So, what exactly is the common thread that links South Carolina's all-time biggest bucks?

That's a question posed by more than a few of the 150,000 hunters who annually invade South Carolina's fields and woodlands in pursuit of a record-book whitetail.

After much consultation, investigation and deliberation, the answer finally can be revealed - there IS no common thread!

Before you clamber down from your tree stand in disbelief, it's important to understand that this should be regarded as great news for deer hunters in the Palmetto State. In a nutshell, one stands a chance of bagging a trophy buck regardless of where you hang your stand.

And no one knows this better than Pickens' Dennis Chastain, a veteran of 35 South Carolina deer seasons and proud owner of the No. 20 all-time typical hunter-killed buck in the state-record book. Although he's partial to the remote mountain draws and hollows - where he bagged his once-in-a-lifetime trophy in 1992 - Chastain also has hunted from the coastal plains to the Midlands to the western and central piedmont areas of the state and has encountered big bucks in all locales.

"The conclusion I've come to is that there is no area in South Carolina that's not capable of producing a record-class buck," Chastain said. "If you're hunting smart, you have the potential to kill a trophy buck anywhere in the state."

The record book strongly supports Chastain's opinion.

Consider this: Each of the top 15 hunter-killed bucks on the state's all-time typical list were taken in a different county, representing five of the state's six game zones. On the non-typical list, 15 of the top 20 were killed in different counties.

So the question looms: Are there any real "hot spots" for trophy bucks in South Carolina?

To be sure, there are a handful of counties that consistently produce good numbers of record-book bucks each year. Orangeburg County is perennially a favored destination for many hunters, because it has put more bucks in the record book than any other county, including a state-best eight bucks in the Top 100. Anderson, Aiken and Colleton counties each have six in the Top 100.

But when record-book entries are broken down by county size - in other words, the number of entries per square mile - again, the results are all over the map. Anderson County, located in the foothills of the Upstate, leads the way, followed by Allendale County in the lower Coastal Plain, and Abbeville County in the western Piedmont.

Charles Ruth, the deer-project supervisor for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, has noticed some trends, such as counties along the Savannah River drainage producing a higher number of trophy bucks, and the fact that not a single county that borders the coast, nor a single county in the Pee Dee region, rates in the upper half of the rankings.

"It may be related to poor soil fertility that is generally associated with these coastal counties," Ruth said. "In the Pee Dee, again, this could be related to poor natural soil fertility, but it could also be associated with the history of the deer herd, habitat and hunting in the area."

Chastain advises hunters to focus on out-of-the-way locations in the counties where they hunt. In fact, Chastain "discovered" his giant 10-pointer while poring over topo maps in his living room.

"I came to the realization that the older age-class bucks were in remote corners, and it was obvious that what I had to look for were areas that were a little further off the beaten path than the average hunter wanted to go," Chastain said.

Chastain found what he was looking for on the topo map - a remote, relatively flat gap between two large ridges that required a 2-hour hike to reach. He made trips to the site over three seasons, but he did so judiciously.

"You can only hunt a buck like that a few times a year," he said. "If you show up too much, he's out of there. He knows there shouldn't be human scent there, so he's holding all the cards."

On Chastain's fateful day, he crawled out of bed at 3 a.m. and had been in position for a while when the buck strolled by at 7:20 a.m. He has applied the valuable lessons learned to every hunt since.

"There are some places where deer have the hunters patterned and know how to move around safely," Chastain said. "They know what time the trucks crank up, where the hunters park, when they go to lunch. I try to look at it from the perspective that if I were an older-class buck, what would I do? I'd try to find a route across the property that avoids stands, feeders (and) food plots.

"You can go down a logging road and see tons of generic deer sign, but you have to remember that in most cases, that big son of a gun will not be walking on the road. He knows where he's vulnerable. That's why I look for sign off the road - well off, in most cases."

The same approach has paid repeated dividends for Hugh Gaskins of Bonneau, who probably deserves his own record book. Gaskins, who hunts primarily in Williamsburg and Berkeley counties, has put seven bucks on the all-time typical list - including the No. 3 buck - and another four on the state's non-typical ledger.

"What I'll do is walk a main trail, then look for these small single trails cutting across," Gaskins said. "Most big bucks cut those trails and travel parallel to the main trail. I'll follow the small, single trails and look for rub size, the height of the rub and intensity of the rub. I want to find out where they're going and I'll set up between the two spots."