By Adam Riley
-- Because I was in my first semester of college and playing football, there weren't many opportunities for me to get in the woods during the 2008-09 hunting season. But I learned quickly that in terms of bucks and time spent afield, quality doesn't necessarily follow quantity.
I lost out on the bow and muzzleloader seasons altogether. I even missed the rifle openers in both Florida and Georgia. The one hunt I could make, however, was with my dad.
The previous spring, Dad and I were the high bidders for a deer hunt at Alico Ranch. The auction was a fundraiser for a private school. I was excited to get that hunt because I knew while playing college football, I would not be able to spend the time in the woods with my dad as I had been able to in the past. So this was a special hunt for both of us.
When we got to the ranch in Hendry County, Fla., I was amazed at how well the property is managed. They had food plots all over the ranch for the deer.
The first evening was an exciting one. While my guide and I were walking to the stand, we saw about 10 does already in the food plot. They eventually ran off, allowing us to settle into the stand.
We saw a few does and hogs working their way through the woods around the food plot, but none actually came out and stepped into it. Eventually, something caught my eye to the right. It was a decent 8-pointer that I thought, for sure, my guide would want me to shoot. But he told me there were bigger deer in the area.
Being that I was accustomed to hunting only leased land in Georgia, I wasn't wired to pass up 8-point bucks. But I took the guide's advice.
We watched that buck and two others feed around in the food plot for about an hour, and then it was time to go.
When we got back to camp, we discovered my dad had taken a nice 7-pointer (would've been a 4x4 if not for a broken tine). It was a cool deer. The right side of the rack was palmated almost like a caribou's.
The next morning, I had high expectations because we were going to another food plot from which I'd been shown trail camera pictures. A couple of very nice 8-pointers were frequenting that plot.
About five minutes after we got settled in the stand, three deer came to feed. It was still dark, but the bright moon illuminated a pretty nice buck among them. Alas, the deer left the food plot about 30 minutes before shooting light. Besides seeing a couple nice hogs, it was a slow morning.
We got out of the stand and tried slipping around to a field where my guide had seen a group of bucks a few days earlier. We didn't see any deer, but we did see two coyotes and eventually harvested one of them.
That evening, my guide and I decided to go to the stand where my dad had taken his buck. Six other bucks were in the food plot when he shot his.
We got to the stand about 3:00, early enough not to spook anything. It was a very slow evening - not what I was expecting because of the talk about how popular this plot was the previous evening.
We finally saw two does cross the far corner of the food plot about 4:30. Next, a spike walked out at about 15 yards to the left of us and made his way to the field. About 5:30, I began to worry that I wouldn't get a chance to harvest a buck. That was my last evening there and, possibly, for anywhere else.
At 5:45, however, I looked to the left and saw a buck that stole my heart. It was walking away from me, heading toward the food plot. As soon as it turned broadside at about 65 yards, I leveled the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger.
The deer flinched and ran about 30 yards before falling into some bushes.
I had a hard time getting down from the stand because I was shaking so badly. When I walked up to the biggest buck I'd ever shot, I was speechless!
The look on Dad's face when he saw my buck was priceless, too. I will never forget it.
Babson Park, Fla.
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