Just up the trace from Natchez, a few miles from Fayette and perhaps closer to Church Hill, rests a little place where a few extended families come together each fall called the Cottonseed Hunting Club.

Like most hunting camps, kids aged in the single digits run around in camouflage, mainly supervising and entertaining themselves between hunts, while the adults mill about spinning yarns, laughing or seriously discussing the next day's strategy to bust a big one.

Nearly bumping into me, one of the mini-people flew by - a blur of green and brown in a Mossy Oak pattern with conspicuous red smudges on his cheeks.

Not yet introduced, I turned to his father and asked, "Did he get his first deer?"

He replied matter-of-factly, as we shook hands to begin formal introductions, "No, he shot a doe this evening, and he just likes rubbing the deer's blood on his face."

My hosts for the weekend at the Cottonseed Hunting Club were Robbie Helfferich and his close friend and kin by marriage, Kevin Brady. Brady invited me to the camp's kitchen for a late supper, and said as we entered the makeshift mess hall, "Just take all this in."

The door leading to the outside on the crisp cool night was left wide open. Heat wasn't a concern; there was plenty of it coming from a couple of gas stove burners, one with a steaming pot of soup in a black-iron pot being stirred by Helfferich and another with a couple guys taking turns tending to some chicken-fried venison.

There was a small adjacent room off the kitchen dining area clustered with an old couch, a couple of bunks and picnic table with a widescreen T.V. that everyone could see. A couple pre-teen girls sat curled up, blankets up to their necks, watching a movie. And some of teenage boys washed, dried and put away dishes - a task every father said they had to do while apprenticing at the club.

Sitting at a picnic table poring over pictures is where I noticed one young man who seemed to stand out in the photo album. What's more, when he walked into the dining area and sat down, some of the other young men his age seemed to gravitate to him.

"Did you see anything tonight?" they all wanted to know.

Davey Yennie is a 20-year-old deer hunter who attends the University of Southern Mississippi, majoring in construction engineering.

Like a lot of southern boys, Yennie started hunting deer early, killing his first buck at age 8. During the years since, and the photo album was visual proof, the young hunter has scored 14 bucks. Nine of those were 8-point or better. But, more amazing, four were in the 130 to 140 Boone & Crocket class - lifetime bucks for the average middle-aged deer hunter.

Yennie says club members mainly hunt out of shooting houses overlooking food plots, and he does as well on days where inclement weather occurs. But year in and year out, his success has come from several refined tactics, honed outside of the large fixed stands along the deer trails in the woods.

"I like to go where most people don't," he said. "I'll hunt a corner of the property where no other people will go - that's the biggest thing. Then I go in there and walk around and decide where I eventually feel he is going to come out."

With a maturity many hunters don't achieve until much later in life, Yennie's tactics consist of three main objectives - learning the routines of a particular deer he's interested in, developing a game plan prior to the season and putting time in the stand.

 

Sorting out the routines

Whether a buck's routine consists of rub lines, trails to feeding areas or bedding areas, it's all information the young hunter processes, and it becomes almost like a sixth sense to increase his chances for success.

"I look for deer routines where there is high deer traffic," Yennie said. "I'll check out rub lines and scrapes and things like that. Once I find what I'm looking for, then I really like to get away from it and not hunt right on top of it."

Yennie has learned deer live and die by their noses. What's more, he knows bucks sporting large horns didn't get that way by having sinus trouble when it comes to the annual fall hunter invasion.

Part of a buck's routine going into the pre-rut period each fall is to check scrapes along his rub line. Hunting right on top of these key deer traffic signs could cause a buck to change its routine and damage a hunter's chance of harvesting that targeted buck.

 

Formulating a game plan

Yennie's second tactic is to use the deer-intelligence he's picked up by learning routines. That information provides lots of preseason reflection that he often discusses with his father David and subsequently uses to formulate a game plan that he incorporates during preseason preparations.

"The game plan has come just in the last few years, "Yennie admitted. "After a hunting season would end, I'd kind of - all summer - be thinking about how I want to hunt and how or where I think a big one's going to be. I also like to go into the woods a couple months before the season with my ladder stands and put them up, so deer can get used to them."

