Florida Buck-of-the-Year Contest

(2015 Buck of the Year Winners)

#1 - Marion County produces Buck of the Year!

Jeff Sullivan from Fort McCoy, Florida killed the 2014-15 Florida “Buck of the Year” on Dec. 14, 2014 in his own backyard in Marion County.

The awesome buck had a heavily-palmated 12-point rack that was scored three different times – twice by Boone and Crockett scorers – who measured it at 189 inches gross (before deductions) and 166-3/8 inches net as a typical.

Jeff killed the buck on his 21-acre homestead after spotting it out of a window while drinking a cup of coffee.

“After getting a cup of coffee, I looked out my back window and saw this buck and another nice buck,” Jeff said. “I kept looking at him and finally got my binoculars.”

“That is when I said, ‘Damn! That is a nice buck!’ It still didn’t register how big he really was. I kept looking at him until I decided I had to try to get a shot.

“I was still in my shorts that I wear around the house, so I put on a pair of pants and a light jacket and slipped around the side of the house,” Jeff said.

“He was looking right at me, so I went around to the other side of the house and got next to a bush. When he dropped his head to feed I slipped up behind an oak tree that was between me and him.

“He kept looking back at me. About the fourth time he dropped his head, I just slipped my rifle up and dropped him with my Ruger .270 short mag. It is a fine-shooting rifle,” Jeff added. “I stood there a while to make sure he was staying down.”

Sullivan’s big buck now ranks as the highest-scoring buck ever killed in Marion County and #3 among Florida’s all-time highest-scoring typical bucks, behind only Larry Furr’s 168-1/8-inch Gadsden County 14-point taken in 1977 and Roy Ems 165-2/8-inch Leon County 11-point taken in 1983.

Sullivan’s buck beats out the 154-3/8-inch buck taken by Jerry Wagner in Marion County in 1940.

In the 15 years he has owned the property, Jeff said the best buck he had ever taken was a 17-inch wide 6-point and a smaller 7-point.

“Holy smokes! What a buck!” Jeff said afterward. “I realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime deer. I’ve never seen anything like him before.”



#2 - Scott Tolbert’s Holmes County buck takes #2 spot

Scott Tolbert of Panama City, Florida first saw the buck that would end up finishing #2 in the 2013-14 “Buck of the Year” contest two years ago on a trail camera video recorded in October 2012 when the buck had a unique heart-shaped 8-point rack.

Two seasons later, on Feb. 20, 2015, Scott killed the 6-1/2-year-old buck with an impressive 12-point rack near Westville in Holmes County. Tolbert’s buck, which gross scored 153-7/8 inches and netted 148-7/8, is the second-highest scoring whitetail ever taken in Holmes County, behind Jeremy Free’s muzzleloader buck taken in 2010 that scored 151-3/8 inches. Tolbert took over the #2 spot previously held by Michael Conner’s 2010 buck that scored 147-4/8.

“We did not see him at all during the 2013-14 season. But, this past year we moved our stands several times during the season,” Scott said.

“As a kid growing up, I hunted on wildlife management areas along the Chattahoochee River, right where the Florida, Georgia and Alabama line comes together. On public land you can’t put any type of feed or cameras out there, so that was what I was used to.

“In recent years, now that I am hunting private land, I put out cameras and corn during the fall just to see what we had coming through the property, but once the season starts, I usually take the cameras down and stop putting out corn. I know everyone has an opinion on it, but for myself, I just like hunting the land as naturally as possible,” Scott said.

“But this season I left the cameras out until early January and caught him on camera. Comparing photos with other hunters, we found he had been roaming 5-6 miles within several days.

“After I got a photo of him, I pulled all the cameras out of the woods and put up a new stand in that area. Every single time somebody sat in that stand they would see deer.

“Early this particular morning (Feb. 20) I stopped at the country store to get my biscuit. It was very cold – like 20 degrees – so I told the woman there I was going to shoot one at about 7 o’clock and I would be back at 7:30 for another biscuit,” Scott remembered.

“It was a Friday, so I was the only one up there. I’m fortunate to own land in Westville, which is close enough to where I live in Panama City that I can hunt in the morning and just come to work a little late. I own my own small business, so it is hard for me to travel to hunt,” Scott said.

