Madison County cousins Trey and Swayze Bozeman are like a lot of youngsters in our state, as both love to deer hunt. But that's where the comparison ends, as these youngsters have already become accomplished trophy hunters in their own right.

Each of the boys has harvested several Magnolia Records bucks and won contests also. And last year 15-year-old Trey killed his best buck to date, a large whitetail that had a massive rack, garnering the name "Gigantor," which etched his name in the Boone & Crockett record books forever. Gigantor scored 179 5/8 gross and netted 172 6/8, easily making the book with an almost perfect rack.

Although Swayze's only 12 years old, he's been hunting and harvesting trophy bucks for a few years now, with his biggest kill to date being a large 11-point taken at the tender age of 8. And last year, he harvested several deer with his bow, as well as killing three trophy bucks. Whether it is with a stick and string, cap and ball or modern rifle, these talented cousins are successful beyond most youngsters' wildest dreams.

Trey Bozeman and Gigantor

Trey Bozeman was brimming with enthusiasm and anticipation of the afternoon hunt as he quietly stalked toward his Madison County deer stand in early December last year. And it isn't any wonder the young hunter was confident on this early winter afternoon, as he has harvested many trophy bucks during his hunting career. One thing was for sure: He would enjoy hunting with his family and spending another day in the Mississippi outdoors near the Big Black River, regardless if he scored or not.

Though Bozeman had already harvested deer on earlier hunts, he was now looking for a trophy buck, one in particular. The Bozemans, including his Uncle Harvey, cousin Swayze and dad D.R., were all on watch for a large buck that had been spotted on game cameras and from nearby roads. The buck had been seen from stands before, but was always just out of range or put the slip on the hunters before they had a shot.

Bozeman picked out a one-man ladder stand situated in the edge of some timber facing a wheat field, and quietly scaled the ladder and got settled in for the afternoon hunt.

"I hadn't been there long when deer started coming into the field," he said.

Over the next 30 minutes, a lot of does came into the field and started feeding. Things were going good as the young hunter enjoyed the show knowing it was still early.

Things started to heat up fast, however, as the bucks began to filter in the area.
 
"All of a sudden deer started running and going crazy behind me in the pines," Bozeman said. "Then I heard a grunt come from behind me. Uh oh, this could be a big buck."

Turning slightly to look behind the stand, he spotted antlers coming down the grass-covered narrow road behind his stand. Bozeman slowly turned toward the action and got ready.

An 8-point buck walked out into the opening, and Bozeman relaxed a minute as he realized this wasn't the buck he was looking for.

 "And then a really big buck came out following behind the smaller 8-point," Bozeman said. "He had drop times coming out of his G2s, and I knew he was the one we'd been hunting."

Gigantor, aptly named by the Bozemans for his massive rack, was the monster buck that had been captured on the game cameras and seen by people around the community, but never within range of hunters. As the smaller buck kept walking and crossed the road into the pines, Gigantor started nipping at browse and feeding slowly along the old road.

"He got about 60 yards behind me, and turned and looked straight at me," said Bozeman. "He was facing straight toward me, and it was the only shot I had.

"I turned and put the crosshairs on his chest, and squeezed off a shot."

As the rifled roared, Gigantor took a "gallop leap" and disappeared into the pines and cedar trees.

Meanwhile, D.R. Bozeman had just gotten settled into his stand when he heard the roar of Trey's rifle.

"I'd told him, 'Son, if you see him, don't do anything but find your target and shoot him,'" said D.R. "I had just sat down in my stand when he shot, so I knew something was going on.

"Trey texted me, and I told him to wait about 30 minutes."

After what seemed like an hour, the young hunter flew down from his stand and went straight to the area of the shot.

"I found blood and got on the trail, and went just a few yards before I came up on him and found him lying dead as a door knob," Bozeman said.

Gigantor had 18 scoreable points, 24 on the country-boy scale, with a 19 3/8-inch inside spread, and scored 172 6/8 net B&C. He weighed a hefty 218 pounds.

Swayze's Hay Bale Buck

Swayze Bozeman is not your typical young hunter. With four Magnolia Records bucks to his credit, he's a step above most when it comes to trophy hunting. In order to qualify for Magnolia Records, a buck must score higher than 125 B&C, a pretty tall measure for most hunters.

