For Gordon Hutchinson, it's been a lifelong passion.
So infected is the Central resident with the deer-hunting bug that Hutchinson has volumes of notebooks containing scribbled facts and observations about the quadrupeds that have captured his fancy.
There's not a morning he wakes up that he doesn't observe the weather conditions and ponder the effects they're having on the area's deer herd.
Only Bill Jordan, perhaps, has hunted more varied places, and the knowledge Hutchinson has gained from his travels serves him well today in his perennial quest to place himself in the middle of herds of happy, healthy bucks.
An accomplished writer, Hutchinson has included much of this knowledge in a novel he penned, titled "The Quest and the Quarry." Set in the Louisiana/Mississippi Delta area, the story follows the lives of a line of trophy bucks, and parallels them with a farming family who targets them.
It is one of the greatest outdoor novels ever written because the story is irresistible, and readers grow immensely in their knowledge of the behavior of trophy bucks.
Hutchinson has some additional tips for hunters who are, right at this moment, gearing up for the season.
1) Plant food plots simply and efficiently to maximize yield and draw deer.
"Most hunters plant small plots — under 1/2 an acre (an acre is approximately 208 by 209 feet, about 43,500 square feet)," he said. "This isn't enough to manage deer, only bring them in — unless you plant a lot of them.
"Most land in the Florida parishes will benefit from a ton of lime per acre. When the pH of the soil is low, the plants cannot utilize the fertilizers they are given very efficiently, and it takes about twice the necessary fertilizer because the plant only gets about half of it.
"Put 500 pounds of pelletized lime on your 1/4-acre plot. That's 12 bags or so at 40 pounds per acre. Lime is cheap, only a few bucks a bag. You'll get the soil pH up to an optimum reading of around 7, and your crops will grow like crazy.
"Most people plant gulf rye grass, oats, wheat or one of the special buck blends, which are generally mixes of all these with some clovers and other legumes thrown in. All these will benefit from lime, and don't make the mistake of simply throwing a bag of 13-13-13 to each 50-pound bag of seed.
"I like to use a bag of ammonium nitrate, and a bag of 8-24-24 with each bag of seed. My crops stay green, lush and deer tasty all season long.
"If you plant most of these, and fertilize with 13-13-13, nitrogen leaches out of the soil very quickly, and by the end of the season your crops will be not very vigorous, and lose their colors.
"Incidentally, legumes are rich, luscious plants that deer love. Clovers, soybeans and peas all have small nodules on their root systems — little bumps that can be seen when you pull the plant out of the ground — that take nitrogen out of the air, and put it back into the soil. Thus, legumes enrich the soil where planted.
"American jointvetch, which is a warm-weather crop, dies with first frost, but is a very good plant for managing your herds. It is a legume also, but it is water sensitive; it needs plenty of it, and it needs the pH up to flourish. But boy, do the deer love it! To a deer, any legume is like chocolate to us.
"Fertilizer numbers are the percentages in 100 pounds of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Thus, in triple 13, in one 50-pound bag, you have 6.5 pounds of nitrogen, 6.5 pounds of potassium and 6.5 pounds of phosphorus.
"Few deer clubs ever test their soil, and it is easy to do. Go around several spots in the plot, dig down several inches and crumble a handful of the soil in a quart-sized Ziploc bag. Mix the soil thoroughly, and take it to your local farm and seed store, co-op or nursery; they'll send it off to LSU for soil analysis, and you'll know exactly how much fertilizer you need of each type for whatever you want to plant."
2) Scout now, scout often.
"This time of year, it's hard. The bucks are running around in their bachelor groups, or nosing around following small family groups of does, but you can place your food plots in positions where you get them in the ground, fertilized and never cross them again.
"Leave them alone, and try to place the stands watching them where you can enter and leave them without ever disturbing the plot. Every time you cross a plot, you leave scent, and the activity and scent is what drives the deer off or makes them go nocturnal.
"Put your stands on your food plots so you can look into the plots from a distance, and you can get into and out of the stands without ever disturbing the deer that are in the plots.
"Optimally, at dark, when you are ready to get down, you should be in a stand that does not have your scent blowing toward the plot, and you can quietly get down and walk off and never disturb the deer out in the plot feeding.
"If you have setups like this, you will be able to hunt that plot all season long, at all times of the day, and during the peak of the rut, you'll have bucks chasing does across it in plain view because they feel safe in it.
"Ever notice in a big field, the place the deer come out is in the insets of the field into the woods? Same principle: They feel safe near cover. Give them a tasty, lush food plot that they think sprung up naturally, they never see or smell a human near it (unless you shoot one, and have to get it, of course) and you will have a mecca for a deer hunter."
