A friend of mine has a 12,000 acre lease in Flagler County that only has 11 members... most of whom live down in Miami and rarely hunt the place. There are 4 locals in the club and each member is allowed only 3 bucks per year. I've been helping them manage their QDMA program and working with the land owner on managing his timber for the last 3 years in exchange for a few free hunting days a year. My friend has been the club president for the last 4 years and had invited me up to look the place over when he became president. It's filthy with turkeys and hogs, but the deer have always been on the small side.
Within the property, there are several hammocks and sloughs that dot the entire property. However, there is one enormous hardwood & cypress hammock that stretches for almost 3 miles and is about 1/2 mile across. My buddy is the only member that hunts it as it is hard to get into and requires a significant walk back from either side to get into it. Most of the guys simply want to get in 20 minutes before legal shooting time and walk 200 yards to a stand on a food plot or a feeder, so there's little chance of any of them hunting this large hammock.
Four years ago, while turkey hunting the area, he and I found numerous locations with good trails and rub lines. That first season, he went back to a spot I had tagged as a prime location for a good buck and he was able to harvest a nice 8 with his long bow. His buck was a 6 year old that barely weighed 100 lbs and scored just over 100".
Shortly thereafter, I put them on a feeding program, started fertilizing the many white oaks and other mast trees we found, and we started planting small, strategic food plots all over the property. As a result, they've begun to shoot more bucks that meet the required restrictions and the scores have gone up by about 10-15 inches. So too have the weights increased. While the deer remain small in size, their body weights have increased by about 20-30 lbs.
Simultaneous to the feeding and planting improvements, we began doing annual deer counts using cameras at strategic feeding stations and night surveys. What we found was that they needed to kill a significant amount of does.
They applied for and received 75 doe tags each season for the past 3 year and did their best to fill them all. This summer's deer counts showed significant improvement in the buck:doe ratio at around 1:3 which in turn has increased the visible rutting activity and observed chasing of does. This weekend was no exception.
Over the late summer, we went back to a place we found during last turkey season that was full of large rubs from the previous year. There was a large mount of deer sign in the area and a bunch of white oaks that were beginning to produce acorns. We fertilized the heck out of the area and left it alone until the season started. We also hung one climber on the north end of the island the oaks sit on. Two weeks ago, my friend decided to hunt that stand as the rut usually kicks off at the end of archery or first of black powder. The rubs were fairly fresh and the scrapes in the area were still wet, but he wasn't seeing much day time deer activity. He then went out west to kill elk and muleys and had not been back since.
Earlier this week, after his return from Montana, we talked about the gun opener and decided we would both go and hunt either side of the oak island. With all the bucks being killed in that part of the state, there was a good chance the rut was kicking in there as well. On the drive up Saturday morning from Tampa to Palm Coast, I saw no less that 50 deer with 13 of them being bucks chasing does around on the shoulders of the highways. Temps were good at around 53 degrees and the wind was steady from the west at around 7 mph.
When I got to his house, we transferred gear into his truck, sprayed down and made our way to the NE side of the hammock. We took a slow, easy 1 1/2 walk through the swamp careful not to disturb any of the moccasins we saw on the way in. I put a doe estrous drag on my boot and walked the old logging trail from south to north about 60 yds from my chosen location. When I got to the south end of the island, I hung the drag and doubled back to my tree to hang my stand. My buddy kept on going through the island and sat on the northeast side facing west.
As I climbed my stand, I busted several turkeys out of a roost tree 10 yards from where I was climbing... note to self for March. Then I settled in for the morning sit. At day break, I could hear a pack of hogs crunching behind me in the swamp. Although I couldn't see them, I knew they were headed to my friend's stand. 20 minutes later, he texted to ask me if I wanted a hog. Nope! Wait on a deer.
The squirrels were going bananas all morning and it sounded like it was raining acorns as they jumped from limb to limb playing grab azz and chasing each other through the canopy. At about 9:15, I could hear the same gobblers that I had busted from the roost start talking to my west. That tell-tale deep "yonk-yonk-yonk" that only gobbler produce got me a little fired up. after about 15 minutes of scouring the thick edge of the island with my binocs, the fog began to roll in and the temperature dropped 10 degrees. I told my buddy to be ready because I had a feeling things were going to get busy.
While glassing the edge of the island at 9:30, I caught a little movement and lifted the glasses to see the 3 gobblers feeding about 90 yards away. Just then, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a streak of brown. I dropped the glasses and saw a doe coming right down the logging trail with a buck on her butt. He was grunting and had his head down to where I could only see he was tall but not count points. I picked an opening in brush about 60 yards in front of me and trained my scope on it, keeping both eyes open to make a quick judgement on the buck. As the doe entered the opening, the buck slowed and I could tell he was legal by club standards. As soon as his chest hit the edge of the scope, I centered and pulled the trigger. He didn't even twitch. I figured he was an 8 and was pretty tickled to get him.
(where he was standing when I busted him)
When I climbed down and got to him, i realized that in fact he was a 12 point. Although he wasn't but 120 lbs., he had great mass and split brow tines. He was thin through the hams and back from chasing does, but he was healthy none the less. We dragged him out to the edge of the swamp and then humped back to get the truck.
I put the tape on him when I got home yesterday and he grossed out at 106 7/8 with a net of 103 5/8. That's my sixth registry size deer in FL. Later today, I'll begin maceration for a European mount. By the way, he was only a 3 year old.
Pretty thankful for the luck I had. What with 6 sits on stand so far this season and only 1 doe seen from the stand before legal shooting light, I was beginning to think I was snake bit. Now that the pressure's off, I'm hoping this weekend brings some more good luck.