Sunday, October 30, 2011

Everglades Python Eats Deer

Edit: This will take place of Tuesday Terrors this week

Figured I'd throw this one out there before -everyone- had already heard about it. My mom sent me this article the other day, most other article pretty much say the same thing:

As if whitetail Does needed anything else to be paranoid about...

The fact that this happened doesn't surprise me really. The snakes are everywhere down there and I'm sure this isn't the first time it's happened...It's just the first time we've seen it. For anyone that doesn't know, the Burmese Python (along with thousands of other exotics and invasives) is running loose in South Florida, particularly the Everglades which is most similar to its natural habitat.

The snakes got into the wild via the exotic pet trade. They simply get too big (up to 20ft) and some people didn't want them anymore and let them go. What resulted was the release of an invasive super predator in the Everglades. The Burmese Python will eat just about anything that it can fit in its mouth and many biologists fear it poses a serious problem for threatened or endangered bird or small mammal species.

During a wildlife techniques course that I took, we were asked to design a poster presentation to help solve a wildlife technique problem. I chose, "Capture methods of the Burmese Python in the Florida Everglades". The issue right now, is that the snakes are -extremely- difficult to find. The Everglades literally is "a river of grass" and finding them is quite the challenge in the high grass. Baited traps don't particularly work because the snakes prefer live prey (just imagine the flak someone would catch for live baiting a trap with a cat or something). Funnel traps might work, but then you're just hoping the snake slithers by and falls in. Scent dogs have the possibility to work, but most of the snake's time is spent in the water, making trailing by a dog very difficult. Right now, the two most common methods that I've heard of are these: Drive along a road at night and look for them crossing the road. And radio tagging adult females and re-releasing them into the wild. Re-releasing actually seems to be a more effective method. This is because when the snakes breed, a female can draw multiple males two her and they have this giant, breeding, snake-ball thing going on. Using radio telemetry, biologists can just locate the female, and dispose of all snakes present around her.

I, of course, made up a beautiful poster for wildlife techniques, presented it flawlessly to the class, and awaited my grade.

80%...B -. Little did I know, that my professor was actually called down to South Florida to be on the conference board to help solve the Burmese Python problem. He said essentially what I said which was "there's no good way to catch them". And I guess since he obviously knew a bit more about the situation than I did, he felt my presentation was lacking.

Hopefully we find a solution soon. Their spread north continues, though I question exactly how far north they can spread due to freezing winters. I personally think they should just put a 100$ bounty on each snake's head, let people take an snake identification test, and if they pass, give them a license and the go-ahead to kill as many as they can find.

Couldn't hurt...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday Terrors: Bees and Wasps

As I stood there in Austin Cary Memorial Forest, trying to remember the scientific name of Fetterbush for a Forest Ecology class, something kept buzzing around my head. My group members were all in a similar situation, standing waist deep in Saw Palmettos and blackberry briers, and trying to recall scientific names. The buzzing continued around my head until I finally noticed a Yellow Jacket trying to land on my chest.

You stupid...get away...gah...dumb thing, are the usual thoughts as one tries in vain to shoo away a wasp. The key word here is A wasp. Just one.
Photo taken from

The following sting on the knuckle and emergence of a swarming Hymenopteran death cloud resulted in a slightly different response. The string of expletives that followed could make a drunken pirate blush. To add, my thrashing and near teleportation from the area sent my Forest Ecology group running out of the woods like a live mortar round had just landed nearby.

Yes, for the second time within a year, I'd found a Yellow Jacket nest. They nest in the ground and I managed to stand right on top of it. Luckily (I guess), I was the only person who'd been stung. We soon picked a new area to do our survey, and I used some ice I still had in a cup to help with the swelling on my knuckle. Also, I didn't get stung as badly as I did over the summer. That resulted in several nasty stings and me running a few hundred yards before I finally escaped.

Getting stung can obviously be avoided. It's just important to watch where you're going and what you're doing. I thank God that I'm not allergic to them. One of the guys in my Forest Ecology group is allergic and had -he- been the one to step on the nest, the outcome would have been much more serious.

I realized that I literally have -no- photos of bees or wasps. They're generally something I don't hang out around very often, and certainly not long enough to snap a picture. I'm certain I'll run into plenty more in the future, but I hope they're one at a time. Two nests within one year are two too many. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Outdoor Photography

Taking pictures while out hunting or fishing is sometimes quite a challenge for me. Usually, I only take pictures when I'm kind of bored, or see something -very- interesting. When I'm not bored (catching fish/seeing deer) I tend to not take pictures.