3) Bow season is a good time to look for sign.
"You want to place your stands near a food source — a persimmon tree is incredible this time of year — or make your own with minerals.
"Minerals, however, are very iffy. Mainly does go to salt and minerals, and then mainly when pregnant. But mineral and salt licks can be very important to the birth of healthy, strong fawns — and if you have does dropping fawns around licks, then you increase the size of your herd around them, and that makes more bucks hang in the area.
"No matter what, you want to find a food source or a narrows in a stream or a shallow ford, or anything that channels deer. They are like every other living creature on this earth and lazy, and will take the easiest way to get anywhere or reach anything, so you need to find the easiest route around or through or over something, and that is where the deer will come. And after you hunt it two weekends, you'll need to move, because your scent will make them move.
"Last year, I hunted a pipeline in North Louisiana. About 200 yards below the stand, the cleared portion ended. Where do you think most of the deer crossed? In the edge of the overgrown portion, of course, not out in the open part of the pipeline.
"If I were going to bowhunt around that pipeline, I would set up where the cleared portion ended and the brush started. They simply feel safer crossing in the portion that is overgrown. They were 'channeled' by the cleared, open portion of that pipeline."
4) Establish some sanctuaries.
"One of the big things in deer management now is sanctuaries. Biologists recommend choosing up to 20 percent of your lease or land, and cordoning it off for the deer.
"The whole idea is to give the deer a place to hide and feel safe, and they will come out to your food sources. You'll raise more deer this way, and have a higher hunter success ratio.
"One of the absolutely worst things a club can do is ride the damned roads — zipping up and down the trails and roads of the lease during the day, joyriding. Activity makes deer nervous. They either go nocturnal or move only right at dark.
"It all boils down to pressure. Leave them alone, hunt them cautiously and with a modicum of sense, and you'll see deer at all hours of the day. They actually eat and sleep all hours, with feeding periods coming every four to six hours. Only when we pressure them with scent, activity and noise do they adjust their schedules to avoid us."
5) Get the herd in balance.
I have interviewed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deer hunters. Every successful club I have ever studied did one thing the same as all others; in fact, they repeat the same term many times: They 'hammered' the does.
"You have to get the herd back to nature's balance of about one buck for every doe. Most successful clubs hunt and manage their does, and leave the young bucks alone to grow. Many clubs make a game out of it, seeing who can kill the largest, heaviest doe, take their long shots on does, etc.
"Get the herd balance more natural, and you will see more bucks. They'll have more food available to grow on, and they'll have to move a little more and farther to find a willing doe if the balance is right.
"When you have three, four, five times as many does as bucks, how far does a buck have to go in the rut to find a doe in estrus? It is a male's heaven and deer hunter's hell in such a situation.
"Remember, on good range, the natural drop of a healthy doe is twins — 49 percent doe fawns and 51 percent bucks. They will reproduce rapidly if nurtured and scientifically controlled. If you see barren does, or does with only one fawn, you may have a range that is lacking in necessary foods."
6) Teach your members well.
"Everyone in a club should know how to identify the difference between a fawn and a full-grown doe. Too many button bucks are killed every season because anxious hunters can't tell the difference between a young deer and an older one.
"The heads are different — the young deer, buck and doe, will have short, baby-looking jawlines. The older does will have longer, more stretched out jawlines, and will be heavier-bodied.
"Sometimes, when there is not another deer standing for comparison of size out there in the middle of the pipeline, and it looks iffy, just remember, if it were a doe fawn, she'd still be with her mother. If it is a doe, most likely, she'd have a fawn or a yearling with her. If it is a lone deer, standing in the pipeline, looking around, it's probably young, foolish and a buck ... 'cause momma has run him off, and he's lonely and lost, and looking for companionship. And some brainless deer hunter, who doesn't know any better, goes and shoots him, and then regrets it when he sees the buttons.
"It's really sort of pitiful when you think about it. Here he is, lonely, momma's run him off. His sisters don't want anything to do with him. The older bucks ignore him, or run him off if he tries to follow them. He's walking around, here's this great, long opening where he can stand there and look a long ways for another member of his species, he's lonely and miserable, he's looking both ways, standing there broadside in the middle of the right-of-way, and WHAM!
"No more little buck, and the deer hunter has a really impressive trophy to take back to the camp, and be embarrassed with, and be harassed with because of his overeager shooting.
"Shoot him, and you defeat all your purposes of taking out more does, and leaving the bucks to grow and prosper — and he could have grown to be a 12-pointer!"