What happens when hurricane force winds and rain impact the entire State the week before Archery Season in Florida's Zone C opens?
What happens is you prepare, recover and go archery hunting the following weekend!
Fortunately the damage to my home and fellow archers I hunt with was minimal and although many of us will be cleaning up and repairing minor damage for some time, some us put down our chainsaws and went into the woods to hunt opening weekend.
What we found was a a lot of blown down trees and lots and lots of water.
It was also hot and the WMA I hunted was not very productive (only a few deer and hogs killed opening weekend).
It should be noted that the State and Federal Lands managers and staff are performing a great job in assessing, and clearing roads to re-open public lands as fast as possible and keep in mind this is being done often without adequate staffing.
Opening season lessons learned:
Hurricane Irma has departed but will archery season in Florida open this weekend? What will FWC do or not do?
My son Gabe and I closing the storm shutters on September 9th in preparation of Hurricane Irma.
September 12th, cutting up one of a. number of large pines that fell in the Cedar Key house yard after hurricane Irma came through.
Here is a very large Oak that fell at Gabe's house during the height of the storm....fortunately falling away from the house.
With archery season opening in the Nature Coast /North Central Florida this weekend after hurricane Irma came through less than a week ago and some areas rivers still rising, how, and where can archers hunt this weekend, the opening weekend of archery season????
the FWC website has a long, long list of closed Wildlife Management Areas due to hurricane Irma and as of today, the one I want to hunt Saturday is closed with no indiction of when it will open or how and when it will be determined......might be a nice idea for the FWC to let us know a little more about who, where, and how those decisions are made.
I went and looked for myself at one of the WMA's this evening and apart from the locked gates, there is no reason I can see to keep it closed this weekend. Even if there are some places where roads or trails are blocked with fallen trees, or impassible with water there is clearly lots of areas that are not and plenty of walk in areas available.
I drove by and the check station and three parking areas I saw had no standing water and it's just two days after Irma passed. I wonder if FWC will reach out to the local folks to understand the actual conditions or perhaps even ask them for help in clearing roads and trails? The hunters I know would be glad to pitch in. Many of us have been clearing debris from WMA trails and roads for years because that is one of the small things that stewardship and giving back means. One last soap box observation: There is now a large and growing disconnect between government on many levels and those of us that access public lands. I hear and sense that there is also a growing distrust in how the government (government on all levels, local, state and federal) manages public lands. I don't see it as a distrust of the people we see and know that are on the ground, working in the WMA's, struggling to ensure the public has access to quality wild places, these are some of the finest people I know. I see the distrust being placed, rightfully so, at the highest levels of the State and Federal government leadership, or lack there of. There needs to be a significant effort made by all of us to engage before the divide gets any larger.
In closing, I'd like to ask you to consider supporting a group I think is important in the effort to keep public lands open: Back Country Hunters and Anglers. Check them out here: http://www.backcountryhunters.org
The last weekend of August was typical, hot, humid, with a fair assortment of biting bugs. Max, a traditional bow hunter from Italy and I set out to scout a Archery Only Area in the Lower Suwannee NWR and a couple favorite areas. We only saw one deer and one turkey but we learned a good deal and found the evidence we needed to choose what may be good set ups. One of the pleasures and difficulties with hunting public lands is the understanding the changing habitat, food sources, finding out of the way places that may not receive hunting pressure and challenging yourself to find new areas as well as go back to favorites. It is not for the lazy, some would say it's for the crazy.
Plenty of hog sign in the usual places and game camera photos confirm there is no shortage of them. Can we kill them with our bows, that is another story. Last year, I shot two hogs with pass through shots, decent blood trails....at first, then no luck recovering them. This year I may simply have exercise more patience and wait for that quartering away shot, not easy in the thick woods and swamp on moving hogs.
The photo above is of an old logging trail that was bone dry in the Spring and now has a foot or more of water running over it in places. The wet weather has redefined many edges along creeks and hammocks. Personally, I prefer the swamps to be full, as the edges along hammocks, hills and other natural features are more heavily used by deer and hogs.
Max and I also took stock of the acorn growth. In the areas we checked, it looks like acorn production will be light this year. Light or heavy, on public land, as the acorns fall, the deer and hogs will find them.
Scouting Gear Used:
"The mountains, the forest, and the sea, render men savage; the develop the fierce, but yet do not destroy the human." - Victor Hugo
Just when I was thinking the drought would continue into hunting season here on Florida Nature Coast, it started raining, really raining. The mosquitoes, gators, snakes and frogs are having a big time. And I'm wishing my snake boots were waterproof. To scout in hot, humid, wet, buggy conditions is the perfect balance of physical and mental punishment. I also like that there have likely not been anyone in the areas I'm scouting since last hunting season, if then. And there is no substitute for being able to find your routes in an out and good trees to climb before you need them. Trees fall blocking routes, trails become overgrown or close completely, new trails open, etc. And I never see any other hunters scouting, yes, only proving their superior intelligence. But perhaps also putting them at a disadvantage come hunting season.
