Is A Florida Trophy Buck Possible?
September 30, 2010
Only exceptional whitetails make the Boone and Crockett or the Pope and Young record book. Can you really expect to get your name on either list with a Sunshine State buck? (December 2008)
No doubt about it, any buck that makes the Boone and Crockett Club or the Pope and Young Club all-time record book lists is one exceptional deer. But Florida doesn't have a history of producing large numbers of those exceptional bucks.
Even so, a few whitetails from the Sunshine State have qualified for either the B&C book or the P&Y book, even if not all were actually entered for recognition. And some other bucks have been mighty close.
So what makes a record book deer?
Let's start with the Boone and Crockett Club, since it came first historically and dates all the way back to Theodore Roosevelt's presidency.
Teddy himself helped found B&C in 1887, along with other sportsmen and conservationists concerned about the future of big game and big-game hunting in North America. In the U.S. at that time, the numbers of wild animals were very low. Many people feared that the westward push of "civilization" would soon result in the extinction of all big game.
Starting in 1906, William T. Hornaday began working to establish the National Collection of Heads and Horns at New York City's Bronx Zoo. By 1922, the collection opened and was dedicated to "the vanishing big-game animals of the world."
Those animals have not vanished, of course, due largely to modern scientific game management -- much of which was either brought about or strongly influenced by the B&C Club and its members.
In 1932, the B&C Club began keeping big-game records with a simple book that included only a few specimens, listed by length and the spread of their horns, antlers or skulls. In 1947, the club held its first competition for outstanding trophies. And by 1950, that competition had evolved into the current trophy-scoring system. (The Pope and Young Club also uses that scoring method.)
Today's criteria for entering a whitetail deer are strict. Unlike the P&Y Club records, the Boone and Crockett Club accepts animals killed by any legal method -- as well as ones that are discovered already dead, which they list as "pick ups."
As a result, the minimum point requirement for a B&C deer is higher than for a P&Y deer.
For a typical whitetail, the minimum requirement is 160 points for the three-year Big Game Awards program. A deer that scores 170 or above is eligible for the B&C all-time records program, and for inclusion in the Records of North American Big Game, published every six years. For a non-typical whitetail, the minimum scores are 185 and 195, respectively.
To find an official B&C scorer in Florida, go to the Boone and Crockett Club's Web site and click on "Big Game Records" at the top. Scroll down until you see the link "Find An Official Measurer" on the left side.
Clicking on it will take you to a page where you can enter "Florida" to pull up a list of 26 official scorers in the state, as well as the requirements to enter your deer into the awards programs, if it qualifies.
Through this site, it's also possible to access the entire B&C Club records list, for a fee.
In 1961, the Pope and Young Club was founded as a non-profit scientific organization. Following the Boone and Crockett model, the P&Y Club advocates responsible bowhunting as it promotes fair-chase hunting and good conservation practices.
The P&Y Club is the official record-keeping organization for archery-killed North American big-game animals. When an animal is large enough to meet the minimum standards, information about that animal is added to the P&Y all-time Record Book. To qualify for that nook, a typical whitetail must score at least 125 points, and a non-typical at least 155 points. And of course, it must have been killed with bow and arrow.
At present there are 15 official P&Y scorers Florida. To find one, go to the Pope and Young Club's Web site and click on "Records Program" in the left-hand column. Then click on "The Ability to Find a Measurer in Your Area." That will lead you to a page where you can find "Florida" on a drop-down menu. From there, a list of Florida scorers will pop up.
If your deer qualifies, you can access a form to enter it for the awards program and record book.
Now that you know what the B&C and P&Y records are all about, it's time to answer the big questions:
Are there any B&C or P&Y deer from Florida?
And if so, can there be others?
The answer to both questions is yes!
On the B&C Web site, only two whitetails show up on the official list for Florida. One is the 1941 Clark Durrance buck from Wakulla County, which scored an amazing 201 3/8 points to make the all-time record book. The second is a bit smaller and is listed in the awards record book. Henry Brinson killed that buck in 1959 in Jackson County. It scored 186 1/8.
Both of these had non-typical racks. There are no typical Florida whitetails on the B&C lists.
As of May 2008, there were 13 whitetail bucks from Florida in the P&Y All-Time Record Book. These deer range from a buck that scored 125 4/8 points, taken by Erich Sullivan in Hamilton County in 1996, up to a buck that amassed 153 4/8 points, taken by Robert Ballard in Columbia County in 1980.
The oldest Florida P&Y record was a deer taken by Mike Field in Brevard County in 1979 that scored 136 4/8 points. The most recent entry scored 130 1/8 and was taken in 2007 in Putnam County by John Shaw III.
In addition to the bucks in P&Y book, there's one other deer we know of that qualifies, but has never been entered for recognition. That deer is James Stovall's monster buck from Green Swamp West Wildlife Management Area, which he took in 1999. Still in velvet, that buck scored 206, and would rank high if entered into the P&Y awards program.
The bottom line is that bucks that reach the P&Y minimums are not common in Florida, but are present here. And that leads to another inevitable conclusion: It's much more likely for a bowhunter to get a buck into the P&Y record book than for a firearms hunter to get one into the B&C record book.
WHAT MAKES A RECORD-BOOK DEER?
looking at where bowhunters should go in Florida to find a record-book whitetail, let's see what it takes to grow such a buck.
Biologists say it entails a combination of three things: genetics, nutrition and age.
