Florida Buck-of-the-Year Contest

(2012 Buck of the Year Winners)

#1 - Leon County produces Buck of the Year!

Fain Searcy of Tallahassee, Florida won the 2011-12 Florida “Buck of the Year” contest with a monster whitetail he killed in Leon County on Dec. 1, 2011 at 5:15 p.m. Fain’s 13-point buck weighed 180 lbs., and the buck’s gigantic rack gross-scored 161-6/8 inches. After 6-7/8 inches in deductions (including one inch for a small extra point on the left antler), the rack was entered into the Florida Buck Registry (FBR) with a net score of 154-7/8 inches.

“I had been hunting hard, even though the weather was not cooperating, but I had not been seeing any mature bucks,” Fain said.

“Refusing to get discouraged, I kept to my routine and hunted the moon phases religiously. I had a group of nine or ten does and yearlings come in with a dominant doe that had been worrying me all year. At first she was blowing at me, but I finally got her to bring her group in and feed.

“My first thought was to shoot her during doe week, but I changed my mind after getting her to settle down and accept me in her house,” Fain said. “She would always keep track of me while her group was feeding, and if she noticed any movement she would lead everyone out.

“On this day, she came in at about 4:30 p.m. But, instead of repeating her usual ‘feed and go’ routine, she and her group stayed for a while,” he added. “Then, 45 minutes behind them, this beast stepped out of the woods. I knew right away he was a shooter, as my heart was almost busting out of my shirt!

“I settled myself and started counting points as he quartered in front of me. Three times I counted to 12 before he stepped behind a big white oak tree and allowed me to get my gun up,” Fain remembered. “I shot him with my trusty .308 and sat for about another 15 minutes in the stand gathering myself before climbing down.

“When I got to him, I said out loud, ‘Man, you are going to cause a commotion!’ This was my buck of a lifetime. I am blessed to have witnessed him both alive and on the ground,” Fain added.

To compare Fain’s impressive buck to other top bucks taken in Florida last season, see pages 42-43.


#2 - Bubba Taylor’s Leon Co. Buck is #2

Clinton E. “Bubba” Taylor said he almost didn’t go hunting on Nov. 25, 2011, the day he killed the 2011-12 “Buck of the Year” runner-up.

He was glad he decided to go after he shot a 14-point, Leon County monster with an amazing rack that gross-scored 154-7/8 inches and netted 146-3/8.

“It was a hot afternoon, and I almost didn’t go,” said Bubba, who manages a quail hunting plantation north of Tallahassee. “It was hot and dry this past year, and the deer stayed in the swamps.

From his stand, located in open woodland next to a swamp, Taylor could hear deer moving around in a nearby thicket, but couldn’t actually see them.

“I listened to them for 15-20 minutes before a doe finally came out, followed by another. The mosquitoes were starting to get bad, so I glanced at my ThermaCell and reached to turn it on.

“Right then, this big buck came walking out, making me suck in air,” Bubba said. The buck walked into full view and spent several moments ‘messing around’ with the does.

“The does got to within 70-80 yards, but the buck was in the fire lane behind them. I’m a pretty decent shot, but I’ll admit this deer shook me up a little. I shot once and knocked him down, but he was still struggling a little. I’ve seen them run off, and I had plenty of bullets (in his .25-06), so I shot again, and then shot again,” he admitted.

Bubba knew his wife, hunting in a nearby stand, would be wondering what was going on, so he grabbed his phone and texted: “I got him... Expensive,” referring to the fact that this buck would be mounted. He then climbed down, walked over to the deer, took a photo and sent it to everyone he knew.

“I walked away, then went back and looked at him again. Then I did it again. I started to go get my truck, but walked back and looked at him one more time. The third time I walked back to him I said, ‘You’d better be here when I get back!’”

After loading the hefty, 200-pound buck into his truck, Bubba went to pick up his wife.

“She was flabbergasted, as was everyone in our hunting party that evening. I am 53 years old, and I’ve killed quite a few deer in my lifetime, but this was the biggest deer I’ve ever shot. It was the thrill of a lifetime!” Bubba added.

“I worked very hard to manage our deer herd, and I feel very blessed that God gave me the opportunity to harvest this buck,” Bubba said.


#3 - The #3 Buck of the Year taken by muzzleloader

Dan Duffell, 66, took the #3 typical killed in Florida last season with his 18-year-old CVA .50 caliber muzzleloader on October 24, 2011 while hunting just outside of Jasper in Hamilton County.

Dan’s buck actually tied for the #2 spot in the “Buck of the Year” contest with a net score of 146-3/8 inches, but was edged out because his heavy-racked 10-point had a lower gross (149-1/8 inches) than Bubba Taylor’s 14-point (157-7/8 inches).

