Over the years, the Everglades have been carved up by roads and canals, drained, developed, flooded, farmed and polluted, yet hunters can still go out in what’s left of the River of Grass and bag deer, ducks, wild hogs and alligators.
By Steve Waters
Before hordes of humans moved to South Florida, the Everglades stretched south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay at the tip of the peninsula in what is now Everglades National Park.
A hurricane in the 1920s that caused Okeechobee to flood, killing several thousand people, resulted in a dike being built around the lake. Canals also were dug so water could be moved quickly before, during and after a major storm.
The rich muck of the ’Glades was ideal for growing sugar cane and vegetables. Farms now occupy most of the land immediately south of the lake in what used to be the northern Everglades.
As the number of people moving to South Florida spiraled ever higher, development moved westward, with houses built in what used to be the Everglades.
The 671,000 acres that make up the Everglades Wildlife Management Area are open for hunting. Being a giant wetlands filled with sawgrass and sprinkled with islands, the deer hunting in the ’Glades is tough.
Some hunters walk the levees that border the canals, then wade out to an island and wait for a deer to come by. Many diehards hunt out of airboats or buggies or, in dry years, from ATVs. The vehicles allow hunters to cover more marsh. That’s a huge advantage over the old days when Gladesmen would pole a canoe into the marsh and stay out for a week or more, camping on islands and shooting whatever creatures they could eat or sell.
Most hunters who draw permits to hunt alligators in the Everglades use airboats, running at night and using a spotlight to locate gators, whose eyes glow red in the light.
Duck hunters use airboats and shallow-running johnboats to access sloughs where waterfowl hang out. Ring-necked ducks are the most numerous, but there are always some mottled ducks around. When water levels are low, blue-winged teal move into the ’Glades. When duck season ends, some waterfowlers switch to snipe.
You’ve probably heard about the giant Burmese pythons that eat deer and alligators in the Everglades But there are only a relative handful of them in the management area and
they’re usually found on levees and islands. The majority of the exotic snakes, which got established when they grew too big for their cages and were illegally released by their owners, live in Everglades National Park, where no hunting is allowed.
Adjacent to the Everglades management area is the 711,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve, which is a mix of oaks, pines, cypress, cabbage palms, prairies and swamps.
Big Cypress has deer, wild hogs and wild turkeys, as well as squirrels, rabbits and a few quail. Florida panthers and black bears, both of which are protected and cannot be hunted, also make their home in the Big Cypress, along with coyotes, raccoons, rattlesnakes and skunks.
Steve Waters is the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel newspaper in South Florida. Read more of his stories at SunSentinel.com/outdoors.
Florida’s Zone A deer bow season opens Saturday morning, and Deer & Deer Hunting will be in the stand! Check back this weekend for updates and photos from the hunts!
If you are a deer hunter in South Florida this weekend, email your hunting photos to firstname.lastname@example.org for our photo gallery.