Stacey Sims eased along the water's edge as he worked his way toward his deer stand. The climbing stand was positioned overlooking a flooded swamp bottom.

Along the way, Sims spotted some impressive tracks and buck sign. The tracks had been left by the biggest buck he had ever seen in those parts. Sims had been watching his sign and tracking the buck for several months with no sightings during daylight hours.

With the recent flooding of the Pearl River, coupled with the onset of the rut, Sims hoped the buck would make a mistake. The veteran hunter had no doubt about how big the deer was after capturing his image on a game camera that was set up on a nearby trail back in September.

"When you do get a picture of that kind of deer on a game camera, it may cause a divorce, because you ain't going to stay at the house, Bub! I'm here to tell you," Sims said.

The veteran hunter had already been successful by taking a 140-class buck on another property earlier in the year. Though Sims had also passed on several smaller bucks on this property, he had been fooled by one nice buck also. On a previous hunt, deer movement caught his eye in the distance. He studied the doe's back trail expecting to see a big buck following in hot pursuit, but nothing showed up.

After turning and looking in the other direction, Sims glanced back and saw a big deer, with a rack glistening in the sun, hot on the doe's trail. The seasoned hunter quickly raised his rifle, took dead aim and let the hammer down. Though the buck was a good deer, he clearly was not the one Sims had been after.

Ironically, Sims had decided to sleep in on this particular Saturday morning until he got a call shortly before daylight.

"My nephew Ben Cumberland called me and said that he and his dad Lee were waiting for me at the Coliseum, so I got my clothes on and met them, and we went hunting," Sims said.

After a couple months of chasing that big boy, he had gotten a little tired.

The water's edge

Sims had recently moved his Old Man stand out of the flooded bottom and up onto a ridge along the water's edge. It didn't take long for the action to heat up once he got settled into his stand.

"I had been sitting there just a short time when I heard a splash way out across the water," he said. "I got to looking real hard in that direction, and finally spotted a front shoulder and leg about 200 yards out."

Slowly easing up to get a better look, Sims detected a set of antlers.

"When I saw horns at that distance, I knew he was a good buck, but he was heading in the other direction," he said.

At the sight of the buck moving away from him, Sims decided to act fast. He would move on the deer and try to cut the distance down to about 100 yards.

"I got turned around and started coming down the tree when I heard another commotion in the water behind me," he said. "I turned and looked back, and that son of a gun had walked up to within a 100 yards of me."

Sims settled down and tried to regain his composure. Since the deer was closing fast and almost on him, he knew he couldn't move.

"I put my gun in front of me, crossed my arms and waited for him to come on," he said.

At 75 yards, Sims knew the deer was in range, but didn't present a good shot.

"I thought to myself, 'Good Lord, I know this gun is on, but please let him turn broadside,'" he recounted.

At 42 steps, the buck turned and started to walk away from the excited hunter, presenting the perfect broadside shot.

Settling the crosshairs right behind the buck's shoulder, Sims slowly squeezed the trigger, and the rifle roared. At the crack of the shot, the monster buck reared up in the water and disappeared over the ridge. As the buck crossed the peak, Sims saw a sapling move and thought the buck had tipped over, but he couldn't be sure.

Presently, his cell phone rang, and his brother-in-law and nephew wanted to know what he had shot. He told them he had shot a pretty good one, but didn't know for sure.

Sims was still in the tree when his nephew approached and inquired as to where the deer came from.

"I told him that I shot him out in the water and that he should find a blood trail leading over that ridge," Sims said. "I finally got down and was easing up the ridge when my brother-in-law came over the ridge, and he was more excited than I was. Lee grabbed me and said, 'Man you just don't know what you killed!' I walked over the hill and saw that big son-of-a-gun laying there, and it brought tears to my eyes."

The massive buck sported 17 points and scored 174 1/8 on the Buckmasters scoring system. It was the biggest buck Sims had ever killed, and he has killed his fair share. Area hunters were amazed that the big buck was moving in the daylight hours, and were surprised that Sims had taken him at 8:20 a.m. Sims, however, was not surprised as the bucks were really getting revved up with the peak of the rut in high gear.

He knew that his chances were improving every day that the rut wore on, and had made the right choice when he moved his stand to that location. The ridge was full of freshly fallen acorns and buck sign, and was not easily accessible due to the rising floodwaters in the swamp.

