At first sight, Philip Adkison knew it was a good buck. But he didn't know it would put his name on the list of top 10 hunters for taking typicals in the Sunshine State! (September 2007)
Philip Adkison's 154 7/8 B&C buck was the largest typical taken in Florida last season -- and No. 3 among all bucks taken in the state this century.
Photo by Silas Crowley.
If the truth be known, most of us deer hunters dream of taking one extraordinary trophy buck in our lifetime. For a fortunate few, it does happen. For the rest of us, that hope keeps us looking forward to next season.
On Jan. 19, 2007, Philip Adkison -- a 38-year-old farmer who lives near Chipley -- joined the ranks of the fortunate few. On that date, he killed the largest typical-scoring buck taken in Florida during the 2006-07 hunting season. He downed an 11-pointer in Washington County that gross-scored 161 Boone and Crockett Club points and netted a total of 154 7/8 B&C.
His deer became a new No. 10 all-time largest buck killed in Florida, according the Florida Buck Registry. His whitetail bumped Cody Thomas' 13-point Jefferson County trophy that scored 154 6/8, killed during the 2005-06 season.
Adkison's deer is impressive. There's just no other way to say it. The rack is tall and wide, measuring 17 inches inside the beams. The beam lengths and circumference measurements are what boost the score to its trophy level. The right beam measures 25 3/8 inches, the left 25 inches.
It's common to see mature trophy whitetails from North Florida with 22- to 23-inch main beams. But 25-inch beams are few and far between in the Sunshine State.
The right and left circumference measurements closest to the burr are 5 and 5 1/8 inches, respectively. The other circumference measurements are almost as large.
When Adkison killed the enormous 11-point, little did he know what an extraordinary deer he had taken. When you consider there are nearly 100,000 deer hunters in Florida, you can see what a lofty position Adkison now finds himself in.
Like nearly every one of us who hunts, Adkison developed his love of the sport by following in the footsteps of his father -- "Pops," as he knew him. During his formative years, and even as late as nine or 10 years ago, Adkison, his father and a group of hunters who called themselves the Gator Creek Hunting Club, lived for the opportunity to run their deer dogs on and around the family farm northeast of Chipley. They also ran their dogs south of Chipley in an area known as the Sand Hills.
For their party, deer-dog hunting was a way of life. But land-use patterns changed, and tougher laws were passed, designed to keep hunters off public roads and their dogs from trespassing where they were not wanted. That spelled the end of the Gator Creek Hunting Club.
In the late 1990s, Adkison and his father began still-hunting around the 1,200-acre family farm.
"Pops would take a folding chair and go sit at the edge of a field," Adkison recalled. "It's amazing how many deer he killed like that. He'd wait till they came out to feed, and Bam!, he'd kill another buck."
For Philip Adkison, it was the way it was supposed to be. His father had worked the farm all his adult life and deserved to have good fortune pass his way. Father and son were actually the second and third generations of Adkisons to live and work the farm.
Much of the land and open fields were cleared and first worked by Philip Adkison's grandfather, back in the 1940s. At that time, there were no deer to speak of anywhere in the area.
Adkison explained rather matter-of-factly that still-hunting has never had the same allure as dog hunting. But he long ago accepted the change, which he felt was inevitable.
During the 2004-05 hunting season, Adkison first became aware of a special deer on the farm.
"The first time I saw him, he was crossing an open field, probably 400 to 500 yards. When you can tell that it's a buck at that distance, you know he's a good one," the hunter pointed out.
Despite hours of Phillip sitting in tree stands and his father hunting the edge of their fields, they didn't see the buck again that season.
Adkison doesn't remember exactly when, but in the 2005-06 season, they saw the deer again at a distance, crossing from one patch of woods to another wooded area. It was only a fleeting glance, but at least he knew the buck was still around. Someone also reported seeing a huge buck crossing a county road near his home.
Adkison knew enough about deer and big bucks that he was certain this deer's core area included their farm. The younger Adkison studied the terrain, trying to figure out which areas the buck was using so that he could get his father in the right spot.
Try as he might, it simply wasn't to be. His father passed away in the spring of 2006, never getting a chance at the buck.
As for anyone who loses a best hunting companion -- and in this case, his lifelong mentor -- the 2006-07 season was different for Phillip Adkison. He no longer had his best friend along on the hunts. But some of the pain was assuaged by a change in his hunting luck.
As the season unfolded, Adkison hunted the farm often, but never saw the big buck or any other deer that was big enough to shoot. He and his late father hadn't followed any hard and fast rules about letting the young bucks walk, but in a general sense, the family members practiced quality deer management.
Jan. 19, 2007, was like most other winter days during hunting season -- with one exception. Adkison had promised his brother-in-law Bill Mosley and several other friends that he would attend a wild-game supper at a nearby country church. He planned to hunt until sundown, and then make it to the dinner, even though he'd be pressed to get there on time.
Around 3:30 p.m., he drove to the back of one of his fields, briskly walked the 300 to 400 yards to his stand. On the left of this site was Alligator Creek, with tall trees and tangled shrubs along the stream bottom. Directly out in front was a shooting lane that he estimated was 100 yards long. On his right was a stand of planted pines.
After he settled into his stand, it didn't take long for things to get interesting. Around 4 p.m., two does and a small yearling buck moved out of the creek
bottom and began feeding in his shooting lane. That in itself was not unusual. But the does and yearling kept looking toward the stream.
