Easing along the old logging trail in the pre-dawn darkness, I was stopped in my tracks by the aromatic smell of a musty rutting buck. Sensing one was nearby, I eased down and waited for daylight.

After a short period of silence, the woods began to come alive as the night slowly melted to day. The buck that was obviously upwind of me was accompanied by a harem of does, and I could hear them slowly working their way up the ridge adjacent to the hollow.

As soon as it got light, I began stalking slowly up the old logging road to avoid making any more noise than necessary. The faded old road was just a trail now, used exclusively by deer and a few hunters on occasion, and served as a border between a pine ridge and hardwood thicket.

Rounding a bend only 50 yards from my initial position, I found just what I was looking for. The ground was almost steaming with a large buck scrape obviously made just before my arrival. A few feet away, I spotted three buck rubs, one of which had just been made. There was no doubt that I had almost stumbled right into the herd of deer, if not for the pungent smell of the old buck. This was the type of buck I had been searching for.

Hot buck sign

The dawn had broken with a crisp, clean, cold air descending upon the area, and the deer were up and moving. Since I was slightly familiar with the lay of the land but had not ventured forth on it that season, I decided to still-hunt my way while looking for hot sign. By now I had already found the sign and almost got a shot.

Continuing on, I discovered the ridge was torn up with scrapes, rubs and all manner of big-buck sign.

I changed my ultimate destination, and slowly made my way to a small narrow thicket that ran through relatively open woods into a thick cutover area. With hot does and rutting bucks still in the area, I decided to hunt at a snail's pace. Taking three to five steps at a time, I would pause, scan the woods ahead and proceed again.

Gathering my thoughts and resting for a moment, I sat down on a remnant of Hurricane Katrina. The still solid pine tree was just the right height to allow me to sit comfortably and scan the thicket.

Crack, snap! Something was coming toward my perch from directly behind me, perhaps 40 yards away. Slowly turning my head toward the sounds, I could see only 20 or so yards, and no deer were in sight.

I slowly squeezed the safety off as I turned toward the sound. By now, I could make out the familiar sound of hoofs lightly touching the leaves. Then I could make out bits and pieces of deer moving toward me some 30 yards distant and to my left. First one doe and then another crossed through the opening.

After several more does had passed, I heard yet another deer following perhaps 40 yards behind. With the tension mounting, I strained to catch a glimpse of a buck through the thicket. And yes, there he came with antler tips rising above the tangled briars. The buck was coming in right behind the does, but traveling approximately 20 yards farther to the west than they had crossed.

Moment of truth

The deer paused one last time directly behind a mass of briars and saplings, offering no shot. As he started moving again, his neck passed through one small opening about the size of a pie plate. Raising the Remington .270, I centered the crosshairs on the buck, and squeezed the trigger in one motion. As the rifle roared, the buck instantly disappeared, and all was silent.

Sadly, I hadn't heard him fall, or run off. Stepping onto the log for a better look, I waited perhaps five minutes with not a hint of the buck in sight.

Finally I could stand it no longer, so I jumped down and quickly maneuvered my way through the thicket to the area I had last seen the buck. As I burst through the tangle of vines, my fears turned to celebration as I finally spotted my trophy. The 10-point buck had collapsed instantly from the impact of the 150-grain Hornady bullet, and disappeared in a slight depression of the ridge.

While many hunters like hunting wide-open areas during late season, I prefer hunting the edge of thickets, or transition areas. Many battle-weary and time-worn bucks have learned to take advantage of the thickest cover in an area even when following hot does. My still-hunting tactic of stop, scan, scout and go had once again provided me with the opportunity to find and harvest a nice buck.

Foy on trophies

So what does it take to harvest a trophy buck?

"Patience," said Ronnie Foy. "There's a good deer almost anywhere you hunt now. If you let the small ones go by, you'll be surprised at what you'll see."

Though it may seem trivial or even elementary to some, it is the very core value that each successful trophy hunter must have above all else.

After spending a lifetime hunting and harvesting deer, trophy bucks in particular, Foy had become tired of deer hunting. It had almost become too easy for him to harvest deer, though it's hard for most of us to imagine. He had gained a reputation of being an expert trophy hunter, and began taking people hunting as well. As his reputation and prowess in the woods grew, Foy decided to switch gears and guide other hunters in his spare time.

Foy, a rural mail carrier by trade, began guiding 22 years ago, and as a result founded the Mississippi Outfitters and Guide Association.

In the process, he has become perhaps the foremost trophy whitetail deer expert in Mississippi. Arguably no other hunter or outdoorsman, biologists included, spends as much time in the woods each fall and winter as Foy. And there's just not any substitute for spending time in the woods.

Late-season scouting

Late-season hunting usually means cold, wet weather in Mississippi, and that's just what it takes to get the bucks moving and Foy excited. Scouting's not just a preseason event for Foy. In fact, it's even more important during hunting season. But that doesn't mean walking through your hunting area every time you hunt. Scouting is a double-edged sword - too little and you lose track of the bucks, too much and you'll make them go nocturnal or relocate.

Scouting, however, does remain a key to Foy's continued success in the January deer woods. While his preference is to move around and scout, Foy realizes there is a time for sitting and a time for moving.

