Outdoors

Challenging Florida Slam proves elusive

Taking aim: Kasi Geraci of Coral Gables sets up with her bow from a ground blind at the ranch of her boyfriend’s family near Lake Okeechobee.
Taking aim: Kasi Geraci of Coral Gables sets up with her bow from a ground blind at the ranch of her boyfriend’s family near Lake Okeechobee. Miami Herald Staff

Hunters call it a “Florida Slam” — bagging a buck, a gobbler and a hog, and all within 24 hours. Add a gator and it’s a grand slam. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Aliese “Liesa” Priddy recently scored a slam, and Kasi Geraci of Coral Gables set out to give it a try.

Geraci, 23, has been hunting for almost as long as she could walk. Growing up in tiny Winnsboro, Texas, the recent Texas Christian University graduate frequently hunted with her father using both guns and bow-and-arrow. Geraci was chosen from among thousands of female applicants worldwide to appear on an Internet reality competition series called Extreme Huntress. She dresses all of her kills herself, and has guided her younger nieces and nephews on successful hunts.

“It’s like an adrenaline rush,” Geraci said of hunting. “I appreciate it. I work hard for the animals and I work hard for the food. When it’s on your table, you know where your food came from.”

The setting for her slam campaign would be the 3,000-acre private hunting lease held by her boyfriend’s family near Lake Okeechobee and run by game manager Andy Pis of Miami.

Pis manages the ranch intensively to promulgate quality bucks and gobblers. He cultivates food plots, installs automatic game feeders, conducts prescribed burns, and mows the pastures to ensure a balanced environment. He doesn’t do anything to encourage hogs; the exotics brought here by Spanish conquistadores hundreds of years ago are already well-established in the region.

THE BLUEPRINT

Together, Pis, Geraci and Geraci’s boyfriend Cole Brockway, 24, put together a game plan: gobbler in early morning followed by hog at midday, then deer in late afternoon.

Pis had set up a camouflage-decorated ground blind, or tent, in the center of a pasture lined with palms and oaks where he had scouted roosting turkeys. A gobbler decoy with a fanned tail and another of a jake, or junior male turkey, were staked out directly in front of the blind. Geraci, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, arrived there well before sunrise, hoping for an alpha male to come and confront the decoys.

Shortly after dawn, she heard the unmistakable, loud yelp of a hen coming from the stand of trees to the north. Not long afterward, a flock of some 15 hens wandered into the pasture, led by a loud-mouthed “boss” hen that yelped continuously.

The gaggle of hens was followed by eight jakes that marched straight up to the decoys, but then ignored them and began pecking the ground for grubs and seeds. Any of the young males would have been easy targets for Geraci, but she forced herself to be patient and await a gobbler.

That proved to be a wise decision. Shortly before 9a.m., four gobblers hurried up to the flock and began chasing and harassing the jakes.

Geraci carefully aimed her shotgun out an opening in the blind, her sights set on the largest of the newcomers.

Bam! She fired and her target collapsed in a heap of iridescent feathers.

“Oh my gosh, I’m shaking,” Geraci said. “That same feeling, it never stops.”

She picked up her bird — about 16 pounds with a six-inch beard — and returned to the ranch to clean it.

One down, two to go.

The hog proved, paradoxically, to be both the easiest and most difficult of the three to hunt. Two large black sows wandered up to a feeder about a hundred yards from the ranch’s main cabin just after Geraci, Brockway and Pis finished lunch. As the pigs greedily rooted and grunted in the open pasture oblivious to the hunters watching them, Geraci grabbed her light, carbon-fiber bow and a quiver of arrows and sneaked along the fenced perimeter.

Concealed behind an oak about 40 yards away, she drew back all 60 pounds on her bow, and held her breath waiting for a shot.

“Whoa, she’s going to have to let off,” Pis muttered as she held the draw for what seemed like forever.

But she didn’t. Geraci finally let the arrow fly — and struck the sow in the heart. It ran about 25 yards and fell over dead.

“That was the most [intense] stalk I ever did,” Geraci said. “Holding the bow for two minutes, it used every skill I ever had.”

ONE FINAL TARGET

Now, only the buck stood between hunter and slam.

At mid-afternoon, Geraci — armed with bow and arrows — climbed a ladder to a tree stand in a stout oak overlooking a food plot.

First, a herd of pigs — two sows and several piglets — approached from some nearby woods. They ignored the food plot, concentrating instead on rooting for hidden acorns directly beneath Geraci’s perch. After a while, they departed as a group.

Not long afterward, a doe arrived, easily jumped the fence into the food plot, and began grazing warily, looking up frequently to check her surroundings. Soon, several more does joined her, and by dusk, no less than a dozen were feeding nonchalantly on the greenery. Not a single buck appeared.

Geraci texted Pis to see if it would be OK to take a doe using one of the ranch’s state-issued doe tags. Just after 6p.m., as the sun was about to leave the sky altogether, Pis granted permission.

Geraci stood up in the stand, aimed down at a lone doe about 20 yards away, and shot it broadside. It looked like a kill shot, but the deer charged away and disappeared in the gloom.

CLOSE, BUT …

Geraci texted Pis and Brockway that a doe was down and waited in the stand for about 20 minutes until they arrived with Pis’ deer-tracking dog Chase. But it turned out Chase’s special skills weren’t needed. Using their cellphone flashlights, the group found the deer dead about 20 yards from where Geraci had shot it.

“What a freakin’ hunting trip!” she said, both exhausted and elated as Pis carried the doe to his truck.

The operation had taken a little more than nine hours. But by convention, it fell short of a slam because the deer was supposed to be a buck.

Dining that night on the deep-fried gobbler that Gerasi had harvested in the morning, the hunters made plans to hunt a nine-point buck the following dawn that Pis had previously scouted.

The buck showed up exactly where Pis had said it would be — but far out of range of Gerasi’s bow. It got in a fight with another buck, then both ran off to pursue a doe nearby and never were seen again.

Close, but no slam.

Geraci was philosophical.

“It’s been a good season and it’s not over,” she said. “If you killed everything you saw, it would be too easy. No one would value it.”

On the menu this night, a tasty consolation: doe backstrap.

  Comments