I received my first bow at the ripe old age of eight. It was a cheap, red, fiberglass longbow that had a black plastic handle, and it came with four blue fiberglass arrows. Now keep in mind I was a scrawny eight-year-old boy who only cared about bluegill fishing. I immediately took to that little red bow, and in the coming days I spent all my time annoying the local squirrel population. Fast forward five years…I was given an early ‘80s Bear Grizzly recurve. I was a bit over bowed to say the least. I shot that bow every day, once again annoying the local squirrel population. The following year I was given permission to go hunting in the coming spring with a Deacon from my dad’s church. I prepared rigorously for my upcoming spring turkey hunt. I acquired a perfection box call and proceeded to give my father second thoughts about that turkey hunt. Every day there were new sounds to show him that I figured out.
The cattle farm where Caleb learned to hunt as a young man.
My dad was never a hunter, but always supported me and my journey to becoming a bowhunter. He put me through the Hunter Safety course with another friend my age from church. Back then there was no internet, so we went Saturday and Sunday three weekends in a row to complete the course. We were now legal to pursue wild game in the state of Florida! The morning of April 17th rolled around and it was time! It was my 13th birthday and my very first hunting adventure. We arrived at Bull Creek WMA well before daylight. There were no birds seen or heard that day but I was caught hook, line and sinker! From that day on, all I could think about was being in the woods and chasing the local population of whatever legal game loafed around.
That summer I started working for a local taxidermist fleshing hides and cleaning the shop. Over the next three years I continued to hunt small game around the house and learn the art of taxidermy. When I turned 16, I was given permission to hunt a private piece of ground that was 15 minutes from the house. I spent every waking moment on that property. It was loaded with hogs, deer and turkeys. There were many blown stalks and many missed shots that summer on the local wild hog population. It all came together for me a handful of times and I ended up killing five hogs by spot and stalk through the palmettos with my trusty Bear Grizzly recurve.
Then I set a goal to kill my first deer with my Grizzly. It seemed like an easy task, after my summer of stalking hogs. To put it mildly, I was dead wrong! It was a season of encounters involving stomping hooves, and white tails flagging away and snorting. I learned every possible way to spook a deer that fall. With no mentor, internet or buddies to learn from I decided I would follow these brown devils all year long. I spent all summer watching them and their every move. I was not going to fail this coming fall!
September finally rolled around and I was in the woods every evening watching the deer from across a pasture. Opening morning arrived and I was in my ladder stand two hours before daylight. I soon realized I was a bit early, fighting to stay awake I almost fell out of my stand multiple times. At this time in my life I had no idea there was such a thing as a safety harness. Daylight started to creep in and I was seeing the silhouettes coming into the oaks from the pasture. They all moved through directly under me before it was light enough to see them in the darkness of the canopy above me. I was shaking so bad I thought for sure they would bust me. After calming down and waiting for daylight, I saw a lone deer still in the field feeding toward my stand. I stood up and got ready when he moved behind a large oak tree. He was a small 4-point and he ended up broadside at 10 yards. Bad idea on his part. I came to full draw and loosed my arrow. The shot was high and I hit him in the spine. He fell right in front of me. I was a wreck up there in that ladder stand, shaking so bad I didn’t know whether to sit, stand or jump! I couldn’t physically get my legs working enough to climb down. I ended up sitting there for over 10 minutes after the deer had died.
It had happened, I had killed my first deer with a bow! At that very moment a lifelong addiction took hold of me and it has never let go. That deer was my light switch, it turned on and they started dropping like flies. From that moment on I was successful every year at putting meat in the freezer. I have never lost that adrenalin fueled excitement when a deer crosses my elevated path.
Fast forward to 2012, I wanted to start hunting from the ground. I wanted to get closer than I ever have to these majestic creatures. I started hunting from a blind I constructed of natural vegetation and limbs from a fallen tree. I had a great area that deer were using as a travel corridor between bedding and feeding areas. Opening day was eventful, there were lots of does seen, but all of them had fawns. The second day of the season, no deer were seen until 1pm. There were three does feeding slowly through my general area. Then, out of know where, a buck appeared coming down the trail from my right to left. I had seen this buck the week before while walking the property. He was a small 5-point but was still in velvet! I had never had an opportunity to take a buck in velvet before this very moment. Now keep in mind I’m a meat hunter 100%, antler size does not make a trophy for me. Now this buck is closing in fast. I pulled my bow arm up and put tension on the string. He stoped at six yards. I drew my bow, picked a spot and let the arrow loose! Deer blew out in every direction. My mind was so focused on the velvet 5-point that I never noticed a heard of does coming in from my left.
The hit looked fantastic, and I watched him bound off down the hill and out of sight. It took a few minutes to get my wits back and calm down. I quietly walked over to where he was standing. No blood, no arrow, just dirt kicked up where he took off at the shot. I decided to go back and sit in my blind for 45 minutes before looking for blood down the trail. It was the longest 45 minutes of my life! The time eventually passed and off I went to check the trail. I followed his tracks for roughly 30 yards before the first drop of blood was found. After finding the first drop it turned into a blood trail a blind man could follow. He went about 90 yards and died on the trail headed into some thick cover on the hillside.
I had killed bigger bucks in past years, but this one was special to me. My first deer from the ground and it was a full velvet buck! I was excited for this deer more than I ever had been before. Ever since that day I hunt about 90% of the time on the ground. It has become a passion for me and it continues to grow every year.