These days no region of the Florida has an exclusive claim on big bucks. From the Northwest down to the South Region, trophy class whitetails have shown up in recent times. As more and more hunt clubs are turning to good management practice, the trend should continue.
The best source for information about where big bucks have come from is the Florida Buck Registry. The FBR list provides enough information to pinpoint some “hot counties” where you can begin looking for your trophy.
The picks of best counties are based on the ones that have placed the most bucks on the FBR since 2002 that scored 130 or more points using the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system.
In case of the Wildlife Management Areas, the ones highlighted offer the opportunity for walk up hunts. At least a portion of their seasons do not require quota hunt permits.
No. 1 — Bay County
Even though Bay County has deep sandy soil and swampland, it’s still a haven for big bucks, especially north of Interstate 10. This year, as it was last year, it’s in first place on our list, yielding 14 bucks of 130 or more B&C points during the period at which we looked. The habitat is a mixture of slash pine, sand pine, and titi bottoms, with a few oak ridges thrown in.
Bay County is west of the Red Hills region and doesn’t have the heavy clay soils usually thought of as providing good nutrition for big deer. However, north of I-10 the soils are better than in its coastal regions. Good management of the habitat for deer in the county has offset a lot of deficiencies.
More and more hunt clubs are developing quality deer management programs and instituting restrictive antler size limits. They’re letting the bucks get older and taking some of the does off the property so the herd is closer to the number of deer that the available habitat can support.
No. 2 — Hamilton County
For the second year in a row, Hamilton County is in the second spot. Here, soil is the big determining factor for big deer. Good soil quality means good nutrition for deer and that translates into bigger bucks with bigger racks.
In Hamilton there’s not as much agriculture as there is in some of the other northern tier counties. However, a lot of the land is in tree farms. When well managed such forestlands can provide good habitat for deer.
Another factor is good management by hunt clubs on private land.
No. 3 — Jefferson County
Jefferson County is at No. 3 this year. Even though creeping urbanization in the Panhandle is overtaking many traditional hunting areas closer to Tallahassee, that upper tier of counties still is the place to go for big deer in Florida. This region often is called the Red Hills because of its clay-based soil, and stretches from Jackson County on the west over to Jefferson on the east.
As a result of these better soils, especially in areas where farmers use a lot of fertilizer on crops on which the deer feed, they have excellent nutrition, can grow to larger sizes and produce better antlers.
No. 4 — Madison County
In the fourth spot this year is Madison County with 11 bucks of more than 130 B&C placed on the FBR list. Madison County has good soils, particularly north of I-10, and many hunt clubs are practicing good management that results in big deer. In Madison County, as in some of the other northern counties, you have real dirt with real minerals in it, and that’s why you have bigger deer in those places.
No. 5 — Leon County
Despite increasing urbanization around the Capital City, there are still places here to find a big deer, particularly around the quail hunting plantations in the county. Leon holds down the No. 5 ranking this year with 11 bucks over 130 points in our sample of big deer.
Despite its high human population, Leon County’s northern location in the Sunshine State is part of the northern tier of counties that has better soils than much of the rest of the state. Here, good land management, including burning and the planting of food plots, creates habitat that’s ideal for deer.
No. 6 — Polk County
Much of Polk County continues to retain its rural character, so there’s a lot of agriculture as well as some horse and cattle farms. On private land there’s supplemental feeding of deer going on, whether it’s deliberate or just access to livestock feed. That supplemental nutrition helps produce bigger deer.
Additionally, other than on public lands, the deer probably aren’t getting a lot of hunting pressure. What hunting pressure there is tends to be managed through clubs and those hunters are being more selective and doing some direct management for big racks.
No. 7 — Jackson County
Jefferson County settled in the No. 7 spot this year. The county is located at the eastern end of the Red Hills, with good habitat and good nutrition for deer. Here, as in many other places, hunt clubs are managing for quality deer. This area also is far enough from Tallahassee that urban sprawl hasn’t reached it yet. In addition, there still is a great deal of agriculture here, which translates into good groceries for deer.
No. 8 — Marion County
Marion County is No. 8 on this year’s list. It placed eight bucks on FBR list.
There are large tracts of land under intensive management to produce good horses, and that translates into lots of inadvertent supplemental feeding of deer. Fertilization of pastures also means improved soils, and both those factors add up to one of the key ingredients in producing big bucks: good nutrition.
No. 9 — Osceola County
At No. 9 with seven bucks on the list, much of the land in Osceola County is in cattle ranches and sod farms.
Although neither of those lend to good deer production without additional management, some agricultural practices associated with these land uses improve habitat for deer. Controlled burns are a good example.
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