"They were really antsy," Adkison recalled.
Finally, the deer had enough. The does stood alert, blew and took off toward the pines. Before they ran off, Adkison was almost certain he could hear a deer hooking and rubbing trees somewhere on Alligator Creek.
Then again, he might have just been imagining things.
After the does left, the hunter decided to pull out a favorite deer grunt call and give it a try.
Again, Adkison wasn't sure if he was hearing things. But if the sounds were real, he was certain they were made by a deer using his antlers to rake small trees and pawing the ground.
Several minutes passed. Then he saw movement -- and a deer with a high, amazing rack. The buck walked out into his shooting lane, stopped and turned broadside at 60 yards.
"I never get nervous when I see deer," he recalled. "But man, I got nervous!"
Taking a deep breath, he put the crosshairs of his Leupold scope on the deer, then squeezed the trigger.
His .300 Browning Short Magnum did what was supposed to do, and the phantom buck they previously had seen only in the distance was his.
Later, he would find out his buck weighed 205 pounds, which is indicative of an older, mature buck, especially by Florida standards.
After loading his deer and getting a few photos at home, Adkison knew he had to show the buck to his brother-in-law.
When he pulled into the wild-game supper at Holmes Creek Baptist Church, Bill Mosley and about 200 other folks got the chance to admire the animal and its rack!
Adkison knew his deer was exceptional, but he still didn't really realize how impressive the buck was till some of his friends green-scored the rack in the low 160s.
"When they came up with that score, I thought they had made a mistake," Adkison recalled.
After two hours of re-telling the story to friends at the church -- and disrupting the wild-game dinner in the process -- he took his buck to a local meat processor. The man came out in his pajamas and boots and hung the deer in the cooler. The processor was so impressed with Adkison's deer that he even called a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wildlife biologist about getting the deer officially measured.
A few days later, Sam Graf, an official measurer with the FWCC's Florida Buck Registry, took all the measurements and submitted the official score sheets. Since the deer was being scored for the FBR and wasn't going to make the Boone and Crockett Club all-time record book, the rack didn't have to dry for 60 days as those trophies do.
As the word spread about his deer, Adkison received calls from everywhere, including several taxidermists offering to mount the head for free. One of his friends in New York even called the FWCC, wanting to make sure that someone measured the deer.
Several callers, who might generously be called Doubting Thomases, thought his deer was too large and couldn't have come from Florida. Adkison only laughs at suggestions that he possibly spirited it across the state line from Alabama or Georgia.
A few days after killing his deer, Adkison heard from a friend who had killed a buck that scored in the low 130s on the other side of Alligator Creek. Both of these deer may have fed in Adkison's fields, or eyeballed him and the other farm employees as they went about the daily routine of operating a farm where they grow crops and raise cattle.
When it comes to deer from Washington County, Adkison's buck clearly is in a class by itself. There have been no other 150-class whitetails from the county measured for the FBR. Several have been in the low 140s, including Ray Pigott's 10-pointer that scored 141 4/8 and Horace Beagle's 11-pointer that measured 142 5/8.
Adkison's farm also abuts Jackson County, which has a reputation for yielding some of the biggest deer in Florida.
Just a few miles to the east, in January 1959 the late Henry Brinson killed a 29-point non-typical whitetail while heading to the woods to shoot a few squirrels for supper. His grandson, T.L. Brinson still lives on the old farm and owns the trophy rack. Brinson's deer has the distinction of being the third largest non-typical whitetail ever killed in Florida.
Closer to Mariana, Tommy Sims made the news on Jan. 22, 1994, with a 15-point non-typical buck that scored 172 B&C. He killed the massive rutting buck within sight of Interstate 10.
Four other typical whitetails scoring in the 150s were killed near Marianna, and within 20 miles or so of Adkison's property.
These other monstrous bucks included Danny Raines' 10-pointer that scored 154 3/8; Ramey Gilley's 14-point measuring 152 1/8; Carl Carter's 11-pointer that measured 151 5/8; and Robert Jones 12-pointer that scored 150 4/8.
Beyond the fact that they are all outstanding trophy whitetails, the significance of these deer and Adkison's is that most were killed north of Interstate 10, in an area where agricultural fields dot the landscape.
Arlo Kane, an FWCC wildlife biologist, has worked in northwest Florida for 18 years, most of that time developing plans for landowners who want to manage their deer herds. Kane said one obvious reason for the bigger deer in eastern Washington and north Jackson counties can be summed up in one word -- agriculture.
Contrary to what some hunters might think about a property needing to be mostly forested woodland, roughly 2/3 of Philip Adkison's farm is under cultivation. He grows row crops such as peanuts, corn and soybeans, as well as wheat, oats, ryegrass and clover -- all of which deer can utilize.
They have 300 head of cattle on the farm, most of them brood cows and Charlois bulls. They're able to grow everything they need to feed their cattle, Adkison pointed out.
Kane said that crops like the ones Adkison grows are typically high in protein, which deer need during the summer months when they develop antlers and put on weight. Whitetails feeding on agricultural crops get a nutritional boost that deer elsewhere don't receive.
Across the Panhandle, most of the agriculture lies north of I-10. That's where the region's most fertile soils are found. This area has been farmed ever since settlers first arrived in the 1800s. According to Kane, another factor that has come into play over the last 20 years is an emphasis on quality deer management.