Tony Chachere Jr. had been hunting Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area for several years, and he had killed a couple of deer.

He had not, however, hunted the Shangri-la of the management area, where a certain group of hunters have killed some beastly deer.

Chachere, son of the founder of Tony Chachere's Creole Foods, had wined and dined these hunters during their annual stays at the Three Rivers campground, but that coveted invitation had eluded him.

That was until 2001, when one of the inner circle promised to take Chachere into the depths of the WMA where the big boys live.

"He promised to take me in there, and I made him keep his word," Chachere said of Mamou's James "Smooth" Smith.

Smith had killed several nice bucks off the public area, with his best being an 11-point sporting a 23 7/8-inch spread. The rack measured out at 147 Boone & Crockett points.

His son Adam bested the elder Smith by killing a 230-pound 13-point last Nov. 29. It scored 150 B&C points.

"That one was killed in the same spot on the same trail as my 11-point," James Smith said of his son's kill.

Opelousas hunter Mike Bihm, another of the elite group of hunters, hunted the same area in 1994 and killed a buck that scored out at 152 7/8 B&C.

"It was a 13-point, or a coonass 14-point," Bihm bragged.

Yes, the area was renowned for producing big deer during the past decade, but Smith, Bihm and their cohorts carefully concealed the location of the mystical hunting ground. It just wouldn't do to have it over-run with orange-vested hunters.

But Chachere was on the list to discover just how magical the place could be.

The promise to include him in a hunt came at the end of the 2001-02 season, so when the next season opened, Chachere reminded Smith of his pledge.

On Dec. 26, 2002, the two hunters made a four-wheeler ride as far back as the trails allowed, and then the ATVs were abandoned and the real work began.

"It's a two-mile walk back there," Smith said.

That might not sound like much, but the terrain is not people friendly.

Three Rivers WMA is crisscrossed with sloughs and bayous of varying depths, and Smith and Chachere had to cross many of them to reach their destination.

Added to the ardors of the hike was all the gear they needed for the afternoon's hunt. Topping off the equipment was Smith's climbing stand.

Chachere decided to save the weight of an extra stand, opting to just sit on the ground to hunt.

Smith finally stopped near one of the sloughs, and quietly told Chachere that they had arrived.

Smith had seen a big buck in the area during an earlier scouting trip, so he told Chachere to find somewhere to hide himself.

"I had jumped some deer in there in the water," Smith said. "That big deer was in this same place during Thanksgiving."

The two parted ways, and Chachere found his "stand."

"I was on the ground in a big blow-down. You know how a tree will blow down and pull the roots up with it? That was the perfect spot to lean back on," he explained.

That was just before 3 p.m.

Chachere was looking over a small oak flat bordered by the slough, and a line of thickets ran along the slough to the hunter's right and left.

For an hour, Chachere kept a sharp eye on the flat, but he saw nothing.

Then movement to the right caught his eye, and when Chachere turned his head he saw a big-bodied deer.

"He was coming through some of the thickets," Chachere said. "It was just perfect — the wind was blowing to me."

Chachere couldn't tell much about the deer's rack, but he spied antlers, and that was enough.

"I could see half of one side of the horns," he said.

The lever-action .308 came to Chachere's shoulder almost unbidden, and the crosshairs were placed on the deer's shoulder.

The right index finger settled on the rifle's trigger as Chachere's heart raced and his lungs struggled to collect oxygen.

The hunter gently squeezed the trigger, and …

Nothing happened. No explosion, no reassuring recoil, nothing.

Chachere was still looking at the deer, which was only 50 yards away and had no clue it had just been spared death.

The hunter, frantically trying to figure out what had happened, looked down at his gun.

"I was hunting with some gloves that were frayed," Chachere said. "I looked down and saw the hammer hanging by the threads of my glove."

Hurriedly, he recocked the hammer. The deer was still standing there, as if patiently waiting for Chachere to get all his ducks in a row and make the shot.

This time, hammer hit firing pin and firing pin struck cartridge.

The .308 bucked, and the deer fell in its tracks.

"I hit it a little high," Chachere explained.

When the excited hunter reached the buck, he was momentarily disappointed.

All he could see was one long, heavy beam sporting several beautiful tines.

"Half of the antlers were buried in the leaves," Chachere said. "I had killed a couple of bucks with only half their racks, and I thought, 'Not another half-racked buck.'"

But the other side of the rack emerged when Chachere grabbed the dead deer's head and moved it.

The enormity of the kill settled about him as the leaves melted away from the rack.

The antlers were huge, with eight long tines and bases the Opelousas hunter could barely get his hands around.

The buck weighed in excess of 200 pounds, and eventually green-scored 144 6/8 B&C.

Chachere had done it; he had entered the group of elites who have taken Three River trophy bucks.

The group of which Chachere is now an established member is a conglomeration of hunters from all over.

