Bow Hunter Waiting in Tree

Blood Trails

Alex Vail 10.6.2012

Ohhh boy. Don’t do this to me now…

Water was already starting to rush through the plug hole in the floor board as the Wrangler started to bog down. A steady gurgle could be heard from the exhaust as Jeep slowed to a halt underwater.

Clutch. Neutral. 4×4 H. Ease it along…

Water begins to wash over the hood and the Jeep starts to sink.

Ok, seriously. Please…

Suddenly the tires found traction, and the Jeep slowly crawled forward on to semi-dry land.

It’s wetter this bow season than last. A LOT wetter. The woods are practically flooded, and now far different than last year. Some “go-to” spots are now underwater or even overgrown. It’s time to find new areas. Adapt. At least until things dry up. We get an absurd amount of rain for being the Sunshine State.

And with disaster narrowly avoided, I arrived at the section of the management area I wanted to hunt. My initial plan was to hunt a narrow swamp bottom between two sets of upland pines. After stepping out of the Jeep and wandering toward the swamp bottom I realized that this plan wasn’t going to happen. Even the upland pines were flooded. Though not particularly deep (ankle to shin height), I wasn’t excited about wading around in the wrong kind of boots. And to be honest, what really drove me out was the mosquitoes. Even after a thorough deet bath, they were pretty bad. But some places are just hard to apply bug spray to; eyelids, lips, and the insides of the nostrils were all fair game for the bloodsuckers. It’s rather unsettling to watch the big ones bite through the briar guards on your pants, and it’s less than pleasant to inhale them through your nose. No swarming death clouds for me, so no swamp bottom.

Instead I opted to hunt a small ridge on the opposite side of the road. Really it’s only about 4-5 feet higher than the surrounding area, but by Florida standards…it’s a ridge. And lucky for me, it was dry.

A quick look around confirmed that deer had indeed been present within the last decade. Unfortunately the ridge is kind of scrubby. Short scrub oaks, palmettos, and sand pines. But after quite a bit of searching, I found a suitable tree to hang my climber from.  I should note that even though there was no standing water within sight, the mosquitoes weren’t much better and by the time I got my climber locked on, I was in desperate need of a blood transfusion.

Once up the tree I got settled in, put on my leafy-suit, and pulled my recurve up. I then set about taking care of the blood loss problem. After working all spring/summer with Whitetail in the field, I became a firm believer in the ThermaCell. I got the little machine cranked up and reached to set it down on a flat part of my climber. As I let go, I watched in horror as it slid to the side, fell through a gap in the stand, and plummeted to the ground below.

Well…I’m dead.- Was my first thought as I wiped a big black smear of dead mosquitoes off my forehead.

I’d already made enough noise climbing, so I opted to just sit. Luckily the bugs died down after a few minutes and I figured the ThermaCell must be working…Even if it was 20 some-odd feet below me. I finally got comfortable and checked my watch. 4pm. I glanced up at the sun. 4 more hours of light.

It was then that I realized I was completely drenched in sweat. Florida doesn’t have a “fall” bow season. Let’s be honest: It’s just late summer. Prior to leaving the house I checked the temperature and a cozy 88 degrees doesn’t count as fall. Summer will be here for at least another month.

I sat for the full 4 hours without seeing a single deer. Something a few hundred yards to the north of me spooked several deer about 45 minutes before dark. I heard them snorting, running and then…splashing. Unbeknownst to me, there was standing water in –that- direction as well. The splashing continued for a few minutes before the deer finally found dry land, and that was the end of it.

Right before dark the mosquitoes came back and launched a second wave of attack as I climbed down the tree. I thought to myself- Well, thank God the Therma-cell is running. I’d hate to see how bad the ‘skeeters would be if it…

Was off… I reached down in horror to see that the plummet from the tree actually turned it off. The “after-dark” swarms of mosquitoes are on a different scale than your “middle-of-the-day” swarms. Once the sun sets, they appear on an apocalyptic scale.

I tried to hurry as best I could. The whole time, picturing what I’d look like as a shriveled husk of a hunter, bled completely dry.

I’m not sure how many of you have ever tried to reassemble a climber in a hurry, but it becomes an increasingly impossible task the faster you go…especially in the dark. I eventually just gave up, bungee-corded the two sections together, grabbed my recurve and backpack, and ran back to the Jeep with the stand over one shoulder.

While driving out of the woods, I’d forgotten about the giant puddle until the spotlights hit it.

Here we go again…

Just another bow season in Central Florida.

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