“I was on the stand early and about 6:55 a.m. I stood up to stretch and look around. When I sat back down, it was just after 7 a.m. when I looked over my left shoulder, and there he was! He had come in behind me in the one area I could not see him until he stepped out.

“He was probably 60 to 70 yards away when I saw him, and he was walking in at what I would call a fast pace. He stopped at a small pine and tore it up, shaking his horns back-and-forth over it. Afterward, he took about five steps, giving me a clear shot from about 30 yards with my Browning .308 loaded with 150-grain Hornaday ballistic tips.

“From the time I first saw him until the time I took the shot was less than one minute,” Scott said. “He actually ran back out of sight before he dropped. When I took the shot I did not know it was this particular buck.

“Between the cold, the excitement and taking the shot, I did not notice him flinch at all. He just took off,” Scott said. “But, I told myself there was no way I missed him.”

“I called a local guy I have become very good friends with, Dale Powell, to let him know I had shot a monster, but Dale had left town that morning, so he sent his employee Dale to help me load him in the truck. I never made it back to the country store that day for a biscuit!”

“We actually went to Dale’s house to process the deer. When I took the horns to the FWC biologist to be scored, the guy asked where I shot the deer. When I told him Holmes County, he asked if it was Holmes County, Illinois?” Scott laughed.

“Even then I still had not realized how massive this rack was. He is definitely a buck of a lifetime,” Scott said.

The buck’s long 25-inch main beams almost touch at the tips, forming a heart-shape when looking down on the rack. Scott said the buck had a 12- or 13-point rack the year before and was starting to decline.

“I shot a total of eight deer this past year, and despite giving away a lot of the meat, I have just about burned up my grill! I love it!” Scott said.

After taking five deer in a 30-day period during the late rut in the Panhandle last season, Scott is now setting his sights on another big buck this year.

“I have three cameras that have been out for a couple of months, and we had a 9-point walk right under my stand the last day of the season last year at about 10:30 at night. I can’t wait to see him this season!” Scott said.


#3 - 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 that was 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 a little 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.


#4 - 16-year-old Hunter Shimer takes #4 Buck of the Year

Hunter Shimer of Keystone Heights, Florida killed this amazing 11-point on opening day of the 2014 black powder season (Oct. 18, 2014) at around 8:30 a.m. while hunting in Putnam County, Florida.

“I was sitting in my climber stand in an oak tree when I heard deer around me, so I began to grunt,” Hunter said.

“A small buck came in. As I watched him, he began to signal that something else was coming. In a split second, this 11-point walked into range.

I raised my Knight muzzleloader, took aim and pulled the trigger. When the smoke cleared, I saw my buck of a lifetime lying there,” the 16-year-old said.


#5 - Corey Webb kills #5 buck in Holmes County

Corey Webb of Chipley, Florida took the #5 highest-scoring typical in Florida last season while hunting in Holmes County on Jan. 18, 2015.

The buck weighed 205 lbs. and toted a mainframe typical 10-point rack that scored 147-1/8 inches gross and 143-3/8 inches net. Corey shot the big buck at 5:35 p.m. using a Ruger .300 Win Mag with a Vortex scope.

“It was a cold January evening as I sat in my ladder stand overlooking a road that runs along the creek that runs through our lease in Holmes County,” Corey said.

“About every 30 minutes I would give a couple grunts on my deer grunt and a couple bleats with my can, because the bucks were starting to chase does a little bit. As the evening started to fade, and it was getting to the ‘right time of evening’ we all look forward to, I heard something splashing in the creek to my left. Ducks usually land in the creek, so I just assumed it was probably some coming in to roost for the evening.

“I never imagined that sound would be my once-in-a-lifetime buck. But, before I go any further, let me go back and recap my history with this buck. I acquired this lease in 2011, and we have been working over the past four years to manage and grow some true trophy deer on it,” Corey remembers.

“The first year I had it, the deer population was very low, and I became discouraged. But, before the season started, I got my first photo of this ‘Big 8,’ and my jaw dropped. He was very photogenic, but our paths just never seemed to cross. I would sit in one stand, and he would show up at another.

