Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton
I pulled into the Wildlife Management Area with so much excitement and anxiousness I thought I was going to explode! I thought to myself, “Where is everyone?” All the FloGrowns said public land in Florida is always a circus, but I literally saw only one vehicle at the entrance of the management area. I got into the woods late too. This was a good sign! Less pressure on the animals while I learn the land definitely couldn’t hurt.
I gradually drove the old dirt road as slow as my truck would go. Not only was I trying to be respectful just in case there were other sportsmen in the woods, but every image in front of my face had me in awe. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
I had never been to this piece of land before. The few quota hunts I received during the lottery I scouted pretty hard but they are not until November. This Wildlife Management Area doesn’t require a quota so pretty much it is as close to public hunting land as you can get in The Sunshine State. There are not many of these areas. Most require the lottery quota permit.
I heard the non quota areas are hunted out. It is said that the still hunters hit it hard first and then the dog hunters put the icing on the cake. The wild game that does survive the first month and a half will retreat into hiding and a lot of them will become nocturnal. At least this is what they say, but as my truck comes to a halt I am optimistic.
Hopping out of my F150 I take it all in for a moment then start throwing my gear on as quick as I can. In my mind I keep thinking a million people are going to pull up at any moment and we all are going to race into the woods. Not sure why this thought kept entering my mind especially since I make it a point to not hunt weekends.
I figured the weekdays would not have many other hunters utilizing the land but didn’t expect to be the only one. Well besides the one vehicle five or so miles back towards the entrance. I felt so lucky and knew I had to take advantage of this moment. I grabbed my bow and started the trek into the swamp.
GO DEEP, COVER YOUR SKIN AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK…
Photo by Justin Edwards
I was given a lot of advice from people who have hunted Florida most of their lives. The three main statements told to me were as followed:
- Go deep! Get as far away from the road as you can.
- Be sure to cover your skin. The insects will eat you alive. Have a Thermacell or wash your clothes in Permethrin. They also sell insect repellent clothing.
- Scout and do your homework. Know the map of the area and be sure to read each rule for any WMA you hunt. They all have their own set of rules, requirements, and regulations.
I did not scout the area prior but I did make sure to read all rules and regulations. Also I made sure my phone was fully charged so I could use my OnX Hunt app.
The app really makes hunting a new spot super easy and convenient. There is an off the grid setting that allows you to save a map of the area for when you lose service. So even when I lost all bars walking away from the truck, I was able to save spots of interest on my phone such as food sources and bedding areas. This is very important in patterning the animal/s you’re trying to harvest.
About a hundred yards in I spotted a game trail. I always go with my gut instinct and my gut was definitely telling me this was my trail. It was beaten down pretty well and was littered with hog and deer tracks. Definitely worth a save on the app.
I slowly crept through the soft leaves. My head was on a swivel and my eyes were focused. I continued to see sign and food. This was definitely looking good. I took my time as to not alert any other animals to my trespassing of their home.
STICKING TO MY GUNS
Photo by Justin Edwards
I came upon another game trail crossing into the one I was traveling. I figured this would be a good spot to post up for a bit. I checked the wind and picked out a good tree thirty yards from where the trails crossed. I then proceeded to quickly set up my run and gun stand.
After my stand was all set up and my gear was placed where I could easily access it with little movement I then sat back and started my wait. Literally minutes after resting my head against the tree I saw movement in the palmettos.
The doe slowly walked out onto the trail from a thick patch of overgrowth. She literally came out of nowhere. I was definitely not expecting that. She stopped and started looking around nervously.
I immediately thought I was busted. She must have caught a whiff of my scent. I tried my best to keep from sweating by moving slow but it must not have been good enough. She knew something was up, but then just as quickly as she appeared she relaxed and started walking along the trail.
I put the rangefinder on her and she was about twenty one yards away with no clue I was there. She gingerly walked by me as I contemplated taking her. She was now at thirty yards. This is my chance and time is quickly running out. I need to make a decision now.
I pulled the bow back and put the Tru-Glow behind her shoulder. This is the perfect shot! Just let go and that freezer will be full again within a few hours. My first Florida deer was right there. All I have to do is gently squeeze that Tru-Fire trigger. Decide now!!
I slowly dropped the bow to my side, wiped my brow, and sat down. Today is not her day. As much as I want to harvest my first Florida whitetail, she is not what I set out for and I refuse to settle on impulse.
I told myself while preparing for the season that I really wanted to target boar or a buck larger than a spike. It may seem ambitious for land hunted so hard but this is what I wanted and the goal I set coming into the season. I know they are out there. I’ve seen the sign. I just have to be in the right place at the right time.
She continued to walk away, as I watched the thick area she originally came out of hoping a buck would be hot on her trail. I had a feeling he wasn’t so I relaxed back into my stand and continued the waiting game.
As dusk fell upon the swamp I sat there thinking of my decision to let her walk. I feel it was the right one. Sure a hunter may end up harvesting her the next day but that’s not my concern. I am glad for them not spiteful. It’s not a race or competition to see who kills what first. I set my goals at the beginning of the season and I intend to meet those or at least try my hardest to.
As darkness engulfed my surroundings I slowly climbed back to the ground. I loaded all my gear onto my back and headed to the truck. So many thoughts running through my head about this season. My body knew the way out as my mind went else where.I feel I have prepared as much as one person can do for their first season in a new state.
I followed the advice from my Cervicide Regional Director Kyle Sheffer, studied maps for hours, spoke to the locals, saved key areas onto my OnX Hunt app, and put boots on the ground for first hand knowledge. All I can do from here is to level up on my experience. This was only day one in a new place. There will definitely be a day two, three, four, and so on. You can count on that!
CONTINUING THE JOURNEY
I’ll continue to share this journey for my first public land wild boar and Florida whitetail buck. Once I am successful you can definitely expect a blog and video. I hope this helps or motivates other hunters/huntresses to pursue public lands they may have been neglecting in their home state.
I have lived in Florida for five years and never once really considered hunting it until I joined Cervicide. I mainly hunted Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania so Florida was definitely an afterthought. I’m not sure if I did that because of my confidence in the states I grew up in or if I was just flat out scared of failure.
Being in Cervicide definitely gave me that extra boost of confidence I needed to not only explore my backyard but also to document it as to share with others. So if you haven’t hit a spot because of whatever reason, maybe now is the time. If you’re like me and want to break that safe zone mold around you, then jump in with both feet. Yea you could fail, but what if you don’t? Think of that.
To see more of what Justin has going on follow him on IG at Outdoor_Enthusiast90 and to see what’s going on at Cervicide checkout our IG at Cervicide and on YT at Deer Slayer TV