that he kind of disappeared for awhile. Just before gun season, he and a doe ran by my stand one morning; they were getting chased by a coyote and moving pretty fast. Finally, I got a good picture of him on one of my cameras and realized he was really big!”
Tomsche’s chess match with the Ghost buck continued into the gun season. “On the last day, I saw him walking through a line of trees,” he says. “I got out of my stand and circled around to another stand get ahead of him. He was chasing does and little bucks all over around me, but I never could get a shot.” When the late-muzzleloader season came, Tomsche passed on a couple small bucks early. Finally, on the last morning, hunting from his favorite stand, he heard a deer coming before before legal light. Luckily, the big deer took his time closing the distance. After wiping his scope off twice, Tomsche was able to get the buck in the crosshairs and make a 70-yard quartering-away shot. “He was not a big-bodied deer at all, I doubt he weighed 180 pounds, so I guess that’s why I had such a hard time catching up with him; he’d been running does hard all fall.” Tomsche’s buck green-scored 195-4/8, had 17 scoreable points, and sported a 23¼-inch inside spread.
Buck #11: Matriarch’s Monster
Seventy-two-year-old Chris Dehner Thomson of Sperry, Iowa, completed a three-year chase of a big buck the family called “Torch.”. Her son, Ben Thomson, says his mom had been watching Torch grow since the deer was 2 years old. “She found his sheds as a 160-class 3-year-old,” he says. “Our neighbors were kind enough to give her Torch’s sheds as a 4-year-old, and she finally connected last fall.” Chris shot her trophy buck in southern Iowa on December 15 with a T/C muzzleloader. There’s no official score yet on Torch, but the family measured and came up with 183⅜ gross B&C on the big 5-year-old. Ben says the family had seen hundreds of trail-camera pictures of the deer over the last three years and that it’s a little bittersweet knowing that Torch won’t show up on the farm anymore, but they made a lifetime’s worth of memories talking about him.
“Time to start looking for a new one to watch grow,” Ben added.
Buck #12: Wheelie Bar Whopper
Roger Sapper is no stranger to this space; last year his Iowa buck was one of the better whitetails in our galleries. Well his return appearance features another dandy, a buck he named “Wheelie Bar” for the backwards-facing kicker point that reminded him of a wheelie bar on a drag racer. “I knew he was around last fall but wasn’t sure he’d be around this year,” Sapper says. “We’ve had EHD here so bad the last couple years, and it typically takes some of our nicest bucks. But he made it through, and when I saw him this year, I decided I was hunting him and no other.”
Sapper is a dedicated bowhunter, but Wheelie Bar was a tough customer during the archery season. “He bedded so close to my house, I honestly think he would have seen me if I left the yard and walked in his general direction,” Sapper laughs. “So I kind of backed off him until muzzleloader season. I hunted him one morning from a blind right in his area, but had no luck. That evening I went clear to the back end of the farm, got into another blind, and while the plot was filling up with deer, I spotted a small buck standing by a hedge tree I’d left in the middle of the plot for a scraping tree. I looked behind the small buck, and there stood Wheelie Bar. He must have dropped out of the sky, because I had no idea where he came from!” Sapper’s .45 caliber McWharton muzzleloader made easy work of the 100-yard shot, and within minutes he was holding the 181⅜-inch antlers of the 5-½ year old buck.
Buck #13: Ground Grower
Full disclosure: this buck was shot the last week of November, but we didn’t learn about it until Christmas, so we’re grandfathering it in. Jacob Petro had been chasing a giant buck in Washington County, Kansas, for the better part of two seasons before finally catching up to it on a late-November hunt. Petro had first seen the buck on his trail cams throughout the 2019 season but decided to let him grow a little before beginning the chase. “I knew he was goofy and one of a kind, but I never thought he’d go over 185,” he says. In 2020, Petro saw the buck chasing a doe on November 24th and drew him in close by creating a fake sequence of a doe in heat and two bucks trying to “win her over.” He did a couple quick grunts, added in a couple of roars, and then added two 10-second bursts of horn rattling. “He finally gave me a 27-yard shot,” Petro says, “but the day’s light rain began to turn into a heavier downpour, so we left him till the next day.” Petro took his dad with him to find the big buck, which scored 204-1/8 gross. “Completely unreal experience to have my dad there with me to share the excitement,” he says. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
Read Next: The Biggest Bucks of 2020
Buck #14: Just-What-I-Always-Wanted Buck
Danny John got an early Christmas present when he harvested a large buck near Laredo, Texas, on December 20. It wasn’t a chance encounter. “We had seen this buck a lot out in the open fields and on trail cameras,” John says. That morning, John headed out to sit in his pop-up blind, but didn’t anticipate the big buck coming out until the afternoon. “It only took about 40 minutes after I sat down in the blind for him to show up,” he recalls. “I looked across the timber and saw him walking up to the corn 30 yards in front of my blind.” John admits his adrenaline was pumping as he picked up his bow. “I made a mistake and rushed my shot,” he says. “The buck ducked but didn’t run away. He took a step back, and I hit him high and back.” After a long and diligent search, John said he “got lucky” and found the big boy in the brush by a road. The buck scored a 184⅜ B&C.