Bowhunters in South Florida get to chase white-tailed deer earlier than any other place in the country, which is good news and bad news.
By Steve Waters
Instead of having to wait until October to grab your bow and treestand to head for the woods, you’re hunting deer in late July on private land and early August on public land.
But that also means you’ll probably slog through a foot or two or three of water to get to your hunting spot before daylight while hoping to not attract the interest of an alligator or water moccasin.Wherever you set up, clouds of mosquitoes will soon be there to welcome you, which means you’d better have a fresh pad and butane cartridge in your ThermaCELL. A bug suit wouldn’t hurt, either.
Shortly after the sun rises, so does the temperature, which typically tops 90 degrees in the summer. Combined with the high humidity, that’ll have you sweating in the shade. And don’t be surprised if you get rained on — thunderstorms sweep across the Everglades pretty much every afternoon.
The sounds you hear bowhunting in South Florida are different, too. Instead of the crunch … crunch … crunch of dry leaves, it’ll be splash … splash … splash as deer walk through cypress swamps and flooded prairies.
I’ll never forget my first hunt deep in the Big Cypress National Preserve, a sprawling 711,000-acre public hunting area an hour west of Miami. I asked my friend Jack, who had hunted there for 40 years, what type of hunting boots to bring. He told me to just wear old sneakers and plan on getting my feet wet.
Jack would drive us through the woods in his homemade buggy, which had a raised platform with seats atop the chassis of an old Suburban fitted with tractor tires. My feet were wet 30 seconds after he dropped me off each morning and they stayed wet until we got back to camp each evening. (My sneakers took a week to dry out after the hunt.)
One afternoon, with the wind increasing and thunder booming in the distance, the pine tree my stand was attached to began to sway. I climbed down just as the rain and lightning arrived, crawled under some palmettos and prayed that none of the branches that were snapping in the storm would land on me.
After the storm passed, I heard Jack approaching, so I grabbed my gear and rode back to camp with him. After drying my bow and changing shirts, I sloshed about a mile away, put my stand in a tree at the intersection of two flooded trails, hunted til dark and spooked a couple of deer on the way back.
The following morning was gorgeous and after climbing into my stand, I stretched and took in the beauty of the woods before pulling up my bow into the stand.
While I was stretching, I heard a tinkling sound. I looked and 20 yards broadside was a buck relieving himself in the trail.
If you’ve ever tried to pull up your bow quietly, you know it can’t be done. The buck wasn’t sure what made the noise, but he walked 50 yards away just to be safe, leaving me with no shot and a valuable lesson learned.
Steve Waters is the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel newspaper in South Florida. View more of his stories at SunSentinel.com/outdoors.