The past several years have been tough for Mississippi hunters, with warm weather and past droughts combining to produce few monster bucks.

That all changed during the 2006-07 season, with many big-racked trophies being taken, state Magnolia Records manager Rick Dillard said.

"More big deer have been killed this year than in a long time," Dillard said. "It's been one of the best years for trophy deer in a long time."

A couple of factors were key to this turnaround, he said.

"In 1999 and 2000, we had a drought, and that affected fawn production and habitat," the U.S. Forest Service biologist said. "There were fewer deer, and the ones that produced had less-favorable growing conditions."

That meant hunters would naturally see fewer big, mature bucks in the years succeeding the drought.

Conditions changed in 2001, however.

"We had good rain, good growing conditions in the summer," Dillard said. "So we had fantastic fawn production in 2001, and those deer are approaching maturity now: You're getting deer that are 5 ½ years old."

Weather conditions also improved this season, meaning more bucks moved about during daylight hours.

"We haven't had cold weather like I would have liked, but we've had some cold snaps, and that has resulted in better deer movement," Dillard said.

Following are the stories of a few of the genuine trophy bucks that Mississippi Woods & Waters was able to track down.

Mid-day ambush

Bentonia's Chris White knew there was a good buck on family-owned Yazoo County property he and his father hunted, but that's only because of signs the apparent wraith left during nighttime forays.

"We had been seeing pretty good sign in a thicket in the middle of a big pasture," White said. "A month or two earlier, I found some rubs the size of your calf muscle."

With the season closing fast, the hunters decided it was time to make the deer move on Jan. 6.

"We had seen some smaller bucks that morning, but we only shoot deer 18 inches (inside spread) or better," White said. "We decided to push a couple of thickets."

The largest thicket was about 500 yards long, and they opted to take turns trudging through the tangle in hopes that the buck would be hunkered down and forced out into the open for a shot by the other hunter.

"I let him push the first half," White said of his father. "And then I took over."

Only 60 yards from where they switched positions, White caught sight of a nice buck slipping away.

"When I jumped him, he was in one tree top, and he went to the next one," he said. "By the time I got my gun to my shoulder, he was gone."

The buck had simply dissolved into the top, apparently hoping the source of the commotion would pass by. Instead, White stood still and waited.

"He finally came out of the top and went into a cane thicket," White said. "All I could see was his rack sticking out of the top of the canes."

And even though the canes obscured the view of the rack, White knew it was a shooter.

"I thought he was a 150- to 160-class buck," he said.

White thought only a few seconds before putting the crosshairs on the rack and moving them down to where the neck should be. He pulled the trigger.

The rack disappeared, so White let out a yell to signal to his father before moving in to the canes.

"When I got to the canes, I could see his white belly," he said.

White's breath quickened when he saw the left main beam sticking above the downed animal, but it was only after he pulled the head up and saw the full rack that his heart really thumped into gear.

"When I walked around and rolled his rack over, I saw that he had a double main beam," he said. "I was speechless."

Two beams ran parallel off the right side of the deer's head, each just about as long as the other. The three beams housed 16 points with two more that weren't scoreable.

"The outside spread was 20 ½ inches," White said. "The left base was 6 inches around, and the smallest circumference on the right side was 7 inches."

The dandy buck was later greenscored at 199 points on the Boone & Crockett system by Simmons Sporting Goods in Bastrop, La.

Big Boy makes mistake

Angus Catchot doesn't normally kill small bucks, but he popped a young Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge deer early in the season to qualify for a limited-entry archery hunt during the first week of the rut.

"There's just so much pressure on the refuge," Catchot said. "It's unreal."

But when the first week of January rolled around, the Wiggins hunter was one of the relatively few allowed onto the almost 13,000 acres of public land, and he knew exactly where he wanted to be.

"I scout a lot year round," Catchot said. "What I usually look for are big tracks, and I found a trail they were using. I found a real big scrape right there with a lot of hooked bushes."

