Bubba Bennett killed his first deer, a cow-horn spike, when he was 6 years old.

"I shot at it one time, and my dad asked me if I was sure it was a buck," Bennett told me as he recounted his earliest memory of deer hunting with dogs. "I was sure it was, but a little doubt crept in the more he asked me."

Like an innocent suspect badgered into a false confession, Bennett was just about ready to admit to his father that it might not have been a buck.

"That's when I heard a few other people shooting at it," he continued. "That erased all my doubt, and I knew for sure it was a buck. We moved to another road, and not long after that I finally got the shot to kill it."

But this wasn't Bennett's first foray into the forest to follow a bunch of deer dogs. He can't remember it on his own, but he's been told that he used to ride on top of his dad's shoulders when he was just 2 years old.

Admittedly, life was different back then. The land was all open, and there were no hunting clubs. A $5 permit allowed hunters to gather as a crew with their dogs and listen to Bennett Sr. passing out instructions about where they were going to go and how the hunt was going to happen.

Today, Bennett Jr. is a board member for Devil's Swamp Hunting Club in southwest Hancock County. The club includes 70 members and encompasses over 7,400 acres.

The president of Devil's Swamp, Waveland's Kenny Shiyou, isn't as steeped in the dog hunting tradition as completely as Bennett - but he is just as consumed.

"The paper companies don't own a piece of land in Hancock County now," Shiyou pointed out. "It's all been sold out, and you've got to be in a club to do any kind of hunting around there, not just dog hunting, because there is no open land."

According to Shiyou, there are five hunting clubs in southwest Hancock County, with two of them being dog clubs and three being still-hunting clubs.

That leaves little extra room unless an individual has his own land.

Both hunters choose to withstand the public target that running deer dogs puts on their backs because of the entertainment value and excitement of it all.

"I just love hearing the dogs coming through the woods," Bennett noted, "but it's more than that. It's the challenge. By the time that deer hits the road, you see it's a legal buck and get a shot off and kill it - that's exciting."

Shiyou said there was another aspect to the sport that is equally as important.

"And it's a social thing to me," he said. "We meet up before daylight in the morning and again after the hunt is over. If we've got game, everybody gets together and cleans it, and we share the meat. We killed something like 22 bucks last year, and they all got divided equally.

"I think as much as it gets in your blood, it's a social thing, too."

At first glance, it seems like running deer dogs is a lazy man's way of hunting. Release the dogs, relax on your tailgate and wait on them to deliver a big buck right into your lap. But nothing could be further from the truth.

"It's a lot more work than that," Bennett said. "You can't just put the dog down and wait on him to bring you a deer. We may get them on a trail at a fresh road crossing, but we may also be walking through the woods with the dogs for an hour or two before we get them on a deer."

A typical dog hunt goes something like this: Bennett and Shiyou have all hunters meet up before daylight, and when it is light enough to see, they start tracking the roads because they like to put the dogs on a fresh track.

"We're looking for where a buck has crossed the road - a fresh buck crossing," Shiyou explained. "If we don't find where one has crossed the road, we'll get organized around a certain spot and walk the dogs through the woods, looking for scrape lines, hookings, the same kind of stuff a still hunter would look for."

When the dogs get on a deer, one usually starts to trail and the others come in once they hear the lead dog barking. He throws his head up, and they all get on the same trail.

"That's when it gets kind of like rabbit hunting," Shiyou elaborated. "Most of us know our dogs by what they sound like, and we can tell when they all get in there one behind the other on a buck."

The idea is that the dogs will run the buck across the roads, power lines and logging trails where all the other hunters had previously taken their stands before the dogs were even released.

"If the wind isn't real bad, you can hear the dogs coming," Bennett said. "And we all have CB radios to call hunters to let him know the dogs are coming his way. Usually, whoever can hear the dogs will communicate that they're going such-and-such way in a known direction."

Even with a deer running right to a hunter on a stand, it's still not as easy as it sounds. Deer generally run the same routes and cross openings at the same spots, but that doesn't mean he's going to come out right there on somebody.

Like any kind of deer hunting, if a buck smells a hunter on a stand, he's not coming out there. In fact, he can be in a full run, and if he smells something, he's going to turn and will likely run right back down his tracks and then jump to the side.

"That throws the dogs," Bennet noted. "Sometimes it takes them a while to figure out what happened when they run right back over their own tracks. When the dogs get to the end of the line, they hit the dead end and have to come back and try to pick the deer back up."

And according to both hunters, a buck will also throw the dogs off on a doe on purpose by running up behind one and then jumping the trail. That means hunters can't just assume a buck is coming out and shoot without first checking for horns.

Like rabbits, deer are trained from when they are fawns. Before Bennett or Shiyou ever run them a coyote trained them.

"The little ones have been run two or three months by coyotes before we ever start hunting," Shiyou noted. "They learn through experience. Mom shows them what to do when they're running for their lives."

Keeping safety in mind, Bennett and Shiyou position all hunters on the same side of the road where the dogs are running. That way, when a buck does cross, by the time a hunter figures out what's going on and turns to shoot, he's shooting into the woods on the other side of the road rather than straight down it.

"A lot of times, it's just one shot, and you're shooting as he jumps the opposite ditch," Bennett said. "It's that fast because most of our roads aren't that wide. That's the main reason we all use open-sight shotguns with 00 buckshot.

"With a shotgun, we get a bigger pattern at the point of impact, and we've got a few more pellets downrange rather than only one rifle bullet."

Both hunters feel confident with their shotguns at 50 to 60 yards, but they have both made 100-yard shots before.

"You're pushing the envelope out that far, and a lot of it out there is luck," Shiyou admitted. "Guns change over time, and I'm shooting a 3 ½-inch 935 Mossberg. Our young hunters all use 20-gauge shotguns with buckshot, and they kill them out to about 60 yards."

Getting involved with deer hunting with dogs shouldn't be that difficult for folks who are really interested in giving it a try. Shiyou said their club allows guests to hunt three times a year so they can jump in and check it out.

But few of the dog clubs are going to go out and publicize that they are accepting guest hunters. Therefore, the best way to get involved with dog hunting is to keep asking around until you find somebody who knows somebody who's a member of a dog hunting club.

"Somebody down the line is going to know somebody that can help you out," Shiyou concluded. "You can't just go out and buy a couple dogs and start hunting. It's a lot more specialized than buying a climbing stand and shimmying up a tree.

"You start asking, though, and you'll find someone that can help you out."

While hunters like Bennett and Shiyou are doing their best to ensure this hunting tradition passes down to future generations, they are finding that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

"We don't cut shirttails anymore because clothes are getting to cost too much," Bennett said. "And we don't have open land anymore. But we've got deer and we've got dogs. And as long as we have both of those, we're going to be dog hunters."

There's no doubt about that.