“We went through the whole season, letting smaller bucks walk, just hoping for an encounter with this behemoth, but we never saw him or harvested any other deer.

“The 2011 season came and went, and all I could do was hope that he made it through the summer. When the 2012 season rolled around, sure enough, he showed up! He continued to flaunt in front of the camera all season, just tempting us.

“One of the guys on the lease had an encounter with him during the rut, but couldn’t get a shot at him. He would disappear every year during the rut, but would always show up on camera the last few days of the season, like he was letting us know he survived the season. We harvested two 8-points that year, and both were really good deer,” Corey said.

“When the 2013 season came around he started becoming a little more leery, as a mature buck will do. During the bachelor period he traveled with another big 8-point that was later killed by one of the lease members.

“Other than game camera photos, he managed to stay under the radar, crushing my hopes that anyone on the lease would ever get to hold his antlers in their hands. “As big as this deer was for 3 years old, I didn’t think he would get any bigger the following year. I figured he had reached his peak and would start going downhill. Boy, was I wrong!” Corey said. “During the 2014 season he exploded into a huge mainframe 10-point, which, of course, forced a name change to ‘The Big 10.’ That is when he really turned into a ghost. We only had a few photos of him, mostly all at night.

“I realized I had become too obsessed with this deer, so I turned it all over to God and let His will be done. That afternoon my dad and I headed to the stand (running late as usual). After our usual session of wind checking and stand choosing, we parted ways for the afternoon sit.

“It was a very peaceful afternoon, and I was really enjoying just spending the afternoon in God’s creation. Around 3:30 p.m. a few does filtered out and browsed around. I was concentrating on watching them when I heard the splashing in the creek. I had just about forgotten about the noise when I heard a deer walking out of the woods by the creek.

“I found him in my binoculars and could only see one side of his rack, but I could tell he was a good one. I quickly dropped my binos and found him in my scope, trying to ignore the horns so I didn’t get rattled.

“As soon as he gave me a clear shot, I squeezed the trigger on my .300 Win Mag, and he ran about 30 yards before piling up. After it was all over, I stopped and went back over the incident in my mind. I still wasn’t sure what buck I had actually just killed.

“After I calmed down, I climbed down and eased (actually, I ran) over to him. When I got where I could see his rack, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I got buck fever all over again. After snapping a few pictures, I called my wife to tell her, but I could barely talk. I’m actually a pretty quiet person, but my dad says I talked his ear off on the way home.

“I’ve been hunting all my life and I don’t know if I’ll ever kill another deer of this magnitude, but it’s like the pressure was lifted and I was floating on cloud 9. My son, who was a year old at the time, was just as excited as I was.

“As you can see in the photos, you can’t tell which one of us killed the deer.

“I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity at a true buck of a lifetime. I also thank my wife and family for allowing me to spend so many countless hours in the woods doing what I love,” Corey said.


#6 - Joey Miles killed the #6 highest-scoring typical buck taken last season

Joey Miles killed the #6 highest-scoring typical buck taken last season on Feb. 5, 2015 at around 4:30 p.m. just a quarter of a mile from his house in Bay County, Florida.

“I was hunting on my cousin’s private property,” Joey said. “I spotted him from the county road, but I could not shoot him from there.

Once we got off the road, my cousin and I were trying to locate him again, when I saw him bolt to run and was able to take him with one shot from my Model 7600 .30-06 rifle at about 100 yards.”

Joey estimated the buck to weigh 180 pounds.


#7 - Derek Harden of Tallahassee, Florida takes #7 spot

Derek Harden of Tallahassee, Florida finished #7 in the “Buck of the Year” contest after taking a high-tined 10-point on Jan. 13, 2015 in Leon County.

“It was the last week of the season, and I was hunting on a piece of private property in northern Leon County,” Derek said.

“I used a Winchester .308 and dropped him in his tracks right before dark. I had watched him for two years prior to shooting him,” Derek said, adding that the buck would have scored significantly higher if not for breaking a brow tine and both G4 tines just a few days before he was killed.

The broken tines contributed to 6-5/8 inches in deductions that knocked the 148-4/8 gross score down to 141-7/8 net.


#8 buck was part of a double taken in Alachua

Jeff Jordan of Bronson, Florida killed a pair of big bucks on opening day of muzzleloader season while hunting in Alachua County last year.