The scrape was about 20 yards inside trees bordering a large field, and Catchot set up so that he could see anything moving in the field but still get a good shot at deer walking the trail and working the scrape.

And he knew there were at least two big bucks in the area.

"I have seen this one big deer the last three years," he said. "I kept it quiet. I was hunting this deer because I knew it was there, but I was also hunting another deer that I knew was in the area."

Just before 5 p.m., four does popped out on the far side of the field, and headed directly for the trail over which Catchot was keeping watch. However, it wasn't the does that really grabbed his attention.

"I saw this buck come across the open field," he said. "It was chasing the four does."

The deer was the same buck Catchot and others who had spotted it had named "Big Boy."

"When I saw him, I said to myself, 'Here comes Big Boy,'" Catchot said.

After that initial look at the massive crown of antlers, however, the hunter focused on the deer's progress.

"I never looked at the horns again because I didn't want to get shook," Catchot said.

The does came right to the treeline, but turned and walked away from the concealed hunter.

"They went along the edge of the field," Catchot said.

The hunter thought he might not get a shot, but the buck walked right to the trail and cautiously stepped into the woods.

"I had grunted, but I don't know if he came in the woods to check the scrape or because I grunted," Catchot said.

Instead of worrying about the reasons for his fortune, he nocked an arrow and pulled to full draw.

"I had to hold for probably two minutes," he said. "He'd step and stop, take a few steps and stop."

Finally, the buck moved into a small opening about 10 steps from Catchot's tree and stopped.

"I was hoping he would come in to the scrape, but he acted like he had picked up my scent or like he was going to go after the does," he said. "So I took the first opportunity I got."

He loosed his arrow, and the buck bolted away.

Catchot caught his breath, and then his heart sank.

"There was one vine (in the opening), and I thought I had missed because the vine was shaking," he said.

However, Big Boy ran only about 40 steps before slowing down.

"I saw him quiver, and I knew I had hit him," Catchot said. "He went another 50 yards, and I heard him crash."

The hunter gave the deer ample time to die, and then eased out of the stand.

Catchot was stunned when he found the buck, even though he had gotten a pretty good look at the antlers earlier.

"He was more than I thought," he said. "If I had missed the deer, I would have told you it was a lot smaller than it was."

The 219-pound buck had massive antlers that later stretched a tape almost 25 inches between the main beams, and upon the thick beams sprouted 15 scoreable points.

"I couldn't believe it," Catchot said.

He immediately pulled out his cell phone and called refuge manager Tim Wilkins, and told Wilkins he needed to see the buck.

"Tim said, 'Did you kill the big buck we knew about?'" Catchot said. "I told him that I think I did.

"He come on down, and when he saw it, he said, 'Yep, you killed the big one.'"

The deer was aged at 5 ½ years old, and greenscored 196 4/8 at Simmons Sporting Goods.

Bad for business

Wyn Diggs has a posh deal: He gets to hunt for free at Oswego Wildlife, a 5,000-acre commercial hunting operation his father owns just outside of Acona.

But after two early season hunts, Walt Diggs was thinking about banning his own son from the property.

It began the afternoon of Nov. 5, when Wyn Diggs set out for an area in which a guide had found sheds to a big 10-point after the end of the previous season.

"We figured if it was a 17-inch spread, it would have gone 160 points," Diggs said.

After reaching a food plot near the woods in which the sheds were found, Diggs climbed a tree overlooking a couple of well-used trails coming into the green patch. He hung his bow on a rest, and waited to see what would happen.

"I was watching eight or nine does down the food plot, and about 4:30 (p.m.), a 120-class 8-point came out," Diggs said. "He was just kind of feeding around."

The buck was about halfway between the 22-year-old Mississippi State baseball player and the does, too far for a shot. But Diggs was enjoying the show.

"I just happened to glance up the food plot (in the other direction) and he was standing there looking," Diggs said. "He was about 100 yards away."

"He" was a massive buck, and Diggs' heart sank almost immediately.

"Everything was wrong," he said. "The wind was blowing right to him. It was 65 degrees that afternoon, and I knew there was no way I would get a shot at it.

