On the History Channel's American Pickers, the main characters Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz rummage around in the far reaches of the American outback scrounging for hidden treasures and trophies.

In a parallel sense, that is exactly what a lot of Mississippi buck hunters do. They search for favored places to find their trophies of the antlered kind.

They "pick" the properties, habitats, land-layout features and whitetail hideouts where they hunt for the most ideal places to play out their buck-hunting strategies and tactics. Are these buck hotspots stumbled onto by accident, or are they deliberately identified by hard work and sweat?

Let's take a sneak peek at what three pickers say are their favorite picks for big-buck hideouts.

 

The Starkey strategy

"The farm I have been hunting the last five years or so has big-bodied deer but small racks, which I am trying to correct," said Beau Starkey of Madison. "With some considerable sweat equity, things are starting to turn around. To find the big bucks on this place, I have discovered you have to look close for some specific types of habitat features. It took me a while, but I'm getting there.

"My No. 1 top spot to identify are the staging areas. By that I mean places inside woodland cover where a buck will hold back to check things out before easing into an open feeding spot. I like staging areas near food sources like standing corn, soybeans or a green food plot, which are the ultimate whitetail draw.

"Ideally this 'waiting-room' area would be 100-500 yards from the food resource. The staging area can have its own food source, too, like some acorn-producing oaks, but I have not found that necessary. In fact, I have killed bucks coming from these staging areas where there were no mast trees at all.

"If I had my choice I would like to find a staging area that is roughly a 50- to 100-yard radius in size. That way whether I am hunting with a bow or a gun, I should have a good clear view of the deer. The big bucks have a better sense of security in these staging areas to watch the action before heading into the field for the evening.

"I've yet to hunt a place in Mississippi where I have not been able to find one of these staging areas where bucks hang out.

"This may sound a little off the wall, but another one of my picks is to look for a mast-producing tree smack in the middle of a thicket. I mean a real thicket. The thicker it is around the mast tree, the better.

"From my experience bucks will hit these food sources in daylight hours because they feel secure. It's no different than an overweight person eating their favorite food in their house with all the shades drawn. Bucks don't want to be seen while eating either, so they go where it is hard for them to be seen, except hopefully from my strategically placed tree stand."

 

Boykin's river-bottom picks

"I like rolling hills and deep ravines that have lots of acorns," said Angelia Boykin of Laurel. "I like places that are very hard to get into that, frankly, would be a nightmare for me to try and pack a buck out of by myself.

"I pick these spots because the average man would not go there because it is just too difficult to get into and then have to pack a deer back out. I think in principle as well as practice these are the kinds of places where the big bucks like to hang out. When big bucks think they are hidden and inaccessible, that is one of their first big mistakes I like to spin to my advantage.

"Given these parameters, sometimes it can be tough to fulfill them in the search for a really good place to hunt bucks, but I have found a couple. One of them is on private land just off the Chickasawhay River near Waynesboro in Wayne County. It is a beautiful oak bottom where it has water backed up from the river creating potholes of swampy, really nasty hideouts. From my stand, you can actually see the acorns floating in the water falling from the nearby oak trees. This is what I call antler picking at its best.

"My stand sits up on a high place overlooking the swamp and the oak bottom. From there, I can spot every deer slipping through the whole bottom below my position. They tend to come and go very quietly, walking in the soft mud, but occasionally you will hear deer sloshing in the water. They may be spooked or just moving fast.

"In this place you really have to keep focused on your hunting, listening and watching. Things can happen real fast.

"These places make up my favorite big-buck antler picks. Oak bottoms with a creek or other standing water like a swamp just naturally attract bucks. They can move quietly and in the shadows without being noticed. If you can find a spot like this with obvious deer sign, then lock it down.

"Get to the high spots where visibility is best, adverse scent is less of an issue and you can slip into and out of without making much noise. It's not a bad idea either to post two different stand locations to take advantage of wind shifts from day to day.

"The best part is public areas like the nearby Chickasawhay Wildlife Management Area have spots just like mine. Parts of the WMA are quite close to the river. There are isolated ridges that take some effort to find and hunt, but the results can definitely be worth it."

 

Edging closer to big bucks

Brian Jones hunts in Winston County. Any bells ringing? Oh, sure it's just a coincidence, but that's the home county to the state-record Tony Fulton buck that scored 295 6/8 in 1995. I suppose some genetics could be lingering around thereabouts. Just never know.

"Mainly I like to stay close to the hardwoods," he said. "If there is a creek bottom nearby, that is all the better. I like to be near to where the cover changes, like when open hardwoods join an area with thick underbrush or where the hardwoods open up to a small field.

"Next to those habitat transition zones, I look for large creek bottoms lined with hardwoods. Big bucks seem to favor these areas as travel routes back and forth from bedding areas to feeding spots. Truthfully, my main goal is to stay away from everyone else. I usually go to the places that are harder to get to so I can hunt undisturbed."

Habitat transition areas where one type of habitat butts up against another have always attracted deer activity. As Jones has found, these edges provide deer with security, cover and secluded travel routes for daily movement.

Good places for antler picking.