The almost perfectly symmetrical rack had just 2-6/8 inches in deductions for differences between the two sides. Dan estimated that the buck weighed 225 pounds after the processor’s scale bottomed out at 200 pounds while the buck’s head was still on the ground.

“My friends and I have been hunting on privately-owned, leased land in Hamilton County for 18 years, but we have only been on this 600-acre lease for four years and have taken several 7-points and 8-points.

“The day I shot this 10-point, I was hunting from a climber on the edge of a 15-yard-wide dirt trail on the property with heavy woods on both sides. While hunting the same stand the previous day at 10:15 a.m., I had been looking the other direction, and when I looked back, all I saw was the back side of a large deer disappearing into the woods,” Dan said.

“All I saw was his hindquarters, and it looked more like a cow than a deer. Back at camp, my version to my hunting buddy Chester was that I saw a nice 10-point or better, based on the size of his rear end, but I never saw the rack. That didn’t do much for my credibility.

“The following morning at 10 a.m. I was looking the right way just as he walked quickly out to cross the same trail, so I had to take a quick shot because of the narrow opening,” Dan said.

“It’s ironic I got him at exactly the same time I saw a big deer 24 hours before, and he really was a 10-point. “It doesn’t mean this was the same deer I saw the day before, but it is likely,” he added. “Credibility was restored!” Dan’s buck has an interesting rack.

“It is heavy and very symmetrical. I think the symmetry is why it scored so well. But the spread is only 14-7/8 inches. It is a really narrow rack,” he added. “I was considering upgrading my older model CVA, but now I am having second thoughts,” he said.

But, Dan has an even bigger dilemma. “My wife, Margie, says no more deer on the wall!” he joked.


#4 - Baker County Beast is #1 Bow buck at 146-2/8!

Steve Nuss arrowed a 152-6/8-inch beast of a buck on Sept. 30, 2011 in Baker County to take the #4 spot in the Buck of the Year Contest and claim the highest-scoring bow buck killed last season.

The 10-point typical monster had 6-4/8 inches in deductions to net 146-3/8 inches and become the 4th-largest typical buck on record taken with a bow. Steve, originally from Illinois, moved to Jacksonville 21 years ago and recently relocated to Glen St. Mary in Baker County. The 43-year-old elevator mechanic says Baker County reminds him of the small town he grew up in.

“Everyone here seems to hunt and fish, and they love to talk about it. I go to Extreme Outdoors in Macclenny and talk hunting with the owner, Phil, and the customers that come.

“Most of them have hunted around there for years and are very passionate about it. I was not planning on getting in a club last year, and was going to hunt the forest and go back home to bow hunt in Illinois for two weeks in November.

“But two days before the season opened I was asked by a friend to join their club, because they were a member short. I had an eye appointment that Friday for Lasik surgery, and they dilated my eyes, so I could not see very good the rest of the weekend,” Steve said.

“On opening day, Mitch Canaday rode me around and showed me the club, and I told him I thought I would like to join. The next day (Sunday) my wife, Susan, and I rode around the club for about four hours, just looking around.

“I found some scrapes in an area, so I hung a lock-on stand. The next Thursday I had the Lasik surgery, and decided I did not want to risk wounding a deer, so I told my wife I was going to take that weekend off also. I work out of town four days a week, but on Thursday, Sept. 29, I got home early from work.

“I was dying to go hunt, but didn’t have my clothes washed in no-scent, so I grabbed my wife’s crossbow and went to a ground blind, but had no success. “The next morning will be a hunt that I will never forget. I got into my stand with my bow a little before 6 a.m. and had a slight breeze in my face, which had me feeling good. Shortly after 7 a.m. I had two mature does come in and watched them for about 45 minutes.

As soon as they eased off, I texted a couple of friends to see if they were hunting and stuck the phone back in my shirt pocket. When I looked back up, – ‘Oh My God!’ – there he was! He was about 50 yards right in front of me and coming straight to where the does had been eating acorns.

“When he went behind a tree for a second, I stood up, grabbed my bow and ranged him with every step he took. I kept thinking, ‘Please, God, let him stop just long enough for me to get a shot,’” Steve said.

“I knew no one would ever believe I saw a buck that big. He was probably there for about three minutes and appeared very jumpy – as all Florida deer seem to be. When he finally stopped and stuck his nose to the ground, I ranged him at 27 yards and let it rip.

“I watched him run and heard him crash several times and then didn’t hear anything else. I got down and went to find my arrow and immediately knew it was money when I picked it up.