"I didn't even pick up my bow. I didn't really get that excited because I kept telling myself, 'This deer is too old and too smart for me to get a shot.'"

The buck finally began feeding toward the hunter, moving over a small hill.

"I couldn't see the deer - I could just see the antlers moving up and down," Diggs said.

A few minutes later, a doe ran into the food plot from the exact trail used by the buck.

"It stopped 20 yards from my tree stand, and looked right at me just like she knew I was there," he said. "I knew she was going to start blowing, and that would be it."

Before that could happen, an 8-point burst from the woods, heading straight for the doe.

"He was chasing her a little, which was strange because that usually doesn't happen so early," Diggs said.

That's when things really got exciting.

"The big buck saw the buck heading for the doe, and turned his head," he said.

Still believing he would never get a shot, Diggs slowly pulled his bow from the rack - and was stunned by what happened next.

"He walked straight to that doe, and stopped 25 yards from my stand and postured," he said of the big buck.

The hunter quickly pulled to full draw, and sent an arrow into the trophy's side.

The animal ran off, and that's when the excitement caught up with Diggs.

"It was like I had hypothermia," he said. "I couldn't climb down I was shaking so hard."

He glanced at his watch (it was 5:02 p.m.) before calling a buddy, telling him he had just shot a 150-class buck.

When he reached his arrow, Diggs began worrying.

"I could tell it had good blood on it, but it had a hint of green on one of the fletchings," Diggs said. "I thought, 'I gut shot this deer.'"

He called his father, who in turn began arranging for the use of a tracking dog. However, that proved unnecessary.

"I knew he kind of ducked under some low branches, and I found those branches and I could see him in the bottom," Diggs said.

The buck later weighed in at 220 pounds, but it wasn't the body size that stunned Diggs: It was what the deer was carrying on its head.

"It had 16 points, including two drop tines," he said.

The inside of the main beams stretched a tape to 18 ½ inches, which pushed the buck's greenscore to 185 3/8 Pope & Young at the Simmons Sporting Goods big buck contest.

"I've been bowhunting for seven years, and I've let some nice bucks walk," Diggs said. "But this is the first buck I've even shot at with a bow."

But he wasn't done, yet.

"I was out of school, and I went back to that same food plot Dec. 7," Diggs said. "I went there because I had shot that deer, and nobody wanted to go back there."

It was primative-weapons season, so Diggs borrowed his father's .45/70, and headed out.

"I'm walking up on the food plot, and I see this other deer," he said. "He's just sitting there eating."

The buck was another beast, but it also was way out of range.

"I ranged him, and he was 248 yards," Diggs said. "I knew I couldn't make that shot."

Instead of giving up, however, the hunter slipped into the woods and worked his way to within 70 yards. Before he could shoulder his rifle, however, the buck eased back into the woods.

"I climbed into a ladder stand 40 yards from the trail the (first) big buck came out on," Diggs said.

A big 9-point stepped out and began feeding in the plot, but Diggs decided not to shoot. Instead, he watched the deer chase four does that showed up before it made a scrape across the food plot.

His decision to wait was rewarded about 5 p.m.

"They all picked up their heads, and looked toward the trail right by my stand," Diggs said.

He looked, and there stood the same buck that had been in the food plot earlier.

Diggs quickly took aim, squeezing the trigger at 5:02 p.m.

"It was the same place and the same time, just one moon phase later," he said.

The buck had 11 scoreable points, which pushed the buck to a greenscore of 168 B&C points.

Diggs' father was torn between being proud and being concerned.

"My dad was like, 'Look, you can't kill any more big deer. It's bad for business,'" Diggs said. "I did a lot of duck hunting during the end of the season."

Where'd that come from?

Jay Folse wasn't expecting to see a lot of deer - that just doesn't happen when he hunts a 200-acre lease along the Mississippi River north of Natchez.

"I had hunted 12 days in a row without seeing a deer," the Paulina, La., hunter said.

