Dec 18 2011

Florida WMA Duck Hunting STA1

It’s late Sunday morning.  You’re driving North, Miami to your back,  camouflage canoe or kayak hanging out behind, stuffed with palmettos or coconut palm leaves and whatever else you could find to make yourself a blind.  Drivers pass you and wonder if you’re a landscaper and why you have a camouflage canoe in Miami.  It’s fine, they don’t need to understand, because you’re in the zone, thinking to yourself, “Did I bring everything”?

Do I have my shotgun? Shells? Decoys? Permits? Waders? Suddenly, a pickup passes you with a camo canoe in the back! No way he’s getting there first, so you’re stay on him, and the suspense begins.  If you’re lucky you already have a spot waiting for you because you thought about duck season months ago.  If you’re like me, you’ll just have to take the leftovers.

You get there at 12, sign up for leftovers, and start preparing any last-minute things, and talking about the last duck hunt, and your planned strategies for today.  At 1PM it’s raffle time, at this point the anxiety is at its peak.  The fact of the matter is, even after this long drive, you might have to go home if you don’t get picked…But your name gets called! You pick a great spot, you’re on your way to your truck, number in hand.  Drive passed everyone with a final good luck salute, and get on the dirt road along the levy.  It is here, where it’s official, you’re going duck hunting.  Put on a good country song, kick up some dust and drive on over to your spot.  Get on your waders, drop the canoe into the water, spread out your decoys, and get in.  Settle in with the coots, and soon enough, right on schedule, the ducks start coming around.

A flock nearby is obvious as all the hunters begin to serenade them with their own “best” calling style and decoy placement. Soon enough, they come around and you better be patient, because if you move, they’re outta there.  As they come towards you, you must sort out everything you know about their colors, wing-flapping patters, and sounds. Identify the bird, figure out if you can take it, and fire!  Dinner on the table, or another lesson learned?

This is a Wildlife Management Area public duck hunt on Florida Water Management District STA1.

Nov 13 2011

2011 Archery Season Opening in Bear Island

Mucho Mosquitoes, that’s for sure.  Season opened to a Doe and her fawn walking right in front of me.  The buck stayed back.


May 5 2011

Fishing for Oscars in Cacita Pond

With the 1 week of rest between classes coming to a close, I had to stock up my Aquaponics tank.  With nothing left but 2 Koi’s and an overgrown feeder fish, I needed more meat in the tank.  As planned in my previous post, I wanted to get some Oscars.  Off to the Glades.

My last hike to Cacita revealed lots of fish in this dried up pond.  So after trying to fish with bread by the canals near the Mikosukee Gaming resort, I made a quick run to Dade Corners, who supplied me with a fresh batch of worms.   After trying my luck again with the worms, and striking out, I decided to make a run for Cacita Pond.  An hour later, with 1 clean hour to fish, I made it.  And the result was some Alligator Gar, some Oscars, a couple Bream, and 1 lonesome Bass.  Oh yeah, and a whole lot of peace and quiet.

I stayed there until sundown in order to take a few long exposure shots.  Best one here.   Enough to see the gators come up from the bottom and start moving around.  Then back to civilization.  Here are a few pics of the catches.  I took home 1 Bream and 1 Oscar, which barely made it home, but survived.

Jan 17 2011

Florida Trail Map

This map was handed to me by a helicopter pilot that was a member of the park ranger service for the Everglades.  Until then, I had not found a map, as detailed, for North side of the Florida Trail pertaining to Big Cypress.  He told me it was handed down to him, so I took some pictures of it and handed it back.  I photo-shopped them together and this is the product.  Please leave a comment if this map helps you or if you know where I can find some more of it.

Detailed Map of the Florida Trail Coordinates

Florida Trail Map

May 7 2010

Also an Avian Shelter for birds

Apparently our home is becoming an animal shelter.

About a month ago a baby dove fell from our coconut tree.  My family and I didn’t know what would happen to it at a shelter so we decided to feed it.  My cousin, who ran a mobile Pet Shop for a while suggested what food and how to feed the dove.

On a side note: I used to shoot these guys with my BB gun when I was a kid until my mom caught me and said not to kill animals for no reason.  I lied, said I was gonna eat it.  Let’s just say my Dad ended up showing me how to cook a bird and I never killed them again.  Even though if I ever need to, and times are tough, roast dove will do the trick.

So we bought this food, which you mix with water.  When my hand was presented to his mouth he would but his beak between my fingers and perform the same motion as when his mother feeds him, except for the fact that it’s mouth would stay closed.