This isn't on purpose, of course. But when things get exciting in the outdoors, I seem to just forget to snap pictures. I often get -too- into the moment and then afterward think to myself: Dang....I should have taken a picture of that.

What I take pictures of seems to be rather repetitive. I like to target slow/stationary objects most of the time simply for ease. Sunsets or sunrises, caught fish, smooth water, and storms comprise most of my computer's photo galleries.
Storm in the 'Glades
Sunrise in Pensacola
My Tarpon

Now, I'd love to snap a great picture of that Bald Eagle, those Turkeys, or that doe and her fawn, but usually their either too far away, or gone too quickly.
There's a swallow-tailed kite in this picture...I swear.
One of the reasons I don't usually snap photos of such quick things is because of my camera. Don't get me wrong...I absolutely LOVE my camera. It's waterproof down to 10 feet, shock proof, and generally just a tough little digital camera. But it has its limits. There isn't much of a zoom for those far away shots, and if anything moves with any speed, the picture is blurry. I could probably solve the blurring part, but I don't generally walk around with my camera set to 'sports' mode.

One of my hunting/fishing buddies, Stan, was kind enough to send me some of his pictures he's taken. I honestly had no idea he even took pictures while out in the field, much less such good ones. Pictures like these are the kind of things I'd like to try taking one of these days. But I think I need a slightly different camera first.

For those of you who take a lot of outdoor photos: What kind of camera do you use? I'd like something with a good bit of zoom and can take high quality pictures at a distance. But at the same time I'd like it to be (relatively) small and durable enough so that when I drop it, it doesn't burst into flames. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Taming the Swamp, Part. 3

If you've missed part one and two of this trilogy, they can be found here and here respectively.

I believe I left off in Part 2 with the bizarre phenomena of actually seeing deer.

For some reason, last Thursday, I decided to punish my back thoroughly by climbing into my stand almost an hour early. The weather was far from perfect for hunting...High pressure, full moon, and a wind that made picking a tree next to impossible. To add, it was surface-of-the-sun hot again. I really didn't feel like spreading my scent all over creation and sweating anymore than I already was, so I just climbed the tree. This was a new spot I'd picked out along a rub line and I took a few pictures of the surrounding area.

I brought a book with me for the first time -ever-. I figured it couldn't hurt, and might even kill some time before "prime time". After climbing the tree and securing my safety belt, I took a seat. No sooner had I settled into my seat...I mean maybe 30 seconds...A doe ran up behind my stand.

I sat there in disbelief for a moment. She wasn't spooked by any means. She was just simply trotting by. All of this, of course, was fine and dandy aside from one important detail: My bow was still resting on the ground below me. I didn't even have a chance to pull it up before she stepped out.

I wasn't too put off by this. After all, she stepped out well outside of bow range. However, any prior thought of reading was immediately snuffed. I never even considered opening the book the rest of the hunt.

Over the next three hours, rather than read, I resorted to my tried and proven method of attracting deer: Falling asleep. Many people are unaware that there a multiple ways to fall asleep in the stand. There's the classic chin-on-chest sound asleep method...The thirty-second-blink method...The outright coma method (my personal favorite)...And the 'bob your head like you're trying to stay awake in class' method. I chose the latter of these techniques this particular afternoon and, as expected, I started seeing deer.

I was rather impressed with myself for even spotting out the deer without binoculars. It stepped out at about 120 yards and I only saw a quick flash of movement. I slowly stood up, and waited. 10 minutes later, the deer re-emerged about 60 yards away. I could tell immediately that it was a buck. He skirted around my tree, just outside of bow range. I quietly turned on my helmet camera, and patiently waited for a chance. He then stopped, turned around, and went back the way he came, disappearing behind some brush as he did so.

I quietly prayed that he wasn't gone forever. And after what felt like an hour (even though it was less than 30 seconds) he came out from behind the brush and into shooting range. The process of me drawing my bow and settling my sights on his chest took only a second, but in that brief moment, I still had time to think about everything. I noticed my heart pounding in my ears, but my hands and legs were still steady. I could hear the buck's footsteps crunching in the grass below. I was even aware of the mosquito draining every last drop of blood from the knuckle of my clenched left hand. And in that moment, I realized that my past eleven years of hunting experience had boiled down to this one second...

