Florida Buck-of-the-Year Contest

(2016 Buck of the Year Winners)

#1 - "Dream Hunt" results in top-scoring typical for Kenny Morgan with his 145-7/8-inch Hamilton County bruiser

By Kenny Morgan

My 17-year-old son, Kenney (Buddy), and I arrived at camp around 10 a.m. the day before our annual mobility-impaired hunt at Suwannee Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA) in Hamilton County.

After setting up camp, we headed out to do some scouting. We explored all the usual spots from previous hunts and saw a lot of good sign while scouting. In one spot – where we had never hunted before – there was a good active scrape line running along an old logging road running east and west.

Knowing that bucks would be checking the scrape line, we decided to set up on both the north and south sides of the road. We found one good spot at the edge of some planted pines with a thicket finger pointing to the scrape line.

There was a good view of an old chop that paralleled the scrape line about 75 yards away. We saw a lot of good fresh rubs along the thicket.

There was a second spot south of the scrape line approximately 200 yards from the logging road. This spot really was not the best due to the fact it was a lone 12-inch pine tree in the open of an old clear cut.

On the way out from hanging the stand, we saw a 6-inch thick pine rubbed right by the road, and I jokingly told Buddy I was going to shoot that deer the next day. He just laughed.

To give you some background, Buddy has to wear leg braces in order to walk, so walking long distances in the woods can be very exhausting and painful for him. But, this challenge is nothing new for us. Over the years his mobility challenges have led to us traversing many miles through the woods with Buddy on my back, being pulled in a game cart and later with him riding on his ATV. Buddy has always been an avid hunter. He killed his first deer when he was just 6 years old. He is used to sitting all day in the woods, not only to maximize his opportunities, but also for the love of the sport. While a lot of boys play football, baseball or basketball, his favorite sport has always been hunting.

He and his older sister have been hunting with me their whole lives. During this time we have become smarter hunters through a lot of trial and error with our set-ups. A ground blind and an elevated two-man platform I custom built for his four-wheeler have been keys when it comes to stand placement for the nearly 20 deer he has harvested in nine years of hunting. This particular mobility-impaired hunt has been one of our favorite hunts. There has been some great father-son time spent in the blind and in the stand during the seven years we hunted this piece of property.

Last year, as he was coming of age to hunt by himself, I was able to con my way into hunting in the blind or on the four-wheeler with him two out of the three days before he insisted that he hunt by himself. That desire for more freedom led to him wanting to hunt alone again this season. On the morning of the Nov. 6, 2016 hunt the conditions were against us. The wind was supposed to be out of the north, but was coming out of the northeast. It was unseasonably warm, which led to us breaking a light sweat during our trek to the stand.

The morning was very foggy, holding our scent in the air and spreading it all over. Buddy decided to set up on the north side of the scrape line on his ATV, which meant he would have to sit on his four-wheeler because the vegetation was too thick down low for the tent blind, and the planted pines were too low for his platform stand.

This left me hunting from the lone pine tree at the second spot. On my way to the lone pine tree after Buddy dropped me off, I bumped a deer, leading me to just tromp the rest of the way to the stand. Of course, as any hunter knows, trying to climb a pine tree with a climber stand in a wide open space at 4:45 a.m. makes more noise than you could ever imagine, no matter how hard you try to be quiet. At 5:03 a.m. Buddy texted me that he was all set up. At 6:45 a.m. I heard a deer grunt between us and texted him to keep his eyes peeled. At about 7 a.m. the fog finally started to burn off.

Since I was in the open, I was forced to sit facing the same direction my scent was blowing because the sun was on the rise in the opposite direction. At about 7:05 a.m. I saw a doe behind me at about 75 yards coming from the north. At the same time I saw something southwest of me at about 150 yards moving to the east, but could not tell if it was a deer or a coyote.

Either way, the way it moved made it obvious it had smelled me. At 7:20 a.m. I spotted a nice 8-point buck headed north about 300 yards southwest of me. It was near the end of the rut, so I figured he was trolling for a hot doe and was on a path to cross my scent cone.

I knew that was not good. He just kept on coming, so when he got within about 200 yards I texted Buddy I was about to shoot. The buck got to within 150 yards before I blew my grunt call to see if I could get him a little closer. He ignored the first two, but on the third time he stopped – at the same spot I had walked to the stand earlier. He turned to walk toward my location, but took just three steps before heading north back on his original path.

I blew the grunt call again, trying to get him to stop for a neck shot, but he was not going to go for it. I placed the crosshairs of my Ruger M77 (in 7-08 caliber) behind his shoulder, flipped the safety off and squeezed the trigger.

I knew the shot was good, as he immediately went down, but then – just as quickly – he jumped up. With his front shoulder dragging, he plowed into the tall weeds, pines and oaks that had grown up since the area was clear cut approximately seven years before.

