If my math is correct, the regular big game season opens in just a couple or so weeks.
On that day, tens of thousands of hunters will take to the fields and woods in search of excitement and with the hope of bagging some fine, quality meat for the freezer.
While most of those hunters will probably be willing to settle for getting a clear shot at any legal deer, others will have a special mind-set. They will be out in search of that very special trophy deer.
Exactly what constitutes a “trophy” deer is a hard question to answer, especially since each hunter has his or her own opinion and personal standards. The large majority of “horn” hunters will settle for taking a buck deer with clearly visible antlers.
A few require the presence of eight or 10 antler points in order to fulfill their personal trophy requirements, even if the overall rack is only a foot to 14 inches wide.
But a very few others require just a tad more.
A really big rack of antlers usually fits the trophy definition for most hunters. For them anything with a Boone and Crockett (and NY) score of 140 or more points fills the bill. The largest deer ever taken in New York, a 14-point monster with a B&C score of 198 3/8 points, is a true trophy that anyone would be proud to have hanging on their wall.
It was killed in 1939 by Roosevelt Luckey in Allegheny County. (The current world record typical white tail deer was killed in 1992 in Saskatchewan, Canada.)
How to find the big trophy deer?
Exactly what is required to hunt and take a trophy deer with a rack that scores more than 140 B&C points? After talking with several professional hunting guides and hunters who have actually bagged large bucks I believe the general formula might be one-third hunting skills, one-third pre-season preparation and scouting, and one-third good luck.
And no hunter can discount any of those factors without seriously diminishing his or her chances for admission into this ultra-exclusive club.
Of all the thousands of bucks killed in New York State during the past 100 years, only a few have qualified for inclusion in the NY or Boone and Crockett Record Books. The minimum qualifying score for the B&C listing is currently 165 points.
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The New York State Big Buck Club (BBC) has around 300 bucks listed, mainly because their minimum acceptable score is 140 B&C points.
Knowing where to hunt is one of the keys to success when a NYBBC type trophy is the quarry. Obtaining a copy of that organization’s trophy book is a good start.
The counties where the listed deer were bagged are also included. And based on that data, the place to begin looking would be in Steuben, Livingston, Cattaraugus, Wyoming, Genesee or Allegany counties. Those six counties account for over 40 percent of all the reported trophy deer ever taken in this state.
But I know from my own experience that there are really big trophy deer to be found in every corner of western New York. I have seen live deer sporting a forest of antlers in Wayne (Towns of Galen, Savannah), Seneca (Towns of Romulus, Ovid), and Yates (Towns of Potter, Middlesex, Jerusalem, Torrey and Benton) counties.
All any deer needs to live a long life besides good genes is a safe haven to hide in when the hunters are afield.
Another region of the state that has accounted for the largest deer taken during the past few big game seasons is in the Adirondacks region, and especially the backwoods areas of Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. The Adirondacks are one of the very few regions on the eastern US where a deer can actually spend its entire life without ever seeing a human being.
Hunting there successfully can be a rough and tough proposition, but it can be done by anyone dedicated to hunting trophy deer.
Are you too late already?
Dedicated trophy hunters should have already begin their pre-season scouting. Driving back roads in farm or timbered country, both early and late, will result in seeing lots of deer, and even some nice bucks.
Once the majority of leaves are off the trees, usually in late October, pre-season scouting from views with binoculars or a good spotting scope, both early and late during any day, is another good way to locate big bucks. The hour beginning at first light and the last hour of daylight are the times when the big bucks are most likely to be on the move and therefore more visible.
On-site inspection of the actual woodland range of a trophy is only a follow-up to the visual scouting. But it is equally important, mainly because it serves to pinpoint the best stand or ambush locations for that particular deer.
still need skill
Good hunting skills are an absolute necessity once the hunting season arrives. Besides having several stands that could prove productive based on the knowledge obtained during the pre-season scouting trips, it is important that the hunter understand scent management and other key skills that cost countless hunters their chance at a trophy deer before they even suspected one was in their vicinity.
The wind is by far the whitetail deer’s best friend. It will tell him everything he needs to know about what lies upwind from wherever he happens to be.
Patience is another key tool for every hunter. Being able to spend every possible moment actually hunting, and being able to remain alert during that time, is critically important.
Daydreaming or taking a short nap has probably cost more hunters their chance at a big deer than any other reason.
Remember that every one of the biggest trophy bucks has a specific place or several specific places where it can run to and know that it is safe. Such a safe haven might be a patch of posted property, a steep side-hill thicket, or even a tiny patch of brush in the middle of an open field.
There will also be several escape routes available in those havens that will be utilized at the first sign of danger.
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky
Are there any shortcuts to bagging a real trophy buck? Most shortcuts such as night hunting or hunting before the season actually opens or is closed are, of course, strictly illegal.
The only legal shortcut that hunters might take advantage of is one they cannot rely on — blind good luck. Most often this involves one hunter causing the big buck to run in front of another hunter.
But since big bucks are masters of patience themselves, this is unlikely. Most often they will simply lay down and allow the hunter to pass by without ever knowing they were even in the area.
There is no game animal in the world that is more difficult to hunt than a mature whitetail buck. It is intimately aware of its entire home range, and it not only knows where safety can be found, but how to reach that safety without exposing itself to additional dangers. And since few of these big old boys make any mistakes, maybe that is why, during any given deer season, only a dozen or so really big bucks are actually taken by hunters.
But remember, since there are a few really big bucks bagged each hunting season, that is proof that the big ones are still out there, just waiting to match wits with us mortals.
Len Lisenbee is the Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at [email protected]