That's right. Up until this moment, I had never harvested a buck. Be it with gun or bow, I had never even had the opportunity over the past eleven years to draw on a buck, much less take one. This isn't to say that I haven't seen bucks during my hunting career. But due to rules, seasons, you name it, the chance had never presented itself this clearly. I can remember sitting in my tree stand on Eglin Air Force Base while in High School, and watching the -same- three bucks, multiple times, walk by JUST out of bow range. I can remember settling the scope of my 30-06 on the chest of a 3 point outside of Andalusia Alabama, and letting him walk. And I especially remember nearly getting stepped on by an 8 point while walking to my stand during bow season, and still having my bow bungee'd to the stand on my back. My point is that I've come close, but never this close.

I've actually been mocked as a hunter here in Florida for -not- ever harvesting a buck after all these years. I can remember in middle school and high school as classmates would tell me about how they shot this big 6, 8, and even 11 point buck out of a shooting house on their grandpa's land or hunting club. I would tell them that I'd seen only three does all season on a particular piece of public land, and would usually get some sort of laugh out of them.

I've hunted public Wildlife Management Areas here in Florida for the entirety of my hunting career. The only exceptions being three hunts in a hunting club in Andalusia, and a bow hunt outside of Blountstown on private land. Other than that, it's all been public, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My progression into the sport of hunting was slightly skewed when compared to my friends growing up. While they took their ATV's to the shooting house that sits over a food plot and relaxed with their rifle in their lap, my experience was...different. I started off bow hunting. The area I first hunted was walk-in access only, and I carried my stand (at age twelve) the mile and a half to a dim game trail. My dad would come along with me to make sure I got up the tree safely, and would then climb a tree of his own nearby. This continued until I was 16 and got my driver's license. I then started to venture off on my own. I began to read deer sign better and better and it wasn't long before spots that I'd picked out on my own started to produce deer...even though they were all does.

I realized soon enough just how different hunting was between my classmates and myself. Let's face it, of all the Southeastern states, Florida is the -worst- for deer hunting. Toss in hunting on public land, and the difficulty increases even more. The inability to bait, the (horribly) skewed buck to doe ratio, the running of dogs all season, and the competition between you and upwards of 500 other hunters just makes it plain hard to hunt.  The bottom line is that I feel as though I had more opportunity to learn more, adapt better, and learn from my mistakes than my classmates who hunted private lands simply due to the difficulty of hunting public land. I'd tell myself every season: This is going to be the year. This is the year I'll take a buck. But the mythical antlered creature eluded me year after year.

All of these things flashed through the back of my mind as I settled the little red pin of my sights on the buck's shoulder. And after eleven years of trial and error, blood, sweat, (and yes) tears, I finally let loose my arrow.

Please don't watch the following video if seeing an animal get shot upsets/disturbs you. My apologies for the poor camera skills...I can only do so much at once :)

My arrow found its mark, and my first buck was there on the ground, just 40 yards away. The shot was placed just between the top of the shoulder and the spine, angled downward.

I would have leaped with joy had I not been in so much shock. I quietly sat down after a moment, and let the near seizure-like adrenaline shakes take over my body. I must have quivered like a leaf for a good five minutes. Once on the ground, and sure the deer was dead, I called my closest friends and family members to let them know what had just happened.

He certainly didn't have the biggest rack. But the little six point was a giant in my eyes and represented everything I'd worked for over the years.

I quickly began to cut up a branch and fashion a carrying handle out of it. I secured it in the buck's back legs and started to drag it. *Crack*. My carrying handle instantly snapped in two. The deer was too heavy for the branch. I gave up on the idea of a carrying handle, and just resorted to dragging by the antlers. It was then that I realized the daunting task that lay ahead of me. Not only was I well over a mile from the Jeep, I had to trudge back through the swamp night.

The combination of dragging the deer and carrying my bow and climber nearly killed me. Each cypress knee felt like a mountain when I started to drag the deer over it. After just a few hundred yards, I was forced to field dress the deer just to help cut weight.

By now I had reached the edge of Lake Lochloosa and I had to take a break or I'd keel over. As I sat there, with my head light off (to save batteries), something caught my eye out on the lake. I stumbled out into the waist high grass that borders the lake, and looked out.