"If I have a good deer located, I will sit in the stand from daylight until dark," he said. "I have climbed into a stand before daybreak and never come down until after dark. That's when you learn the what, when, where and how the buck moves."

As an example of pinpointing a trophy buck with this scouting process, Foy related a story about a large buck he had spotted from a long distance. Foy patterned the buck right down to within five minutes of when he appeared in a certain spot every afternoon. He told his client what the deer looked like, which way he would be coming from and what time to expect him.

To the hunter's astonishment, the 16-point buck appeared at 4:05 p.m., almost the exact time Foy had predicted. The battle-scarred buck sported a 24-inch spread and weighed 225 pounds after surviving the rigors of a long rut.

Foy loves to hunt deep cutovers, hardwood ridges and open fields 2 to 300 acres or more in size. His primary scouting will occur on the edges of the open areas and preferably along large fields. Invariably that is where the bucks will mark their territory year after year. Foy's scouting doesn't mean driving up to the field and walking around it time after time.

On the contrary, perhaps Foy's most important tip is to hunt and scout from as far away as possible.

"I'll start scouting a mile away from the field if I can see it from a long distance," he said. "I'll use a spotting scope or good set of binoculars to watch the area for deer activity."

If he doesn't find what he's looking for by long-range glassing, Foy will move in a little closer and set up again. He'll repeat this procedure time and time again until he gets just close enough to the deer to determine where they are, how big the bucks are and when they move.

"Sometimes I only hunt a stand twice a year," he said. "In fact, if you go into a buck's home area more than twice and don't kill him, he's got you!"

The deer will either move to another location or become nocturnal. It's just that simple when discussing the real super trophy bucks. They don't get that large and old by acting stupid and doing careless things.

Wind, weather, timing

Foy said there are many variables to consider when it comes to harvesting trophy bucks. Even during January when food is scarce, the moon phase, weather and hunting pressure will have an effect on the deer movement and hunting. If the weather is unseasonably mild, the deer won't have to move very much to feed. If it's cold, however, the deer have to eat more to keep their metabolism going to stay warm. And that means more movement during the daylight hours as well.

Lest we forget, there still may be rutting activity going on among some deer in your area. If you can locate a doe in estrous, she may even have several bucks in tow on her back trail. If she's hungry and moving in search of food, she'll serve as bait, and may lead a wise old buck to his doom, if you're in the right place at the right time.

Along with a thorough knowledge of your hunting area, you must be wise when making decisions about where you hunt every time you venture into the woods, advised Foy. The No. 1 factor Foy always remembers when deciding where to hunt on a given day is wind direction.

"Hunting by the wind is the one thing that is guaranteed to up your chances for success," he said. "Wind direction will impact your hunt more than any scents, attractants, gadgets or gear available to hunters.

"I don't believe in going into a place to hunt if the wind is wrong for that stand. I try to have enough stands to hunt no matter which direction the wind is blowing. If you're limited to hunting one place or stand, don't blow it by going in when the wind is wrong."

If that buck smells you, he may never show his hand and probably won't be back again during the daylight hours until the season is over.

Harvest time

When the conditions are right and Foy has done his scouting, he'll do his best to put himself, or someone else, in the right place just in time to harvest that buck. He'll do that by "reading" the current conditions and utilizing hard-earned scouting information gained over the course of the season along with his most recent sightings.

By utilizing that information, Foy's friends and clients have harvested many good bucks. Some of his best bucks taken to date have scored in the upper 170s with many "average" bucks harvested in the upper 140s and 150s. One particular 10-point that scored in the 150s weighed 253 pounds.

During one particular four-day stretch, one of Foy's clients from Texas had a remarkable hunting trip. On the first morning, one hunter spotted a palmated 9-point buck that would have been a trophy anywhere in the country. Since the hunt was only a couple hours old, he decided to pass up the buck.

Over the course of the next three days, that hunter did what few people ever get to experience while deer hunting. He passed on 32 quality "shooter" bucks with some 10- and 12-pointers included. That's just unfathomable to most deer hunters. However, it just points to the significance of Foy's earlier statement on being patient.

On the last afternoon, that hunter decided he'd like to try one last time for the unique palmated 9-point. With the last rays of daylight fading fast, he got one last look at the palmated buck. As he centered the crosshairs and slowly squeezed the trigger, the rifle roared, and the trophy buck went down in a heap.

In the process, he displayed a patience and desire unmatched by most people, and in the end was rewarded with the buck of his lifetime.

Mississippi monsters

Foy's hunting strategies are successful, and have been proven over many years. If you've got the location to hunt, you may apply his scouting and hunting strategies on your lease and be successful as well.

As an example of just how successful his hunting system can be, look no further than a hunt involving a friend of his from South Carolina. After three years of hunting with Foy, this hunter and a group of five others were going to hunt together in Canada. At the last second, Foy's friend decided to return to Mississippi to hunt yet again.

The five other hunters went to Canada, and as expected harvested some Canadian-style trophies. However, the hunter who visited Foy killed a Mississippi buck that outscored and outweighed all of those harvested by his friends in Canada. In four years time, he had killed three mountable deer and two other nice ones.

Now, Mississippi hunters can't expect to kill monster bucks every time out, but it is possible to harvest one at any time, on any trip, if you employ the proper tactics and are prepared when the time comes.