For most deer hunters, the eye is automatically drawn to the headgear. But the secret is what you can't see in the photo, three mature bucks, standing in a freshly planted field of beans.
The next photo tells the rest of the story - the photo of Heath Rayfield, posing with three mounted deer heads. At the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' scoring session held at last year's Palmetto Sportsman Classic, two of them did make the record books.
The obvious question that comes to mind is, 'What's your secret?'
Rayfield, who lives in Chesterfield County, has spent most of his life hunting deer, and much of his adult life has been spent either guiding others to take their trophy or behind a camera for the 'Buckventures' TV show.
'The three deer in the photo were all killed over soybean fields or food plots that I planted in soybean and clay peas,' Rayfield said. 'The first was killed on Sept. 3 with a bow; the second was killed Sept. 29 with a bow, and the third was killed on Oct. 9 with a rifle.'
Every deer hunter spends three or four months dreaming of the right combination of circumstances that will put him within gun or bow range of a trophy buck. Most hunters typically involve some phase of breeding activity into that mix. Rayfield, though he won't deny that the 'pre-rut' isn't a consideration, prefers to hunt bucks that are still on a reliable feeding pattern.
'In my opinion, the best way to kill a big deer is when he's on his feed pattern,' said Rayfield, who guides across the state line at DeWitt's Outdoor Sports in Ellerbe, N.C. 'Once he gets into the rut, there's no telling where he's going to be, what he's going to be doing; he's not predictable. Up until mid-October, when they're still regularly eating, you can still catch him on a pattern and predict him.'
Rayfield puts a lot of stock in bean fields early in the season when deer are eating them as browse and later when the beans mature, start drying and deer switch from browse to eating the actual crop. The transition occurs generally sometime from late September into earl October. Of course, much of the transition depends on when the beans were planted, how far along they are, and what kind of beans they are.
'In my food plots, I plant a mixture of clay peas and soybeans, just to give a variety in there,' Rayfield said. 'They also work well together in the same plot. Deer start eating the peas before they eat the soybeans. A soybean is a lot more tolerant to browse than a pea is. A pea can get three to four leaves on it, and if deer comes and snips it off, it's pretty much gone. Soybeans will come up and keep producing leaves even if they're browsing on it. It'll take more browse than a pea will. That's a good reason to mix them.'
Rayfield understands that the majority of deer hunters in South Carolina have got to dance with the girl they brought to the dance, which means hunting leased land that is more pine plantation than agricultural fields bursting with crops.
'I reckon it all depends on what you've got,' he said. 'I've got food plots that range in size anywhere from a quarter of an acre up to 80 acres.'
Although he won't lie and tell you size doesn't matter. He said the biggest difference to the hunter is how he goes about hunting the tract he has, not the size of the tract.
'You can watch a deer more on a bigger field and figure him out, especially if you plan on hunting him with a bow,' Rayfield said. 'You can sit back, and you can watch that deer for a day or two and not really hunt him, and then move in there on Day 3, if you've got your wind right, and set up on him and kill him. You can get away with a little more in a big field, if you play your cards right, than you can on a smaller field where you can't really scout him in person. That's why I firmly believe in trail cameras.'
Using a half-acre food plot planted in a mixture of clay peas and soybeans, Rayfield described a typical strategy that he would use to kill a trophy buck. Naturally, he'll need to know that a good buck is in the area, that the wind is right for hunting that area, and some knowledge of its movements - all gleaned from the trail camera.
'I prefer to hunt out of a lock-on (stand), they're much easier to hide,' he said. 'But it really comes down to what you've got to work with around the food plot. If you've got food and don't have any trees big enough to put a stand in, put a ground blind up. Regardless, you want to put a stand up in the right place to kill the deer, not necessarily the best tree to hunt that spot. That means taking advantage of the wind and his travel route, because the first time you go in there, especially on a big deer, that's your best time to kill him.'
Bill Peagler of Moncks Corner (where he's the mayor), is another fan of hunting deer over beans. The owner of Blackbrier Plantation, Peagler finds that deer will travel great distances to get to the beans and peas he's planted, and accordingly, he sets up on known travel routes to intercept them.
'They are traveling between bedding areas and their food sources,' Peagler said. 'Of course, with the heat the way it is in the early season, they're also using water areas. We have water on the property, so they're going to be in real thick places in between where they can just rest and get shade.'
One of the reasons Peagler prefers high-protein foods like soybeans, peas and corn is that they provide deer with the nutrition they need right before going into rut.
'Deer are creatures of habit, trying to build up fat and put on weight before the cold season,' he said. 'Then, during the rut, they start losing some and later will return to the fields to rebuild. They love succulents, especially peas and soybeans. They'll eat it all the way down to the ground.'
Such attraction to these locations makes Peagler's land a 'target-rich' environment. A look inside his barn tells a similar story to Rayfield's, with plenty of envious mounts staring back at you.
'The largest deer that's been taken off here was an 8-point with about a 20-inch spread that weighed 194 pounds,' Peagler said. 'Second largest was a 10-point weighing 190 pounds. I killed one last year that weight 160 pounds - a nice 8-point just outside the ears. I killed him in the latter part of September.'
Outstanding, in a field of beans.