By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
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.”
It got to the point reminiscent of Jerry Clower’s famous coon-hunting tale where John asked somebody to “shoot up here in amongst us. One of us got to have some relief.”
“Dan told me, ‘I can’t take this anymore,’” Wood said. “He said somebody has got to shoot this deer. It was him and that deer.”
Wood received a call that one of their neighbors, Doc (John) Martin, may have shot the buck Collins was pursuing. Wood sent Collins a text, and Dan said if Doc killed it, it was fine with him. At least, it would be over.
“I go over and look at the deer, and it wasn’t the buck,” Wood said. “Dan was doing cartwheels again.”
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. He asked me for it, and I had it. I’m sure he thought there was no way this guy was going to have a deed.”
The property Collins purchased had an old farmhouse that he deemed too nice to let go. He started refurbishing the farmhouse.
“North Pike County became a pretty significant part of my life,” said Collins, whose business and home are in Tampa. “I love it up there. I fit in a lot better in south Alabama than I do in Tampa.”
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. We’ve got a half-dozen different stands for different winds, different food plots, everything you can imagine. They don’t get old and big like that by being stupid. I realized he was probably spending most of his time on 5 acres, and I just can’t get the guy.”