Florida Bowhunting Opener Tough, Hot and Buggy

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.

Steve Waters killed this fine Everglades buck a few years ago during the archery season.

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.

Check out this great deer call!

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. 

2 thoughts on “Florida Bowhunting Opener Tough, Hot and Buggy

  1. Myakka Chuck

    Hey, Steve! I believe I heard Alan Clemons thank you on this week’s webinar for saving his SFLA hunt by helping him find a spot to go to after an outfitter issue caused a change in plans. I sure hope he shared at least one of those backstraps with you. I would say you deserved it for pulling that one off, especially considering how quickly his hunt was over.

    I lived in Pembroke Pines from ’85 to ’95 (then moved back to Sarasota/Bradenton area) but I don’t remember many hunting articles in the Sun Sentinel from those days. Do you get to write about hunting much or is it mostly fishing (which is all we see over here in the lilttle local papers).

    1. Steve

      Hi Chuck,
      I mostly write about fishing, but I did have a hunting story for the opening of the archery season down here, and I usually have occasional stories about hunting deer, ducks, turkeys, hogs and alligators. I should probably do a story about Alan … he might have killed the first buck of the 2012-2013 Florida deer season!

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