Bruce Roberts quietly settled into his bow stand just after 1 p.m. last fall. Roberts had located an area chock full of big buck sign deep in the East Mississippi woods, and his anticipation was heightened by the knowledge of the trophy deer that had been seen recently in the area.

While Roberts spotted a few does moving toward the green field, he had not yet seen a buck, and the action was slow.

Suddenly a small buck came running by, and promptly scattered the does out of the field and into the woods. A few minutes later, the deer came running back into the field with the young buck in hot pursuit; he chased them out of the field again.

On his second loop into the woods, the small-racked buck popped back out near Roberts' bow stand heading for the field again, but this time a monster buck followed closely behind. The enraged buck was hot on his trail and bristling for a fight.

One look at the trophy buck was all it took for Roberts to make up his mind to shoot. As the magnificent specimen passed near his oak tree, Roberts pulled back his Matthews Switchback, centered his pin on the buck and released the arrow at a mere 15 steps. As the arrow flew straight and true, it plunged into the deer, and the buck was dead before he ever knew what hit him.

The heavy horned 9-point scored 162 Pope and Young, had a 21-inch spread and weighed in at 180 pounds. Though Roberts has harvested many deer with much bigger bodies, the rack on this buck surpassed all others and was worth the patience and discipline displayed when he'd passed up smaller deer, just waiting in anticipation of a trophy buck to make a mistake.

Though Roberts' buck was surely his best ever by bow, and a lifetime dream for most hunters, he's become accustomed to finding and harvesting trophy bucks. In fact, the accomplished hunter has harvested 13 P&Y bucks over the last six years alone, and they all grace the walls of his home. And even more impressive is the fact that all of the deer were harvested in Lauderdale, Kemper and Noxubee counties.

For the last few years, Roberts has also made bowhunting trips out west in search of bull elk in Colorado. In anticipation of the trips, he begins a workout regimen each summer to get in shape and ready for the rigors of hunting the rugged Colorado Mountains.

"With the high-tech equipment that we have now, it's up to the hunter to get in shape and stay sharp with his shooting," Roberts said. "I'll start shooting my bow about two months before I go out West, so I'm ready and in good bowhunting shape when the season opens."

Equipment failure is rare nowadays, so the hunter really has no excuse not to be ready for the moment of truth.

The accomplished bowhunter's work has paid off out West also, with two trophy bulls harvested with his bow the last two years. Once he's got the edge off by killing trophy bull elk, Roberts is primed and ready for some fantastic fall bowhunting in Mississippi.

And how could you top killing a trophy bull elk? By harvesting a trophy P&Y buck in Mississippi, which is what he did last fall with the harvest of the Colorado bull and Mississippi buck.

 

Prime time and areas

After growing up in the late 1960s and '70s, when killing any deer was an accomplishment, Roberts eventually harvested large numbers of deer as the seasons and bag limits increased to allow record numbers of harvests. After awhile, the thrill of the hunt and just killing something got old, so he turned his attention to another lifelong passion, bass fishing. After a few years of concentrating on tournament fishing almost year round, the talented outdoorsman decided to get back to the basics of hunting with a bow, something that he always loved. This time, however, he decided to concentrate on harvesting trophy deer, which, of course, is easier said than done.

Roberts advises would-be trophy hunters to investigate all possible hunting locations in their area for quality deer. If you're hunting an area that has lots of deer but few quality bucks, the chances of harvesting a P&Y buck are virtually nil.

"You've got to put in the time and find areas that have trophy deer before you can even think about killing a monster buck," said Roberts. "Pick out locations or areas that have trophy-buck potential and concentrate on those whether they are public or private."

No matter if the deer are located in the Delta, or in isolated pockets around the state, you've got to hunt where they live to be successful, no matter how good a hunter or shooter you are.

"And if you're fortunate to find an area to hunt, be courteous and respectful of your hosts and landowners," Roberts said. "It only takes one bad experience with a disrespectful hunter to ruin it for everyone."

While Roberts grew up hunting deer with all methods and any time and any where he could, these days he hunts with the Matthews Switchback XL exclusively, preferring the challenge of harvesting a deer with a bow rather than a firearm.

