Sicily Island Hills might not be a huge tract of land, but it’s home to some real brutes. Here’s how one hunter, who has taken three bucks scoring better than 145 B&C there, approaches the rugged terrain.
Bruce Mott knew the buck was in the area because he and a buddy had seen all the signs the year before. “There were rubs as big as my leg,” Mott said. “We knew instantly it was a big deer.”
Although he had put a little time in to try and catch the deer that season, he didn’t want to spook it out of the area. That meant that, even when the 2006-07 season opened, Mott still hadn’t seen the buck.
In fact, he decided not to mess with it through most of that season.
“The conditions weren’t right,” Mott said. “I hunt on the ground, so you have to have the wind just right.”
When he arrived at Sicily Island Hills Wildlife Management Area on Dec. 13, 2006, however, he made the snap decision to take a stab at catching the buck moving around.
“A lot of times, I don’t even know where I’m going to hunt because the wind swirls in there,” he said. “But the wind was out of the southeast, which was good for the area the buck was in.”
And to top it off, it appeared he wouldn’t have to worry about company even though the rut was winding down.
“I was the only one on the reserve that morning,” Mott said.
So Mott eased into the woods, working his way along the ridge on which the buck’s sign was seen the year before. Once he reached the part of the ridge where he had found the hookings and scrapes, he walked about halfway down the side of the ridge and set up.
“About 7:30, I heard this deer grunting under the hill,” he said. “It was the loudest, longest grunt I ever heard.”
Mott grunted a couple of times, and was answered instantly. After several other answered calls, the Jonesville hunter was beginning to believe it wasn’t a deer at all.
“This deer grunted for 10 to 15 minutes under the hill, just steady grunting,” he said. “I thought it might be another hunter, so I just stopped and listened for another 10 minutes.
“Then he quit.”
Mott didn’t move; he just sat there quietly and waited to see what would happen.
“About five minutes later, I caught movement to the left of me,” he said. “This buck was coming up the side of the ridge.
“I knew instantly it was a big deer.”
The buck was in a relatively grown-up area, so Mott couldn’t get a clear shot at it immediately.
“I found one little opening,” he said. “When he got into that opening and into the clear, I pulled the trigger.”
“He turned and ran straight to me, into the wide open,” Mott said.
The frantic hunter quickly put his .308-caliber semi-auto on the deer and pulled the trigger.
“The gun didn’t fire,” Mott said. “I thought it had jammed.”
After quickly checking his gun, the hunter looked up. The deer was standing stock still, broadside only about 20 yards away.
“He didn’t know where I was,” Mott said. “I put the crosshairs on him, and pulled the trigger.”
This time, the gun fired and the deer buckled.
As the buck turned to escape, Mott fired two more times.
“On Sicily Island, you don’t want them to get away because they might run two or three ridges,” he said. “You don’t want to drag a deer up and down those ridges.”
The shots were true, and the deer fell dead after taking only a few steps.
Mott said he couldn’t believe he had actually downed the buck.
“How many times do you miss a deer, and it runs straight to you and stops broadside?” he chuckled.
He quickly made his way to the downed animal, knowing he had just shot a big buck. But nothing prepared him for what he found.
“It just blew my mind,” the hunter said.
The deer was massive, with 10 points arrayed around wide main beams. The buck eventually scored 162 5/8 Boone & Crockett points.
“He was huge,” Mott said. “He weighed over 300 pounds. That’s probably why I missed him the first time — I would probably say I had buck fever.”
That wasn’t the only trophy deer he’s killed there. Mott also downed a palmeated 9-point scoring 146 5/8 and a 12-point measuring 156 3/8 during the past 15 years.
“The first year I hunted (the management area), I killed two bucks,” he said.
And that’s why he spends so much time on the 7,500-acre tract of public land.
Of course, the fact that it’s about 15 minutes from his home — and that the upland hardwoods property is simply stunning — doesn’t hurt.
“It’s some of the prettiest woods I’ve been in,” Mott said.
Odds of success aren’t too bad: Two hundred fifty-one hunters killed 16 deer during the 2006 managed hunt on the WMA. That’s an average of one deer per 15.7 hunter efforts.
Sicily Island Hills manager David Breithautt said a total of 49 deer were killed last season. Twenty-two were killed by 575 modern-rifle hunters (during the either-sex and bucks-only seasons), and seven were downed by 224 bowhunters.
The best kill ratio actually came during the muzzleloader season, when 209 hunters took 20 bucks for a ratio of one deer per 10.45 hunter efforts.
While these ratios aren’t the best (for instance, Bayou Macon Wildlife Management Area gave up one deer for every 5.1 efforts), it’s really not too bad considering just how rough the terrain is.
And that’s the downside of the WMA. Elevations on the property, located just to the west of Sicily Island along the east side of the Ouachita River, range from 35 feet mean sea level to 245 feet, often in very short distances.
“You don’t walk straight up and down,” Mott said. “You learn how to walk the way the deer walk.”
That is one of his secrets to success: hunting trails along these steep hills.
“The deer travel the sides of the ridges,” Mott said. “They’re not in the bottom as much as you think.
“The ridges are where the deer walk.”
