Frustrated Florida hunter finally gets back to the deer woods.
I was born and raised in Miami, Fla. I grew up in the Everglades and have a piece of land inside the Everglades National Preserve with two hunting cabins. While you might not think of Florida as a whitetail paradise, we had a healthy number of deer back in the day. They weren’t giants and there wasn’t one behind every tree, but they were there.
Times have changed.
You might call it coincidence, but things started going downhill about the same time Texas cougars were introduced into the area in an attempt to save the endangered Florida panther.
These days, you won’t see any four-legged animals in the Everglades. The wild hogs that used to flourish here disappeared within two years of the cougar introduction. The whitetails vanished shortly after
I know this because I have been documenting these declines on a four-camera surveillance system. I used to see all kinds of animals. Now, even with a feeder, the only animals I see are birds.
Interestingly, my friends and I don’t even see cougar tracks anymore. We figure they all headed north to follow the food. It makes me wonder if you will start to see cougars in Georgia and other Southern states soon. Keep in mind that cougars are protected. As a side note, even though the Florida panther has been listed as extinct, there is no genetic difference between a cougar, a panther or a puma.
With the hunting so poor in the Everglades, I haven’t been able to pull the trigger on anything but paper for more than five years. So, for the first time in my life, I decided to pay to hunt in another state.
Fast forward to Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, just a few minutes before dusk.
I had been sitting in Stand 44 all afternoon and hadn’t seen anything The lack of deer sightings had given me plenty of time to range the distances to key landmarks. I had clear shots both to the left and right that were probably over 500 yards, although I wasn’t planning on shooting that far under any circumstances.
You see, I had just recently regained my shooting confidence, and I just don’t think it’s a good idea for most of us to shoot at whitetails at distances much beyond 200 yards.
I was shooting with my trusty Little Mule, a Winchester Model 70 in .338 Magnum. I love that gun, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to squeeze my 100-yard groups tighter than 6 inches. I might not be a sniper, but I can shoot better than that, so I knew there was some kind of mechanical issue.
The salesman in my local gun store in Miami recommended Barnes VOR-TX ammunition in 225 grains. Sure enough, the next trip to the range produced 1-inch groups at 100 yards. The holes were basically touching. I’d heard that different rifles prefer different loads, and now I have first-hand experience.
While my confidence it hitting the mark was renewed, my time in the stand revealed a new problem. As a right-hander, I was having a very difficult time trying to turn to aim to all that great-looking shooting opportunity to the right of my stand.
Dave Baugh, the outfitter, had been listening to me gripe about this difficulty, so he said, “Chuck, slowly stand up on your seat and put your right leg over the rail and stand on the floor. In other words, straddle the seat!”
He continued: “Then, put your rifle out the curtain and rest the stock on the bar – not the barrel! – and you will have a solid rest to make any right-side shot.”
Back in the stand, I heard those words again as two deer come out of the tall golden grass to the right. I had already ranged this grass at 275 yards. One deer looked like a doe, and the other seemed to be a young buck based on the shape of his head and the stiff gait of his front legs. He had no visible antlers or buttons, but I didn’t want to shoot a button buck, but I figured I’d get a better look since they were heading my way.
My guess was they were headed to a feeder that I had ranged at 200 yards. The problem was light was fading fast. If It wasn’t for my Vortex Crossfire II Hog Hunter 3-12x56mm scope, I wouldn’t have been able to make them out.
The two deer zig-zagged back and forth, and it was becoming difficult to tell them apart. I decided I had better find the right deer and take the shot while I still could.
I was zoomed in to the maximum 12x and got a good look at the doe when she stopped broadside at about 240 yards. Next, I put the crosshairs just below her head – Dave wanted neck shots because too many deer had been lost at night because of badly placed shots. He said a neck shot was either an instant kill or a clean miss.
With light waning by the second, I adjusted the crosshairs to halfway between the head and front shoulders, took a couple short breaths, held my breath and slowly squee… BOOM!
That’s when I realized there was a consequence for taking off the muzzle brake, although doing so definitely made the gun more maneuverable in the stand.
I was rocked back in my perch, and it seemed like I was looking at the shooting house roof through the scope. The muzzle blast had blown all the smoke into the sun screen on my scope. When it finally cleared, I saw the white belly of the deer in the middle of the food plot. The other rascal had taken off like he was shot out of a cannon.
When we finally picked up the doe, the shot was exactly where my crosshairs were, and it was an instant kill – no tracking for that deer. She weighed an impressive 215 pounds, which was large for that part of South Carolina.
I guess all those days practicing at the range made the difference and gave me the confidence to make that shot.
Maybe next time I will be lucky enough to put my crosshairs on a big buck.
What a rush! God, it’s good to be back in the hunting woods!
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