The Cottonseed Hunting Club's terrain consists of rolling hill country, bluffs, ridges and a sandy creek bottom with plenty of deciduous hardwoods with a sprinkling of pines.

"My favorite hunt is in the woods away from the food plots," he said. "I really like to sit on the ground at the base of a tree. I have climbers, but my favorite thing is just sitting on the ground. Part of my plan is, once I know its routine, I like to be 100 yards away and don't like to be any closer. I don't want him close where he can smell me. I want to be able to reach out and touch him from that distance, where I've planned to set up."

Reaching out and touching a particular buck is a foregone conclusion for Yennie. He shoots a Browning .270 Winchester bolt-action rifle, topped with a Leupold variable scope using 130-grain Federal Premium ammunition - a lethal combination for a well-positioned marksman looking to make a clean kill from a distance.

 

Putting in the time

Most young hunters have a hard time sitting for long periods of time, particularly in this day and age of text-messaging, iPhones, iPads and hand-held video games. Then again, most young hunters aren't like Davie Yennie, who has the patience of Job.

"Why I'm consistent is once I've thought about it during the offseason and kind of developed the game plan, the main thing for me then is to put in the time," he said. "During the rut, I want to be there more often and get to where I can see them. They're really chasing those does and can come from any direction at any time of day. So often I'll be in the woods longer."

Helfferich and I hunted together overlooking an oxbow along a sandy creek until mid-morning. When we got back to the camp, putting in the time had paid off for Yennie again that Saturday morning following Thanksgiving when he scored another 130-class buck.

"I had been there all week," Yennie said. "At the beginning of the week, we had really good cold weather, and later in the week it was hot and not really good hunting weather.

"But I'd been hunting all week - putting my time in and thinking all it takes is one good deer to walk out. I hadn't seen anything all morning until 8:30, when he caught my eye. He was going downhill toward the creek. So I turned, and there he was. I wanted to get a clear shot - then he started trotting. I had to shoot him when he was in a full run, and he went straight down."

Yennie refines his techniques every season, but he's always been a great hunter, according to his father.

"He's been like that ever since he was little," David Yennie Sr. said of his son's accomplishments. "We watch them during the season, but he always seems to kill the biggest ones. I don't know how that happens, but he's happy as heck to kill one deer a year, if it's the one he wants."

Listening to the elder Yennie, an avid deer hunter in his own right, one realizes the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in this hunting family.

"It's basically during the week you think about seeing a spot in your mind that you'd like to check out," he said. "I'll think about it all week long, and when I get there, I'm going to that spot. Where we hunt, you've got ridges and areas where you can look into a bottom. We've got food plots and shooting houses, but I'd rather go sit in the woods than sit in the shooting house overlooking a food plot. I just don't seem to enjoy it as much - sitting in a house."

The father-and-son duo don't compete, but do have sort of a tradition of bantering with one another that goes back a few years. The elder's biggest deer scored 125 B&C, and the younger's have scored significantly higher.

"I usually kill my limit - he likes the big old horns," David Sr. said. "I mean I don't shoot little deer, and I like big horns too; it's just all mine are hanging on the rafters of my work shop. His go on the wall and mine go outside."

The younger Yennie says the competition is more of a quality-versus-quantity thing.

"He always shoots a couple more, but mine are always a little bigger than his," the young hunter said. "We always have that little thing of quality and quantity. He's putting meat in the freezer, and I'm decorating the walls."

Hunting has created a lifetime of memories.

"I think the best story was watching him shoot his first one," the elder Yennie said. "I was probably as excited as he was. And I think we both had the shakes in the stand."

I reflected on my friend Robbie and my morning hunt that Saturday, a hunt where we saw 12 deer but no shooters, while I nursed a cup of hot coffee from the camp kitchen. One by one, hunters came in from the field, stopping by the cleaning shed to see who had killed.

I stood observing and listening to the banter surrounding young Davie, while he and his dad skinned the big 9-pointer. Out in the field, youngsters under the supervision of one of the adults fired BB guns and .22s at targets set up several yards away, oblivious to the lifetime buck hanging up out back.

Those who weren't participating ran in and out of the kitchen, back and forth between there and the cleaning shed - stopping briefly to watch, staying only as long as their attention spans allowed.

And I just took it all in at the Cottonseed Hunting Club.