The full moon was just starting to rise over the lake and it cast its reflection across the mirror like water toward me. All around me were fireflies. Hundreds of fireflies. They blinked bright green on and off in the pale moonlight around the lake. Off in the distance, a Barred Owl made its call, and in the grass just a few yards ahead, a Bullfrog let out its deep croak. The whole situation was surreal. I was completely unable to capture this moment properly via video or picture. Come to think of it, words can't even really describe it. It was one of those situations that must be experienced first hand. Once it passes, that moment is gone forever, save for your own memories.

I looked at this moment as a reminder of why I hunt, why I fish, and even why I've chosen my career path. It's not about the kill, or the catch. It's about the experience. The whole thing. Every little wonderful (and sometimes horrible) aspect of the trip. It's these experiences that keep me going out in the field. And it's these same experiences that I hope future generations can have and appreciate as well.

I stood for a few minutes at the edge of that lake, and just stared. Then, turning back, I kept on with the nightmare of a task ahead of me.

Dragging that deer out of the swamp was easily one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Being over 6ft tall meant that I had to slouch over to drag the deer and slouching caused the tree stand to sit at an awkward angle while I walked. The whole thing was a nightmare, and I'm certain that my deer put on a few hundred pounds during the trip out of the woods.

You can clearly see from the graph that a deer actually gains weight exponentially over its dragging distance and nears 800lbs as it closes in on the mile mark.

In all honesty, I was having to stop and take a break/stretch my back every 50-60 yards. The drag took an eternity. I started dragging the buck at about 7:25 pm and didn't reach the Jeep until 10:20. THREE hours of dragging. I can't remember ever being that tired. Luckily, the actual process of putting the deer in the Jeep went by quickly and shortly thereafter, I was driving to a friends house to clean it.

Since neither of us had a gambrel, we used our college student ingenuity and strung the deer up on a tree using a dog leash and a keg as the counter weight. The uses of a keg are innumerable.

Harvesting my first buck was an experience of a lifetime. It's an experience I will -never- forget. I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and am truly grateful for every chance I've ever gotten to spend time in the woods. Hopefully, this will be the first of many. But even if it isn't, I can safely say that I'm satisfied and even look at the woods a little differently now. If I wasn't hooked on hunting before this, I certainly am now and I'll do everything in my power to ensure I'm in the woods each and every fall.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taming the Swamp, Part. 2

Let's see. Where did I leave off in Part 1?

Ah yes. Swamp, at night, world's largest dragonfly, and no head lamp.

It's instances like this that having a back-up something is vital. There are a few items that I -always- carry an extra of: Knives, signaling device, ammo, and...Flashlights. You never know what's going to happen. You could easily lose your hunting bag, break a knife, whatever. You name it, it could probably happen. The last thing I EVER expected was to be attacked by a giant insect and slap my face so hard that I'd break my head lamp.

So I scrounged around in the dark for a few minutes and finally found my spare flashlight. I (hesitantly) turned it on and was relieved when no dragonfly came to attack it. I found the pieces of my headlamp relatively quickly. Most of the lamp had fallen down into a stump hole. Good news was that I didn't actually -break- the lamp, I just knocked the latch off the back and sent the batteries flying. I reassembled the light, strapped it on my head, and kept walking north. The Jeep -had- to be close by.

I walked/tripped/stumbled north for another half mile before I reached a thick wall of palmettos. Knowing that if I kept going north, I'd eventually hit a road that connected to where I parked, I just plowed through the bushes. Finally, after what seemed like a good 45 minutes of walking, I reached a road. Lucky for me, it was a road I had mistakenly driven down earlier that day and I found my Jeep tracks. I followed them the 1/4 mile back to the Jeep, and finally left the woods.

A few days later, I found myself back in the same swamp, pulling down my trail camera, and looking for a new tree to hang my stand. I was unhappy with the spot I hunted before, and it wasn't long before I found a suitable tree that bordered the southwest corner of the swamp. I did, however, encounter a problem that I hadn't had before. Most of the trees in the swamp have extremely wide bases. This means that every time I begin to latch my climber to the tree, I have to scope out almost all the cable to get it to fit. Then, once I'm only a few feet off the ground, the tree narrows and becomes a normal sized tree again.

