When you think of Southern whitetails, the best deer hunt in Florida doesn’t always come to mind, but the Sunshine State more than holds its own when it comes to trophy deer hunting opportunities.
Especially when that trophy deer hunt caps off an incredible trifecta that started with a trophy alligator and razor-toothed boar hog. Great adventures — not to mention great eating!
My recent trip down to Venus, FL, with local hunting legend Lee Lightsey made this dream a reality in mid-August. Deer & Deer Hunting Group Publisher Michael Cassidy introduced me to Lee, and I was immediately impressed by not only his hunting knowledge, but his incredible hunting paradise 150 miles south of Orlando.
Our deer hunt happened so fast, that it has taken this long for it all to sink in. Lightsey teamed us with one of his most seasoned guides, Blake Godwin, another local Florida resident who knows these swamps better than some of the critters that roam them. As we hustled out of the car and into our hunting gear, Godwin explained how the whitetails were already peeled and exhibiting the first signs of rutting behavior. That is unique for this area of Florida in August. While the rest of the world is sitting around and waiting for Halloween, Floridians can chase trophy rutting bucks in the heat of the summer.
Crazy, isn’t it?
Our first sit was the afternoon we arrived in camp. Although we saw several bucks from a distance, nothing came within range of my Mathews Triax. We switched up spots the next morning, and we got our first taste of that summer rutting action that I’ve heard about so many times during the near 25 years I’ve worked here at Deer & Deer Hunting.
The sun was just over the horizon when I heard the telltale footfalls of a deer in the swamp. Slowly turning my head to the east, I spied the legs, then body, of a big deer moving slowly but steadily through the swamp. I instantly knew it was a buck when I saw his head low to the ground — in true bird dog style. The impressive 9 pointer (pushing 125 inches) was hot on a doe.
I quickly scanned the woods behind me and, sure enough, there stood a mature doe. Her tongue was out, and she was panting hard. This buck must have been dogging her all morning long. For a split-second, I thought the doe would break and trot right underneath our ladder stand, bringing the buck with her. Unfortunately, she did just the opposite and made a bee-line for a deeper section of the swamp. And just like that, the buck was out of sight and out of my life. I will admit, I was pretty bummed, because a deer of that caliber is an unbelievable trophy in the State of Florida. Bucks can and do grow large in this state (Whitetail Wisdom fans might recall that I had previously bagged a 140-class whitetail while hunting with Hoppy Kempfer). But the fact remains that any racked buck is a “good buck” in the Sunshine State.
We took that close encounter in stride as a great moment in the hunt as we headed back to camp later in the morning. After a quick bite to eat, we went on with the rest of our day — alligator and hog hunting — which were the subjects of the first two installments in this 3-part series.
After that hog was on the ground in the early afternoon, I had to beg for one last break. I was sweating profusely from all the action (did I mention it was a muggy 95 degrees?) to take a quick, COLD, shower before getting ready for the evening’s bowhunt.
We got to the ladder stand just as a storm front was moving in. Would this even be possible?
“Don’t worry about those clouds,” Blake said. “These rain showers move in and out of here pretty quickly. Well, usually.”
Hmm. Well, let’s give it a try!
Incredibly, we didn’t have to “try” for that long. Within the hour, several deer appeared and started working there way through the oak mott where we were situated. Yes, the area was also supplemented with a feeder, which is more common than not on private hunting grounds in south-central Florida.
As the deer picked their way through the trees, I quickly verified that one of them was a wide 8-pointer, a native buck that Lightsey had gotten several trail-cam photos of the previous evening. Amazingly, this buck was in velvet that previous day; and now as I watch him approaching my stand, he is fully peeled, polished … and quite spectacular!
My heart rate went into immediate overdrive and I had to practice some serious breathing techniques to get myself to calm down.
“It’s just a deer,” I told myself. “You’ve done this many, many times before. Calm down!”
After stepping within 17 yards of the ladder stand, the buck stopped and began feeding his way through the area. I was armed with a SEVR broadhead affixed to my camo Easton FMJ, but I vowed not to take the shot until the buck was perfectly quartering away. With this heat and an approaching weather system, I was not about to take any chances on a long blood trail.
Seconds melted away, and the buck finally offered the shot I was looking for.
The SEVR hit its mark, and we immediately knew the buck was mine.
What a day. What an absolutely glorious day!
With D&DH-TV David Gilane behind the camera and guide Blake Godwin helping with the bloodtrail, we didn’t have to go far to find this cypress-swamp monster. It was time to celebrate.
WATCH ALL THREE HUNTS HERE:
What an incredible one day of hunting! To recap:
In the late morning, we went for the best alligator hunt in Florida:
Then, at midday, we took Godwin’s best dog, Alma, out in search of a big boar hog:
I can honestly say this was the best single day of hunting I’ve ever experienced in my life. Didn’t matter that it was hot and there were some bugs. This kind of action is simply tough to beat anywhere in North America — or anywhere on the planet. Period!