with Simon Ellis
Hunting deer with hounds is historically the way most Florida deer hunters hunt. We use hounds due to the very thick and abundant cover. Seeing a deer crossing through an opening and being able to get a shot at him is very rare. Florida has several WMAs that permit the use of hounds for hunting deer.
The second biggest buck that I ever took was an 8-pointer that was pushed out of a thicket by our hounds. That buck scored about 100 inches, and I also had him mounted. I keep 9 black and tan coonhounds that we use to run deer. Just about everyone in our hunting club has a pack of hounds. To be honest, I enjoy running deer with hounds much more than I do still hunting. I feel that black and tan coonhounds have much better noses than Walker hounds. Too, the Walkers I’ve encountered don’t mind as well as my black and tans do. The black and tan is also somewhat slower when he’s on the deer’s trail. Then when the deer crosses the road, he’s usually not running 90 miles an hour.
Each of my dogs can find and run a buck whose track we find crossing a logging road. I won’t have a hound that can’t take a deer track on the road and follow it to move a buck out of thick cover. If I see a buck track on the road, and I have a cold-nose dog that can follow that track until the dog gets closer to the deer, then when the dog opens (starts barking) I can turn out the rest of my hounds to help him run that track.
I’m often asked, “When your dog picks up a deer track on the road and starts running it, how do you and the other members of the club know where to position yourself to get a shot at the deer being run?”
My family has hunted this area with dogs for three generations, including my grandfather and my dad. So, over the years, we’ve learned certain trails that the deer use as escape routes year after year when dogs are behind them. We have each of those spots numbered or named, and our hunters know where to take stands to have the best chances to take bucks.
Also, we go out before the season starts and put out trail cameras to find the bucks we want to try and take in the upcoming dog/deer hunting season. Florida’s statewide rule is that a buck has to have at least three points on one side of his rack, or one main beam that’s at least 10-inches long. So, some of our hunters will be checking trail cameras at 3 a.m. to learn if we have a buck to hunt that day. If we find a legal buck we can hunt from our trail camera survey, we’ll put our dogs out and hope they will run that buck.
Of course, the dogs run numbers of does, because our buck-to-doe ratio is out of whack. We can’t harvest does on wildlife management areas in the state of Florida. However, hunters who hunt private lands can harvest does. So, the buck-to-doe ratio on Florida’s wildlife management areas is skewed heavily toward the doe population. When we get a trail camera picture of a buck going into a block of woods (about 500 to 1,000 acres with a road all the way around it), we’ll turn the dogs loose in that block. If the only deer that our standers see coming out of that block are all does, we will put a fresh set of dogs in that same block of woods we’ve just run. Many times that second pack of dogs will jump a buck.
When the buck crosses any road, he’s usually moving so fast and is so small he may look like a rabbit. The hunter only has about five seconds at the most to determine whether that buck is a legal buck to get off the shot. About 90 percent of the time when our hunters have opportunities to take bucks, they often will miss.
When we are hunting deer with dogs, we’re hunting with shotguns. I shoot a 3-1/2-inch Magnum Benelli Nova. I shoot double 00 buckshot, and I have taken a buck at 72 steps with that gun. I have a super-tight buckshot choke in my barrel, and once it’s patterned, it shoots a super-tight pattern at 60-70 yards.
The WMA that we hunt contains 355,000 acres, but the section our group hunts is only about 20,000 acres. Most of the foliage is scrub pines and scrub oaks. Unlike other southern states that permit dog/deer hunting, we don’t use drivers (hunters who walk with the dogs through thick cover).
Part 2: Simon Ellis’s Best Florida Deer