He said he focuses on the top quarter of any particular ridge, allowing him to see deer moving along game trails without being silhouetted as he would be if set up on the top of the ridge.
The irony of this setup is that most often the rub and scrape lines will be on top of the ridges. But Mott likes to catch the deer walking to and from these calling cards.
However, he said the key is to find nearby areas in which deer are comfortable, and catch them easing out of these thickets.
“I kind of like it a little thick, where there’s a little thicket” he said. “Not too thick and not too wide open.
“I think they’re more confident where it’s a little thicker.”
It’s when he finds a combination of cover and sign that Mott knows his odds are good to at least see bucks.
That’s just how he killed the big 9-point in 2004.
“I found 20 rubs in a 50-yard radius,” he said. “When I walked into that, I said to myself, ‘This is kind of like a little sanctuary.’ It was thick, and it was on the side of a ridge.”
He set up near the top of the ridge, overlooking the thicket. But he didn’t just wait.
It was during the rut, which runs from about mid November though the first part of December. Mott thoroughly believes in the value of calling to deer, especially during the rut, and he put that tactic to work.
“I was rattling and grunting, and he came up from the bottom and into the thicket,” he explained.
The hunter put the deer down when it stepped into a small opening.
“I’ve grunted up a pretty good number of deer,” he said.
Breithautt said the gun seasons are formulated specifically to take advantage of the rut.
“That bucks-only season is going to be the time to be in the woods,” Breithautt said.
While each of the trophies Mott has killed walked out of bottoms, Mott said he doesn’t even try to hunt these areas.
It’s not that they don’t hold deer, however.
“There are deer in those bottoms, but they don’t get hunted a lot because the deer are so hard to get out,” he said.
And ridges are generally pretty easy to access because they finger right off the WMA’s roads.
Despite common belief, hunters don’t have to be deep in the woods to find success, either.
“Two of the three biggest deer I killed, I was within 100 yards of the road,” Mott said.
But there’s another even-more-important reason he sticks to hunting the ridges.
“You get down in the bottoms, and the wind is swirling real hard,” he said. “If you get up on those ridges, you can usually get the wind blowing in one direction.”
One of the best big-buck areas is found right in the center of the WMA, Mott said.
“The area between the forks of Big Creek is one of the places that holds the biggest deer,” he said.
The area is surrounded by the WMA’s hiking trail, and it’s extremely rugged.
“It’s hard to get to, and not many people hunt it,” Mott said. “That’s because if you get down in the creek and kill a deer, it’s very difficult to get it out.
“You’re almost going to have to stay down in the creek and eat half the deer. It’s that hard to get one out.”
However, that’s one of the reasons it’s such a big-buck mecca.
Mott cautioned hunters to be aware that the hiking trail is used by non-hunters.
“Even during hunting season, people come up there and walk those trails,” he said. “They don’t wear orange or anything.”
He said that, wherever he hunts, he always considers wind direction when setting up, which is even more important considering he hunts on the ground sitting on a seat strapped onto a tree.
“If I know there’s a bedding ground, I kind of set up where when the deer comes out of the area, the wind is hitting me in my face,” he said.
To help minimize the odds of being winded, he uses Scent-A-Way spray, but even then he refuses to go into an area until the wind is absolutely perfect.
“My theory is that if you don’t go to the extremes to cover your scent, that deer will smell you,” Mott said. “When you hunt on the ground, the wind’s got to be in your favor.”
To further cut down on the chances of being busted, Mott wears camouflaged gloves and face mask.
“You have to be hidden,” he said.
He also carefully regulates the amount of pressure he puts on any given area, rotating around the WMA on a regular basis to ensure he doesn’t spook the bucks he’s after.
“If you pressure them a whole bunch, they’ll go nocturnal, and you’ll never see them again,” Mott said. “When I killed that 10-point, I hadn’t hunted that deer at all that year.”
Fortunately, overall pressure isn’t generally a problem.
“There’s not a lot of pressure,” he said. “The day I killed that 9-point, there were probably 15 vehicles on the place.”
He said the difficult terrain helps keep the number of hunters to a minimum. Many first-time hunters never return.
“I guess they think they can just show up and kill deer, but you have to put in the time,” he said.
The short, three-week gun hunt also helps, and the overall result is the opportunity for bucks to reach maturity.
“It gives the deer a chance to grow up to become quality deer,” he said.
“You can’t deny the rugged terrain saves a lot of lives,” he chuckled.
Gun hunting — whether muzzleloader or rifle — is allowed throughout the rut, and that provides great odds of success.
Breithautt said the property isn’t overrun with deer, but it does provide the opportunity for quality hunting.
“It’s as close to carrying capacity as we’ve got, but it’s still above carrying capacity,” he said.
There aren’t many ATV trails on the property, but Breithautt said that’s not a big issue.
“The access to the area is very adequate,” he said. “With your vehicle, you can get to most of the area.”
Mott said the key to taking full advantage of the WMA is putting in a little work learning how the animals move.
“If you put the time in and don’t pressure them too much, you can kill quality deer,” he said.
That’s why he has never been a member of a private hunting club.
“All I hunt is public land,” Mott said. “I just don’t like the hassle that you have in private clubs.
“And there are quality deer in nearly all our WMAs.”