Some of my favorite refuges now have standing water in all the places I like to hunt. But after the sweat and bugs if you were fortunate to put a camera in good spot it can all become worthwhile when your photos reveal some nice deer and hogs.
The Ranger Ghost with Captain Hoginator at the helm. Thanks to a number of tracks on our GPS we can travel relativley easily and safely to our favorite fishing areas North and South of Cedar Key.
Our first stop was to a flounder area we like. We quickly caught two flounder, a short Red and Black Drum then moved on to areas North into the backwater on the rising tide.
The flounder we caught were over hard shell bottom. A lesson learned about finding that king of bottom is pole the boat or throw a gold spook with a slow enough retrieve to "feel" the type of bottom.
The next few spots only produced short Redfish and Trout. But after running further North we found some keeper Redfish. And finally Captain Hoginator connected with a nice Redfish (the last few trips he has been wasting time, incessantly throwing his top water lures, while I catch our limit of Redfish).
Captain Hogintator also caught the smallest fish of the day, a juvenile Trout.
It's time to have cameras out and put t yourself through the misery of 90+ degree heat, bugs, etc. You can see from the photo above the at 7PM it was still 87 degrees. But more importantly the deer are growing rapidly and the three young bucks in the photo are going well and finding plenty of browse.
We have been seeing fawns staying close to the does as well.
Finally, we are getting enough rain to green the woods up and make the mosquitos and yellow flies happy! The open hammock above is typical of an area I would scout and hunt.
The backwater fishing has been great. Redfish, flounder and an occasional trout are now dependable catches. We have caught more flounder recently then every before, not sure why but we are enjoying it. We are finding the flounder around the oyster bars and shell bottom where we would typically look for redfish.
A circle hook under a small weighted float with a mud minnow, shrimp or cut bait are working. Keep bait bumping along the bottom and if you can do it wait a second or two before setting the hook.
When the tide is up, don't forget to fit the grass edges and a gold spoon through the grass or a top water lure.
The fish tacos have been nice to have on a regular basis too!
Dr. "Red"riguez pulled in some nice Redfish, two of them being 25+ inches in mid-April. The waters around Cedar Key haver been steadily warming and the Trout and Redfish have been prowling the grass and oyster bar edges.
Shrimp, Gulp, pinfish and cut Mullet are good bait choices. Suspending the bait just above or bouncing the bait over the oyster clumps or fishing the steeper bank edges are all good choices. The standard 1/4 or 3/8 oz. jig head is popular and some of us, myself included prefer a circle hook with no additional weight on a 20# leader under a popping cork or cajun thunder.
Walking the shell and oyster bars is a great way to cool off and sight fish.
Tips, Lessons learned:
>Fishing the rising and falling tides are preferable to a slack tide.
>Fish the "cut's" between oyster bars and anywhere else water is moving.
>Look for Trout over the grass flats, especially the spotty bottom.
The "new" used Native, Manta Ray 14 along with the old faithful Wilderness, Tarpon 160i were transported to creek in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge on a warm February day.
First, the Manta Ray is a good sized kayak and yes it can be carried and lifted solo but it is relatively wide and weighs enough to be challeging to handle.
Here are the specs: 14' 7" long / 28" wide / 69 lb weight / 375 lb capacity
First impressions on loading the boat is that the cockpit road holders and storage areas are well laid out and reasonably accessible.
Compared to the Wilderness Tarpon 160, the Manat Ray 14 has a more comfortable and slightly larger cockpit, a little more beam and perhaps freeboard. It also has gear rails on both sides of the cockpit a plus for those needing to attach more gear and electronics.
First paddling impressions:
It was way too warm, the deer were not moving until after dark. However on the third day of our four day quota hunt it was bit cooler, and overcast raising our hopes a little. Hoginator and I thought that hunting the pinch point that I found the year before was the best course of action. We pulled out of our campsite about 4:15 AM and headed to the Panacea Unit of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
We hiked with our climbers and packs, taking a path around the oak ridge in the hope of not laying down our scent where it might spook the deer. Upon reaching the 50 yard wide pinch point where two large swaps nearly touch, we decided that Hoginator would set up in the pinch point and I would go through and set up a short distance around the corner and call as well as glass the couple hundred acres in open pine and palmetto where I hoped to see and pattern deer.
About every 30 minutes or so I would bleat followed by a short sequence of non-agrresive grunts. Not long after 8 am an 8 pointer came down through the adjacent oak ridge and headed down towards the pinch point.
He came into the draw as if he was a fish being reeled in and started to take a short cut through the edge of the swamp directly for my tree when he paused for a moment and Hoginator took the quartering away shot. The arrow hit exactly where it was needed and cutting through vitals and lodging in the bucks front shoulder making for a quick clean kill.
The last day's AM hunt didn't produce any deer but we were rewarded with a Black Bear sow and cubs coming through the funnel...see the video below.