This wasn't a big problem with the top portion of the climber since I can adjust it while I ascend the tree. The big problem was the bottom part. I'm not sure how many of you have ever tried to adjust the bottom portion of a climber while 20 ft up a tree, but it's nearly impossible. I was forced to sit down on the top part, lift my knees to my chest, reach down, unlatch the cable, scope out one section, then lock it back. It was extremely awkward, but I finally managed it and was able to climb to a decent height. I then snapped a few pictures of the new location. It borders a big 1/2 square mile palmetto thicket.

 I'd been up my tree for about an hour when I heard some bushes moving to my left. I let out a bleat call, and waited. Suddenly, I saw movement. A person's head popped up from out of the bushes, and started climbing a tree about 80 yards to my left.

Ugh, I thought to myself. I couldn't believe I'd been walked in on. ALL the way back in this swamp.

I whistled to the guy and he gave an apologetic wave, climbed back down his stand, and disappeared into the swamp. I still had about two hours of light left, so I decided to wait and see if I still might get lucky. At one point, I heard what had to be a deer crashing through the palmettos in front of me. The sound got closer, and closer, and closer. Close enough, in fact, that I stood up, and got ready to make a shot. JUST before the animal came out of the palmettos in front of me, it stopped, turned around, and crashed through the bushes in another direction. I never saw the deer come out.

Just before dark, I heard some more crashing and looked to see a head light way off in the swamp. Immediately, I saw a doe come running up to my stand. She bounced to within about 30 yards and stopped to look over her shoulder behind my tree. I -could- have shot at her, but it was too dark and I didn't want to risk not hitting her right. So I let her walk.

I started to climb down the tree and the head light came closer and closer to my stand. By the time I was almost at the bottom, the person had made it to my tree. It was another hunter and he apologized for walking in on my hunt. He explained that it was actually his father who'd tried to climb the tree nearby and we talked for a few minutes. He told me of an easier way through the swamp by walking along the edge of the nearby lake. I had no doubt that he knew what he was talking about (after all, someone else had managed to get all the way back here), but he was trying to tell me the lake was in a different direction than it really was. I thanked him for his advice, and went about trying to get out of the swamp.

This is where I made my mistake. Rather than walk the 150 yards to the east, THEN walk due north. I walked due north from my stand. I walked, and walked, and walked........and walked. I walked for at least 45 minutes, heading due north, before I reached the edge of the swamp. Nothing looked familiar. Palmetto thickets weren't where I thought they'd be, and the only path I could find -out- of the swamp, went due west (the wrong direction).

I decided to just plow through possibly the thickest batch of palmettos I could find. It took a good 15 minutes to move about 50 yards. FINALLY, I emerged onto a motorcycle trail. I figured I'd come out WAY to the east of my Jeep, so I started walking west. The trail twisted and turned, emerged out into a big open area, then ran due north. I followed the little trail for about 1/2 mile before, much to my dismay, it disappeared.

Great....I'm lost

Right about that same time, I heard a sound that I REALLY didn't want to hear: My cell phone dying. I flipped it open to see the little battery symbol flashing on empty. I figured someone needed to know that I was at least out of my tree safe, but still looking for the Jeep. The phone had enough battery for a few, short calls.

My girlfriend was less than amused to hear that I was hopelessly lost. I told her I'd call when I made it to the Jeep, and that I was turning off the phone in case I needed to make an emergency call later.

The next step was to retrace my steps. I followed the motorcycle trail all the way back to where I came out of the swamp and then kept following it to the east. It continued on for another 1/2 mile and finally came out onto a road. I realized immediately where I was (thank God). I came out almost 3/4 miles to the north of where I'd parked my Jeep.

As I walked south to where I'd parked, guess who I ran into?

Oh yeah, the guys who walked in on me. They'd driven down the road to check to see if I'd made it out, which was nice I suppose, but embarrassing beyond all belief. Because I didn't begin walking north from where I usually do, I wound up paralleling the road by about 100 yards to the west. I probably passed my Jeep at one point within those 100 yards.

The whole situation was certainly a learning experience, but one I hope to never have to learn again. The one good thing about the trip, was that I had my trail camera...and it had 15 pictures on it!!

I raced home, loaded up the pictures, and was bitterly disappointed.

Some days you just can't catch a break, and this was certainly one of those days. Every one of my pictures was of those other hunters.

I didn't make it back out to Lochloosa WMA to hunt the swamp for two weeks after this. School loaded me down, and I just never got a chance to hunt. Finally, this past Thursday, I had finished all my school work, and had an afternoon off.