I lost sight of him as I tried my best to listen for a crash or catch a glimpse of him in the thick brush.

This is where this hunting story goes a little crazy, and the truth (along with some guilt) comes out.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, in a somewhat thick area approximately 200 yards to the southwest, I caught a glimpse of the buck headed south between a couple of small oaks. I noticed he was limping and knew the ethical thing to do would be to take another shot if given the opportunity. I chambered another round and got him in my scope just as he was about to disappear into an oak thicket. Due to the tall grass, the only shot I had was a high shoulder one. Due to the tall grass, I did not see if he ran or went down.

Suddenly, I heard a loud roaring sound come from that direction. Even Buddy heard it some 500 yards away. I have taken and witnessed a lot of deer harvested in my lifetime, but had never heard anything like this before.

It was like the sound you would expect to hear if Bigfoot or a bear was shot. It actually startled me at first. Then it hit me – just like when you see a car wreck happen. You see it, but then your brain starts to put the pieces together as to what actually just happened. I remember thinking, “How am I going to tell Buddy? How am I going to tell him I killed a deer bigger than any deer he has ever shot? How am I going to tell him his hunt is over?” As I replayed the second shot in my head, I realized the deer I had just shot was NOT the same deer I had shot seconds earlier. In that split second, I realized his rack was much higher than the deer I had watched walk toward my stand earlier.

Buddy texted me to ask if I got it. I called him and told him he needed to come on over to me. When he arrived, I told him he was going to be mad at me. He asked “Why?” and I began to tell him what had happened. I could see he was upset. I did not know what else to say except I was sorry and it should never have happened.

Everything that led up to this event – with the exception of the scouting and being in the right spot at the right time – was wrong: I had walked within 50 yards of where the second buck had been bedded down. I realized I had spotted him as he was getting up, which is why I thought he was limping. This was the same spot I had bumped a deer on my way to hang my stand. He was downwind from my stand, the fog was holding my scent in the air, and I had tromped on into my stand, not to mention I had been sitting in plain view of the very spot the deer was laying, and of course, the split-second shot that took him down.

When I went to look for the first buck, I found him only 40 yards from where he was standing when I took the shot. My heart dropped when I realized Buddy’s hunt would be over as soon as we located the second buck.

We both knew the buck needed to be brought in, so I pushed aside the guilt of realizing I had ended my son’s quota hunt and started to look for the second buck. I had ranged his location at 225 yards from my stand, so I got my bearings and found him in the tall grass within 15 minutes.

I was shocked and in awe at the size of the buck, but most of all I was scared – scared that Buddy would be mad at me. To have my trusted hunting partner, my best friend and, most importantly, my son mad at me for something that I had done was awful.

Yes, it was intentional that I took the shot. I made the split-second decision to take what I believed to be an ethical second shot to stop, what I thought, was an already wounded animal. It was a long walk back to where Buddy was sitting, knowing I had to explain to him I had killed one of the biggest deer either of us had ever seen. The first buck was a nice 8-point most any hunter would have been proud of. The second was a buck hunters dream of – a deer to make any hunter proud. Harvesting this buck has been a very emotional event for me. On one hand it was a remarkable feat – the pay-off after thousands of hours spent scouting, learning and sitting in the stand.

But, I will never forget the disappointment in my son’s eyes when he saw the buck for himself. One thing is for sure, I will never forget this hunt.

I would like to thank my son Buddy and all involved in this yearly hunt, as well as my good friend Donald Fender for the wonderful job on mounting the buck. It is a buck and a hunt I will never forget – for both the good and bad reasons.


#2 - Marion County buck takes #2 spot

by Jeremy Terrell of Belleview, Florida

Opening morning of the 2015 general gun season (Nov. 7) was a slow one for me as I hunted private property in Marion County.

After seeing only does all morning, this big, beautiful 8-point buck came slipping through on their trail at around 9 a.m.

A single broadside shot from 100 yards with my .270 rifle did the job.

It is definitely a buck of a lifetime, and I’m so thankful I was able to harvest such a buck with my girlfriend, Haley, by my side.

This was actually the first time any of us had seen this particular buck. I never expected to see anything even close to something this size (200 lbs.).

I couldn’t believe or get over just how huge this buck’s rack actually was. He had horns that were 5-1/2 inches in diameter at the bases and a very wide 21-1/2-inch inside spread.

When I walked over to him and put my hands on his antlers, I was completely amazed and speechless.

I brought him to my taxidermist a couple days later and couldn’t wait to get him back and up on the wall.

The mainframe 8-point had an extra (1-5/8 inch) point on the right antler that contributed to 3-6/8 inches in deductions for differences between the two sides. The buck gross scored 147-2/8 inches and netted 142-5/8 after deductions.