But he had found a rub line in an area not frequented by many hunters, and that sign indicated a dominant buck was working the area.

"There were 12- to 14-inch trees torn up," Folse said. "I knew there was a massive deer in there."

The hunter had spent the past decade on a quest to shoot a 140-class buck, so he climbed back into the stand on New Year's Day with as much enthusiasm as the first day of the 13-day hunt fest.

"I was sitting there looking at one of the rubs with my binoculars," Folse said. "At 9:15 (a.m.), I heard some sticks breaking."

He looked up to see a doe running along the edge of a thicket.

"She had her mouth open like she was tired or something, and she looked back," Folse said.

That, the veteran hunter knew, indicated she was probably being chased by a rut-crazed buck. It wasn't long before he heard more noise in the thicket, and finally he picked up movement.

"I could see him coming through some canes," Folse said. "I could see him turning his antlers to get them through the canes."

When he finally could pick out antlers, Folse didn't even hesitate.

"I said to myself, 'Well, there's your 140,'" he said.

The buck pushed through the canes, stopping in a small opening of the cover and pointing its nose in the air as if trying to pick up the scent of his most-recent true love.

"I could see all those tines, but I still couldn't tell what kind of deer it was," Folse said. "I just knew it was a shooter."

The rifle was quickly brought to Folse's shoulder, and a shot sounded.

The buck dropped, and the excited hunter didn't waste any time giving the buck time to bleed out.

"There was a small tree next to my climber, and I grabbed that tree and slid right down," Folse said. "I left the climber right there (high in the tree)."

He tried collecting himself, and headed for his trophy.

"The closer I got, the bigger the rack got," he said.

The 226-pound deer sported 14 points on main beams that stretched 25 inches each and circled 21 inches of air. There were seven points on each side, including a drop tine off the back of the right beam. And the mass was incredible.

"I tied his rack to a tree so he couldn't get away," Folse said, even though the deer quit breathing as he walked up.

And then he headed to find a buddy hunting on a nearby pipeline.

"I remember running out of the woods and jogging that road, running and crying," Folse said. "When I got to (my buddy), he thought I had shot somebody because my face was so red, and I was crying."

But the tears came from the joy of the completion of a 10-year-old odyssey, one that far surpassed the goal Folse had set - the buck greenscored an incredible 182 5/8 points.

"I cried for two hours after I killed him," he said.

3, 2, 1, shoot

Tommy Tanner Jr. knew there was a big buck somewhere near the 40-acre cedar thicket because he had pictures of it progressively growing larger over the past four years.

"We had pictures of him every year from 2002 to 2003 to 2004 to 2005," Tanner said.

Keeping that in mind, the Lake hunter fed corn each summer to keep it around. Before each season, he'd pack up the feeding equipment and sit a nearby shooting house in hopes of seeing the buck.

The odds were slim, however.

"Every picture I had was between 12 and 4 o'clock in the morning," Tanner said.

But hope springs eternal, so he crawled into the box stand Dec. 1 with his 12-year-old son Kody.

Without seeing anything by the time the light was almost gone, the pair of hunters was preparing to leave when Kody stopped.

"He said, 'Daddy, look yonder: There's a deer,'" Tanner said.

Sure enough, a deer had stepped out into the small food plot.

"I seen he was a good deer, but I didn't know how big," Tanner said. "Then I hear Kody say, 'There's a second deer, there's a third deer.'"

The two quickly brought their rifles up, and Kody said he was going to shoot the last deer that walked out. Tanner said he would shoot the one farthest away from the trees.

"We counted '3, 2, 1,' and both of us shot simultaneously," Tanner said.

They both felt they had made good hits, but they had to go home to retrieve flashlights before beginning to track the deer. That provided plenty of time for the bucks to die.

Upon returning, it didn't take long to find blood where Tanner's deer was standing, and the buck hadn't gone far.

"It went 20 yards into the woods," he said.

The light soon revealed that the buck was more than the "good deer" Tanner was expecting.

