3 Memorable Florida Deer Hunts
Russ Chastain 08.17.17
1) My First Buck
There’s nothing like a hunter’s first deer to create a memory that lasts.
I was 18 years old, and was hunting alone on the afternoon of opening day in the Ocala National Forest. Dad had stopped off to set up his stand and I had driven on, then hiked into the woods and found a spot to set up my climbing stand. It was the first time I’d set it up that year, and the hardware was rusty. I made so much noise setting up that I didn’t think I’d ever see any deer, but about 15 minutes later, I heard something behind me.
Slooooowly I turned, remaining seated. There on the forest floor was a whitetail buck, casually feeding along. I had turned around in such a way that I couldn’t get the gun into play, though. I needed to turn around and stand up.
I stood up ever-so-slowly, and shouldered the Ruger 44 Magnum carbine. I peeped through the peep sight and placed the front bead just in front of the buck’s shoulder as the animal quartered towards me. And then I pulled the trigger on my first big game.
The buck went down like a sack of potatoes. Then, unlike taters, he kicked a few times. Soon he lay still, while I quivered and quaked in my tree stand. Adrenaline flooded my veins and elation flooded my soul.
When I got back to Dad, I hugged him so hard he swore I broke a couple of his ribs.
2) My First “Rack” Buck
A couple years later, Dad and I had been hunting the forest for days without any luck. I’d become frustrated, as young and impatient folks are wont to do. And to top it off, we had overslept that Wednesday morning.
It was November — but it was also Florida, so it was warm. As I walked into the woods with a stand on my back and selected a tree providing me a pretty good view, I silently cussed myself for oversleeping.
I set up the stand and climbed the tree, sitting glumly in the humid warmth, expecting nothing good to happen.
Suddenly and without warning, a rain shower swept through the woods. It didn’t get anything terribly wet; it seemed more symbolic, like it was sweeping away the old and bringing something new.
In my mind, a phrase appeared: “Patience is a virtue; I will not forget you.”
No sooner had this happened than a deer came loping through the woods nearby. I grabbed my binoculars to take a look. It was a doe, and therefore off-limits, but another deer had also come a-runnin’ and stood farther away, largely obscured by brush. I put the binocs on that one, and saw antlers.
I quickly lowered the binocs, raised the little 44 carbine, and placed the front sight on the deer. I can still recall the sight picture, the front sight almost as wide as the deer’s body. I squeezed the trigger.
The deer disappeared.
I tried to eyeball the spot with my binocs, but began shaking too hard. I sat down, steadied the glasses, and saw a deer standing there!
Its head was down, though, so I couldn’t be certain it was the buck. I had lost track of the doe, and couldn’t take another shot unless I could positively ID the critter.
And then it was gone.
By the time I’d calmed enough to climb down and begin walking, I was second-guessing and cussing myself for even taking the shot, half-convinced the deer had dragged itself into the thick planted pines near where it had fallen. I approached the spot slowly, cautiously, just a step at a time, rifle at the ready and scanning ahead in case the deer suddenly showed itself and needed more killing.
Suddenly, from behind some brush, a buck’s head appeared. It loomed before me, festooned with a huge set of antlers, and I froze in my tracks. The head and neck disappeared again, then arose once more, and this time the deer seemed clearly determined to get up and leave.
A second 240-grain bullet put an end to that.
When I first fired, I knew the buck had legal antlers but hadn’t studied them. And although the rack seemed huge at the time — and for almost 20 years would remain my best — it really wasn’t all that big… just a nice respectable 7-point and a good story to go with it.
3) Muzzleloader Double-Header
It was 1992 and I’d slain 5 deer in as many years. Dad and I were hunting with muzzleloaders on a 2-day quota hunt. I had gotten our stands set up on our favorite trees a few days ahead of time, so all we had to do was walk in and climb up.
When I did so on that early December day, I had to scrape the frost off of the stand. That’s unusual for central Florida.
We settled in to a perfect morning in the woods. It was clear, it was crisp, the piney woods were gorgeous, and the only thing on my agenda was perching in a tree to hunt deer. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Just before 8:00, I spotted movement. A buck with a light-colored rack was approaching at a steady walk. I quickly cocked my Thompson/Center Seneca .45 caliber sidelock muzzleloading rifle and shouldered it, already knowing where that buck would be most exposed. It was walking a familiar deer trail, and I planned to stop him when he got to a certain spot.
He got there, and I gave a short, loud, “HO!”
The buck froze in place.
I peered through the tang-mounted peep sight and placed the bead just behind the buck’s shoulder. I fired, sending a 240-grain home-cast lead Maxi-ball his way.
The buck kicked his heels just like a mule, and ran. It was soon out of my sight.
How could I have missed?
I did my best to memorize landmarks where I’d seen it last. The spot where I’d taken the shot was etched into my memory.
I reloaded and climbed down. I eased over to where the buck had been, pleased to see a spray of bright red blood on the small oaks just beyond where he’d stood.
Whew! But I still had to find the deer.
Instead of trying to track it alone, I walked to Dad’s tree, where he sat in a climbing stand. He asked if I had fired, and I said yes; I had hit a buck but it had run off and I needed help finding it. He said nothing and began climbing down.
I’m sure I was praying pretty hard.
Scenario in my head: I would lead him to the blood and we would begin tracking, and would hopefully find my buck.
What really happened: Dad got to the ground, stepped out of his stand, and pulled a compass out of his pocket. He took a reading and pointed southeasterly.
I knew better than to question him; I just started walking where he’d pointed. And before too long, I spotted a deer lying in the wiregrass. My buck! My beautiful buck! Boy, was I happy.
The buck had run over and stopped, standing broadside. Dad had heard my shot, but had no way of knowing whether this was the same deer or if my aim had been true. He began settling his sights on the buck, but the glare of the still-low sun was blinding. He quickly adjusted the bill of his cap, aimed at the deer, and was just tightening up on the trigger when the buck fell.
A plume of steam arose from the buck’s side, and Dad knew I’d made a fatal hit.
That afternoon, Dad took a buck of his own from that same stand, making December 12, 1992 the date of our one and only whitetail double-header.
With memories like this, it’s no wonder I’m addicted to deer hunting.