This may come as a surprise to many Floridians, but there are trophy bucks out there, slipping through the palmettos, pine thickets, scrub, swamps and switchgrass. While Florida deer admittedly don’t get as big as their Midwest bruiser brethren, we do have some quality whitetails for those willing to look.
Biologists say the two most important factors in the development of big deer and big antlers are nutrition and age. One reason Florida doesn’t produce many really big deer is poor nutrition. Statewide, our relatively infertile soils produce small deer with small antlers because the vegetation the animals feed on is low in minerals. But here and there are small areas with good soils and good deer numbers, and those areas have the potential to produce trophy bucks.
The changes that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made in the antler rule a couple of years ago is helping provide more opportunities for hunters to see big bucks. By giving deer another year or two to grow antlers, the number of big bucks in the state seems to be increasing, just as biologists expected. This past season, three lucky hunters took home the best bucks they’ve ever seen.
KELLER ARCHERY BUCK
The biggest buck killed during archery season came from Alachua County. On October 17th, Wayne Keller brought home a typical buck that scored 133 1/8 inches.
A native Floridian, Keller was born and raised in St. Augustine. He grew up hunting deer with dogs, and started bowhunting when he was 16. Eventually he moved to Archer, FL and leased a couple tracts in Alachua County for hunting. One of the pieces is limited to archery hunting by the owner; that is the property where Keller scored his trophy.
“I’m fine with it being bowhunting only, because after growing up dog hunting and being used to shooting deer on the run, sitting in a treestand and shooting them at 15 yards with a bow is a bit of a challenge,” he said. “I’ve always loved being in the woods, and I’ve respected it, and I’ve grown to like archery more and more.”
Over time, Keller has practiced some quality deer management on that property by letting the smaller bucks walk and only killing the biggest ones. He had been watching the big deer he killed last year for the past three years on his game cameras.
“I had never physically seen him,” he said. “He was always there, right after dark to right before daylight.” Keller named the buck “Stickers” because he has two sticker points on each of his G2s.
On October 17th, Keller arrived very early, so he could fill his feeder before he hunted. “I got there about an hour and 15 minutes before daylight,” he said. “I filled the feeder, changed the cards in my game cameras, and put out some doe in heat scent.”
Keller crawled into his treestand about 45 minutes before daylight. “I was doing my quiet time, reading my Bible on my phone,” he said. “I was praying, and I just said, ‘Hey, I don’t even care if I kill anything, because I’ve already killed a deer. But sometime this year, if you would just let one of the two big deer I’ve seen for over three years just come by where I can see it, that would be wonderful.’”
About 15 minutes later, Keller started hearing something eating corn, but there wasn’t enough light yet for him to see what it was. “My stand is only about 17 yards from the feeder, so I got my binoculars up and I could just see something moving at the corn, and it looked like it had antlers,” he said. “As the light came up, I could tell that it was a buck but I couldn’t tell anything about it. It stopped eating and walked away, and I could tell it had decent antlers. Then it hit me that I had asked God to bring in a big one just so I could see it. I said, ‘Thank you, God,’ as the deer walked away.”
A few minutes later, it came back. “Now I could see enough to tell that it was a big enough buck that I would shoot,” Keller said. “At that point I stopped looking at the antlers. So I didn’t know what deer it was, other than that it was a shootable deer.”
The buck came back into the feeder, ate for a couple minutes, and left again. Then to the right, Keller heard something else. A doe appeared, and then spooked off. The buck came back to the feeder, and now there was enough light for Keller to see the deer, but not enough for him to see his sight pins. However, the buck left again and finally came back a fourth time.
“By then my pins were glowing,” Keller said. “As soon as he came back in to the feeder and put his head in the feed, I pulled back and shot him. He ran off and I waited about 30 minutes and then I went and found him. That’s when I realized which deer he was. I couldn’t believe I’d actually shot him, because it was the first time I had seen him in person.”
HERMANSON MUZZLELOADER BUCK
The biggest buck killed during muzzleloader season came from Suwannee County. On November 1st, Charles Hermanson grounded a typical buck that scored 136 6/8.
At age 36, Hermanson is one of those rare hunters who came to the field through his own initiative, not because he had anyone to mentor him. Originally from the Titusville/Mims area, he now lives in Suwannee County.
“Growing up, I never had anyone show me how to hunt,” he said. “My dad wasn’t a hunter.” Hermanson joined the Marine Corps and served in Iraq. About four years ago, after he got home, his mother and stepfather bought property in Alabama, and Hermanson set out to learn to hunt on it.