"It has 21 redneck points," he said. "It was (green)scored as a typical 14 point, but with the points that you can hang a ring, it's 21 points," he said.

The rack was only 16 inches across, but greenscored 176 B&C - not including any of the "redneck points" Tanner counted.

"I'm saying he's going to be 180 plus," he said.

Young Kody, by the way, hit his deer, but the blood trail was lost after about 400 yards.

"We killed a 7-point buck that had been shot about three weeks later," Tanner said. "I think that was it."

My turn, boy

Benny Grewe shared a stand in Yazoo County with his 9-year-old son Luke on Dec. 10, so he was happy when a buck stepped out.

"He shot at a little 6-point, but missed with his muzzleloader," the elder Grewe said. "He asked me to reload, but I told him, 'No way. It's my turn.'"

So Luke gave up the stand's seat, and the hunt continued. And it was almost as if the young boy hadn't even fired a shot.

"Almost immediately, two more bucks stepped out onto the food plot," Grewe said. "They were decent, but I knew they weren't the big man."

That "big man" was the deer Grewe was after. He knew it was in the area because of images captured on a game-trail camera.

"The first picture I have was from Dec. 1, and I probably had 20 pictures in all," Grewe said. "I had one picture stamped 6:09 a.m. and one about 5:30 p.m. Everything was night."

Still, he passed the two bucks and waited. That was fortuitous because the big buck stepped out minutes later only about 30 yards from the stand.

"The first thing I seen was these tall tines," Grewe said. "I didn't look at (the rack) anymore."

The buck had stepped out broadside, so Grewe pulled his .50-caliber Traditions smoke pole into position, and found the deer.

"When I found the butt, I just followed the deer to the front, and when I saw its shoulder, I fired," he explained.

Smoke obliterated the view, but the deer had wheeled and headed back into the woods.

The two hunters eased out the stand and headed home to give the deer time to die.

"I came home, ate supper and waited about 2 ½ hours," Grewe said.

Then the entire family - Grewe, Kody, a daughter and Grewe's wife - returned to track the deer.

"At first we didn't find any blood, so I found a trail I thought he had walked out on," Grewe said. "There was good blood there."

The tract of land is only about 100 yards wide, so the deer was quickly on a neighbor's property, so Grewe went and asked D.R. Bozeman for permission to trail the deer. Bozeman and his dog joined in on the hunt.

It didn't take long for the dog to track down the deer, but the buck was still very much alive.

Grewe and his gang of trackers caught up with the dog at the edge of a lake on Bozeman's property, but the deer was nowhere to be found. So instead of continuing to push the issue into the night, Grewe opted to return the following morning.

"That deer was right where the dog had left him," Grewe said.

The buck was standing in the water at the edge of the lake when he arrived, still refusing to die. When Grewe approached, the deer lunged deeper into the water.

"He didn't go very far before he died," the hunter said.

Fortunately, the buck floated, and Grewe trolled out in a small boat and retrieved his trophy.

The buck had survived through the night despite being shot just in front of the left shoulder, which blew out its right lung.

"I missed the heart and the other lung, but his chest was just a mess when I cleaned him," Grewe said. "I don't know how he lived that long."

The buck was a real trophy, however, weighing 240 pounds and sporting a 10-point rack measuring 21 inches inside.

It greenscored at 167 7/8 Boone & Crockett.

Grewe said young Luke never questioned his father's right to shoot the deer.

"He already knew that deer was mine," the elder Grewe laughed.

Fortunately, however, Luke later took a trophy of his own - a nice 8-point.

Rain can't stop the action

Baton Rouge's Lance Walker spends most of his time hunting tuna as a guide with Paradise Outfitters in Venice, La., but he dedicated a lot of time in the woods this season after capturing a game-trail photo of a big buck on his lease near Brookhaven.

"The first pictures we got of it were on Oct. 8, and I've hunted the deer pretty much the whole season," Walker said. "I actually passed on 12 deer that were 8-points or better, quite a few of them being in the 130-class-range. I even passed an 11-point on Christmas morning."