"I like to hunt in areas that have a lot of green fields or food plots," Roberts said. "Early in the season, the deer are easier to pattern and not as spooky as they will be later on."

As a result of his preference for hunting around fields, it almost goes without saying that he prefers hunting during the afternoon hours.

"I don't like hunting in the morning; it's not been real productive for me, and you'll spook a lot of deer moving into the woods in the morning," he said.

Roberts likes hunting from mid to late afternoon when he can pattern deer and determine which trails they'll use to come to their feeding areas.

"I like to hunt from a Summit portable stand about 25 feet high," he said. "It's amazing what you can see while bowhunting and watching deer. You learn their habits and see a lot of things that you won't see when hunting with a rifle, or by shooting the first deer you see."

Roberts' advice to would-be bowhunters is simple.

"Don't let a kill be your No. 1 priority," he said.

If you make the hunting experience your focus, the rest will fall into place and the kills will come, according to Roberts.

"If you'll just enjoy the outdoors and being in nature, you'll see lots of rewarding things and all types of animals," Roberts said. "I've watched raccoons, squirrels, turkeys, hawks, bobcats and all manner of wildlife while bowhunting, and they usually do things that surprise you.

"I've witnessed all types of deer behavior, as well as learning the many different sounds deer make."

Occasionally Roberts will spot an old doe that will be the dominant leader over the rest of the herd and even the young bucks.

On more than one occasion, Roberts has located a good buck and moved his stand to intercept him.

"I like to use the portable stand so you can move it to the area that the buck is moving through, rather than waiting in a fixed location and hoping that he'll walk by my stand someday," said Roberts.

In fact, it sometimes takes a few hunts and moving the stand a few times before he gets in the prime intercept location and gets a killing shot. This master bowhunter doesn't want to take a chance on an iffy shot; he wants to make a killing shot every time, being 99-percent sure that he has that shot.

"When I draw back and put that pin on him I want everything to be perfect with no questions," he said.

Although Roberts starts hunting in October, his prime time for harvesting big bucks is early December before the rut kicks into high gear and before the rifle season opens back up in December.

"I like hunting during the muzzleloader season in December because there's not near as many hunters in the woods," he said. "In the area I hunt, there's usually an early rut, and during that time the deer are not as spooky as they will be later on when the woods get crowded."

 

Patience

Hunters must be patient when hunting trails around fields and food sources.

"I'll usually be able to see the field from my stand and can spot deer entering from different areas," Roberts said. "Once I find a trail or area that the deer are moving through on the way to their food source, I'll position my stand off to the side no further than 25 yards and sometimes as close as 15 steps.

"I like to set up the stand and possible scenario that provides a killing shot when I see him. Then there will be no waiting on him to get there, or chance of him seeing me first. When he steps into the opening, I'll draw back, put the pin on him and shoot him right there. I definitely like it thick and in close quarters for a close shot.

"I realize that harvesting does is an important tool in deer management, but I shoot very few does now, and I never shoot them in areas where I'm hunting for bucks. Killing does in the area is bad for killing trophy bucks, and I won't do it."

Discipline is a must for trophy bowhunting, according to this seasoned hunter. Harvesting or shooting young bucks is a no-no.

"If you kill small deer, you'll ruin an area," Roberts said. "You can't kill 150-class bucks if you're shooting 110s and 120s, it's as simple as that.

"You've got to let the young 4s, 6s and small 8-points walk on by and just watch them."

Successful trophy hunters never shoot the first buck that comes out either, as there will usually be more to come, especially during the early season when bucks travel in bachelor groups.

"I've learned that young bucks will travel together and the older bucks will travel with similar-age bucks also," said Roberts. "Watch the deer, instead of shooting them, and you just might see a bigger one trailing close behind."

Another key to harvesting trophy bucks is learning to judge them on the hoof during hunting situations that require instant decisions.

"It usually takes me a couple of hunts or sightings to judge a deer," he said. "And it's extremely important to let those quality bucks live to at least 5 years of age to reach their potential and let them grow good mass.

"Remember that a deer that looks really good in October may not be quite as good in December, after the really good bucks start prowling around."

If you're going to be successful like Roberts, you've got to spend time getting in shape, scouting, practicing and finally spending time in the stand.