A number of years ago, one theory circulating among hunters was that genetics was the critical factor in producing big bucks.
Countless hunt clubs sought to "pump up" the genetics of the herds on their property, either by importing known trophy bucks to breed with their native does, or by shooting smaller bucks to keep them from passing on the so-called "spike" gene.
But research has shown that neither approach is necessary or desirable.
Given the right combination of nutrition and age, most deer herds have adequate genetics to produce trophy racks. And the spike gene doesn't exist! Smaller spikes are simply found on young bucks that haven't had time to mature and produce a full set of antlers.
Rather than shooting spikes on sight -- as was once the practice on many hunt clubs -- biologists strongly recommend letting spikes and other smaller bucks walk away, to give them time to mature.
This has been reflected in Florida's hunting regulations. Several years ago, the state instituted the 5-inch antler rule, which allows the smallest bucks to continue growing.
On some WMAs, the rules are even more restrictive, setting the stage for hunters to find trophy-class bucks.
This brings us to the question of age. By letting those smaller bucks walk, hunters are giving them time to grow bigger antlers. Biologists say bucks need to attain three to four years of age to develop a mature set of antlers. For that to happen, hunters must be willing to set a high standard for the bucks they harvest -- and stick to it. To be effective, that standard also must be followed on a large enough acreage, and for a long enough period of time.
Around the state, more and more hunt clubs are developing quality deer-management programs that set minimum antler-point restrictions. As a rule, these programs also include a carefully regulated doe harvest. If you belong to a hunt club that seriously wants to improve the quality of the bucks on your land, instituting such a management program is necessary.
Finally, there's the matter of nutrition. The big reason why Florida doesn't produce many trophy-class bucks just comes down to poor nutrition. Our infertile soils produce small deer with small antlers because the animals feed on vegetation that's poor in minerals.
As a result, under ordinary circumstances, B&C bucks will continue to be rare in Florida. However, hunters can do some manipulation to improve the nutrition of their deer herd.
The first method is natural. Historically, fires burned huge tracts of piney woods in the Southeast. But our increasingly fragmented landscape and urban culture has resulted in the prevention of fires in many wooded areas. Returning fire to the woods as part of a management program produces more palatable and nutritious browse for deer.
Supplemental feeding also can improve their nutrition. This doesn't mean simply throwing out some corn for them to eat. Rather, it means carefully planning, fertilizing and planting food plots that provide high-quality deer forage year 'round.
SHOW ME THE BUCKS
So where in the Sunshine State should bowhunters go to look for a record-book whitetail?
Start off by studying the data from the P&Y and B&C records, and you'll come up with a short list of counties. Alachua County is first, followed by Brevard and Putnam counties. This provides a bit of historical perspective, though it's not a lot of information.
Another way picking out where big deer are likely to come from is to take the last three years of records from the Florida Buck Registry and look at the racks that have scored 125 or above. By ranking the counties according to the number of bucks placed on the FBR during that time, we can get a view of where big deer are now most likely to come from.
And since a larger number of deer is involved, it's probably a more accurate picture of where bowhunters might find a buck that will meet P&Y standards.
On this list, Hamilton County comes first with 10 bucks, followed by Jackson County with nine, Jefferson County with seven, and Alachua County with six.
If you're a bowhunter who really wants to find a buck that'll make the P&Y book, you'd be well advised to look at one of those four counties.
In Hamilton County, it's all about the soil. Good soils mean good nutrition, and that translates into bigger deer with bigger racks.
Though there's not as much agriculture here as in some of the other northern-tier counties, a lot of the terrain is in managed forestlands. And when tree farms are managed well, they provide good habitat for deer.
Another factor is good wildlife management on private land. Much of the private property is controlled by hunt clubs, many of which do an excellent job of managing their herds.
They have instituted quality deer programs and are letting bucks get some age on them.
Two WMAs in Hamilton County are offering archery hunts -- Big Shoals and Twin Rivers WMAs.
Despite increasing urbanization in the Panhandle region, particularly in many traditional hunting areas closer to Tallahassee, the upper tier of counties still is the place to go for big deer in Florida.
Jackson County lies in the region often called the Red Hills, which stretches from Jackson on the west over to Jefferson County in the east.
As a result of these better soils, especially in areas where farmers are using a lot of fertilizer for crops that the deer feed on, buck have excellent nutrition, can grow to a larger size and produce better antlers.
The Jackson County public lands with archery seasons are Apalachee and Upper Chipola River WMAs.
At the eastern end of the Panhandle's Red Hills, Jefferson County also holds good habitat and nutrition for deer. Here the hunt clubs are managing for quality deer, and this area lies far enough from Tallahassee that the rampant growth in Gadsden and Leon counties hasn't yet reached Jefferson.
The public tracts in Jefferson County with specific archery seasons are Aucilla, Middle Aucilla River, and Flint Rock WMAs.
Though Alachua County doesn't seem like a likely place to find b
ig deer, it always shows up high on the FRB's list of big deer. Again, that's because of the soils in the area.
Though there's less row-crop agriculture now than there's been in years past -- and though a good bit of land has been converted to pine plantations -- the county still supports a good deer herd and its fair share of big bucks.
There's also lot of edge effect with a mixture of pine plantations, hardwood forest and prairie. That offers a lot of browse for the deer.
The WMAs in Alachua County that offer archery seasons are Grove Park, Hatchet Creek and Lochloosa.