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Buck of the Year Winner: ‘I got lucky hunting the rut!’

Ralph Holstein, 49, of Frostproof credits “getting lucky” and “hunting the rut” for being able to bag Florida’s “Buck of the Year” and the best public land buck taken in the 2009-10 season.

Ralph took the monster 11-point scoring 153-3/8 inches gross and 148 inches net (after deductions) on Nov. 24 while hunting on the Kissimmee River Public Use Area (PUA) in Polk County.

The main-frame 10-point had one abnormal point (1-7/8 inches) and an impressive 20-3/8-inch inside spread. The rack measured 4 inches in circumference at the bases and had main beams measuring 22-1/8 and 23-1/8 inches in length.

With 4-1/2-inch-long brow tines, identical 8-inch G2s, long G3s (9-5/8 and 8-7/8 inches) and G4s (5-5/8 and 6-5/8 inches), the rack had only 3-4/8 inches in differences between the two antlers and 5-5/8 inches in total deductions.

Ralph admits that he “lucked out,” because he had never seen the buck before the day he shot him, and “never saw a deer that big before,” despite hunting the same area for years and nearly every day during archery season, “almost to the point I thought my old lady was going to leave me.”

Holstein said that he likes to hunt hogs more than deer, adding, “I am not a big-time deer hunter. I am a meat hunter – not really a horn hunter.”

“I definitely believe in the rut now! That stuff is what got him killed!” he said, adding “I also know I will probably never see a deer like that again.”

by Ralph Holstein

My 2009 hunting season started in early September with me setting up stands for myself, my daughter and some of my buddies.

While working with Randy at HT Construction, all we talk about is bow hunting, and it had been a few years since I last used a bow, so I started practicing to get ready for opening day.

My buddy Randy and I hunted throughout the bow season almost every day after work, and finally, during the third weekend of the season, Randy harvested a small buck.

I had seen plenty of deer, but hadn’t even pulled my bow back. During the last weekend of archery season, I was on an afternoon hunt when a doe presented me with a great shot.

I was very happy with my pass-through shot, and I sat for another 20 minutes or so before getting out of the stand and heading to pick up Randy.

We found the Gold Tip 5575 arrow plus a heavy blood trail, but we searched late into the evening without ever recovering the doe. Muzzleloader season wasn’t much better, despite the fact I did log a little time in the stand.

Finally, general gun season rolled around. After donating gallons of blood to the mosquito factory, the weather finally cooled off a little during the second week of the season.

It seemed like all the deer started to move around that week, which happened to be “doe week” and my daughter Jaimie’s favorite part of the season.

She always hunts with me during doe days, but my brother-in-law Donald was visiting and wanted to join our hunt, so she had to share “her week” with him, which didn’t make her a very happy camper.

While sitting in the stand that Saturday morning, I noticed the bucks were moving around looking for does. About 9 a.m. a doe went by with a real nice buck following close on her trail, but they never slowed the chase long enough for me to get a shot.

We went home for lunch, and my brother-in-law sighted-in his gun – after bumping his scope during the morning hunt – while I went inside to eat.

After lunch I dropped my daughter and brother-in-law off at their stands and returned to mine. I was getting kind of discouraged because I had not killed a deer all season and found myself beginning to think about hunting backstrap instead of horns. It wasn’t 30 minutes after getting set up in my stand that a small buck presented himself about 20 yards away.

Just happy to see horns, I shot and dropped him where he stood!

Less than five minutes after I shot him, my daughter was calling my cell phone asking if we were going to leave since I had shot a deer. I told her to hold her horses and sit tight because the deer were still moving.

After a few more hours of sitting in the stand, I saw the same doe that had been chased by the buck earlier that morning. I was pretty sure where she was going to come out of the brush, and got prepared to take my shot.

Just when the doe got to the opening, I realized there was a buck on her trail again. This time the buck stopped, giving me a perfect shot at 75 yards. I pulled the trigger and...there was nothing but a “click.”

No bullet! I didn’t realize my brother-in-law had shot all but one of my bullets while sighting in our rifles when we went home for lunch!

The big SOB looked right in my direction when I pulled the trigger, and I just knew he was gone, but luckily I was in my Mossy Oak leaf camo and the wind was perfect. That, plus the fact that he had that hot doe on his mind, somehow prevented him from seeing me.