For the two nights he ate parakeet food grounded down and mixed with water and bread.  Until we bought this food.  We basically pried his mouth open with our fingers gently, and jammed the food in there.  He (we’ll call it a he for now) would swallow it and then start chirping for more.

With the formula, you just mix it with water and serve it through a feeding syringe until the gullet (area right under the neck) was full.

Well, to make a long story short, my grandma would feed him while I was at work, and my Dad would feed him when he got home.  So they’ve pretty much adopted the dove now and letting it go is going to be a difficult task.  Here he is now:

And then today, a Blue Jay!!

So last night, there was a baby bird in the middle of the street surrounded by about 10 stray cats.  One cat clawed him in the stomach and he started chirping and then they backed off.  My old man heard the commotion and went to see what was going on.  He shod away the cats and grabbed the little bird.  Turned out to be a baby Blue Jay.

Being that I had to work, and my grandmother didn’t wanna baby sit any more birds, I decided to put him in a shoe box and figure it out later.  Worst case scenario, he was already gonna die so feeding him twice a day would only have increased his odds of survival.  So I put him in a shoebox, I figured we’d solve it today.  He was trying to get out for about 2 hours until he gave up hope.

Turns out momma was looking for him in the morning.  She was chirping away on top of a power line, so we put him in a bush, and she came and got him, then they flew off together.  I hope the hole in his chest from the cat heals.

Aug 28 2009

First Florida Alligator Hunt

The history
I used to look forward to riding in my Dad’s pickup to Jet’s Florida Outdoors on Bird Rd in Miami, and pick up our quota hunt applications,  wile window shopping the store, and seeing the old timers exchange hunting stories.  I remember believing them as a kid and asking my dad, “why don’t we hunt where they hunt?” These guys were seeing deer left and right, while we were wallowing through the swamps of Loop Unit (that’s the area between Loop Rd. and Tamiami Trail), getting lucky to jump a deer, if that.  I didn’t realize until I got older, and started telling similar stories, that hunters and fisherman together, are mostly full of shit. 

So since I was good with computers, as soon as Florida Fish and Game started going online with their quota hunt system, I had the daunting task of getting the licenses, quota hunt permits, rules, etc. every. hunting. season.  This is still my job : (.

The permit
This year, I decided, “why not apply for a gator hunt?”.  Shoot, I see them all the time off of Tamiami Trail, we’re bound to get one.  So a few months later, when Florida Fish and Game sent me the “check your permit status” email, I had two gator tags waiting for payment.  The $250 beans I thought was kind of steep, but compared to what the non-residents pay, that’s nothin’.  So, without an airboat, I went home from work, and told my Old Man, “I’m going on a gator hunt, I don’t know on what, but I’m gonna do it, are you in?” 

Are you in?!?

He says, “OK, I guess we can take the canoe”.  We joked about it at first, until we realized there was no cheaper option.  And as time passed, it baked in our mind, that, we could actually do it.  The natives had done it this way in the past, why should we do it any different?  So I proceeded to read and explain to him “the manual”. Which in summary is this:
1) Find the alligator at night
2) Harpoon him with a special harpoon that will stay lodged under his skin, attached to a rope, so that you may tire him out.
3) Once he’s tired and you bring him in, get a noose around him to secure him.
4) Shoot him in the head with a bangstick.
Obviously, there a little more to it than that, but if you’re interested, read the manual here.

Yes, this canoe:
Broken Rib on CanoeLoosened Canoe Nose

The inventions
And we began to invent.  There’s the triple hook:
Home-made treble hook for alligator

The EMT harpoon:

DIY Harpoon

The canoe stabilizers, which were original made for sailing, but that’s an entirely different blog post:
DIY PVC Canoe Stabilizers

During this period, my cousing began to ask what we were up to, and was consequencially onboard.  He would sit on the floor, in the middle, of my XXX year old canoe, that was in “minimum condition for alligator hunting”.  Before he knew it, his truck was commissioned and we were off to scout.
Who needs a trailerAfter realizing how hard it was to load and unload the heavy canoe, we decided we needed a trailer.  So my Jet-Ski had to donate it…
Trailer DonationTrailer  used

We decided to scout once, about a month before the season, and saw gators all over the place.  It was exciting, as I love those creatures.  And without getting too much into the politics,
I’d just like to say that this was all their land until we humans came along and have pushed them to the small area left of Everglades and man-made canals.  We hunters pay a lot of money that goes into the conservation of the species, and are allowed to take a limited number that has been determined by scientists is the right number, to keep the population stable, and out of the city.  That’s all I have to say about that.

