The Deer of Buffalo County

The best place on the entire planet to find wild, unfarmed whitetail deer with freakishly large antlers is Buffalo County, Wisconsin.  It’s a small county of only 684 square miles. It has only one stoplight.  But somehow it has yielded more record-book bucks than any other county in America.  Only two or three entire states can match it. 

In much of America, deer are now the single greatest driver of the rural real estate market.  Buffalo County, however, is the most extreme example anywhere.  And rather unfairly for landowners just across the county line, the prices stop there—even though the bucks don’t.  Although even Buffalo County’s market has cooled during the past couple years, you’d still have made an excellent long-term investment if you were at this moment sitting on a couple thousand acres of prime Buffalo County hunting land.

The guy in that photo to the right is Stu Hagen, a Buffalo County Realtor who’s also an avid deer hunter.  He’s a great guy, and he was one of my key sources when I researched this chapter of Deerland.  You can find a few of his current listings here, and you can also find several of his deer in the Boone & Crockett (B&C) or Pope & Young (P&Y) record books.  Seriously.  Several.  You would not want this guy’s taxidermy bills.

No matter where you go in Deerland, there’s just no place like Buffalo County.  Over the past couple years I’ve spent a total of almost two weeks there.  During that time I’ve interviewed Realtors, guides, outfitters, farmers, hunters, agronomists, and wildlife managers.  I’m excited about telling their story.  It’s going to make for a fascinating chapter, and the Buffalo County story is almost worthy of a whole book all by itself.

I’ve talked to the guides and outfitters most responsible for putting Buffalo County on the map, and I’ve learned that it didn’t happen all that long ago.  In the years since, the county’s notoriety hasn’t been an unmitigated blessing for everyone; all those big bucks being spent in pursuit of big bucks have had some unintended consequences.  Those consequences are part of the Buffalo County story, too. 

Still, it’s a fascinating place.  I was especially curious to learn the secret of just what it is that makes Buffalo County the best place on earth to find trophy whitetails.  The Quality Deer Management (QDM) movement is only part of the story.  After all, QDM advocates are applying the same concepts all over North America, but rarely achieving the same results.  The potential just isn’t there.

The same is true of food plots like the one Stu is standing beside.  Like QDM, they’re a trend that has only swept through Buffalo County during the past ten or fifteen years.  Gigantic bucks with massive antlers were already being dragged out of these coulees 150 years ago.  There’s something magic that made Buffalo County what it is, and it’s still there.  I’ll tell you more later.

Stay tuned…

© 2011 Al Cambronne

Author: alcambronne

Retired photographer, author, and cancer survivor living in northwest Wisconsin.

6 thoughts on “The Deer of Buffalo County”

  1. It’s good to know that there are trophy deer still in the wild, free of genetic manipulation, high fences and mineral supplements. I can imagine the unintended consequences, but will be interest in what you found.

    1. Yes, it was only at the last minute I realized I needed to add some qualifiers to that first sentence. Mutant farmed deer are a whole different beast.

  2. Just a query – is there anything to indicate that soil type could be a factor? I’m thinking of the roe deer on the chalk downs in Wiltshire, England (chalk soil, mineral-rich) that produce big-antlered animals, but the antlers aren’t very dense. Farther west on our mixed soil, the heads don’t grow as big but the density of the antler is very good.

    1. Well, there goes that secret. You’re exactly right. One of those “agronomists” I talked with was actually a soil scientist. Although you’ll hear many other theories in local taverns, the secret of Buffalo County is the soil itself. It takes magic dirt to make all those magic antlers. Actually, though, it’s not magic. It’s only limestone with just the right ratio of calcium to magnesium.

      The explanation is simple enough. But I found the consequences for the people of Buffalo County, even the ones who don’t hunt or own farmland, were far from simple. So even though we’ve spilled the beans on the limestone, there’s still plenty of the story left to tell.

  3. Oh Al – I’m so sorry! Only I could manage to put my foot in my mouth via computer.

    I’m going to hold the rest of my questions until the next post. I’m looking forward to reading the findings in detail. I bet the stories in the local tavern are wild and exciting too!

    1. No problem, Jen! That whole limestone thing was bound to come out sooner or later anyway. And like I said, there’s still more to the story. P.S. — Just visited your blog this morning, and it looks as though you have some good stories of your own…

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