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‘Management is the Key!’

Some simple deer management techniques, a few years of patience and some hard work helped James Johnson of Live Oak score his “buck of a lifetime” last season while hunting on the family’s farm in Suwannee County.

The near-perfect 12-point rack grossed 145-3/8 inches and was entered into the Florida Buck Registry with a net score of 140-1/8 inches.

“I really owe this buck to my father-in-law, Leroy Hurst, who passed away recently. He got me started hunting and really was the one who kept me going,” James said.

“We started about 5-6 years ago where we live on his 160-acre family farm. He was a hard-working farmer, with a dairy, beef cows, chickens, etc. We rarely had any deer on the property until we finally started planting year-round food plots and letting the small ones walk,” James said.

“Leroy was pretty much my best friend, and we hunted together for 25 years in Suwannee and surrounding counties. He would show up with a bag of peas, and I would plow a food plot, and then he would come help fertilize.

“We planted food plots, but we didn’t hunt over them primarily. We didn’t harass the deer, and we tried to let the small ones walk. We don’t kill anything less than a good 6-point – unless it happens to be a young kid who just started hunting,”

Thanks to the year-round food plots, supplemental feeding (corn) and deer management, decent bucks began to show up on the farm, which consists of planted pines, a couple of ponds and strips of hardwoods.

About two years ago, James said he caught a very nice buck on a trail camera, but the big boy was almost exclusively nocturnal. Then, on the last day of black powder season, James got a shot with his muzzleloader.

“It was a clean miss,” James said. “He didn’t even run. In fact, he ended up walking right by me, within 10 feet, and made a scrape! I was sick after that hunt,” he said. About a week later, during the first week of general gun season, he got a second chance.

“I watched the wind, hunted smart and was careful which stand I hunted from,” James added. “He came in chasing a doe and was up on me before I knew it. I shot him at three steps as he ran underneath the base of my stand!”

James actually climbed down the stand and grabbed his buck before it died. James credited a trail camera for helping him pattern the big buck, but staying scent-free and watching the wind contributed to his success.

“Management is the key. We tried to manage for quality deer. My father-in-law killed a nice 7-point, but I really wanted him to kill this one. I really owe him for this buck...and for a whole lot more,” James said.

The lessons learned from Leroy live on, as James says he just finished planting three more food plots and plans to continue to encourage his friends and neighbors to do the same, while also letting the small bucks walk.