“I eased out to the road I knew he had to cross and it looked like someone had taken a four-inch paintbrush dipped in red paint and slung it across the road. He probably only went a total of 60 yards. I looked up to see he was about 15 feet away,” Steve said.

“I could not believe how big he was! I called a friend for help, telling him I had just killed a really big deer, but, of course, he thought I was joking.

“This was a great day for me, not just because I killed a great Florida buck, but because of the new friends, I made who were able to share in this special day. I’d like to thank all my friends in Baker County (new and old) for making this a day I’ll never forget,” Steve said.


#5 - Madison buck is #5

Daniel Studstill of Madison, Florida had an excellent deer season. On Oct. 1, 2011 he took a 195 lb. 11-point buck with his Mathews bow while hunting on his family’s land in Madison County.

Then, on Nov. 19, 2011, Daniel took another buck on private property, also in Madison County. While the second big buck weighed less than 190 pounds, this one sported an impressive 14-point rack with a 21-inch inside spread.

That buck turned out to be the fifth- highest-scoring typical in the “Buck of the Year” contest, scoring 153-3/8 inches gross and finishing with a net score of 142-4/8 after deductions for differences between the two sides (4 inches) and four abnormal points (6-7/8 inches).

“On Nov. 19 I decided to take advantage of the rut, knowing it’s the best time to see, and possibly take, a mature buck. I had trail camera photos of him taken just days before,” Daniel said.

“I figured if I was going to get him, I’d have to do it soon, as the rut would draw to an end and pressure from other hunters would make it difficult to see any mature bucks.

“Before getting into my stand that afternoon, I sprayed some “Doe in Heat” by Buck Bomb on the brush and in the air surrounding my stand. After climbing up, I began the wait,” Daniel said.

“As the sun was beginning to set, I decided to grunt a few times. About five minutes later I noticed a dark-colored deer walking along the edge of a swamp about 50 yards away.

“Looking through my rifle scope, I could see his antlers and knew immediately this was the buck I’d seen on my game camera. He was walking fast and steady, and I was afraid he would not stop, so I grunted a couple of times again.

“He stopped in an opening through the woods and looked straight up at me. I could see his shoulder through my scope, so I took the shot. The buck bolted up the hill, falling at the edge of a hay field,” Daniel added.

“I began hunting with my father, David Studstill, when I was 10. It’s a sport and hobby I’ve enjoyed since. I shot my first buck when I was 11, and since then I’ve been fortunate to take several nice bucks, but this big buck was by far the biggest, and one I never thought I’d take,” Daniel said.

Daniel was planting food plots in the same location just last month when his tractor broke down. While waiting for his dad to bring a new fuel line, Daniel said he saw two big bucks that he will be hunting hard for this season!


#6 - Gadsden Giant places #6

Twelve-year-old Jackson Boone of Quincy, Florida got started putting entries into the Florida Buck Registry at an early age and added to it last year.

However, he likely hit the high point of his hunting career at a very early age when he took a Gadsden County giant this past season.

His Gadsden County 14-point typical grossed 153-4/8 inches, thanks to 22-inch main beams and an 18-2/8-inch inside spread.

The buck’s rack, which had four abnormal points totaling 6 inches in deductions, netted 141-7/8 inches to finish #6 in the “Florida Buck of the Year” contest and was the highest-scoring typical taken by a youth hunter this past season.

Jackson was hunting on private land when he killed the 175 lb. buck.

“I was hunting on my grandfather’s land, where I’ve been hunting for two years. Two does came out into the patch we were hunting, and I asked my dad if I could shoot one of them,” Jackson said.

“He told me to wait just before the two does left after they got spooked when this buck came in and ran the does out. He left following them before I could take a shot,” Jackson added.

“Then, about a minute later, all of a sudden he ran back into my patch of woods! I looked up and saw this buck just standing there.

“He saw me put my gun up to shoot and acted like he was going to leave. But, then he came back in the field and went where the does had been, so I shot him in the neck at 130 yards and he dropped dead!” Jackson recalled.

After the shot, Jackson’s dad, Jason, walked off the distance to find that his son had made a perfect neck shot from a ground blind at 130 yards using his Ruger .270 Precision.

The Boones were not shocked to confirm they had big bucks in the area after having seen good buck sign for some time. “But, we didn’t have any idea how big,” Jackson said.

Jackson has been hunting since he was 5 years old, and this is not his first big buck.

“I killed my first buck the year I was 5, and I killed an 8-point when I was 8 that scored in the 138-inch class,” Jackson added.


#7 - 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.


#8 - Washington Co. buck places #8

Charlie Ngo of Panama City, Florida scored the 8th-highest-scoring typical buck in the Florida “Buck of the Year” Contest on Nov. 25, 2011 on private land in Washington County.

