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Florida Outdoors

Article Index

Alligator Hunting: A One of a Kind Experience -
by Kris Thoemke

Why They Call it Hunting Instead of Killing -
by Kris Thoemke

Florida's Other Crab - by Kris Thoemke

The Waiting Game - by Kris Thoemke

Mounted Memories - by Kris Thoemke

Eco-Touring in Collier County - by Kris Thoemke

Beyond the Largemouth Bass - by Kris Thoemke

Tying One On -- Some thoughts on how to get started tying your own flies -- by Kris Thoemke

The Big Cypress: Adventures in a Vast Wilderness
-- Kris Thoemke spends the day exploring the Big Cypress National Preserve with Preserve biologist Debra Jansen

A Basic Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing in Southwest Florida -- by Don Phillips

Four Strokes on the Water -- The sound of the future for marine outboards is likely to be much quieter --
by Kris Thoemke

Birding Big Cypress Swamp and the 10,000 Islands --
by natural history writer and photographer Jeff Ripple

Recycling Your Fish -- by Kris Thoemke

Peace, Paddle and Hunt -- by Kris Thoemke

 fish, camp, golf Florida outdoors

Why They Call It Hunting Instead of Killing
by Kris Thoemke

I considered the mid-February hunt a late Christmas present; two days of bow hunting for deer and hogs at Fred Babcock/Cecil Webb Wildlife Management Area (let's call is Cecil Webb for short) in Charlotte County. With the rest of the south Florida deer season closed for over a month, this was a rare opportunity to enjoy some time in the woods and hopefully put a little venison in the freezer as the seven month closed season begins.

The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission manages the 65,776 acre site for hunting and recreational use. The two day bow season is the second part of the deer hunting season at Cecil Webb. There is a nine day general gun season that begins on the last Saturday of October. Other than these two times and the open season for birds and small game, the majority of the site is closed.

Mike Kemmerer, a Commission wildlife biologist at Cecil Webb explained that the entire area used to be open year round. "In 1980 we made some changes and closed most of the land except for the recreation area. This helped to increase the herd and since then we've seen the number of deer harvested per year steadily increase."

Shortening the general gun season to nine days in 1987 brought a further increase in the number of deer harvested. These changes, combined with a well planned prescribed burn program, brought the deer herd up from about one deer per 447 acres in 1987 to one in 161 acres today.

News like this is bound to lift the spirits of any hunter, a group known for its eternal optimism. The only thing that separated Mike Cooper, my friend and hunting partner, and me from a deer was finding one of those patches of land with some deer on it.

Wanting to be prepared and give ourselves the best chance of success, we scouted the site. Two weeks before the hunt began, we made the 45 minute trip north on Interstate 75 to the exit for Cecil Webb. As you exit the superhighway and head west it is only a matter of a quarter mile or so until the paved road ends management area begins.

Our mission was to find our spot, the spot, where the deer would be when we returned. Finding signs of deer activity is easy. Tracks are the most obvious sign. Fresh scat or deer droppings, two of the more polite terms for deer poop are another sign that deer are active in an area.

We did a quick survey of the land and decided that a couple of fingers of land around the beautiful five mile long Webb Lake were likely to be holding some deer. What attracted us to these fingers of land was the patches of burned and unburned land adjacent to each other.

The unburned land, a pine-palmetto flatwoods, is prefect daytime cover for the deer. As a part of the overall management of Cecil Webb, the Commission does a considerable amount of prescribed burning. By the time we arrived for the hunt, the recently burned areas would be ripe with one of the whitetail's favorite meals; fresh green shoots of wire grass.

It didn't take long to find several spots where the deer were already moving from their cover to their feeding areas. We found some trees that would be good for our treestands. When we returned for the real event, we figured on being right on top of the animals.

Saturday morning, opening day of the hunt, we passed through the check station about 5:15 a.m. We headed east on Tucker's Grade then made a turn south on one of the many side roads. Two bumpy miles later, we parked the truck. With darkness as a cover, we made our way to the sites we'd picked out on the scouting trip.

Our choices were good. It wasn't too long after climbing up the tree Mike selected that three deer passed within 70 yards of his stand. A few hundred yards away, I sat about 15 feet off the ground and watched another group of four deer about 100 yards away for nearly 20 minutes.

Both groups were too far away for a shot with a bow, a fact we both agreed excited rather than bothered us. For us and most hunters the thrill of hunting comes from simply being in the woods, not from making a kill.

The site of a deer combined with the quite time spent looking and listening and a blazing red sunrise provided us with raw material necessary to embellish the stories we would tell our friends.

We left Cecil Webb empty handed in terms of meat to eat. But, by the standards of a hunter, our lives were enriched by the experience and our spirits sent to a new level of optimism. It's a good starting point for the next trip, the one where we will get a deer.

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