First, I scout and hunt off trail on public lands in the incredible Big Bend region of Florida's Gulf Coast. This area during a typical summer is wet, hot, with overgrown thickets, few trails, interspersed with hammocks, surrounded by lowlands, swamps, sloughs, etc.
This environment is best suited to mosquitoes, ticks, snakes, alligators and wild hogs. During the hot and humid summer only a few of us that may be lacking in common sense, in between visits from girlfriends, without wives or wishing we were, those that appreciate the challenge and punishment, and/or simply enjoy the wonder and freedom that Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Boone, and others knew and cherished, or some combination of, venture to scout for the upcoming hunting seasons.
My gear suggestions may not in themselves make you a more successful hunter but they will make you a safer, more comfortable hunter.
I will start with transportation. On public lands it comes down to feet or bikes. I found a nice mountain bike at a pawn shop that works well. Since taking this photo I added some ATV type gun holders.
Snake boots may be the most important. Over the last couple years I wore out a pair of Rocky snake boots. They were good enough for me to recommend them. I came close to stepping on a venomous snake a number of times , but I was not bitten, so I can not vouch for them being fang proof. The materials do inspire confidence though and made me believe they were "snake proof".
Comfortable, lightweight, good soles, waterproof...for a while.
They eventually were not waterproof anymore, but all other components held up well.
My prefered pre-season scouting knife has the following qualities:
It has all the qualities above and is an absolute pleasure to use. This knife is not for wimps, it is more machete than knife but thanks to it's dimensions and weight it can be used for long periods of time without fatigue.
What about the cost?!?!:
A buddy once said, "you can't put a price on love". I think we all have to prioritize what is important and its far better to purchase high quality gear that will serve you for the long haul than what passes for gear today.
I bought my first rifle when I was 16, it was a used pre-64, Winchester Model 94, in 30-30, for $55., and because it is a great, simple, well designed, utilitarian, high quality and versatile rifle, I will always have it.
The Esee Junglas is that kind of tool, if you buy one, I expect you will enjoy, appreciate and keep it.
Let me know what you think!
Well, it is that time of year, getting hot, mosquitoes, ticks, snakes, gators, etc....did I mention hot?
Keep in mind this is public lands, not easy access, lots of walking, often wet, always hot this time of year with an abundance of blood sucking insects and a few other creatures that will bite you if you give them that opportunity. Have I mentioned before that I don't like venomous snakes and alligators much?
The main goals:
>Set a couple game cameras, see whats out there and how the deer and hogs are developing.
>Scout favorite areas but also find new areas that look promising.
>Locate trees suitable for ambushing deer and hogs from climbing tree stands during archery and rifle seasons.
The oak hammock above is a small hammock that I found about a mile off trail. It has the elements I'm looking for:
>A nice amount of oaks (acorns in the Fall).
>It is not too large, maybe 2 or 3 acres or so. I prefer the smaller hammocks as the deer and hogs will often provide me a shot if I set up in the right place.
>Backs up to a swamp on one side, providing an edge.
>Open areas with low vegetation for good visibility and shot corridors.
>A good climbing tree or two.
>Can be approached from down wind when the wind is from the North, NW, NE.
In an upcoming post, I'll discuss the scouting gear I think is essential.
Despite hearing gobblers, getting close, even seeing a couple, there are no dead birds to report.
Truth is its been great to be out there and its been frustrating at times.
Next Steps / Strategy:
Camp Site #1
Somewhere between Fallon NAS and Middlegate Nevada
The idea was, I would fly to Colorado and meet up with Paul, we would drive to Nevada, meet up with Bill, finish provisioning and head to the mountains for a week of camping and hunting Chukar and Mountain Quail.
We looked for Chukar over miles of beautiful and rugged terrain. By looking, I am referring to hiking up and down high elevation and rugged terrain. Coming from sea level Florida there were times (many times) I thought I would simply keel over form what felt like a lack of oxygen and from my middle aged body saying enough is enough. We all survived and I enjoyed some of the finest hiking I have ever enjoyed. The Chukar however were not where we were and despite our best efforts and hunting areas where they had been recently we did not kill any.
Exploring a long abandoned mine site.
All in all it was a fantastic trip thanks to intense wilderness and great friendships.
Best gear used on trip:
After an interesting AM hunt (we were covered up with hogs before it was light enough to shoot) Paul and I decided to check out an area that looked promising, on our walk out. Not long after we left the trail and were about to enter the brush Paul caught a glimpse of a hog heading away from us, towards a nearby swamp. Paul reached in my pack and handed me my hog grunt call and I begin making some contented feeding vocalizations while very slowly making my way through the brush. After moving in no more than 100 yards I heard a hog walking in the water about 40 yards ahead. I moved a little further in and was afforded a quartering away shot. despite not having time to put on my reading glasses, therefore the 1x3 power scopes reticle being fuzzy and hard to see against the black hog, and the hog moving, I squeezed the trigger on my Thompson Omega muzzleloader. The shot was well placed and I caught a glance of the entrance wound as the hog ran. In the cypress trees, grass and brush I lost view of her but was thinking she may have fallen or stopped about 50 yards from me.
I'm shooting a 300 grain Powerbelt Aerolite .50 cal bullet pushed by 100 grains of black powder. http://powerbeltbullets.com/Aerolite-Muzzleloading-Bullets.php
As I'm reloading, a heard a ruckus to my left flank and when I turned I larger sow came running up to within 20 feet of me, momentarily stopped, looked at me and then continued running. Unfortunately I was still in the process of reloading.
I found out later when I met up with Paul that a second sow had run directly towards him after my shot and when she broke out of the brush and saw Paul, she immediately turned back. Paul had only a split second to react and wasn't able to get a shot off and I'm sure was still processing that I had taken a shot, at what and where he couldn't be sure, as we were not in visual contact at that point. It all worked out ok with one nice hog recovered and butchered.
The bullet traveled on a diagonal through the hog and was found in the front shoulder.
The bullet did mushroom and penetrate as advertised. So far I like these bullets, with the exception of the price. They are also much easier to reload compared with sabot's.
So you don't have to spend much time reading this post I'll sum it up: Terrible
One recent morning in the beautiful, wild Lower Suwannee NWR, I had climbed a tree well before first light after walking in to a favorite area, negotiating lots of hurricane Irma blow down, sloshing thru the high water, sweating profusely, while being attacked by a ridiculous quantity of large mosquitoes and plenty of sand gnats, then finally settling into the darkness and what has been the best part of morning, listening to the sounds of swamp and hammock. But no, all I could hear were the sounds of the mosquitoes flying into me to extract my blood and along with it, any common sense I had left. On one miserable morning, as the first light was illuminating the swamp, I was scanning my surroundings for deer or hogs when I happened to look down and under my tree stand just inches from where I climbed up was a water moccasin. Getting a bite from a poisonous snake would have been the icing on the cake.
So this is how the archery season has been, terrible. Yet, time after time I go. And time after time I have left without a deer or hog to show for the punishment. It's been as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. The rewards so far have been few, but include hunting some areas I have not seen and learning some new ambush locations. I've had approx. 60,000 acres available to hunt on in a couple diffrent refuges and that alone is exciting and motivating. Knowing that there are new areas to discover at anytime keeps me interested and always learning.
As of October 15, there is rumor that a real cold front may push in for the this weekend's opening of the muzzleloader season. Also, in the last week or two the increase in scrapes and rubs has been dramatic, another good sign that the best hunting is yet to come.
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.