I was sick to my stomach and almost cried. I have never felt so nauseated in my life. I knew I had just missed a chance at a nice buck! I sat in my stand for another 15-20 minutes, thinking about how I would never see him again and trying not to get sick.

My airboat was parked right by the river not very far from my stand, so I got down as quietly as I could to put my rifle away and grab my 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun from the boat.

I crept to the airboat, grabbed my shotgun, loaded it and took four steps back toward my stand when I noticed a buck standing there – not paying me any attention! He was completely focused on the little buck I had killed at the beginning of my afternoon hunt!

I threw up my shotgun and shot him in the back at just 15 yards. It wasn’t until he came around a scrub oak and I finished him off at close range that I finally noticed how big he really was!

Before I could even get my hands on him, Jaimie was calling to ask what I had killed this time. All I could say was, “I got SONCHO, I got to go!”

After all of that hunting, rattling and grunting, hunting in the heat, sitting in the stand for hours day after day during archery and muzzleloading, feeding the mosquitoes and doing everything right, I killed him just standing there 15 yards from my boat while he was looking at the 3-point I killed!

While I was loading my 3-point “baby” buck and SONCHO on the boat, my brother-in-law called to ask the same question. I told him I killed a nice buck, and would have to call him back!

Once I finally managed to get both deer on board and fired up my airboat, I drove to my daughter’s stand, where she was waiting anxiously to see what all I had killed – but she was a little mad because she hadn’t seen anything herself.

When I came around the trees she said I had a smile on my face that she will never forget. She said my grin stretched from ear to ear!

I jumped off the boat and started hollering, and Jaimie couldn’t get out of her stand fast enough. She said she has NEVER seen a deer that big in her life! She took out her camera and started snapping away. As we drove to Donald’s stand we apparently didn’t hear him shoot because of the airboat noise, but when we turned the boat off he was yelling that he had shot a deer and couldn’t find it!

My daughter and I went walking through the brush looking for the deer and walked right up on it about 50 yards from his stand!

After loading his “baby” buck on the boat with my two bucks I was afraid to slow to an idle on the way back to the ramp because the water was almost even with the front of the hull!

When I pulled up to the house my wife came outside and couldn’t believe her eyes! The monster buck was bigger then she had even pictured after I called.

Once we unloaded the three deer, I called my buddy Woodsy, who knows how to score bucks. He came over and green-scored the rack at 150 inches. Woodsy is actually the one who told me about Woods ‘n Water’s “Buck of the Year” contest and said I better enter.

We had three deer to clean that night, which took a lot longer than it should have because my brother-in-law celebrated with one too many beers while telling everyone the story about how he killed his little “bottom buck” over and over and over again, leaving all the cleaning to me and Jaimie!

My once-in-a-lifetime buck weighed 173 pounds, had 11 points, gross-scored 153 inches and netted 148 inches.

Never again will I be so lucky!

But, the season wasn’t over yet. The very next morning my daughter decided to be greedy and just had to sit in my stand where I had killed SONCHO.

Just as dawn broke, a nice 4-point walked out in front of her, and she shot her very first buck at about 20 yards!

She called me within minutes, saying, “Dad come get me out of this stand!”

She had so much adrenaline pumping through her that her legs wouldn’t stop shaking. She told me, “There is no better feeling than this! Killing those does is just no comparison.”

The next day (Thanksgiving morning), I tried to wake my hunting partner up, but she said it was cold and raining, and she wanted to sleep.

So I went to the lucky stand alone, and within minutes two does walked out with a nice 8-point trailing them.

I shot him too!

He was within 40 yards of where I shot SONCHO!

After years of hunting deer with my dad and now my own children, I still get the same feeling I did when I was 5 years old, hunting in the Everglades with a BB gun with my dad!

I can’t explain how much I appreciate all those hours my dad spent with me in the woods. Those are life lessons and bonding moments I won’t ever forget.

Now I enjoy sharing the same experiences with my daughter and son (even though he is too busy chasing his own kind of does much of the time).

I hope they pass down these same hunting traditions to their children one day! The 2009-10 hunting season is one I will NEVER forget!