I drove out to Lochloosa as quickly as possible and parked in a new spot along the edge of the lake. From there, I was able to follow a path easily that paralleled the lake. This path was infinitely easier to walk down than any path I'd come up with in the middle of the swamp. Luckily for me, I took my time and watched where I was stepping. Remember the Tuesday Terror from a few weeks back?
Pygmy Rattlesnake. Right in the middle of the path.

Not even 200 yards farther down the path, I spooked a full grown Bald Eagle that had been perched in a cypress tree above me. It's easy to forget how big those birds are, but it's always awesome to see one. Sadly, I didn't get a picture of it.

Once I finally made it to the back of the swamp, I found a little rub line and decided to hang the stand. Now this is where the hunt began to get -really- weird....I started to actually see deer!

Stay tuned for part three! It's easily the best yet.

Taming the Swamp, Part. 2

Let's see. Where did I leave off in Part 1?

That's right.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tuesday Terrors: American Crocodile

So there I was today, fresh out of my Practical Plant Taxonomy mid-term and getting ready to go hunt. All my gear was lined up: Bow, tree stand, back pack, fishing rod, and cooler. I planned to spend the whole rest of the day out in the woods.

Until I face planted in my bed and slept for four and a half hours.

Once I finally snapped out of my coma, I really wanted to be in my stand. However, the last thing I wanted to do was fill up the Jeep with gas, drive out to the woods, and haul all my gear to the back of the swamp...Then back out. So instead of going hunting/fishing today, I sat on my butt and played video games and relaxed for the first time in almost two weeks. I'll chase deer and catfish Thursday.

I didn't forget Tuesday Terrors though (even if I am writing this at 12:30 am Wednesday morning).

This week's Tuesday Terror is the American Crocodile. A surprisingly large amount of people are unaware of the fact that the US does, in fact, have crocodiles. The most common thing I hear is someone calling an Alligator, a crocodile.

Gator in the Glades
They are two completely different species and Florida is the only state in the US that has Crocodiles. However, their range is extremely restricted. I certainly won't be walking along the beach in Pensacola and run into one...Unless of course it escaped from the zoo.

Map taken from
The American Crocodile is restricted to the Everglades and 10,000 Islands region in South-Southeast Florida. It ventures into saltwater a bit more frequently than Alligators and primarily inhabits the Mangrove swamps in this region of the state. Mention a true Saltwater Crocodile and many people envision Steve Irwin wrangling a ferocious Croc in his khakis. The American Crocodile is actually a different species and thank God. They aren't nearly as aggressive as the Saltwater Crocodile located in places such as Australia. To give you an idea of the aggressiveness of those guys, I heard this story on the radio and found a couple of reports online.

Apparently the Croc jumped out of the water, and snatched a fisherman up to his shoulder WHILE HE WAS IN THE BOAT.

You can scratch "Kayak fish in Australia" off my Bucket List...Unless of course, I've already reached the end of my Bucket List.

The American Crocodile is apparently a little more...Chill (Though it's not something to go hug). There are a couple of key identifying features that one can use to distinguish omnipresent Alligator from the American Crocodile. I think the most obvious feature are their teeth. When an Alligator has its mouth closed, most of its teeth aren't visible. When the American Crocodile, on the other hand, has its mouth closed, almost all of its razor sharp teeth are visibly sticking out. Another key feature is the snout shape. Gators have blunt, rounded snouts. Crocodiles have very long, almost pointed snouts.

Photo taken from

Finally, the scales on a Crocodile's back can give it away. Unlike the a Gator's back which is kinda lumpy and the spikes on the tail aren't all that sharp, the Croc has near spikes sticking from its back and tail.

I of course, had only read these things for some of my classes like Wildlife of Florida. Given a bleach white skull on a lab desk, I could tell you the difference between a Croc and a Gator. But last spring I got a chance to see one of these American Crocodiles in the wild, and it was obvious it was a Croc.

While on a kayak fishing trip in the Everglades last February, I paddled into a small pond to start casting around. Immediately upon entering the pond, I noticed what looked like a giant gray pile of dirt on the far end. As I got closer, I realized that it wasn't a pile of dirt, but rather a Gator. A HUGE gator. I then did the only logical thing to do in such a situation...

I paddled closer.

