Brad Hammill knew he wanted to hunt the food plot. After all, there was ample proof there were bucks to be killed in the area during the early 2010-11 season.

"I had photos on one camera of 18 different rack bucks coming through that food plot in four days," Hammill said. "Ten of them were shooters."

What he didn't know was that he wouldn't see any one of those Port Gibson bucks. Not a single one of the 18 deer ever showed up in front of the hunter.

But he spent time on a stand just off the green patch, hoping he would ambush one of those deer moving out to feed.

The day after Thanksgiving, he was rewarded.

"A hard freeze had come in, and it was, like, 30 degrees at 3 (p.m.) that day," Hammill said.

That cold snap apparently sent at least one buck off the reservation, with thoughts of love popping into its head way ahead of the normal breeding period.

"He was on two does," Hammill said. "I guess he got frisky."

The weather had not only turned frigid, the sky was spitting sleety rain and the wind was blowing.

Nonetheless, Hamill was sitting in a climber about 4:30 p.m. along a primary game trail he had located after seeing the photos of all the bucks.

"I was actually cutting deer off between the food plot and a thick cutover," he said.

The first clue there was anything in the area was when Hammill heard something in the cutover. And then the first deer popped out.

"I saw a doe trotting, but by the time I got my gun up, it was gone," Hammill said.

The hunter was now on alert, and that was heightened when he caught a glimpse of another deer.

And then he heard another telltale sound.

"I heard something blowing hard," Hammill said.

He knew there was a buck on the does - even though the actual rut wasn't even close to beginning.

Hammill waited a few minutes, and then decided he needed to make something happen.

"I hit my rattle bag twice," he said.

He was quickly rewarded.

"It was no time, and he came running in within 30 yards," Hammill said.

But at that point, he couldn't truly tell what he was looking at, except to know that it was a shooter.

"All I could see was that it had long tines," he said. "All I saw was the G3 and G2 on one side, so I knew he had a good rack."

That's all Hammill needed; he shouldered his CVA .45-70, and traced the buck's legs through the thicket until his crosshairs were in line with the animal's shoulder, and squeezed off a shot.

The deer bolted, and Hammill soon heard what he wanted to.

"He ran about 40 yards, and I heard him go down," he said.

It then went quiet, and the hunter was left with only his thoughts to keep him company. And soon doubt crept into his mind.

"I wondered, 'Did I miss this deer?'" Hammill said.

He finally eased out of the woods, deciding to give the deer time to die.

Hammill returned a bit later with father Bobby and buddy Tommy Klein, who owns a blood-tracking dog.

The trio hit the woods, leaving the dog in the truck. Things didn't look good.

"We found no blood," he said.

Hammill was in a panic, but Klein simply called his dog out of the truck. The pup hit the thicket, with its owner just behind.

"Tony was actually in front of the dog, and we heard him say, 'You've got a monster,'" Hammill said.

The now-excited hunter pushed into the thicket, and shined a light on the scene - and saw Klein as he picked up the deer's rack.

"I was ecstatic," Hammill said.

The deer in Klein's hand wasn't one of the deer pictured in the food plot. Instead, it was a real stud.

The buck was a typical 5x6, with thick main beams and long tines sprouting upward.

It later taped out at 173 inches.

Hammill said he couldn't believe it, since he had cameras set up for weeks.

"I never knew he was there," Hammill said.

He believes the only reason he even found the deer, however, is because he had followed his normal plan that has produced numerous deer.

"I look for cutovers," Hammill said.

To be honest, he hunts food sources during the bow season, but once gun hunting begins he retreats to gnarly areas of his lease because thickets are likely to be where bucks bed down.

His goal? Ambush bucks as they travel to and from their "houses."

Setting up is a matter of focusing on buck sign.

"I find heavy trails and old rubs," Hammill said. "I also look for those big tracks.

"I then know that's a buck trail."

While he doesn't hunt right on top of the bedding area, he stays close enough that it's still comfortable for deer.

"I target small, confined, dirty areas," he said. "That's where I think (bucks) will feel safe coming out and moving around."

That sometimes makes it difficult to get shots.

"Last year I had a buck chasing a doe near my stand," Hammill said. "I could see them in (the thicket) running back and forth and back and forth, and I couldn't get a shot."