"We usually have 15 guys who hunt with us," Bihm said.

Most of those hunters know how to get to the mystical big-buck area, although there are rarely more than a handful hunting it at any given time.

No, Smith, Bihm and Chachere haven't revealed the location of the hotspot to the Sportsman.

But they did share their thoughts on how our readers can find their own secret hunting area within Three Rivers.

"There's a lot of area to hunt," Bihm said. "I think there's almost 30,000 acres on the WMA."

There's actually 26,475 acres at last count, but the important thing is that Three Rivers is large enough to allow hunters to spread out.

"If you want to get away from people, you can," Bihm said.

That's exactly why the group has been so successful.

"You've got to get away from the people," Smith said.

Bihm confirmed that, noting there is a good test to determine if you are far enough away.

"I hunt where there's no orange," he chuckled.

Smith and Bihm said Three Rivers is deceptive, however.

Although the entire tract of land seems like a deer-hunter's paradise, the population of deer seems to have fallen during recent years.

That means some areas don't hold many deer at all.

"You've just got to get out there and find where the deer are. You can walk for miles without seeing anything," Bihm said.

That makes scouting absolutely vital.

"You find some sign, and you've got to keep walking," Smith said. "You've got to try to figure out where they're coming out."

The sign Smith looks for includes scrapes, hookings and well-used deer trails.

"I hunt hookings, but I won't hunt those scrapes," he explained.

His reasoning is that the hookings are along trails bucks regularly use, while scrapes can be unpredictable indicators of activity.

"I'll hunt near (scrapes), but I don't hunt right on them," Smith said. "I have better luck on the trails and rubs."

Once he finds these signs, he takes a look around the entire area to determine where the most likely ambush spot is.

"They pretty much stay on the edge (of sloughs), but they stay where it's thick," Smith said.

Bihm agrees, but he approaches his hunting a little differently.

While Smith locates a likely ambush spot and returns with a climbing stand, Bihm prefers to stalk.

This is exactly how Bihm killed his 13-point almost 10 years ago.

"I heard him in the water (of a slough)," Bihm said. "When I saw him, he was looking at me."

The hunter leveled his shotgun and unloaded three cartridges of buckshot into the deer.

A key indicator for this hunter is simple.

"I look for feed," he said. "If there's feed, there's going to be some kind of animals eating in there."

His favorite feed trees are striped and white oaks, but he absolutely loves to find a white oak that's producing mast.

"If they've got any (white oaks), that's where I want to be," he said.

Bihm quietly slips from one feed tree to another, carefully examining all the surrounding terrain as he moves.

"They stay in the button woods where you can't see them," Bihm explained. "They're smart."

That makes it imperative to take your time and ensure nothing is hiding or feeding in thickets next to trees.

"I look at terrain. When they come across those flats, they ain't in the middle of the flats — they're on the edges," Bihm said. "They stay in those button trees.

"They can be in there, and you can't see any antlers. You can put a scope on it, and you can't see antlers."

Although Bihm and Smith hunt differently, they both agree that hunting near the sloughs is a critical decision.

"They stay in that water," Bihm said.

Smith backed this up.

"They come out of one slough and cross into another slough," he said.

Getting into these areas is no cake walk.

"You've got to want to hunt," Bihm said.

Hip boots are minimum requirements, and some hunters use chest waders.

Crossing these waterways can test the mettle of even the hardiest hunters.

"I'll go with a pair of hip boots on, and it's cold, cold," Smith said. "I'll walk through the water, take them hip boots off and put on my insulated boots and walk another mile."

Bihm often will drag a pirogue in the woods with him, particularly when the weather has turned warm.

"When it's warm, that place is full of alligators," he explained.

Some making the trek to fabled hunting grounds have been beaten.

"We've taken some of them novices in there, and they've never been back," Bihm laughed.

But there are many prime hunting areas that don't require such extraordinary measures to reach.

"They kill a lot of big deer right by the road," Smith said. "It's thick."

Bihm said this was particularly true on the side of the WMA fronted by the Red River.

"It's so thick in certain areas in there," he said.

There also are some agricultural fields on the boundary of the area, and many hunters set up along the edges of these food sources to ambush deer as they come and go.

That might not be quite as effective as hunting the thickets and sloughs in the interior of the property, however.

"They go in there at night," Bihm said.

The danger of hunting either near the road or along these ag fields, of course, is that access is much easier. That means there is likely to be orange-vested company.

No matter where you hunt, however, these veteran Three River hunters agree that it's important to stay in the woods.

"I hunt all day," Smith said. "Yeah, we break for lunch about 11 o'clock, but then we go right back on stand."

Time on the stand is so important because the mature bucks aren't going to be moving a lot.

"These big old deer, they don't move unless they're rutting or they're on their way back from somewhere," Smith said.