Once I got within about 60 yards of the living dinosaur, I realized that it wasn't an Alligator. It was 100% an American Crocodile. Visible teeth on the outside of the mouth, huge sharp tail spikes, and a narrow snout. He was also gargantuan. I paddle a 16 foot kayak and I certainly didn't feel like the longest thing in the pond.

American Crocodile while on a kayak fishing trip

Even laying on his stomach, the Croc's back came a good 2 1/2 foot high.  I then snapped a few pictures, and decided to be on my way before it decided to move off the bank. It was a pretty cold day, so I doubt he really felt like moving, but I didn't want to push my luck.

I did a quick search to see whether or not there had been any documented attacks by American Crocodiles in the US. Though I did find many in Mexico, and some South American countries, I couldn't find anything about attacks in the US. That certainly doesn't mean it can't happen. It just means it hasn't happened yet. With conservation awareness growing for the species, and human population/expansion on the rise, an attack on a human in the coming years wouldn't surprise me in the least.

If you're ever lucky enough to see one, just remember to give it space. Please don't EVER feed one and have it start associating humans with food. And I wouldn't advise swimming near it. Other than that, you should be well prepared to encounter one.

Oh, and never go kayak fish in Australia.

I've still got quite a bit of catching up to do with my reports, so hopefully I can knock those out later this week. And if you haven't done so already, please vote in the poll on the upper right side of the web page. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Busy Busy

Please excuse my lack of reports and what not for the past week. All of my classes have ganged up on me and made everything due within seconds of each other.

So instead of doing this:

I'm busy studying crap like this:

I was even forced to miss out on a dove hunt this weekend. Luckily, after Tuesday, things should return to normal and I'll have plenty of chances to get out in the field.

Stay tuned, I have quite some catching up to do with reports! Oh, and while you wait, please feel free to respond to my poll located on the right of your screen --->. It closes in 5 days.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Taming the Swamp, Part. 1

Hunting around Gainesville hasn't been much different than hunting back home in the panhandle. Yes I am technically hunting in The Swamp...

But for the most part, the WMA's around here are lots and lots of pine plantations. I have, however, been hunting an area that's pretty new to me. It's Lochloosa WMA and it surrounds Lake Lochloosa which is about 20 minutes outside of Gainesville. I hunted there a few times last year and even managed to get a shot at a deer. Just like the WMA's I'm used to, Lochloosa is primarily pine plantation. However, the spot I've picked out is nearly pine-free.

It's a swamp that's approximately 3/4 square miles, so it isn't that big. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in obstacles. The swamp is -thick-, and has all sorts of horrible things waiting inside of it. The place I actually like to hunt is located on the south side of the swamp which is a little over a half mile walk from where I park. During scouting season, a buddy of mine and I encountered one of the many 'obstacles' I'd come to face. While walking around a big cypress, we stumbled across a mud hole that was full of water moccasins. As if watching where we stepped for fear of breaking an ankle wasn't enough, we got to throw poisonous snakes into the mix.

My first chance to actually hunt Lochloosa this season was Tuesday of this week. I geared up, got Management Unit Stamp, Hunting License, Archery Permit, Migratory Bird Permit, and Deer Permit (phew), grabbed some lunch, and headed out there early in the afternoon. I brought with me a trail camera as well as my stand. I even managed to fit the kitchen sink into my backpack so I took that too.

I realized once I got out into the woods that I'd overpacked. The combination of my stand, bow, and hunting bag weighed me down so much that I could barely move. I was forced to wear my bag on my chest, stand on my back, and carry the bow. I had thought ahead and plugged in the coordinates of the trail I needed to take in order to get to my spot. The moment I actually entered the swamp, however, I remembered why I -ALWAYS- carry a compass. My trusty GPS was instantly lost. No satellite signal thanks to the heavy overstory cover. I looked down at my GPS as it flashed 'Lost Satellite', and glanced back over my shoulder to see that I hadn't even lost sight of the Jeep yet. It was gonna be a long day.

So I began walking...and walking...and walking some more. It amazes me how easily one can get turned around in a swamp. Everything looks the same. I was forced to check my compass every 50-60 yards because rather than heading south, I'd discover I was heading east or west. To make matters worse, the weather was cliche' Florida archery season weather. The temperature ranged somewhere between the surface of the sun and hell, and I was forced to take several breaks to hydrate.

After an eon, I emerged on the south side of the swamp and put down my 1000lbs load. My watch read 4:00.

