It was about an hour and a half after sunrise when two six-point bucks emerged from the forest and began grazing on corn scattered by an automatic feeder in a pasture.
Watching from an open flap in a ground blind — a camouflage-colored tent — the hunter drew the compound bow, aiming for the larger of the two deer about 25 yards away. Both animals caught the sudden movement and looked up directly at the blind.
The hunter waited unflinching until they resumed feeding, then shot an arrow at the larger buck, striking it in the left shoulder. Both deer dashed across the pasture into the forest.
“Oh my God,” breathed Lacey Kelly. “I got an arrow in him. I was so nervous. It’s been so long since I’ve had that rush.”
Then the 29-year-old hunter and her companion slumped back in their seats in the blind, settling in for at least an hour’s wait before tracking the quarry. Kelly texted Gray Drummond, co-owner of the North Florida-based hunting operation Florida Outdoor Experience, to enlist his help.
It was Kelly’s first bow hunt in two years after taking target practice the day before. Once a successful light-tackle fishing guide and bow hunter in Fort Myers, the native Floridian relocated to the island of San Pedro, Belize in 2012 to run a fly-fishing shop with partner Wil Flack. While her skills with the long rod on the Belizean flats improved enough to catch and release four permit, Kelly spends most of her time tying flies and helping customers select tackle.
“I miss guiding,” Kelly said. “I led a lot of people to their first and biggest fish. When you have a 5-year-old girl squealing, ‘That’s my first fish!’ that touches your heart and I miss it.”
Kelly also missed hunting and was thrilled when Drummond invited her to his ranch in the Big Bend region during her recent vacation to the United States.
“I shot my first deer when I was 11 years old,” she said. “From there it was an evolution. What don’t I know how to do? It took me a while before I shot my first deer with a bow, but I was by myself. I wasn’t guided.”
At Drummond’s ranch, Kelly enjoyed a target-rich, scenic environment. The expansive 14,500 acres of hunting grounds includes oak hammock, pine flatwoods, and several ponds. Drummond and business partner Randall Marsh manage the property for trophy deer and do much of the guiding themselves, assisted by a small cadre of hunting and fishing guides. The operation also offers day and night hog hunts and alligator hunts. Its specialty is spring gobbler hunting where a client could score two subspecies of wild turkey in one day — Osceola and Eastern. Guides will take customers fishing in nearby Horseshoe Beach for redfish, sea trout and other species after they’ve harvested their turkeys.
“It’s a passion,” Drummond, 41, said. “It’s something we both grew up doing. We have an extensive fishing and hunting background.”
Kelly and her companion waited about 1½ hours in the blind until Drummond arrived to help find her deer. He asked her lots of questions about how far away the deer was, what part of the body was hit, and where it ran. Then the pair began searching on foot.
They quickly picked up a blood spatter in the pasture and walked slowly toward the edge of the woods looking for a second. About 50 feet into the forest, they found the shaft of the arrow on the ground, broken off close to where the broadhead point would be, probably caused by the deer striking a tree. The shaft had a little blood, and there was none on the trees or in the grass.
Drummond and Kelly continued into the woods and emerged in an open prairie edged with palmettos. They found no more traces of blood — or the deer.
Drummond said it didn’t make any sense to keep looking, and Kelly agreed — both reasoning that if the arrow had mortally wounded the deer, they would have found large amounts of blood where the arrow broke off.
“Because the arrow did not penetrate, I feel it hit a bone,” Drummond said. “If you make that kind of contact, they have a very high survival rate. In cleaning deer, I’ve found a broadhead in the bone and it calluses over.”
Kelly spent that evening and the following morning bow hunting, but never shot anything else. When it was time to return home, she didn’t want to leave.
“I realized, being in the woods, how much I miss being that true Florida cracker that I am,” Kelly said.
From Chiefland, she headed south to her family home in Fort Myers, and put Belize on indefinite hold.
If you go
To book a guided hunt with Florida Outdoor Experience, visit https://www.floridaoutdoorexperience.com or call captain Gray Drummond at 352-221-5444 or captain Randall Marsh at 239-340-1686.