A group of five of us applied for and were successfully awarded a group quota archery hunt at the beautiful St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in the heart of the Big Bend region of Florida’s Gulf Coast.
For those of us who primarily hunt in Florida’s zone C this hunt is a great way to extend the archery season. The down sides were only one of us had experience hunting in St. Mark’s NWR and there would be almost no time for scouting. With only a few days before the start of our hunt we set up camp at Newport campground located across from the Refuge HQ at 8046 Coastal Highway, Crawfordville, FL. I had reserved a site for our pop-up camper a few months earlier and campground host Mr. William Cole was very helpful and accommodating. Mr. Cole keeps the campground in fine shape working many hours a day to do so. Some sites have water, electric and sewer hookup while others just water and electric and some are primitive. The sites are not private but campground has a great canopy of mature trees providing shade and a decent atmosphere. The bathhouse is kept in good shape and has showers for campers. There is a game cleaning area and a boat ramp adjacent to the park. It's a great base camp location for accessing the refuge. The price for a site with water and electric is a reasonable $22 per night.
Most of the sites on this trip were occupied by hunters and as luck would have it for Douglas, one of the hunters in the group next to us walked over to our camp fire one evening and asked if we liked honey buns. Douglas had that look of a deer in the headlights, clearly not able to process what he just heard. To appreciate this you need to understand the back story. Douglas has a death wish, he will often eat honey bun purchased from any Jiffy store anywhere and washes down with a Mountain Dew. So when Douglas heard, " do y'all like honey buns", it was sensory overload. I have to admit, even I was surprised to say the least. But I was able to recover my composure and point to Douglas across the campfire and say, "this man loves honey buns and he would be happy to have one". With that our neighbor replied, "you can't just have one, you gotta take the whole damn box of them". Douglas was still unable to speak. I'm not sure he was able to even turn around and look at our neighbor, probably fearing he had died and gone to heaven and this is what the Angels would be saying to him. To make a long story short, a whole box of honey buns and related deadly snacks appeared and were gratefully accepted.
After dropping off pop-up we drove into the refuge to meet our hunting buddies to scout. First stop was a coastal area with both deer and hog sign. Three out of the five of us would hunt this area while Douglas and I went to scout a second area. We located a promising area with all the major ingredients; food sources, water, bedding areas, travel corridors. And as we prefer it was off trail. We did a quick look around, found some promising deer sign, identified a few setups and mark them with our GPS.
Fast-forward to the hunts, we had a promising first morning hunt with a spike and doe coming into our set ups. Unfortunately, the doe was missed when the arrow glanced off a palm frond that was in its trajectory. Not long after, a spike came into the set up. After a couple seconds of hesitation trying to determine if it was legal, it was allowed to walk by.
Over a few days of hunting, we didn't kill any deer or hogs. Douglas and I put in about five hunts and the rest of our group less than that. But I think we all agreed it was well worth the effort and a lot of enjoyment.