Serious deer hunters often debate how to grow hammer bucks, and they all agree that age and groceries are critical to growing racks.

A Gonzales hunter learned this year that supplementing with large quantities of protein can push deer over the hump and increase antler development.

Greg Hackney, a Bassmaster Elite Series fishing pro who also is also a die-hard deer hunter, and the other seven members of his club in Washington County, Miss., embarked last February on an experiment that called for feedng 16 tons of protein on their nearly 5,000-acre property.

And it seems to have paid off in spades, with numbers of 130-inch-plus bucks being killed this season.

"I can't think of anything else it could be," said Greg Hackney, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro who is one of the owners of the property.  "On average, we saw 10-points this year that would ordinarily be 6-points or 8-points."

That was a surprise even to Hackney, who was one of the main proponents in the club of the feeding program.

"I really didn't know what to expect. It was really an experiment," he said. "I talked to a lot of people, and what they told me was that it would be the deer you started feeding at birth that would show the biggest difference, and it won't make much difference to that deer you already have.

"They said it would take five to six years."

However, the property has produced numbers of bucks this year topping the 130-inch mark.

"This has been the best year we've ever had," Hackney said. "I'm the newest member in the club, but all the members (who have been in it for years) say the same thing: 'It's never been this good.'

"We've seen more big-horned deer than we've seen before."

Now, Hackney said he doesn't necessarily believe the protein produced this big growth spurt all by itself. The club also has an extensive system of food plots, and there is plenty of natural groceries.

"We have a lot of browse, and that's a big part of it," he said.

However, what the protein has apparently done is set up the property's deer herd for a great summer.

"I don't care what you feed them, when they start rutting they're going to wear themselves down," Hackney said. "Now we've got a quick way of building them up.

"You've got to get his body back before he starts growing those antlers. The protein gets their body back quickly, so all the browse can go to growing their horns."

And he said this benefit appears to go beyond the bucks.

"We had a great fawn crop," he said. "I've actually seen does with triplets. They're like flies; they're everywhere."

Hackney also quickly pointed out that a club that hasn't built up a stock of mature bucks (those at least 4 ½ years old) probably won't see a one-year return.

"It might take some time, but whether you want to grow horns or just a lot of deer, I don't see how this can hurt," he said.

Clubs looking to begin feeding protein should look for protein specifically formulated for deer.

What often stops clubs from undertaking a supplemental program is the perceived cost, but Hackney said it's really not that expensive.

"If I'm not mistaken, we paid $9,000 for 16 tons of protein," he said. "That sounds like a lot, but when you split it up it's not that expensive.

"You take a club with 3,000 acres and 20 members, and for $500 to $800 each they can feed deer more than they can eat in a year."

He said the results were so impressive that he and other club members were talking about extending the supplemental feeding through August.

"I've been told the hardest time for a buck is when their antlers harden," Hackney said. "So I'd like to see us feed until all the way through the summer."