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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

The Waiting Game
by Kris Thoemke

Special to the Naples Daily News

A non hunter friend of mine once asked me what I did while sitting in my tree stand for hours on end waiting for an animal to get close enough for a shot. He thought it would be tremendously boring to sit or stand, more or less motionless, on a small platform hanging on the side of a tree.

Actually, those hours are some of the most interesting and revealing times I spend in the woods. Sitting in absolute silence and dressed to blend in with the surroundings, your goal is to become an unnoticed observer. When you achieve this level of anonymity, you have the chance to experience the subtleties of nature that few people ever witness.

Last October, I was bow hunting in an oak and cabbage palm hammock in Glades County. During the afternoon hunt, I kept track of what happened around me while waiting for a deer I hoped would come by.

4:00 p.m. - I've settled into a stand built on the trunk of an oak tree. Just off to my left is another oak with a feeder suspended from one the tree's major branches. There are some kernels of corn scattered on the ground beneath the feeder.

The first sounds that attract my attention are the dozen or so gray squirrels squawking and scampering about in the oaks and palms. The crunching sound they make when jumping onto the fronds of a cabbage palm, until I become accustomed to it, caused a reflex reaction that drew my eyes toward the noise and alerted my mind to the possibility of an approaching deer.

One squirrel approached my location on an overhead branch. As I looked up to see how close it would get, we held a brief moment of eye contact. Figuring me for something that wasn't a normal part of the habitat, the animal squawked and took off the way he'd come.

Gentle gusts of wind blow through the hammock. With each one, the leaves of the trees rustle enough to drown out all other sounds. It was during these moments that I was able to re-adjust my position and slowly stretch a leg or arm.

5:00 p.m. - I'm watching three squirrels feed on the remains of the corn dropped by the feeder prior to my arrival. About a half dozen others are close by but reluctant to leave the tree. Something keeps them wary of jumping onto the ground for the easy meal.

5:30 p.m. - The sudden whirring of the feeder as it scatters corn on the ground startles me. The air fills with a metallic clinking sound as the kernels of yellow field corn spit out of the feeder. The noise, I suspect, is the dinner bell for the hammock's residents.

The ground beneath the feeder soon had 8 squirrels neatly spaced out in the drop zone. Their squawking quickly gave way to the crunching sound of their teeth breaking open kernels of corn.

Ten or fifteen minutes pass and then the cardinals begin to arrive. First on the scene are a male and female pair. As they approach, their chirps allow me to locate the approaching birds and track them as they flit from tree to tree on their way to the feeder.

Followed them are several more females and a couple of males. As they fly in, their first stop is on the stub of an old frond on a cabbage palm near the feeder. From this perch, the birds hopped onto the ground for their meal.

There are now 8 squirrels and 10 cardinals on the ground, and the sound of cracking corn is easily audible. It's prime feeding time. A sound, undetected by my ears, alerted the birds and they flew off. It must have been a false alarm since the birds returned in a minute or two.

6:15 p.m. - One by one the squirrels stopped eating and silently disappeared up into the trees. With a loud flutter of their wings two mourning doves dropped to the ground and joined in the meal. After helping themselves to the easy snack, the two plump birds flew off. The sudden and loud pounding thump, thump, thump from the beating of their wings startled me and the cardinals.

6:30 p.m. - All the squirrels, except one, are gone. The cardinals, whose ranks have swollen to a dozen birds, continue to enjoy what is left of the food and the day's light.

About this time I also noticed that the wind gusts had dissipated. The new found quiet overpowered my senses. Now it was possible to hear every sound in the woods around me, from the claws of a squirrel digging into the bark as it scampered up a tree, to an oak leaf making a faint tink as it hit the ground

6:45 p.m. - The cardinals stayed until there was almost no light. One by one they flew off towards the darkness that settled in around me. As the sun, already hidden by distant clouds, headed for it's rendezvous with the horizon, distant objects begin to loose their detail, then fade first to a uniform gray and then to black.

At one point I swear I saw it get darker. It was like someone suddenly twisting the dimmer controlling the lights in a room. In that moment, the gradual and imperceptible march towards darkness registered as a discrete event.

With only the remnants of daylight left, the silence of the woods vanishes when a cicada begins a long uninterrupted song. A few minutes later a few more joined the songfest. The unseen insects kept up their high pitched buzzing until the light is gone. Suddenly, as abruptly as it started, the sounds stopped. Perhaps it is the signal that night is beginning.

Quiet returned to the woods. It was too dark now to continue the hunt.

As I climbed down from my stand, all I could think about was what a privilege it was to be a witness to this small part of life in the woods.

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