Three Florida Black Panthers have been recently sighted in this swamp. Like me, they’re here for the hogs. The terrain is mottled with high and low spots. The elevated hammocks resemble a chain of islands that reach through the tangled swamp. From the air they remind you of the black squares of a checkerboard, connected by their corners. This feature of the Florida swamps is their secret of diversity and abundance. The dry hammocks offer a bounty of edge habitat. Dry meeting wet and live oak flats meeting palmetto thickets. This edge is the key.
Not all Florida hog hunts will give you the experience that I had this memorable morning. The key to success is choosing an outfitter who is both a bowhunter and runs a small exclusive operation. Butch Mullet and his Mossy Back Ranch is an excellent choice. Maybe the best.
This dawn I’m not alone in the swamp and here the morning hunt is not a novel idea.
The full moon is streaking through the Spanish moss which shrouds me like lacy curtains. Tawny brown oak leaves that fell last fall carpet the ground. They are as fragile as corn chips and they give away every footfall on the swampy hammock. At eyelevel is a palmated frond of a tall palmetto. This is the plant that dominates the Florida landscape. The giant leaves resemble a folded paper fan. It stretches out toward my face like an upturned hand.
The hammock is bathed in a chorus of morning sounds. Swamps are not quiet places. On the contrary it is almost deadening with the morning calls of wood peckers and blue jays. Thrushes are flitting around under the canopy with the noisy Neotropical songbirds and wrens. Bugs are on the breakfast menu. Spring is a busy time and all must eat daily to keep the cycle in motion.
I believe that it is some sort of a sin for a bowhunter to go to Florida and not bowhunt hogs. I think God had arrows in mind when he created hogs.
Without warning an Anole lizard, we call them Chameleons, charges across the Palmetto frond directly at my face. His charge across the reverberating frond sounds like he is racing across a snare drum at me. I jerked my head sideways to avoid this yet unidentified attacker and then make him out at 12 inches. He has successfully caught his breakfast…a black fly that wasn’t paying close attention. I enjoy his presence and compliment him on his morning hunt with a nod. This morning we are both swamp hunters.
Like the non-native chameleon that was brought here from a distant Caribbean shores long ago, my quarry was brought here in the holds of Spanish ships four and five hundred years ago. The early explorers routinely kept small wild boar with them.. The plan was to release them on islands to free-range and reproduce. Future sailors could stop and hunt them and procure an easy supply of pork. In some cases they left theses swine go on continents. One of these release sites was in Florida.
They reproduce like flies and now Florida is covered up with black hogs that had their origin with the early explorers. This morning I also have eating in mind as these Florida hogs still taste as good as they did 400 years ago. I have come with a bow and arrow. My plan is to intercept the black hogs as they move from hammock to hammock along the narrow connector points.
Barred Owls are also hunting in the morning twilight as the swamp comes alive with grey squirrels. The owl uses a unique strategy of aerial stealth to hunt his quarry and in the distance is see a “who cooks for you?” owl dipping and rocketing through the canopy toward me. I freeze blending in with my camo. He lands on a branch only 8 yards in front and above me. The ancient oak he has chosen for a look out resembles an inverted grey spider with its legs reaching up 40 feet into the sky. The “hairy spider legs” are draped in Spanish moss which further reminds me of a “Wolf Spider”. A particular grey squirrel had been noisily digging in the leaf litter in front of me for the last ten minutes. He was digging up fungus and filling his belly. Unlike the crow that flew over a few moments ago whose wing beats broke the morning air with saw-like sounds, the owls approach was totally silenced by the fluffy edges of his primary wing feathers.
Stalking through the swamp is one of my favorite hunts. Although hogs rely primarily on their nose… don’t overlook concealment. I chose Gods Country Camo for this hunt and it blended in perfectly.
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Although I watched his approach, I and the squirrel could not hear his swoop onto the limb. The owl tilted his head back and forth and zoned in on the squirrel with his pinpoint hearing. The head tilt was the factor that saved the life of the squirrel. Always looking up for trouble, the squirrel had noticed his pursuer above him. In a flash he dashed behind a tall palmetto and into the underbrush. The Barred Owl would go without breakfast… but not the squirrel. The squirrel’s eyes had saved him. Would I have the same luck this morning as the owl?
My stealth depended upon my ability to outsmart, not the hogs eyes, but his nose. My set–up was downwind of the hog trail. A few fronds of palmetto shielded my outline as I leaned against he twisted oak trunk and surveyed the dense cover ahead for movement.
