Bagging a trophy-class whitetail is truly the experience of a lifetime. For most deer hunters, one is all they get. Many seasoned sportsman are completely satisfied to have achieved the accomplishment. They got their 15 minutes of fame, got the bragging mount and can relive the whole episode at the drop of a camo hat.

However, some of us never get to carve that mark on the stock of our favorite deer rifle. Even after decades of hunting, many deer chasers are still patiently (or not) waiting for just a glimpse at a true trophy buck. They live for each new season with the simmering dream that maybe "this will be the year." It keep us coming back season after season.

Then there are other deer hunters who seem to have a special knack for collecting trophy bucks on a regular basis. Maybe it's not every single season, because that might begin to raise an eyebrow or two. Those guys eventually lose their credibility. Some of those hunters' tricks prove to be either unethical or illegal.

But what about those select hunters who really do it right and do it fairly often? How do they do it? What insights do they have that other deer hunters don't? Do they use secret strategies, tight-lipped tactics, or what? Can we learn from their proven methods of trophy hunting?

Well, let's examine those questions by profiling three special deer hunters who have achieved the status of "Deer Whisperers." These guys are definitely not your average deer hunters. They ply their successful modes of hunting year after year. They may not bag a big one every season, but they consistently get close, and that is what really counts.

 

Alabama hunter prefers Mississippi

George Mayfield may very well be the best deer hunter I have ever known. He is definitely the genuine article. He originally hailed from South Mississippi around the Laurel area. He attended college to eventually earn a degree in entomology. He moved to the Aliceville, Ala., area to start a business checking farmers' crops for insect infestations.

In the process, he became friends with a lot of landowners, and had many offers to hunt their lands. Mayfield eventually got such a reputation in the area as a successful deer hunter that he made arrangements to lease hunting land and opened his own lodge, which came to be known as The Roost.

After many years of operating in Alabama, Mayfield turned to Mississippi to lease some new properties. That's when he really began collecting nice bucks for his clients and for himself. On one hunt there, I fondly recall glassing the second-largest buck I had ever seen. He was slipping down a fence line on the far side of an open sage field, way too far off for a shot or a sneak. He was a 150- to 160-class buck typical of the big bucks in the area.

So how did Mayfield manage to collect so many big bruisers over the years?

"I guess if I boiled it all down to one thing, it would be dedication," he said. "And that dedication I applied to learning every nook and cranny of every hunting property I owned or leased. I mean all summer long I was out in the cotton or soybean fields checking for boll weevils or army worms. I had the topography of every plot memorized to the Nth degree.

"All year, all seasons, I was essentially scouting. I watched bucks from spring to summer and into the fall hunting seasons. I glassed them from my truck and took hundreds of photos from long range. Mind you, this was way before the advent of digital trail cameras. Most of the bucks I took I had seen several times and knew their favorite hideouts, hangouts and travel routes.

"On top of that, I learned every inch of their habitat intimately. I knew where every wild crabapple and persimmon tree was on every place I controlled. I had mentally mapped where every honeysuckle bush and every succulent wild grape hedge grew. I knew the water resources, ponds, creeks and drainages. I cataloged the game funnels, active trails, crossings and staging areas. If there were acorn hardwoods on the place, I knew them. I remembered each and every tree rub and scrape.

"Every season I picked out the most active spots to hang tree stands, lean ladders or pop up a tripod stand. My real secret was knowing everything about the habitats I hunted and the bucks roaming them."

 

The French Connection

In the 1971 movie, Gene Hackman played a New York narcotics cop known as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle. He foiled a huge dope smuggling ring with the assistance of two secretive French national characters known only as the French Connection.

It may be a stretch, but the next deer whisperer literally smuggles big-racked bucks right out of their home ranges. His tactic is simple, too. He never gives up the chase of a big buck he has identified in his hunting area. He may not always win the war, but he has won plenty of battles.

The guy's name? Kerry French.

"I've been lucky I guess over the past 30 years or so to take a number of very nice bucks in Mississippi," he said. "I will admit up front that I am only interested in pursuing trophy bucks and rarely settle for second best. If I can't connect on the really big buck that I've staked out, I am not going to harvest a lesser buck. I suppose the ultimate trick I use is sheer persistence to locate a really big buck and then hunt him exclusively until I hang him on the wall or he vanishes as the season ends.

"Scouting, of course is important, but I don't overdo it. Just before the gun season gets into full gear, I slowly scout the areas I want to hunt, either on a deer club where I'm a member, land where I am invited to hunt or family land around my parents' home in southwest Hinds County."

"I key in on three things mainly. First, I focus on food resources because during the rut, does are going to continue to browse every day and bucks will show up to scent them out.

"Next, I look for heavy traffic sign in feeding areas including worn trails, creek crossings, narrow funnels, all showing very active use. Then, I check out rubs looking for a string of them in a row. Scrapes will usually be in the area, but I do not actively hunt over either a rub or a scrape. For me, these signs just verify that bucks are in the area.

"Finally, I lay back on the edges of these areas to observe. More often than not, a big buck is going to show himself sooner or later. If they don't, then I rotate to an identified secondary spot, or Plan C if necessary.

"Once I peg a buck in an area, then I ease back in to post a stand or two, usually at the last minute. Now that I know a bruiser is in the area, I stay on him. Sometimes I win and many times I lose, but nevertheless these tactics more often than not prove successful."

 

Effective edge effect

When I walked into J.M. Cockrell's office at Hinds Community College in Raymond, I found myself starring up at two big-racked bucks. He said he had others at home. I asked Cockrell about how he has taken so many nice bucks over the years.

"I think probably the secrets I use are so boring that nobody would even believe that they work, but they do. Well, at least they have for me anyway," Cockrell chuckled. "When I first started deer hunting in earnest, I lived in a house that had property backing up to a huge power line right-of-way. I could step out my back door and walk over to that open stretch of deer habitat in five minutes. It was basically grown up in waist-high sage grass and briars lined by timberland on both sides.

"As I would scout up and down the edges of that power line, I would find heavily used trails where deer were coming and going from one side of the timber across the right-of-way then into the woods on the other side. I set up my stands overwatching these hot trails.

"Sounds simple, but sooner or later deer would pop out of those trails, and many times it was a nice buck following behind several does.

"During the week of the rut, I would slip into a stand early on weekends or late in the afternoon when I would get home from the college. Most days if I sat until noon, or afternoons until dark, a buck would eventually bust out of the woods in hot pursuit of a doe. I could usually pick out the buck immediately, but this power line was on a stretch of rolling hills, and sometimes the chase would take the deer out of sight.

"If I held tight, that doe would often lead the buck back over the hill right into my line of sight and the crosshairs in my rifle scope. Bucks like the security of the woods, but once the chase starts, they usually end up running right out in the open.

"The one other thing I do consistently is spend time on the stand. You got to put in time on the stand."