Brandon Alday's 4-year-old son, Hayes, nearly choked him when the yelling commenced. The boy was getting a free ride on his father's shoulders when Brandon’s flashlight beam fell across the buck he was convinced he’d either missed or maimed.
"I started screaming like a little girl, which scared my son half to death," Brandon laughs. "He almost strangled me with his legs."
See BTR Scoresheet
Eight or nine people had joined in the search for the deer, some driving for as long as an hour to be there. They had to be skeptical when there was scarce blood to follow, but no more so than the man who’d called them with nothing more than a cloudy memory of what happened before buck fever turned his joints to Jell-O.
Incredulous over the lack of sign, all a red-faced Brandon could do was wish for some Pepto-Bismol and hope his memory of arrow smacking “Sunday,” an impossibly large buck for northwest Florida, was real and not a dream.
“After the quartering shot, I was shaking like crazy,” he said. “It took me several minutes to calm down enough to call someone and tell them what I’d done. When I got down from my stand, I checked for blood and found none, so I backed out and went to my grandparents’ house in Dellwood. I then called everybody I knew.”
His father came. So did his uncle, a cousin and several friends. Most had either heard about the buck, or they’d seen the trail camera photos or the matched sheds Brandon found the previous summer.
There was no blood, at first, which made Brandon nauseous. But then the group found a few drops and eventually came across the arrow 20 yards from where it struck the buck. It had taken a minute or two to work its way through the animal.
After that, the sign increased.
While others scoured the ground, connecting the dots, Brandon ventured ahead with Hayes on his shoulders. That’s when he found his dream buck and scared the bejeezus out of his son.
He’d been hunting the deer he called “Sunday” on his grandparents’ 1,100 acres in Jackson County for a long time. Their introduction came through a trail cam photo during the 2008-09 season, when the buck sported a 10-point rack that would’ve made any red-blooded Floridian drool.
“The picture came late in the season, on a Sunday,” Brandon said. “For the next year and a half, nearly all the pictures we got of him were on a Sunday. My grandfather (the late “Papa” Hayes Alford) never hunted on Sundays, so we didn’t either. That’s why dad and I nicknamed him Sunday.”
He saw the buck in the flesh around midday during opening weekend of the 2009-10 bow season. But it either winded or saw Brandon and ran off, never to be seen again that year.
While bush-hogging the land during the summer of 2010, Brandon just happened to look at the ground and saw an antler. There was no doubt it was Sunday’s. He found its mate 30 yards away.
Brandon couldn’t wait for opening day. He’d pretty much decided his best chance at Sunday was to hunt near a dried-up pond festooned with chest-high dog fennels. A week before the opener, the deer’s portrait was taken in broad daylight by a trail camera.
But when the long-awaited Oct. 23 arrived, the wind wasn’t right for him to hunt the pond.
“It took all I had not to go to that stand that morning,” he said. Fortunately for his nerves, the wind shifted that afternoon.
With about 15 minutes of daylight remaining, Brandon spotted a forkhorn wading through the fennels. He knew from the many trail camera photos he’d collected that Sunday often traveled with a 4-pointer.
Buck fever cannot begin to describe what afflicted him at that moment.
“Sure enough, Sunday came walking through the dog fennels. I could feel my heart in my eyeballs,” he said. “People asked me how I kept my composure. I didn’t.
“The buck walked to within 20 yards of me and looked back into the pond bottom at some other deer. That’s when I drew my Mathews Z7. I don’t remember aiming or releasing; just hearing a thwack and watching him mule-kick.”
Brandon, 34, is fairly new to bowhunting. He describes himself as a lifelong “box-stand” rifle hunter who didn’t even pick up a bow until three years ago. He poured a lot of time and effort into the stakeout for Sunday; spent a fortune on batteries. But he says it really came down to luck and an understanding and generous wife.
“We've got a saying whenever our family gets together for a meal there,” he added. “We say ‘Life’s good in Dellwood!’ I think that applies here.”