“I killed my first deer four years ago,” he said. “I killed an 8-point and one doe there.” Hermanson moved to Suwannee County in the summer of 2017, where the family also owns some property. It was there that he encountered the big buck he killed last fall. “That was only the third deer I’ve ever killed, and my second buck,” he said. “Everyone has told me to just quit hunting now.”
Since he’s still new to the area, Hermanson isn’t as familiar with the property yet as he will be when he’s hunted it a while. “My neighbor told me we have plenty of deer, so I put out some shooting houses and some cameras,” he said. “There were does all over the place, with a 4-point and maybe a 6-point here and there. Then, one morning at 3 a.m. ‘he’ was on one of my game cameras. I didn’t have a deer stand around where that camera was. So, at 11:00 in the morning, I got my tractor and moved my stand in a reasonably close area to where the camera was.”
That afternoon, Hermanson went hunting. “My family was going to church, and I told them ‘I’m not going to church, I’m going to get this deer,’” he said. Shortly after Hermanson got into his stand, a 6-point walked out from his right. Then the big deer walked out, and went head to head with the 6-point. Hermanson had the opportunity and he took it.
“I had been in my stand for 12 minutes when I shot him,” he said. “You know, deer are skittish about new things and that stand hadn’t been there 6 hours. I shot, and he dropped right where he was standing. Then I was a wreck.”
Hermanson recognizes how unusual it is to kill a big deer when you’ve been hunting only four years, especially the same day he moved his stand. “I never expected that day for him to come walking out,” he said.
DEMEMBER RIFLE BUCK
Topping the list of big bucks for the 2017-2018 season is a bruiser non-typical whitetail that taped 155 3/8 inches. Joey Demember killed him in Madison County on November 7th.
At 30, Demember is the youngest hunter in this year’s list of successful trophy hunters. A native of Madison County, he’s been hunting most of his life. “I started going on turkey hunts with my dad when I was three years old,” he said. “There are pictures of me from back then helping to clean birds.” Demember shot his first squirrel when he was five years old, and about the time he was 10 he shot his first doe.
The big buck Demember killed last year came from private land in Madison County.
It’s an 80-acre parcel of leased land near Cherry Lake,” he said. “Last year I had huge rubs on a few trees, and I put up a camera, but I never got any pictures.”
Demember planted soybeans in April. A week later, he put out a game camera. He soon caught a picture of the right side of a buck’s antlers still in velvet. “It was huge,” he said. “It was bigger than anything I’ve ever shot.”
In the early summer, Demember got another picture of the buck right before a storm.
“He was still in velvet, and he was standing out in my field,” he said. “After that, I was gung-ho for him.” Demember hunted the buck all of archery season but never saw him.
“I never put eyes on him, not once,” he said. “I thought I had him patterned. The only time I would see him on camera in daylight was if it was real foggy or a cool front had moved through for a couple nights. Then he would pop up.”
Demember has a very patient boss who obviously understands hunters and hunting.
“He had told me that if I ever needed to take off work to go for this deer, go ahead,” he said. “He said to just give him a call and let him know. I’m very fortunate.” The morning of November 6th dawned, and fog was in the air. “It was very foggy that morning,” Demember said. “I was sure the deer would walk that day.”
When he got off work, he hurried to get the chip out of his camera. “Sure enough, that morning he walked,” he said. “I decided that if it was foggy the next morning, I was going.” Demember woke up at 3 a.m. the next morning and looked outside. Fog was already forming at the top of the treeline.
“I sent my boss a text message and told him I was going to be late,” he said. He sat in his stand and watched the sun come up. “About 20 minutes later, I heard something off to my right,” he said. “It sounded like a squirrel.” The rustling continued, and Demember started looking to see what might pop out of the bushes. A few minutes later, he saw a buck.
“He didn’t look very big, and I didn’t think it could be him,” he said. “There also was an 11-point on the property that I’d been watching, and I thought it was him.” The buck came out of the thicket and walked in front of a pine tree 15 yards from Demember’s stand.
“I saw a drop tine and I knew it was him,” he said. “I put my .25-06 on him and that was it. He ran 30 yards and dropped.” Although Demember didn’t weigh the buck himself, the processor said he weighed 185 to 190 pounds on the hoof.
Demember added, “He’s a great buck, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never shoot another one like him, at least not here. There are some good bucks here, but they’re few and far between.”