One of the two 205 lb. bruisers taken near Gainesville, Florida ranked as the #8 typical taken during the 2014-15 season with a net score of 137 inches.

“The first one, which was taller, came out about 75 yards away at 7:25 a.m.,” Jeff said. “I was blown away when I saw him, so I watched him for about 20 seconds. He came straight to me, and when he got to about 10 yards, I squeezed the trigger,” Jeff said.

“When he took off, I was thinking to myself, ‘There is no way I missed him!’ So I loaded another round in my muzzleloader and sat there for another 20 minutes.

All of a sudden, about 30 yards away out popped a doe, and 5 yards to the right was another bruiser! I couldn’t believe it!” Jeff said.

“I waited until he got to within 20 yards and fired off another shot. He fell right in his tracks. When I climbed down and put my hands on him, I was speechless. It was the biggest buck I had ever shot, Jeff said. “

I didn’t know it at the time, but when I went to look for the first buck, I found him about 30 yards away, and his rack was even bigger!” Jeff said.

“I was beyond speechless. I almost couldn’t breathe.”

The buck’s 8-point rack had a towering 12-2/8-inch G2 and a 19-6/8-inch inside spread that helped it score 140-7/8 inches gross and 137 inches net.

The second buck, which also had an 8-point rack, had a 19-inch inside spread and scored 119 inches.


#9 - Top Non-Typical takes #9 overall spot

The Top Non-Typical Buck taken last season, taken by Julio Besu of Homestead, Florida, ranked #9 overall in the Florida “Buck of the Year” contest (due to a 25-inch difference between typicals and non-typicals).

Julio’s buck scored 160 inches and won first place in the McCoy’s Outdoors Store’s “Big Buck Contest” in Marianna, Florida last season.


#10 - Jason Leddon places #10 with Walton County buck

On Feb. 2, 2015, I got off work late and knew I didn't have time to sit in my stand. The rut had been hit-and-miss due to the weather, so I went to a 40-acre cut over cotton field where I had seen deer traveling a fence line.

About 10 minutes later, I looked across the field and saw a deer step out from the edge and look around approximately 200 yards away. All I could see was horns! Unfortunately, there was a terrace between me and the deer, so I could not use my shooting sticks.

I took a free-handed shot, but the buck simply looked around. I took a second shot, and he just continued to look around! By this time I was shaking so bad I realized buck fever had set in. I took a second to tell myself, “If you don’t calm down, you are going to miss this monster.”

After taking a couple of deep breaths, I squeezed off a third round. I saw him kick his back legs out and realized I had finally hit him, as he spun around and disappeared into the woods. I called a friend and told him, “I've killed the monster!”

I went to where I shot him and located what I thought was lung blood, following it to the wood line where it ended. I began to question the shot, so I backed out to give him time to expire. I returned an hour later and followed the blood about 15-20 yards to where he piled up. It was the buck every hunter dreams of! After about 10 minutes of screaming in excitement, we took a photo.

It's one thing to kill a 130-class deer, but just three days later I killed a 120-class buck in the same area! I remember my late father, Jim Leddon, taking me hunting as a young boy. He would joke he had a bottle in one pocket and diaper in the other.

We hunted with dogs until the mid-90’s on First American Farms, located just north of Freeport, Florida. I killed my first buck hunting with him at age 9 – the same weekend he moved me up to a 12-gauge automatic. He put me on a stand, and when the deer came by, I fired all 5 shots.

When he pulled up, he was laughing so hard, I asked “What is so funny?” He replied, “The gun was picking you up a foot and setting you back three feet!” Dad taught me you eat what you kill. While most people ate beef hamburgers, we were eating deer burgers. Times were hard.

Dad was a commercial fisherman and Mom worked at a local bank. I believe it was 1992 when Dad killed a 14-point buck on First American Farms, then he quit hunting like he used to. When I asked him why, he laughed and said, “That is the biggest deer I will ever kill in my lifetime.” He was right! He passed away in February 2008.

I have two daughters, Johanna and Bristol. I plan to share my love of hunting with them, just as my dad did with me. Hopefully, one day, they will have memories of hunting with me, just as I do with my dad.