"If it hadn't been for my wife and nephew, I'd have never killed him," Sims said.

And the icing on the cake for Sims was winning the WOKK Big Buck Bounty contest.

Power line buck

After spending time with his family on Christmas Day, Tom Sikes decided to head to the woods for some rest, relaxation and a little deer hunting. He joined his father-in-law, Dr. George Arrington, for a hunt in Jasper County a couple days after Christmas.

Although a relative newcomer to the sport of deer hunting, Sikes was brimming with enthusiasm and excitement, and what he lacked in experience, he made up for with a strong desire and determination to pursue the wily whitetail deer.

The two hunters came up with a plan of attack, chose their deer stands and went to the woods. Sikes selected a stand on a pipeline that afforded an opportunity to scan a lot of ground from one location. He knew his chances of spying a big buck were much better if he could watch a long distance, and the pipeline was just the ticket.

This particular stand site was chosen because Sikes had found a well-worn trail crossing the pipeline. He also knew that does frequently crossed near the stand, and hoped to catch a doe in estrous with a buck stringing along behind.

If any rutting bucks were to come through the area, they would likely be following a doe and cross somewhere along the pipeline. Of course, spotting them would be the first order of business - getting a good shot at a running buck was something else.

The only problem with hunting a stand on a pipeline is that you can't watch two directions at the same time. Which direction do you look? That was the obvious quandary that Sikes was in. He did the only thing he could - he looked first in one direction and then the other. He stayed on full alert most of the morning with nothing to show for it, while he continually scanned the pipeline for deer activity.

About midmorning, Sikes was looking north when he glanced back in the opposite direction of the pipeline and spotted a large buck entering the clearing a scant 40 yards away.

"Oh my gosh," he said.

With his mind racing and little time to spare, the surprised hunter had spoken his thoughts out loud. Without realizing it, Sikes had stopped the buck in his tracks, and that was just enough time for him to settle the crosshairs on the monster and squeeze the trigger.

At the crack of the shot, the rifle roared and the big buck bolted, streaked across the pipeline and disappeared into the woods. Dejection set in as Sikes figured he had missed the shot of a lifetime. A thousand thoughts raced through his mind as he wondered what, if anything, he was going to tell everyone. But first he had to check on the deer.

After going only a short distance, however, Sikes found a blood trail, and began following the buck. He didn't go too far before the buck jumped up in front of him, obviously hit pretty well. After giving the deer a little time to settle back down, Sikes followed the blood trail right up to the buck, and dispatched him with a swift shot to the neck.

Sikes was on cloud nine as he realized he had harvested the buck of his lifetime. The rocking chair rack sported 10 points, and was pretty wide to boot. With tines in the 10- to 11-inch range, this 140-plus-class buck would be a trophy in anybody's book. Coming from Jasper County makes it all the more impressive indeed.

After loading the deer up with a little help from Arrington, the celebration began and continued for quite some time. Though it came a couple days after Christmas, Sikes had gotten a surprise present, a trophy Christmas buck. What better way to celebrate Christmas than with family, friends and by harvesting the buck of a lifetime? The buck was obviously in full rut, and Sikes had been successful by being in the right place at the right time.

Hunting the rut

While the rut varies from area to area in Mississippi, there's one constant: Find the does and you'll find the bucks. When it gets right down to it, there's just no disputing that fact.

While that may be easier said than done, it really narrows down your options from mid December through the end of the rut. With dwindling food sources, hunters should continually scout and keep abreast of the remaining food sources. Excellent late-season food sources include acorns, winter grasses and honeysuckle thickets. All oak trees don't bear at the same time, or at the same rate, so it's imperative to find the ones that are producing during the time you're hunting.

As the temperature drops, the female deer have to move to find food, and that's when the bucks become most vulnerable. They sometimes fall in a trance-like state, and would likely follow a doe right down to Capital Street in downtown Jackson if she was in heat. I have seen bucks right in the city limits of Meridian, standing within a few feet of a hot doe, only 30 or 40 yards from the road. That's just something any wise old buck would never do when in his right mind.

Obviously, there's just no substitute for scouting while the season is going on. Hunters who are able to locate the does will probably be the ones going to the taxidermy shop year after year with the trophy bucks. Whether you hunt over acorns and flooded bottoms like Stacey Sims, or hunt open areas like Tom Sikes, you stand a good chance of getting a shot at the buck of a lifetime, if you locate those hot does.