I anticipated that the hogs, which travel in family packs like wolves, would be moving together.
Hogs are not experts at stealth. They usually give away their approach because they grunt and croak at each other as they move through the underbrush. Their best defense against predators is their nose. That “rooter” can smell as efficiently as the nose of a whitetail deer. This morning it is 2007 and I’m using some current technology. There is nothing wrong with current technology. The Indians quickly adopted iron for broadheads once it was available. This hunter is no different. My plan is to cheat their nose by wearing base layers that use spider web size silver threads kill human skin bacteria and since last fall, I have been taking little green pills daily that rely on a chlorophylin compound that destroys body odor from the inside out. Scent suppression is important.
Like Indians of old I have chosen to use a bow. While the owl is a fast striker my bow shoots a flat 306 fps…faster than the swoop of the predator perched above. Its compression molded limbs are very efficient when it comes to launching my arrow with sufficient kinetic energy to penetrate a hog’s thick shoulder. My bow is the result of a long line of engineers who connect back a man named Fred Bear. Fred Bear got his inspiration from a man named Art Young who knew Americas last wild Indian named Ishi. I feel that heritage in my left hand as I grip this improved ancient weapon.
The wild hogs who own this swamp have cutter tusks that are whetted by the lower canine. Their tusks are spooky sharp. They use them in dominance battles. My system for inflicting damage is a broadhead that cuts a total cut of 2-inches and it uses Maxx edge technology to allow it to be honed to an amazingly sharp edge.
Two Osceola gobblers sound off on a hammock further to the west. I can faintly hear their backpedaling wings as they fly down to begin another hunt for food and hens. It seems that we are all hunting this morning. And like my fellow hunters, I feel a primal draw to participate in the kill.
I heard the approach of the hogs because of a grunt. Now I would be ready. Like a bunch of school boys dashing for the bus, the hog herd dashed into sight as if on a mission. Their path took them to within 16 yards but they didn’t slow until they were almost out of sight. One boar hog separated from the group and wandered into a swampy low spot carpeted with Arrowhead and native Irises. I left my hide and with the wind in my face, crept toward the black hog…bow at ready.
The herd had stopped 50 yards further and were rooting grubs. As I left my hide and started the stalk I felt a new connection with the hunt. My breathing was deeper and my senses more honed. I stooped and assumed an old pose that I didn’t have to summon… like my next breath, it was already there. My eyes darted and scanned for other hogs that might give away my stalk. Again this wasn’t a planned strategy; it was an ancient one that welled up on its own.
My foot steps were calculated and slow. Stop in the shadows. Move when his head is down. I felt alive and connected. It is as if this hunt, that I am an actor in, was being replayed from an old film archive. The hunt is part of who I am. I released the “hunt gene” when I had taken up my position along the trail in the dawn light. Like the snake charmers flute, the morning serenade of charging chameleon feet, thrushes, owls and Osceolas had drawn this hunter out of his urban shell and into the hunt. At this moment in a Florida swamp, I know why I am pursuing this hog with a bow. It’s who I am.
At 18 yards I could hear him making faint grumbling sounds as he rooted. The wind still brushed my face as I drew my bow. The arrow found its mark and the hog spun to identify the danger. I froze after the shot, my camo blending with the mottled sun now streaming through the canopy. The boar hog collapsed while still surveying the familiar swamp. The swamp is full of morning hunters. This morning he had lowered his guard in the age old game of the hunter and the hunted.
Where am I- I conducted this hunt with a friend who owns a 1000 acre ranch east of Sarasota. His name is Butch Mullet and he is not only a quality bowhunter but a great guide.
The Bear Code – outfitted with compression molded limbs and perimeter weighted solo cam. I shoot it at 70 pounds and the arrows sizzle. www.fredbearoutdoors.com
NULLO – these Chlorophyllin compound internal deodorant pills mask my scent even in the stagnant air of the swamp. I take them because they give me a deserved advantage.
XGO – This high tech base layer is made for action guys. Thin silver threads give this base layer the unique ability to mechanically kill human specific bacteria and the inner surface is treated with a persistent topical anti-microbial. Just what you need to hunt a steamy Florida swamp where scent is a real issue.
GRIM REAPER – I’m particular about broadheads. I demand integrity, performance and penetration. The Grim Reapers Razortip mechanicals I shoot are all of that. www.grimreaperbroadheads.com
For more bowhunting how-to go to www.whitetailu.com