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Three buddies combine to shoot Florida’s top public land buck!

Sam Sikes wants to be clear that it was a team effort that took the #3 buck in the Florida “Buck of the Year” contest.

The only reason he is being credited for taking third-highest-scoring buck is because he drew the right straw. Sikes, Ryan Holstein and Tyler Wise were all hunting together – and all shot at – the 12-point buck taken on Jan. 3, 2015 on public land within the Kissimmee River Public Use Area (PUA) in Highlands County.

The high-tined monster had 21-inch main beams and a near-perfect 12-point rack with a 14-5/8 inside spread and 10-inch tipto- tip spread. Florida’s highest-scoring public land buck taken last season had a 12-point rack that gross scored 151-2/8 inches and entered the Florida Buck Registry with an official (net) score of 147-5/8 inches.

“We had talked about going hunting down the river for the past few years, but had just never gotten around to it – mostly because our other hunting spots were closer and more convenient,” Sam explained. “But, after a season of minimal shooting and realizing we all had plenty of room in our freezers, we decided it was time to make the river trip.

“The morning of the trip we were all excited and optimistic to go hunt somewhere new. We were running a little late, but thatwas not a bad thing, because the fog was pretty thick, and we had only been down the restored part of the river one time before – and that was in a kicker boat. This time we were on the airboat,” Sam said.

“Our plan was to cover some ground and try to find a good area to turn loose Tyler’s deer hound ‘Whiskey’ to see if he could make something happen. After riding for alittle while, we liked what we saw, but wanted to keep moving. Up to that point we had only spotted one doe. Then we saw horns run into a willow thicket about 100 yards away. We knew it was a good buck, but never dreamed it was as big as it ended up being,” Sam said.

“We drove up to the spot we saw him go into the willows and turned ‘Whiskey’ loose. He took the track and was burning it up! We then drove down the side of the thicket a little ways and stopped the boat by a gap in the thicket, turning the engine off to listen for ‘Whiskey’ to see what our next move should be. We were debating if we should split up on foot, keep driving down the thicket or drop someone off and then drive down the thicket,” Sam said.

“The deer moved through the thicket faster than we thought, because after about 30 seconds of sitting in the gap trying to figure out our next move, here he came, running wide open, about 30 yards from the boat! “That is when the shooting commenced – a total of six rounds of 12 gauge 00 buckshot between the three of us.

It wasn’t until we got our hands on him that we realized we had killed a great buck,” Sam added. “As dog hunters, airboaters and Central Florida natives, we could not be more proud of this deer or the method and location in which he was taken. “We would like to thank God for the opportunity at a deer like this.

We would also like to thank the state for allowing public hunting access to great land like the Kissimmee River PUA, as well as groups such as the KRVSA that fight for our right to access and hunt places like this via airboats, not to mention to be able to do it with the aid of dogs.

Without airboat access, areas like this would be extremely difficult to traverse and hunt,” Sam said. “I would also like to make it clear the only reason this buck is registered under my name is because the FWC would not allow a deer to be registered in the Florida Buck Registry under three different names.

Therefore, we were forced to draw straws, and I won,” Sam added.