Big Buck Bonanza
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - For Vance Wood, Conservation Enforcement Officer with Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, helping new or less experienced hunters achieve success is one of his main endeavors.
Those opportunities occur in a variety of ways but none quite like Wood’s interaction with Dan Collins in the China Grove community of Pike County.
Collins was in the process of rekindling his hunting career when he purchased a piece of property adjacent to Wood’s farm. A neighbor on the other side of the property alerted Wood that somebody was on the property, and Wood hopped in his truck to check it out. When Wood arrived, Collins and a friend were exiting the woods.
“He told me he had just bought the place,” Wood said of Collins. “I said if you did that you’ve probably got the deed with you. He said, ‘I sure do.’ I said, ‘Really.’ He reached in and pulled the deed off the dash of his truck. We have had the biggest laugh about that and have become great friends. I couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.”
After Collins put up a variety of game cameras around his place, he discovered a big buck was hanging around a swamp on his property, which began a four-year obsession with the whitetail.
“Every time he’d get a picture of the buck he would call me,” Wood said. “So many times, he had just missed the deer. He may have hunted a place two or three days and then had to go home, and the deer showed up the next day. They were playing cat and mouse.”
“Dan told me, ‘I can’t take this anymore,’” Wood said. “He said somebody has got to shoot this deer.”
Collins had hunted when he was a teenager and some when he was in college. However, his hunting disappeared when he started a family and a computer software company. Then about nine years ago he was invited to go deer hunting with an outfitter in Pike County.
“I got to know the outfitter and the people of Troy and really enjoyed it,” Collins said. “I think it was my third year of hunting up there that I told them if they see some land available to let me know. That’s when I bought the parcel next to Vance, and he asked me for the deed. We’ve laughed so hard about that. That was probably the only single day that I’ve ever had a deed in my car.”
Collins said he started hunting the big buck the first year he bought the property, and it was the only good deer on the place at the time. Since then, with intense management, the deer population has improved significantly, “I made it my pursuit to hunt that deer,” he said. “He lived in one small swamp. As Vance can attest, we hunted him every way you can. They don’t get old and big like that by being stupid.”
He said the pressure was on as he headed to Pike County for a four-day hunt, and he knew conditions were in his favor.
“You never really know, but the moon was right; the weather was as good as it was going to be during my trip,” he said. “I had the right wind. I told Vance that I wasn’t nervous when the deer showed up, because my blood was pumping that whole hunt. The deer were on their feet and moving. Everything was right.”
“When he stepped out, like always, he came from where you don’t expect them. We thought he would come out of the swamp, but he came from the top of the hill. I took my time and made a good shot. I didn’t know if I was going to get him, but I knew this was over. It was a long, long journey getting there. I just started bawling. I knew it was over.”
“I enjoyed being along for the ride,” Wood said. “Seeing a 40-year-old man get excited about a deer makes me feel good. Now he’s just happy and grinning from ear to ear. You always want to see the hunter be successful. But success isn’t always measured in the harvest. It’s the totality of circumstances, how everything comes together. It’s not just walking out and shooting a deer; it makes me happy as a Conservation officer to see him realize the fruits of his labor.”
“What I appreciate about Vance is that he embodies what I think a game warden should be,” Collins said. “He’s a good guy. He understands the role of a game warden is not to play gotcha. It’s to be stewards of the resources. If we want this to continue for new generations, we’ve got to recruit new people.”
“Our outdoor world is a magical place, providing countless opportunities for family and friends alike to establish timeless, generational traditions that bring one another together. No matter the age or life circumstance, the outdoors offers a chance to form common interests and bonds that ensure that however life changes, we can set aside our stresses, get back to the basics, and retreat to common ground upon which we can perennially connect and spend precious quality time together.”
“I encourage you to take advantage of the resources we have in this great country and on this planet, make an effort to create new outdoor traditions and learn about our ‘real’ world, take a part in conservation, leave it a better place than when you arrived, and to preserve what we have by passing on those traditions and values to generations to come.”
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