Really? I thought to myself. It seriously took over an hour to walk half a mile?

I quickly set about trying to find a suitable tree for my trail camera. I'd personally never used one before. I've always been to afraid that someone one snatch it up the moment they saw it. But I figured since it was an utter nightmare to get to the area I was hunting, and it was a Tuesday evening, no one could possibly mess with it until the weekend...right?

I set up the camera on a decent looking trail and got up my tree as quickly as possible. I checked my watch again and it read 5:00. A little less than 3 hours of shooting light which seemed perfect to me.

I took advantage of being bored and snapped a few pictures of the surrounding area.

Didja hear that??
Watched a several Pileated woodpeckers come and go, and watched an Armadillo dig around for about 20 minutes.

It was finally starting to get dark and I was getting ready to lower my bow and get out of there. My watch read 7:35. Suddenly, there was a bunch of crashing coming from the palmettos behind me. The sound was getting closer. I immediately stood up, readied my bow, and watched the bushes. Light was fading quickly so I -really- needed whatever it was to hurry up and come out of the brush. Closer and closer it came. Soon, I heard what sounded like a snort.

Hogs! It had to be. No deer would make that much noise. Just as suddenly as the noise appeared, it stopped. I watched carefully, looking for any sign of movement.

I barely saw it. Two animal figures moving -very- quickly (and quietly) through the cypresses in the darkness of the swamp. I had maybe 5 minutes of shooting light left. Why not? I thought to myself....

I didn't have a call, so I did the next best thing. I did a remarkably good impression of a snorting pig. Had I been in a pig calling contest, I probably would have gotten at least honorable mention. I'm really glad no one was hunting with me. Their laughter would have probably scared them off.

I waited about five minutes and nothing showed up. Just as I went to sit down to get ready to descend, I heard the sound all deer hunters loath. A deer blowing at me.

It wasn't was a buck chasing a doe. I'd completely forgotten probably the biggest difference between hunting the panhandle and hunting central Florida...The rut. Back home, the rut doesn't get going until early January. Down here, they're already scraping and chasing does. So it wasn't a hog snort I heard. It was a buck grunting.

Now, I'm just guessing here, but I honestly think the deer came to my award winning hog impression. They were 100% heading the other direction and it wasn't until I called that at least one of them turned around. Slightly disappointed, but still excited, I climbed down my tree and began solving the hunter's rubics cube; reassembling a climber in the dark.

Some nights I solve this impossible task relatively quickly. Other this takes ages and a little bit of cursing coaxing. After finally reassembling the stand, I loaded up my stuff and began to walk out. Since the camera was near by, I figured I'd go walk to it to make sure it worked. I walked right out in front of it picture was taken.

Dang stupid piece of... 'FLASH' 

Luckily for me, the purple spots faded pretty quickly. I didn't really worry about them either as I had a relatively important task ahead of me: Getting out of the the dark...with no marked trail. Easy...right? Just head North.

There's a pretty good chance that I found every cypress knee, root hole, and rotted out stump on the way out. At one point, I stepped down into a hole that swallowed my right leg up to my thigh. In an attempt to catch myself, I threw out my left leg only to have it find the same hole. I fell up to my thighs and plopped onto my stomach...slamming my stand into my back.

Shortly after I spooked a turkey that had roosted in one of the trees above me. I'm not sure how many of you have ever scared turkey before, but it sounds something like a Chinook helicopter taking off and puts your heart in your throat. 

I had made it about halfway through the swamp when I had one of the most unexpected things I've ever heard of, happen to me. There I was, tripping over every three dimensional object in the swamp, and minding my own business when suddenly, a bird/bat/winged beast hit me square in between the eyes. I was sure it was Satan's spawn itself come to claw my eyeballs out, so I smacked it...full force.

I was already a little on edge from the turkey scaring the life out of me so my hand hit my forehead hard enough to nearly knock me over. The blow broke my head lamp, and sent it flying into the dark. In the split second before I annihilated myself, I saw what the beast was. It was a dragonfly with close to a nine inch wingspan. It was -huge-. In my usual awesomeness, I missed the dragonfly and listened as it flew off into the dark. I was now standing in the middle of a central Florida swamp, at night, with a broken flashlight, and still a LONG way from the Jeep.

Yep, sounds like quite the way to start the season.

Stay tuned for part two!