Some 24 years ago, David Klimek, the owner of Tunica Farm Supply, had a great idea. He would start a deer contest, award prizes for the biggest deer harvested and maybe in the process generate a little more traffic to his store, which sells deer hunter supplies and apparel.

What he didn't realize back in 1986 was that the Tunica Farm Supply Big Buck contest would be a catalyst for the community to become aware of what they could accomplish in terms of quality deer management if they all worked together toward a common goal.

Although it has been a learning process for all involved along the way, Klimek is pleased at the point to which he and the surrounding communities have arrived, especially in terms of deer hunting opportunities for the next generation.

"Both the deer and the contest have grown over the years," said Klimek. "When we first started, our overall winner scored 136 points. We had 50 entries back then. Last year, our overall winner was Roger Johnson, who won with a buck that scored 168 7/8. That was out of 300 participants.

"A 136 class buck like the deer that won back in 1986 would have only taken about 20th place in last year's contest."

The 2010-11 Tunica Farm Supply Big Buck contest will kick off its 25th season this month with its annual chili supper, which will take place at the store on Nov. 17. The chili supper has become a contest ritual, and is held every year on the Wednesday night before the opening day of rifle season. This event has become a homecoming of sorts for past winners, as many of them still participate in the contest but also show up to fellowship and relive past deer hunts with friends and neighbors.

"The contest now has several divisions," said Klimek. "We have a primitive weapon, archery and rifle division as well as female and youth divisions. Then there is the overall division- the No. 1 winner can come from any of the other divisions. So far we have had the overall winner come from the rifle, primitive weapon and the youth division. We've also had some archery hunters come real close as well as some female hunters."

Contestants are required to sign up for whatever division they choose to enter before the season starts in order to promote fairness for all involved. Klimek indicates that the only requirement, other than pre-registration, is that the deer must be killed in the state of Mississippi. He says that up to 80 percent of contestants are from Tunica County with the remainder from adjacent counties either as residents or as hunters who own or lease land in the area.

One of the most amazing facts is that Klimek estimates most of the deer entered into the contest are killed within 30 miles of his store.

Obviously the size of the deer in and around Tunica County and the rest of the Delta region have grown in size, but it hasn't been by mistake. Many of the local deer hunters can recall a time when Tunica and the Delta region didn't have the quality deer herd it enjoys today.

"I have hunted this area my whole life," said Brent Bass of Clarkesdale, who is the only repeat winner of the big-buck contest. "I have seen first hand the effects of quality deer management, especially in the last 10 years. I have personally set a standard for myself that I will not harvest a deer unless he's something in the 150 class, and I see a lot of the folks around here doing the same thing."

The contest has reinforced that mindset.

"One thing I really appreciate about the contest is how it has changed to help promote the area," said Bobby Reed of Walls, the 1988 winner. "Back then, they would take your picture for every buck you entered. At the end of the year, they drew at random from the stack of photos for prizes. Well, we started to realize that was just promoting the killing of bucks regardless of size, so now the contest still has random giveaways, but it's not based on how many deer you kill."

Reed and other area hunters agree that the Delta region has the two things necessary to grow big deer - genetics and food - and that the third ingredient, age, can be provided if hunters will allow young deer to walk and grow to maturity.

"Some folks may criticize a big-buck contest as not allowing trophy deer to reproduce," said 2007 winner Tommy Baine. "They claim we're removing the good genetics. But by letting a deer mature to 5 or 6 years of age, he's got plenty of time to spread those good qualities around. I get more out of winning this contest than one that offers big money or expensive prizes because I know how far this area has come through quality deer management practices."

According to Klimek, roughly 10 percent of Tunica County is located behind the Mississippi levee, but that small strip of land gets nearly 50 percent of the deer-hunting effort. He believes nearly every square mile is either under lease for deer hunting or is managed and hunted by the landowner.

"A typical hunting scenario here is to spend the morning hunt in a stand in the woods, waiting for that big buck to walk by," said Klimek. "The afternoons are usually spent beside an open field or food plot, watching for deer to come out into the open."

Detailed record-keeping allows Klimek some personal insight into the history and growth potential of the deer that call the Delta Region home. He can gauge trends, most of which are upward.

"Just in the past 5 years, we have seen a big jump in the rack sizes of our deer herd," he said. "In 2005, we had 12 mainframe 10-point bucks entered into the contest. Last season saw that number jump to 23. The same goes for 8-pointers. There were 31 in 2005, and this past season we had 46 entered into the contest."

Along with the growth in deer has come the expansion of youth and women hunters into the contest. With a small entry fee and local bragging rights to be had, Klimek has been encouraged by the number of women and children wanting to be a part of this community event.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to maintain our numbers and quality of deer so that the next generation will have this to look forward to," he said.