Ever know a car mechanic who could just give a good listen for a few scant minutes to a sour-running engine and then immediately pronounce what is wrong with it? In a half second they could tell you how long it would take to fix it up and how much it would cost.

Then they would calmly roll over a big chest full of tools of every kind and go right to work fixing the cause of the engine's problems. In no time flat, the contraption is purring like a kitten.

There are deer hunters like that, too. They can diagnose how to best hunt a property with a quick scan of a topographic map or an aerial photograph of the land layout.

Afterwards they can spend a couple days with boots on the ground scouting the place firsthand. By the end of that session they have found the feeding areas, bedding zones, travel routes and funnels, and have a very good idea already where to put hunting stands.

Plant some food plots and they are ready to roll.

Come hunting season they are among the first to drag their quota of does out of the woods. Then they concentrate on the bucks, and it isn't long until one or more wall hangers are in the freezer at the taxidermist.

You probably know deer hunters just like that.

The big question is just exactly how do they do that? What do they know about hunting deer that the average hunter has no clue about? Do they really possess specially honed deer-hunting skills, or does Lady Luck just smile on them more often.

Maybe it's a mix of both.

So, let's examine the deer-hunting tactics of some real buck mechanics to find out what tools and skills they use to bring home the big ones.

 

Bowhunter racks up

As they say, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."

This bow hunter has taken a good number of bucks over the years with his successful methods, and they all score 132 and up. I'd say this guy definitely has bragging rights, but that's not his style at all.

In fact, if you met him in a meeting like I did, you might not ever know he was even a deer hunter. He maintains a low profile, and maybe that's part of his reputation as a buck mechanic.

"If I do anything from a methodical standpoint, it is this: I hunt areas key to feeding and breeding," Ridgeland's Mike Summerlin said. "I want to be where the deer are going, not where they have been.

"To interpret, I want to see the sign and track it back to where they sleep and where they play."

Summerlin is definitely a proactive bowhunter. He goes after the deer where they reside other than just sitting idly by on a food plot hoping a buck might show up.

Like this past year with the huge acorn crop, when they never showed on food plots all season. How did that deer-hunting strategy work out for you?

Summerlin said he likes to find the areas where deer are comfortable before setting up his stands.

"I love thicket edges that offer a sense of safety and security to big bucks," he said. "Deer are just like us. They take the easy route, but if it gets tough on them they will seek out a refuge. I want to be positioned in that refuge area looking over at those safe routes between where the big bucks are hiding and where they want to go.

"I believe you either have to be set up near the terminal spot where they are going or on the path to getting there.

That means he's in tight with his quarry, so he pays close attention to small details.

"I am very much an advocate of scent control, but notice I did not say elimination," Summerlin said. "Deer smell up to seven or eight things at one time. So a scent wafer smells like you and a scent wafer.

"The secret is to reduce human scent and don't expose yourself to blatant obnoxious scents."

And there are other considerations that play into his formula.

"Other factors that I monitor before every hunt is wind direction, moon phase, weather, temperature and especially barometer pressure, which is best for deer hunting when it is either rising or falling," Summerlin explained. "I prefer overcast days to deer hunt, but I am like most hunters that have to maximize the time I have to hunt."

And, of course, he is intimately familiar with his hunting territory.

"I also firmly believe that knowing the land you hunt is primary and everything else is secondary," Summerlin said. "I know the land that I hunt, so it is the secondary agenda that I can focus on.

"If you are hunting a new place or just bought or leased new hunting land, for heaven's sake get out there and spend endless hours exploring it from corner to corner. Learn the shape and roll of the property land features, natural travel routes and funnels, barriers, constrictions, as well as food and water resources. Look for old deer sign along the way, and find out who is hunting around you. These elements will factor into your own successful deer-hunting strategies over time."

Summerlin said there is a quick way to summarize his buck-mechanic success.

"As a dedicated bow hunter, I believe methodical hunting is key," he said. "You can't just jump in a stand and watch deer from 300 yards away (while) drinking coffee and wearing blue jeans.

"You have to literally hunt, and that is what I enjoy about it."

 

The French kiss

Sometimes it is pure finesse that makes the difference when it comes to collecting a big buck. Especially one that might have been over-pressured to the point of making it nearly impossible to think a hunter might catch him off guard.

Going easy and hunting with extra-deliberate assessment, planning and movements in the woods can make the difference.

Just ask Kerry French of Brandon.

"Several years ago, I was desperate for a place to hunt, so I answered some ads in the newspaper attempting to secure a place," French said. "I ended up joining a 'family-oriented' hunting club up in north Madison County.

"That was my first mistake."

He said the outfit turned out to be a nightmare.

"The club was totally dominated by one family, and the elder of the group ruled the hunting of the property with an iron fist," French explained. "He doled out the best hunting areas and stands to immediate members of his family.

"Other members in the club were basically left hanging. If you put a stand in an area where you thought nobody was hunting, you could go in to hunt one day and find the stand gone. It was a mess."

But French saw there were plenty of deer in the area, and he persevered.

"Despite all the negative aspects of this particular hunting club, the area was eaten up with buck sign, rubs, scrapes, beaten-down trails and all the elements conducive to producing quality bucks," he said. "I found one such spot in a most unlikely place and kept everything I found to myself.

"That is one of the keys to my hunting success. Keeping my mouth shut."

He said looking for those unlikely places can often produce huge dividends.

"In scouting around the fringes of where the club family hunted, I found a huge, fresh rub on a big cedar tree," French said. "A little further investigation found several other evergreen trees with trunks worn bare by antlers.

"Funny part is all this buck sign was just within walking distance of the gate coming into the property. It was one of the few places nobody ever hunted, thinking surely no bucks would hang out by the gate near the highway. They were way wrong."

How many times have you heard of situations like this right where you hunt?

"A very long story short, I ended up collecting one of the biggest bucks of my deer-hunting career near that cedar tree," French said. "It was a huge 10-point, 140-class buck, and (it was) unique because the antlers were palmatted, which I came to learn much later is a trait of bucks from that area north of Canton not far from the Big Black River.

"The family controlling the club was politely disgusted and did not invite me back for another year. It turned out that I outsmarted them after all."

French has never lost sight of the lessons learned in that one season.

"What did I learn from this experience that I have carried forward to other successful hunts? That is other than not joining a hunting club run by a single family with too many members?" he said. "Number 1 was scouting all the isolated corners of a property, as well as the most-obvious places out in the open that others might have ignored.

"Sometimes the best places to hunt are right in front of us. Don't take anything for granted that a spot might not produce a good buck."

Second is to let scouting dictate your decisions.

"Furthermore, trust in the sign you find," he said. "Had I ignored those cedar rubs, that buck would not be hanging on my wall today."

He also doesn't let hunting pressure bother him.

"Hunting pressured areas can be tough. Even so, when you find an isolated spot with lots of prospect, hunt it smart," French said. "Hunt it often when conditions are ideal, and above all else go out of your way to keep the spot your secret.

"Park your vehicle far way. Slip in and out without notice, and keep your trap shut."

There are more of these big buck mechanics out there than we likely know about. They have plenty to teach us.

When you run across one, you best sit down at the table, pour another cup of coffee, and listen.