#3 - Lake County buck takes #3 spot

By William “Bill” McGuire

It was the last day of the season, and I had basically been hunting all season without success.

I decided to sit in a strange new place I had never been before in part because it required making a ton of noise to get to, plus the wind was bad that day. But, I decided, “What the heck?” I didn’t have anything else to lose.

It was 10:30 a.m., and I was about to give up when this buck came in, pushing his way through the palmettos.

He was making a ton of noise, stopping periodically to check things out I guess. Had he gone left, I would have never gotten a shot off at him, but luckily for me he went right. He came to within about 60 yards, and I was trying to find him in the scope when he walked right into my crosshairs.

I was shaking like mad as I pulled the trigger. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had missed. He did sort of a barrel roll to his right just before I fired again where he was thrashing in the bushes. I hung onto the tree until the shaking stopped then texted my hunting buddies and my wife. I crawled down and waited about an hour and a half for my buddy to arrive to help me. I never went in to see the buck, so the 1-1/2 hour wait seemed more like five hours.

When we did finally go in to see him, we realized he was a stud! I also saw the second bullet passed through a 5-inch pine and the deer, which I thought was impressive.

To make it even better, just as we pulled the buck the final 10 yards, my wife, son and daughter showed up!


#4 - Bay County buck takes #4 spot

By Michael Cobb of Panama City, Florida

I wish I could say I really out-smarted this buck with some awesome strategy that led to his ultimate demise. However, me taking this 10-point was just a stroke of pure dumb luck. I was on my farm in northern Bay County, Florida when my friend, who was building a house down the road, asked if he could borrow my space heater. He was coming by early on Jan. 23 to pick it up, so I just took the morning off from hunting.

I woke up and made myself a cup of coffee. While drinking my coffee and staring out of the window, I noticed a doe running across the field. The deer were in full rut around the farm, so I kind of figured a buck would be chasing her. Then I saw this buck.

“That’s a nice buck,” I thought to myself. Then, as it came a little closer, I said, “That’s a REALLY nice buck!”

I ran into the back room to grab my rifle and ran outside in my boxer shorts, only to discover I had lost sight of the deer. I also quickly realized it was way too cold for boxer shorts!

I ran back inside and put on my coveralls and some shoes. By this time my friend was on the way, so I called him and told him to be on the look-out for the buck. When he arrived at the house, we started glassing a small strip of woods and eventually spotted the buck.

Unfortunately, he was right in line with a house located down the road a little ways, so we didn’t feel comfortable shooting in that direction.

We watched for a while and lost him again, so I put my friend in a location I thought the deer may go and then decided I would make a drive through the block. As I was walking, I started to believe the deer had given us the slip. I started working my way out when I just happened to notice the buck standing perfectly still at about 25 yards.

I made the shot with my .350 Remington Magnum.

The buck’s thick rack measured 4 inches around and had main beams measuring 23-6/8 inches long, helping it score 147-3/8 inches gross and 140 inches after 7-3/8 inches in deductions.


#5 - Jackson County buck takes #5 spot

J.T. Harper of Marianna, Florida killed the #5 highest-scoring buck taken in Florida last season on Dec. 14, 2015 while hunting in Jackson County.

“I was doing some timber work on some leased land and getting it ready to re-plant when I decided to throw up a deer stand and plant a little food plot,” J.T. said.

“I came back a little while later to check on it and saw some good deer sign, so I decided to hunt that spot the next morning. He just showed up out of the middle of nowhere, and I took him with my 7mm-08.

Harper’s big buck toted a rack that scored 143-3/8 inches gross and 140 inches net.

The mainframe 8-point buck had small abnormal points (1-2/8 and 1 inch) on each antler in what was an amazingly symmetrical rack with a total of just 3-3/8 inches in deductions.

The 10-point rack featured only 1-1/8 inches in deductions for differences between the two sides and a total of 2-2/8 inches in abnormal points.

In addition to 22-3/8-inch main beams and towering 12-2/8-inch G-2s, the impressive rack featured nearly 9-inch G3s and an 18-6/8-inch inside spread as well as bases that measured more than 5 inches in circumference.


#6 - Marion County buck takes #6 spot

Rick Moyer’s amazing 16-point buck was the top-scoring non-typical and overall highest-scoring (gross) buck in the 2015-16 “Buck of the Year” contest with a non-typical gross score of 171 inches and a net score of 164-7/8 inches.

The massive antlers measured over six inches around at one of the bases and nearly five inches in circumference almost all the way out to the tips! The impressive rack picked up 11-6/8 inches from six different abnormal points – all measuring three inches in length or less.

