"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.
Mid October 2016
Bow season has closed in most of the refuges and WMA's where we hunt although there are some that have archery only area with extended seasons.
We didn't take any deer in the Lower Suwannee Refuge this year. Two of us had shots but didn't connect. My one shot at a doe was ruined by a faulty fall away rest (see Alachua Farm and Lumber Post) and Max was appropriately leading a walking doe with his traditional recurve bow and released the arrow at just the right time except that the doe decided to stop. The arrow flew just inches in front of her chest.
More Wild Hogs:
One morning while set up about 20 yards in a swamp off a well used deer and hog trail on the edge of a oak hammock we call Lost Hog Hammock, 1 watched a 100 lb sow followed by a few piglets coming through the palmettos. She went on to the trail and stopped for a moment; presenting a broadside target. From my palm tree perch about 30' high and standing in my climber, I went to full draw and release my arrow with its 125 grain 4 blade Magnus buzzcut broadhead. It sounded like a solid hit and the sow squeezed, spun around and ran back into the hammock. I texted Max and Hoginator and suggested that they all keep hunting.
When late morning came along we all decided on climbing down. About where I shot the hog I found a good blood trail and my arrow close by. The trail let into the oak hammock with many twists and turns. The going was slow and palmettos thick but Max was able to follow the trail, for about 30 minutes that is. Then the blood trail stopped. For approximately another 30 minutes we spread out in the hammock but no one found anymore blood. With great disappointment the search was called off and we packed our gear out. Lost Hog Hammock lived up to its name again.
Muzzleloader season starts:
Thankfully the following week the muzzleloader season started in the Lower Suwannee Refuge bringing with it a some hope that a hog and deer may make it into the coolers. So far the archery season kill recovered only was one small doe.
About 4 am under clear sky's and cool temperatures Hoginator and I headed out. Being opening day, we wanted to get there early to be sure we could claim the area we wanted to hunt. When we arrived a quick wind check confirmed that we could set up in the swamps overlooking the side two hammocks that were producing a good crop of acorns. We would be set up approximately a quarter mile apart with a good view of hammock edges and commonly used travel corridors. It wasn't too long into the morning hunt when I heard the report of Hoginator's inexpensive .50 cal. pawn shop special.
In a short while he texted me that a group of hogs had came out of the hammock he was watching and we're moving away from him. He picked out the largest of the group and placed his iron sights on its back and fired. He hit the hog and it dropped in its tracks. The 250 grain sabot pushed by 100 grains of powder found its mark and had entered approximately 2/3 of the way back and lodged in the front shoulder.
First blackpowder buck, Sunday Oct. 23, 2016:
The day after the Hoginator hog, I decided to try and get a Devils Hammock WMA walk in quota hunt permit for the afternoon hunt. Fortunately, there were plenty of permits left. I strapped my pack to my climber donned my blaze orange vest and hiked in. I decided to find a tree that had a good view of a couple corridors with scrapes and pinch points in the general area where our game cameras had photographed at least three nice bucks pre-season.
The scouting and just some good luck had me in the right place when at about six pm after I had bleated a couple times, a 6 point buck moved in approximately 80 to 100 yards away. I quickly glassed him then shouldered my rifle. The problem was however that the buck walked behind some heavy cover obstructing my view and a shot. A few minutes later a leaned out as far to the left of my tree stand as I could and located the buck in the crosshairs of my 1x4 scope. He was broadside and looking away. I set the hammer back, aimed for his vitals and pulled the trigger. I couldn't see the buck through the white smoke but I did hear him run through the palmettos and brush. I couldn't discern if the shot was a good, bad or missed.
I only waited a short time, it was too short but I decided that I'd rather find out sooner then later if I hit him. I was confident from killing other deer and hogs that if my 250 grain sabot pushed by 150 grains of powder made contact it would be a devastating wound. When I located the place where he was standing when I fired a dramatic spray of blood and tissue was covering a significant area telling me it was a pass through shot and large exit wound. I followed the blood trail for approximately 100 yards and found him dead. The bullet passed through his heart making a tennis ball sized exit wound. It is remarkable that an animal can travel that far with a perfect heart shot. Not a hunt goes by that I don't appreciate these amazing and beautiful animals more.
What makes a great Archery Shop?...go to Alachua Farm and Lumber in Alachua Florida and see Terry to find out.
After a recent easy shot I took at a doe but missed @#$%!? and a session at the range where my groups were not consistent and with too many "flyers"...even for my middle ages eyes, I realized that my Mathews bow needed adjusting. I hadn't had it to the shop since being restrung more than a year ago and I had been shooting a good deal.
As soon as I opened the door and entered Alachua Farm and Lumber and when I could see Terry behind the archery counter, I knew there was hope left in the world.
I had emailed Mathews website support some photos and a narrative the day before and showed Terry their response. Terry looked it over, frowned and made a huffing noise that sounded like a combination of a deer snort and human sigh. He then put the bow in his vice and in a very short time had made the adjustments. While doing so he examined my fall away arrow rest and said bring in your arrows. I thought he wanted me to shoot to make final adjustments but instead he examined the fletchings and then showed me another issue I was having. Two faint lines on some of the fletchings indicated that my fall away rest was not staying in the down position but instead was at least some of the time "jumping" back up and making contact with the fletchings!!!! YIKES! Now I was the one snorting and wheezing like a buck sensing trouble. That, may have been the reason my arrow went under that doe!
After replacing my arrow rest we went into the indoor range and took turns shooting while Terry made some final adjustments. I immediately was shooting more accurate and tighter groups!
So thank you Terry and Alachua Farm and Lumber, for your expertise and all around good nature. If your in North / Central Florida stop in and deal with them or go to their website.
Ok, with only one doe down and one un-recovered hog so far, yes, the early part of archery season has not been very successful. In fact it's been challenging. The very hot weather, hurricanes, resulting high water, mosquitoes of biblical proportion, etc., have not helped. The good news, its the second week in October and the weather is starting to turn.
I'll get right to the lessons learned: