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 hogs…it 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 nights…like this night…it 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 and…nothing…no 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 swamp…in 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!