It was his first year in the lease, and he was allowed two bucks, but he wasn't planning on wasting a shot.

"I took the safety off quite a few times, but I had seen the pictures of this deer and two other big bucks, and I figured once one of them three stepped out, I'd pull the trigger," he said.

In early January, Walker actually caught a fleeting glimpse of the biggest buck.

"It flew across a (small) road chasing a doe, and I didn't have time to get a shot," he said.

By Jan. 21, he decided the best course of action was to set up in the woods where the buck was last seen.

"I actually followed the ridge the buck used and set up on the next road over," Walker said.

Conditions were wet, with a steady rain falling as he set out. His brother Paul and friend Michael Ourso had decided to sit in Walker's two box stands to get out of the weather, and that left Walker with no choice but to hunt a climber.

"I hiked down the road with a climber on my back in the rain," he said.

By 7 a.m., he was set up overlooking several ridges near where he had sighted the buck weeks earlier.

He didn't have to wait long for action to really pick up.

"Four bucks started chasing does all around me," Walker said. "It was a spike, an 8-point, a 10-point and the big deer.

"He was in range the whole time, but he wouldn't quit running."

After five minutes, the buck trotted over the ridge nearest Walker's stand, and the hunter desperately grunted in an attempt to stop it for a shot.

"I was blowing pretty loud," he said. "The other deer stopped and looked at me, but he wouldn't stop."

He finally decided he better take a shot, so he pulled his .45-caliber muzzleloader to his shoulder and touched off a shot at that rut-crazed animal. The buck fell dead about 7:15 a.m. in a small ditch, with only one main beam sticking up out of the water, Walker said.

The other bucks were still standing and looking at the hunter, who didn't wait the traditional 15 minutes to see what he had shot.

"They were still watching me when I ran down that tree," Walker chuckled.

He was prepared to find a really fine buck, but admitted he underestimated its size.

"When I saw him, I didn't think he was that big. I was thinking it was a 150-inch deer," Walker said. "When I walked up and pulled his head out of the water, I knew he was bigger than that.

"He's got a 14-inch G2, and the other one is 12 inches. Every measurement on it was 2 to 4 inches more than I thought."

It was only a 9-point, but it greenscored at 164 2/8.

"I couldn't believe it," Walker said.

Topping off the experience was learning that no one in the club was jealous about the kill.

"It's one of the few clubs you'll get in where everybody's happier when somebody else shoots a deer," he said.

Right place, right time

The 1,000 acres of family land in Smith County has been intensively managed for several years, with the Ashley family maintaining food plots and feeding protein year round.

So it wasn't a surprise when trail cameras began capturing images of nice bucks.

That's what pulled Jones County Junior College student Austin Ashley to one particular green patch on the afternoon of Dec. 22.

"We had some pictures of some good deer, and there was a lot of good sign in the area," he said.

But he didn't do anything special when he arrived, simply climbing into a shooting house and waiting to see what would happen.

"About 2 p.m., I had a few smaller bucks in the food plot," Ashley said.

A couple of hours later, a doe popped out about 160 yards away, but the hunter's heart raced when he saw what was following the nanny.

"I knew he had a good rack and good body," Ashley said of the buck chasing the doe. "I thought he was an upper 150-class deer."

Without taking much time to inspect the deer, he threw his rifle up and sent a piece of lead flying across the food plot.

"He stepped and I shot him, and he fell over," Ashley said. "That's about all there was to it."

Still knowing only that it was a shooter buck, Ashley waited in the stand for about 20 minutes. But he wasn't bored.

"I had deer fighting in the woods behind me," he said.

Finally, he climbed down and walked over to his trophy as the bucks in the woods continued tearing each other apart.

The big deer laid out in the field was just a little bigger than he thought, however.

"When I walked up to it, I thought, 'Dang, that's going to be a good deer,'" Ashley said. "I couldn't reach around the bases."

The big 10-pointer was massive, pushing the tape to 173 4/8 Boone & Crockett.

"I got pretty shook up," Ashley said.