Charlie’s impressive 11-point gross-scored 140 inches and had almost no deductions.

The mainframe 10-point had one small, 1-1/8-inch abnormal point on the right antler, but only 3-3/8 inches in total deductions, helping it enter the Florida Buck Registry with a net score of 136-5/8 inches.

The 48-year-old hunter used a rifle to take his 8th-ranked buck while hunting on land located in the Florida Panhandle.

“There is not much to tell about my buck story. I have been hunting on this particular piece of private land for a long time,” Charlie said.

“I have killed a lot of deer on the property, but for the last four years I have been managing it better and letting all the small bucks go,” he said.

“Suddenly, during the 2011-12 season, I started seeing four good bucks that have been coming back and forth to my food plot,” Charlie reports.

“Finally, during the Thanksgiving holiday (on Nov. 25, 2011), I got a chance to kill this big buck.

“That day I was late getting to my shooting house, so I had only two hours left to hunt when I got there,” Charlie remembered.

“About an hour after I arrived I looked to my left toward a food plot, and there he was!” Charlie recalled.

“I slowly raised my rifle up and let him have it!” he added.

Charlie’s 11-point featured 21-5/8-inch main beams and a 15-inch inside spread that contributed to a gross score of 140 inches.


#9 - Jackson County buck lands at #9

At 75 years young, William McCroan of Marianna, Florida still has a fast draw.

His quick reaction while hunting on his homestead in Jackson County on Dec. 22, 2011 allowed him to kill the biggest buck of his life and secure the #9 spot in the 2011-12 Florida “Buck of the Year” contest.

“It was a fast show. He was going and about to leave,” William said. “He didn’t slow down a bit.”

A 120-yard shot from a ground blind with his .30-06 rifle dropped the large 8-point buck that William said he had never seen before.

“This was the biggest one I have ever killed. He weighed 200 lbs.,” William said. “I killed one that weighed about 205 lbs. about 8-9 years ago with my bow, but he didn’t have the rack this one did.”

“Earlier in the season I saw eight other bucks, including four that were about his size, on some leased land I hunt on between Cypress and Marianna, but they all saw me and got out of there,” William said. “This one was at my place.”

William’s big buck had an inside spread of 14 inches and almost perfectly symmetrical tines, helping it score 141-4/8 inches gross. With only 5 inches in deductions, the rack was entered into the Florida Buck Registry with a net score of 136-4/8 inches.


#10 - Jackson Co. 8-point is #10

Jason Blocker, 28, of Warner Robbins, Georgia says he has “never been lucky hunting the rut.” But, that all changed on Dec. 10, 2011 when he killed the 10th-highest-scoring buck taken in Florida during the 2011-12 season.

Jason was hunting on private property in Jackson County when he used his Marlin .30-30 to kill a 175 lb., 8-point buck with an almost perfect rack.

With 23-inch main beams, 10-inch tines and a 17-inch spread, Jason’s buck gross-scored 139-7/8 inches and finished with a net score of 136-4/8 inches after just 3-3/8 inches in deductions for differences between the two sides.

“First of all, I have never been lucky hunting the rut. Normally, after archery season I hang it up for the year,” Jason said, adding, “Those of you that do not archery hunt are truly missing out on a great experience.”

“My buddy Chad invited me to hunt with him, and on the way out to his property he showed me photos of the bucks his game camera had been picking up. There were some very large deer on the cards, but I knew I was the guy that would see a spike – not the monster.

“I clumsily made my way through the woods until I finally found the blind Chad sent me too. I sat there quietly for a couple of hours before a doe came strolling through, right in front of me.

“After the doe was well into the clearing, something caught my eye to the left. It looked like tree limbs were moving, but not in the traditional sense. I picked up my binoculars to get a better look and saw it was a buck with a huge rack, but he was still too far out to tell exactly how big. The closer the buck came, the bigger the rack became!” Jason said. “At this point it was clear that he was chasing the doe I had just seen.”

“He was just about to walk into the clearing when he stopped right in front of a large pine. All I could see was his hind end and the massive rack sticking out the other side. It was almost like he was teasing me. He had not spotted me, and it was highly unlikely he had caught my scent (due to my meticulous scent-control procedures). It looked like he was about 37 yards out and ready to move. Since he was behind a tree, it made it easy to get my rifle into position and ready, in case he tried to run.

“He took about five steps into the clearing and paused long enough for me to take my shot. At first I thought I had missed. He didn’t flinch or anything! I was already starting to beat myself up about missing when he trotted about 15 yards, turned back and fell,” Jason said.