Will Rives cut his teeth hunting with his father, hitting the woods when he was 6 years old and killing his first deer with a bow on Oct. 25, 1985 - when he was 11.

"I just spiraled out of control from there," Rives said.

The now-37-year-old lives in the Mississippi Delta, and has honed his skills to the point that he has a closet full of antlers that aren't even mounted. And we're talking big racks that pretty much any hunter would display above the fireplace.

But, then again, the Natchez hunter is sorta used to seeing big racks. Rives lost a couple of 160-class trophies, along with a mess of other big sets of calcium, in a house fire a few years back.

Then there's the matter of his state-record 172 4/8-inch typical buck he arrowed last year in Jefferson County. That deer is the only archery kill in Mississippi to qualify for the Boone and Crockett Record Book.

Some might be tempted to just shrug off those kills as luck, but the fact is Rives has proven he knows his business with a bow because all of the bone hanging around his house.

"I used to shoot every deer that walked past me with a gun until I was 15 (years old)," he said.

That's when he decided it was time to up his game, concentrating on killing deer with a bow.

"To me, hunting is a sport," Rives said. "(Bow hunting is) an achievement in a way that only a true hunter can understand.

"Shooting a deer in a field, to me, isn't sporting. Not that I'm knocking anyone for doing it, but for me it's just not sporting."

It's been that single-minded purpose that has led to Rives' uncanny ability to put deer down with a stick and string. He doesn't just pick up his bow a few weeks before the opening of the season.

Instead, he shoots year round. And Rives believes that's absolutely crucial to success when he's faced with a shot on a trophy.

"The most important thing (about bow hunting) is having confidence in your equipment," Rives said. "You have to have confidence in your bow, your arrows, your stand, everything."

His confidence in his actual shooting is bolstered by his consistent practice and participation in competitions as a Bowie Outfitters shooter.

"It teaches you to shoot at a spot," Rives said. "To make your shot, you have to pick a spot and focus on that."

That keeps him focused on ensuring the arrow hits exactly where he wants, even when the deer he's gunning for has a huge mass of calcium bulging from its head.

But the confidence to which he depends isn't just on the mechanics of shooting. It also extends to his stand.

"You cannot climb 20 or 30 feet in a stand and not have confidence in it," Rives said. "If you don't have confidence in your stand, that adds to the nervousness - and you cannot be nervous when you're making a shot."

Oddly, however, Rives does very little preseason scouting because of the nature of his job as a farmer.

"I don't have time to get out in the woods early," he explained.

Other consistent bow hunters, like cousins Michael and Brian Burkley - who have arrowed some beasts in Jefferson County - said their preseason scouting is essential.

"If you can't find the big boys, you can't kill them," Michael Burkley said.

These two hunters spend most of their early hunting season sitting in ground blinds around agricultural fields on their property, so they spend time in the late summer watching what is going on there.

"We're glassing fields and using trail cameras to see where deer are coming from and how they're leaving the fields," Michael Burkley said.

The two hunters use spotting scopes, and stay as far from the field as 1,000 yards so they can watch deer without spooking them.

While Rives is prevented from doing a lot of summer scouting, there are benefits to his job that aid in his passion for hunting.

"What my work allows me to do is, in the summer, work on roads and in the fields, and I can look in the late summer and early fall at the acorn trees and persimmon trees and find what trees have acorns or persimmons."

That is crucial to his success because his main focus in the fall is on bushwacking bucks as they feed.

However, just because a tree is growing acorns doesn't mean it will be productive once hunting season rolls around.

"Every acorn has a different taste," Rives said. "Some deer prefer one acorn tree over another.

"Last season we had acorns rot on the ground; they just didn't want them."

So he goes beyond just scanning for mast on the ground. He looks for signs that deer are feeding. Crushed acorns and droppings are a dead giveaway that a tree holds succulent groceries.

"You can look at the sign, and it will tell you which one they prefer," he said.

All three hunters also said the early season is the absolute best time to take a big buck with a bow.

"You have crops (in the fields), so it's easier to pattern deer," Brian Burkley said. "During the rut, it's just luck; you're on a stand and a big deer happens to walk by."

Rives agreed with the assessment of the rut.

"The rut ain't no fun to hunt," he said. "You quit seeing does. You quit seeing bucks.

"During the rut, I just try to put myself in a position to where I will see deer."

But Rives said that, in the woods, predicting where deer will be on a given day is just impossible in rural Mississippi.

"I don't care what anybody says, in this part of the world, you can't pattern deer," Rives said. "You've just got so much habitat that they don't do the same thing day after day."

That's why he rarely uses trail cams, other than to find general areas holding big bucks.

"You can put up two cameras a quarter mile away from each other, and you'll get pictures on both cameras on the same days," Rives said. "How can you pattern a deer that is traveling that far?"

That's why he believes focusing on active feed trees is the best bet - because it at least provides a draw for deer.

But when it comes right down to it, Rives said, the real trick to putting yourself in the position to kill a mature buck is simple.

"Go whenever you can," Rives said. "If it's 65 degrees and the mosquitoes are out, you're not going to kill them by going to the house.

"Any time you can sit in the stand increases your odds of killing a deer."

There are key times, however.

"Any difference in the weather will get deer up and moving," Rives said. "If you've got cold weather for four or five days, deer will lay up. Then you get a warm spell, it causes deer to get back on their feet and start moving again."

Even if he doesn't get a shot, he often picks up information that helps with later hunts.

"I might just go sit and see a deer moving through a funnel or into an area," Rives said. "The next time I might move and get a shot at that deer."

That really works into his strategy, anyway.

"I move a lot," Rives said. "I don't like going into one spot time and time and time and time again.

"You can't pattern deer, but they can pattern you."