Abnormal points are added to a buck’s score when a rack is measured as a non-typical rack, instead of being deducted as they are when typical racks are scored. Therefore, non-typicals must score 25 inches higher to be considered equal to typical bucks under the FWC’s Florida Buck Registry scoring system. Moyer’s buck featured long 25-1/8-inch long main beams and almost 10-inch G2s as well as a 17-7/8-inch inside spread.


#7 - Leon County buck takes #7 spot

Carl Helms of Marianna, Florida killed the #7 buck in the Florida “Buck of the Year” contest while hunting in the Pipeline Dog Unit of the Ocala National Forest on Nov. 16, 2015. The 11-point buck was chasing a doe through some thick brush around 8:30 a.m.

Carl quickly realized the only shot he would have was shooting through a softball-size hole in the brush. He saw a doe pass through at 180 yards, so he settled his crosshairs in the middle of the small hole and waited on the buck to follow.

When the buck stepped into the small clearing, Carl fired – breaking the buck’s back.

“It was a very fortunate shot,” Carl admitted.

The buck’s impressive rack scored 141-6/8 inches gross and 135-3/8 inches net after deductions for differences between the two sides.

The 11-point had 21-1/2-inch main beams, 3-5/8-inch brow tines, nearly 10-inch G2s and 10-inch G3s, along with 5-1/8 and 6-3/8-inch G4s.

The chocolate-colored rack had a 12-7/8-inch inside spread and bases that measured 4-2/8 inches around. A single 1-2/8-inch extra point on the right antler contributed to 6-3/8 inches in deductions.

This is the biggest deer Carl has ever harvested on public land.


#8 - Jefferson County buck takes #8 spot

Matt Bishop of Monticello, Florida took the #8 overall buck in the “Buck of the Year” contest while hunting private property in Jefferson County.

Matt’s buck grossed 140-7/8 inches and was entered into the Florida Buck Registry with a net score of 135-1/8 inches, thanks to an inside spread of 18-5/8 inches. “I killed him on Dec. 18, 2015 around 7:30 in the morning,” Matt said.

“I didn’t have any game camera pictures of this buck, but I knew there was a good one in the area. He was chasing a doe on the edge of a wood line when I killed him with my Browning .270 rifle,” Matt said. “He was rutted down and only weighed around 170 pounds.”

The buck had 22-4/8 and 20-7/8-inch main beams, nearly 5-inch brow tines, and G2s and G3s that measured between 8 and 8-4/8 inches.

With bases measuring almost 5 inches in circumference and nearly 19 inches in spread credit, Matt’s buck scored 135-1/8 after having only 5-6/8 inches in deductions.


#9 - N/A


#10 - Walton County buck takes #10 spot

It took nearly 20 hours and A group effort to finally bag this monster buck on Tyndal Air Force Base property in late January.

Ryan Neese is pictured below with the buck he initially shot at around 2:20 p.m. on Jan. 29.

Ryan and Zach Primavera were walking into their hunting area on Tyndal AFB in Bay County when Ryan spotted and shot the 133 lb. 10-point near the flight line area.

The 6-1/2-year-old buck, which was reportedly well known in the area due to photos taken by contractors on the base, was shot by Ryan using his H&R 20-gauge slug gun. However, a low shot and the mature buck’s will to live resulted in a long search and no recovery that evening.

During the initial search Zach jumped the deer after it had bedded down, prompting the pair to back out.

Ryan called in his buddy and co-worker Ricky Hill, who brought his beagle “Molly” to trail the buck, but a lack of blood and the scent of other deer thwarted the search party, which had grown to six people.

As Zach and Kyle Pridgen made one last circle before calling it a night, the buck stood up from being bedded down and looked directly at Kyle before running straight toward Tim Web and his son Matthew. The injured deer stopped five feet from Tim, who drew his knife, thinking the deer was about to charge him. After a few seconds, the buck ran off into the brush.

The following morning at 8:45 a.m. a group of hunters continued the search and set up a perimeter. After two hours of searching with no new sign of blood or a dead deer, Zach was walking next to some sawgrass when the giant buck stood up and ran down a fire trail.

The group tightened the perimeter once again, and when Zach walked through the brush to flush the deer out, Brendon Glass delivered a final kill shot that resulted in a quick recovery of the buck of a lifetime around noon on Jan. 30.

“Tired and worn out from no sleep and miles of walking, we gathered as a group around the deer, and exchanged high fives,” Zach said.

“There is no doubt harvesting this deer was a group effort and it would not have been recovered if it were not for the effort of each person that had a hand in this adventure.”

The 10-point rack earned a Boone and Crockett gross score of 140-1/8 inches and a net score of 133-5/8 inches after over 6 inches in deductions. The rack featured 22-inch main beams, almost 10-inch G3s and a 17-7/8-inch inside spread.