"We didn't start out trophy hunting, but Swayze pretty much looks for something bigger than 125 now," said Harvey Bozeman.

And this past year, the young expert took several does with his bow along with 8-, 9- and 10-point bucks harvested with a rifle.

Although they were all nice bucks, the 9-pointer stands out for several reasons, not the least is that he had forked G2s, and the hunters had captured him on a trail camera at least 10 times.

"I saw him three times while hunting, but something happened every time," said Swayze.
 
During the waning days of the season, on Jan. 26, they spotted him again.

"We were hunting in a Hay Bale blind my Uncle D.R. had set up to take does out of, overlooking a winter wheat field," said Bozeman. "I'd already shot a doe right after we got into the blind, and awhile later, I spotted some deer moving toward us about 300 to 400 yards off.

"I looked through my binoculars and said 'Daddy, that's a big deer, that's a really big deer. That's the 9-point!'"

However, as fate would have it, the buck was following some does, and when they spooked and left the field suddenly, the buck disappeared behind them.

"I told Swayze that he'd be back, not to worry," said Harvey Bozeman.

Sure enough, the big buck appeared again, this time even closer to the young sharpshooter.

"He walked out and saw my doe lying there, and was getting scared, so I shot him, and he ran off and hit a fence," said Swayze. "I don't know what happened, but he tore the fence down and it blew sparks everywhere!
"I was so happy that I'd finally gotten him after so many close calls."

Not a bad ending to a very memorable deer hunting season.

The Bozeman family enjoys hunting together, and they all enjoy harvesting deer, and not just trophy bucks either.

"We're on the DMAP management program administered by the MDWFP, and we follow it pretty close," said D.R. Bozeman. "And that means managing your deer, letting the bucks get some age on them and harvesting plenty of does every year."

Once the biologist prescribe a plan of action and advise them of what to kill and how many antlerless deer they need to harvest, they go to work having fun.

"Sometimes we have doe hunts and get some of our buddies, and we'll all go and shoot does," said Swayze Bozeman.

And that helps out with controlling the population, while also letting the young bucks live a little longer, which gives them a chance to reach maturity and achieve their full potential for antler growth.

"When we were growing up, there weren't enough deer around here to hunt," said D.R. Bozeman. "If you killed a buck, you'd really done something, and if you killed a 15-inch 8-point, you were almost a king around these parts.

"I didn't kill my first buck until I was 12 years old, and that was over on Togo Island on the Mississippi River."

When it comes to harvesting bucks, the Bozemans usually take out the older deer, but they're not hesitant about killing does and antlerless deer to keep the deer population in balance. In fact, they try to have a harvest ratio of three does to every buck they kill. Last year, they killed about five does for every buck they harvested.

"We'll also harvest does on our hunts as soon as possible when we get into the stand," said Harvey Bozeman. "In fact, most of Swayze's big-buck stories start out something like this, 'Well, I'd already killed a doe.'
"We've got a lot of tags and want to harvest those does, so we tell the boys to go ahead and shoot a doe if they come into range early in the afternoon, or right after they get to the stand."

And they do kill quite a few does while hunting for bucks and just leave them alone until the hunt's over. And more times than not, the bucks will come into the field later in the afternoon, oblivious to what happened earlier in the day.

Bowhunting is also a big part of their management strategy both in reducing the doe herd and in spotting potential trophy bucks. Both Trey and Swayze love bowhunting, and along with their dads, they take advantage of the season to harvest does. While they have both harvested nice bucks bowhunting, they've also had a lot of fun shooting does and honing their hunting skills in the process.

Along with the DMAP program and harvest of does is the harvest of inferior bucks.

"Those spikes and 3-points better look out, because we're going to cull those and let the 4- to 6-points and small 8-points go now," said D.R. Bozeman. "We don't mind waiting on those to grow up."

Habitat and location

While their hunting lands are situated in Madison County near the Big Black River, right in the middle of some of the finest deer hunting territory in the state, building and managing their herd to the point where it is now has been challenging, rewarding and fun.

