It has been said that the farther north you travel in Florida, the more southern the state becomes. Indeed, Southern hospitality is alive and well in northern Florida, as well. A shining example is the Spencer Farm.
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pettis.
Started by Fred Spencer, the working cattle ranch spans more than 4,000 acres. A humble family, they’ve quietly gone about their business of raising and selling “ordinary woods cows” for many decades. Though the farm has been in the family for four generations, it now seems like an anachronism in its native community. It is a short drive to the sprawling shopping and dining Mecca of Orange Park to the southwest of Jacksonville.
Yet, the Spencer Farm and family continue to thrive and also have become ambassadors of hunting. They’ve introduced hundreds of folks to the sport. Patti Foster, previously a regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, has first-hand knowledge of that.
“I approached Fred’s son, Frank, years ago,” she recounted. “I asked him if he was open to allowing youth and disabled sportsmen hunting privileges on his land. He was thrilled with the idea. So, we organized several outings.
“The next progression was getting the ladies involved,” Foster continued. “Twice a year for the past five years, we’ve held all-women’s pig hunts on their property. These specialty hunts have really gone over well.
“The Spencers allow us to hunt hogs, deer, coyotes and bobcats — animals that are destructive to their land or kill the baby calves,” she added. “Daddy Frank, now in his 70s, still stops by to visit. However, he has turned the camp hunts over to his sons — Teddy, Mark, Johnny and Jesse. Their sons, the fourth generation, are young adults who also help out at the events.”
“It’s wonderful to be able to share this incredible piece of property with these outdoor women,” Teddy Spencer said on behalf of the family. “It’s a safe environment for the ladies to feel comfortable and learn the sport. All we ask is that each year at least half the participants are fresh faces. We like to see gals return from previous hunts, but want to encourage more women to understand and enjoy hunting.”
The Pig Hunt
Debbie Halderman has been hunting for more than three decades with her family, beginning when she was 9 years old. She enjoys sharing her passion and organized a recent Women in the Outdoors Hog Hunt at the Spencer Farm. The WITO events are affiliated with the NWTF.
“I head out with members of the Spencer family a week or two before the hunt to put up ground blinds,” she described. “We then set corn out every few days. The hunt is limited to around 15 participants. We encourage hunter’s safety course completions before the trip and on the first night we hold a safety meeting. Almost all of the women have fired their guns, but many have not harvested an animal.
“The ranch has a couple of rustic cabins that we sleep in and a great area to cook out, dine and socialize,” Halderman also noted. “Campfires are an integral part of the experience.
“If the gals are novices they may request a guide. The Spencer men, other area hunters, and past attendees of the trip all volunteer to help. The guides do not shoot — they are solely there to help if needed. They may help transport, skin and clean the hog. Many women want to take care of their own kill, but some don’t want to. We encourage their participation, but don’t force them.”
And what is such a hunt like?
“They are rotated into different tree stands or ground blinds throughout the trip,” Halderman described. “Most of the ladies really want a big pig, but are happy to shoot smaller ones, too. They take pride in bringing meat home for their families to enjoy.
“Strong friendships are formed after these trips,” she added. “The women experience an uncommon sense of camaraderie and mutual respect for each other. I always say this is definitely not a book club!”
The hot hand at this particular hunt went to Wendy Pettis of White Plains, Georgia. She shot four hogs, including a 250-pound boar.
“I’ve hunted with my father and shot both deer and small game,” Pettis said. “I’ve never got a hog. I was so excited about this trip. I drove six hours to get here. The first morning, I was the last person to be put in the stand. I was beside myself with excitement.
“Five minutes after I settled into the 15-foot high tripod stand, I heard something splashing through the water,” the hunter recalled. “Then I saw him. He was huge! I watched him for 10 minutes, but didn’t have a shot. Finally, he came out to the road and gave me a shot. He never looked at me. I had to sit there for another three hours to wait for the guides to come pick us all up. I sent text messages to my husband and friends. What an adrenaline rush.
“Finally Teddy’s son, William, another guide named Garrett and a couple of the other women hunters arrived,” she continued. “We started tracking the pig. He had run into a very heavy palmetto area. There was a blood trail a foot wide. We found him about 25 yards in front of me in the thick brush.
“It was my first hog and my first kill with my new gun. I just bought a .270 and was using 140-grain bullets. This pig was so big the bullet didn’t even go through him. I’m having a head and shoulders mount made. What a trophy.”
During the afternoon session, Pettis was placed in a different stand and shot three smaller hogs. What did the other women think?
“We all support and are happy for each other,” remarked fellow hunter Nancy Jo Adams. “I only saw two piglets. However, harvesting game is only a small part of any hunt. At these all-women’s trips the atmosphere is full of fellowship.
“That morning I heard a bellowing boom,” she added. “I get a text message within a nanosecond that read, ‘I just got me a big old black and white nasty hog. Dropped him.’ ”
Then in the afternoon, Adams pulled the stand that Pettis was in during the morning. About 45 minutes into the hunt, Adams again heard a shot and got another text about a downed hog.
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