Now, back to the story, scouting day. We didn’t actually get in the water, there was no need during scouting season.  And then the rain came, and went.  And there was so much water, that the gators had places to go, so come hunting season, we didn’t see crap.  Little babies here and there, but nothing worth wasting a stamp on.  So we came back, and tried again, rowing down the canals, and again, and again.  And it wasn’t until the last day of the hunting season, that we lucked out, kind-of.

The hunt
It was a misty night, and the moon was partially out, so you could almost see clearly without the flashlights.  As soon as I parked the truck, I could see to eyes in the water, but with all the canoe comotion, they dissappeared.  The thing with hunting gators at night, is , you see these red eyes glaring back at you right over the water, but you don’t know how big the alligator is, until you get close enough.  And usually, if they realize you’re going towards them, they go under, and disappear.  The canal was extremely deep, so there was no shining down and spotting them.
So we finally get a good look at the same gator hiding in some lilly pads, on the sawgrass edge.  I got up, threw the harpoon, and missed completey.   I had practiced at home against a log, but it was different with a piece of rope at the end standing on a shaky canoe.
But the gator, just startled, came back up, so we went after it again, and it dissappeared.  This cat and mouse game continued for about 30 mins very slowly, until we where lined up right behind it. 
I whispered to my dad, “row very quietly and slowly”.  We got so close, that I could see his tail almost touching the canoe. My flashlight, hit his back and I could see how bid this alligator was.  It was about a 10 footer, with a back about 2.5 feet or so.  My eyes opened up huge.   I look back and tell my cousing, “broder tu vez el tamaño de ese animal” (translation: brother, do you see the size of that beast).  Before I finished he was already telling me, “tirale! tirale!  (translation: throw! throw!).  I licked my lips, threw as hard as I could towards his back, and with the same momentum dropped down into the shaky canoe.  It sounded like I had speared an Oak Tree, a deep resonating sound.  Everything was happening so fast!   Instantly, as soon as he got hit, he whacked his tail and went under, leaving a splash, wake, and a rocking canoe.   Not a second after, when I hit the seat, the rope started taking off.  So I grabbed it.  I was going to pull a little and give a little.  Pull a little and give a little?  I don’t know what the heck I was thinking!  As soon as I grabbed the rope, just enough to slow it down, it lodged itself against the edge of the canoe, and the front of the canoe went left.  I tried to go right, but found myself, straight up again, so I had to bail before I ended up under the canoe.  Nothing worse than a canoe and alligatore sandwich.  In my fathers words, “I was in the back, I saw the whole thing, You guys were going down and to the left, so I leaned right, and was catapulted in the air”.  Soon as we all surfaced, the first thing my dad says, “so did you let go of the rope?! where’s the rope?!?”.  That’s one of those character-building moments I guess, we’ll call it that for now.

In the water
On the way down, my foot kicked something, but being that it was completely dark, I coudn’t see.  I figured I had kicked my cousin or something, but he was nowhere to be found.  So I didn’t ask, until later, when I found out, nobody got kicked, and that was probably the gator, who was just as scared as we were.  My cousing was long gone, making a hell of a splash, when I said, “hay que salvar la canoa!” (“we need to save the canoe”.  To which he responded, “olvidate de eso!, nader coño” (forget the canoe and swim!! SWIM!).  By that time adrenaline was in full dose, and I was cracking up.  The canoe, which only had one bouyant side, since the other side’s foam had deteriorated, sunk.  vertically.  I tried standing on the tip to see if I could spot the gator, and it just sank more.  So the canal was at least 20 ft deep.  In the end, we all made it shore, and the gator popped up again.  We were wet, missing an antique Penn Rod, and a whole mess of other stuff I can’t remember.  But the bangstick was salvaged.  So we went after him again, just in case the rope was still attached.  He stayed pretty clear of us, but we could see his back was empty.  So he probably shook it loose.

Soaking wet, and gatorless, on the last day of the season, inexperience persevered.  And while I had two years to get a Jonj boat, I refuse.  I don’t mind gator hunting from an Airboat, or a Jon boat, but first, the task needs to be accomplished via canoe.  Come this June/July, I hope to get that chance again.  This time, I’ll attach the rope to a buoy, and hopefully, there won’t be any other painful mistakes unaccounted for.  Until then, see you later,  Alligator!

Alligator Hunt Ready