"We're blessed by the fact that we have row crops, beans and corn, as well as CRP pines, hardwoods, pastures and some big timber," said D.R. Bozeman. "We don't plant anything special for the deer during the summer, or do any feeding, except planting vetch in the summer one year. And most of the larger landowners and our neighbors around us manage their lands like we do."

Along with the rich soil and prime habitat, the deer in the area have the right genetics to produce trophy bucks. The one thing that was lacking for their area was for the bucks to reach maturity. Now that they let them live a few years longer to reach their full potential, the size of the racks just keeps increasing.

 


Hunting techniques

Hunting by the wind: "No matter when we're hunting, or where we're hunting, we hunt strictly by the wind," said Harvey Bozeman.

And that has led to some mighty fine hunts for the talented young hunters. While many people hunt stands regardless of the wind, the Bozeman hunters will never intentionally hunt a stand when the wind is wrong and alert the big bucks of their presence. And by leaving them alone during the unfavorable times, they don't signal their stand locations and forewarn the deer before they come through an area. That will actually put the odds in their favor by not messing a buck's routine up and alerting them to their presence.

Scouting: Blessed with an abundance of open fields, croplands, strips of hardwood and mast-producing trees, the Bozeman boys do more than just hunting the modern-day "green fields." During the fall, they'll be on the lookout for big bucks and big-buck sign while they're working around the farm. With the varied and open habitat, they're able to see a lot of deer during normal activities, and they get an idea of what type of bucks they have and which areas they prefer using.

Once they spot a potential trophy buck, they'll make notes and start planning their hunts. And this means erecting and placing stands in prime locations to intercept the buck on its way to and from the bedding and feeding areas. While that may change during the fall and winter, they have an idea about what's going on by being in the area daily and keeping tabs on the deer, albeit from a distance.

Hunting Trails: "We like to hunt the trails leading to and from the bedding and feeding areas," said Trey Bozeman. "And Swayze and my dad and uncle like to bowhunt during October, so we get to see a lot of deer activity along the trails and know where to set up and where to hunt."

And case in point is Gigantor. Harvey Bozeman had spotted Gigantor three times while bowhunting, and each time the buck came down the same trail and did the same thing.

"I saw where he was entering the winter wheat field and put up a one-man ladder stand," said Bozeman. "I think we hunted him a total of 10 times, and the closest he got to me was about 50 yards while I had a bow."

And, of course, the scouting eventually paid off as Trey killed the buck of a lifetime.

During the early part of the fall, the Bozemans will concentrate on hunting around oak trees that are producing mast. And the trail hunting continues right up until the acorns get scarce.

"We'll hunt the areas that are producing acorns through the fall until they're gone," said Swayze Bozeman. "When those quit producing, we'll move our stands or hunting locations to an area that the deer are using."

"In the morning time, we'll hunt the trails leading from the bedding areas to the acorns," said Harvey Bozeman. "We've been really successful doing that, and both Swayze and Trey have taken a lot of deer hunting the trails."

During the afternoon, the process is basically the same as they hunt trails leading to the acorn trees or winter green fields. By thoroughly scouting the area from a distance and keeping tabs on the available food sources and current deer movement, the Bozemans know when to hunt certain areas, and when to switch locations and stands. And in late season, they will also hunt trails adjacent to and leading to the winter food plots during afternoon hunts.

Game cameras: In addition to scouting with visual sightings of bucks on the hoof, the Bozeman boys also utilize game cameras to determine what deer are in an area, when they're moving through, if they're frequenting an area regularly and whether or not they've reached trophy size.

Hunting midday: "We also like to hunt midday and have been pretty successful with it," said Swayze Bozeman.
 
Last year, the avid hunter harvested a nice buck during a late-season hunt at midday.

"I got into my stand overlooking a winter wheat field around 10 a.m., and killed a nice buck right at noon," he said.

Hunting the rut: While both of the Bozeman boys like to bow hunt, they also love hunting during the rut when the big bucks are moving. When the bucks are chasing does in mid to late December and January, they take positions in stands overlooking fields and winter food sources also.

"They'll go to the stands about 1 p.m. and watch for bucks running does," said D.R. Bozeman. "It just about doesn't get too early for us to hunt during the late season."

Trey killed Gigantor while he was chasing does, and Swayze killed the Hay Bale buck while he was trailing does also, so hunting the rut has been very successful for the cousins.