Setting up a trail camera seals the deal.

"A lot of times, I'll get nothing but buck pictures," he said.

And then it's a simple matter of choosing a tree in which to hang his climber, and timing his hunt.

"The wind is the No. 1 priority to me," said Hammill.

Sure, he could wrap up with camo designed to kill his scent, but the hunter said he's learned that's not necessarily foolproof.

"I've been busted with Scent-Lok," he said.

That means there are days when he absolutely will not hunt a given stand, since the wind will carry his scent right to any bedded bucks.

This focus on bedding areas, setup and wind conditions has consistently produced for him, proving Hammill's strategy is sound.

"I've have three walls full of rack bucks, and I have two 150s," Hammill said.

And now he has a 170-class buck to add to his credibility.

 


Smaller isn't always better

Any thicket can hide a buck, but Brad Hammill said his main concern isn't where bucks will hide - it's where he can kill bucks.

That means ignoring the smaller cutovers and focusing on larger areas of thicket.

"I'm more looking for cutovers that are a couple of hundred acres," he said.

Obviously, that means bucks can sneak out without being seen by the hunter, but the key to Hammill's approach is that bucks are more likely to use these bedding areas throughout the season.

"When the pressure gets on those little thickets, they'll leave them," he said. "They know they can stay in those larger ones, though."

 


Leave the ATV behind

Let's face it: Most of us hunters have become lazy. We think we're walking a long way if we park our ATVs more than 100 yards from our stands.

By that standard, Brad Hammill is a died-in-the-wool hiking freak.

"I pack every bit of 1,000 to 1,500 yards from where I'm hunting," Hammill said.

The reason is simple.

"I don't want that buck to have any idea that anyone is in the area," he said. "That's my No. 1 rule."

He believes that makes all the difference.

There are guys who hunt the same places as me, and they don't see anything," Hammill said. "But when I go and kill, they ask me why I kill.

"I think it's because the deer don't know I'm there."

 


Easy does it

Walking in quietly is only half the battle when hunting close to bedding areas, as Brad Hammill does on a routine basis. That's because, even after slipping to the tree, there still is the matter of ratcheting the climber into position - without alerting everything within a mile.

"I like to get 30 or 40 feet up," Hammill said.

That means he has a long climb, but he said it's just a matter of patience.

"I just take my time and ease up," Hammill said.

And even though he usually sets up no more than 50 yards away from the bedding area from which he expects deer to walk, he said there usually is more of a cushion than most would think.

"Usually the deer is 50 yards inside the bedding area, so if you're 50 yards from the cutover you have 100 yards," Hammill said.

 


Cutovers require more punch

Rifles that can reach out and touch deer at long distances, such as .30-06s and 7mm Mags, have become popular among today's hunters. But Brad Hammill said he doesn't need such equipment when he's buck hunting.

"Most of the time, when I set up I've got a 30- to 40-yard shot," Hammill said.

He's rarely hunting in open woods, focusing on areas surrounding cutover bedding areas, so Hammill leaves the light artillery at home.

Instead, he opts for a .45-70, even when the regular rifle season is under way.

"I hunt so thick an area, so I know I can push through thicket," Hammill explained.

 


Rut is more of the same, mostly

Not much changes for Brad Hammill once the rut kicks in. He's just never really had any luck moving to hunt scrapes.

That's not to say he doesn't hunt scrapes.

"Because I'm hunting areas where bucks live, there are often scrapes around my hunting area," Hammill said. "But that's not because I'm hunting scrapes; they'll just start showing up in the areas I like to hunt."

Rattling is rarely much of a player in his approach, but Hammill said calls are pretty important when bucks are roaming about.

"If there's a deer in the area, I'll call to get its attention," he said. "And every now and then I'll hit one (grunt)."

 


No doe zones

There is a time and place for everything, and hunting bedding areas is definitely not the place to worry about does, Brad Hammill said.

I won't shoot does when I'm hunting bucks," he said. "I've had lots of opportunities, and I pass them up."

This trigger control ties into his philosophy of keeping as quiet as possible so bucks have no clue he's there.
Well, there is another reason.

"I've always got that thought in the back of my mind that a buck might come out next," Hammill said.