Hunting in Florida - The Early Years

By: Glenn Wilsey, Sr.


I’m going to take you on a trip back in time, to 15,000 years ago. Early Florida looked a lot different than it looks today. Even the animals were different. Florida was just coming out of the last ice age. When the words ice age come up, lots of people think of an earth completely covered in ice. Well that’s not quite how it works, during the last ice age the earth was half covered in ice. The freeze and ice line drifted down to a little more than half of North America. Florida looked a lot different then, because the water level at that time was about 350 feet below what it is today. 15,000 years ago Florida was about the size of Texas. That’s a lot of prime ocean front real estate that is now under water. Florida looked a lot like the Great Plains of the mid west. Looking off the east coast of Florida was like looking off the side of a mountain, 350 feet down. Looking to the west was flat and slowly dropped down to the Gulf of Mexico. Back then the Gulf of Mexico must have looked a lot like a bigger Lake Okeechobee. Florida was a mass of flowing grass with small forests of trees.

The animals were a lot different and much bigger. We had the (Columbian) Wooly Mammoth that stood 14 feet high and weighed 10 tons. The wooly mammoth liked to graze on grass, shrubs and small trees. The ground Sloth was another animal that was very large and stood as much as 25 feet tall on its hind legs. The ground Sloth foraged for leaves of trees and would also graze on tall grasses. These big animals were generally passive, but they had the size and strength to protect themselves from usually smaller predators, including man. Some of these large animals were a food source for man, but it wasn’t easy. Hunting these big animals was dangerous. 15,000 years ago man didn’t have the sophisticated hunting tools of today. He had spears, but they were nothing more than sharpened sticks. It was impossible for a man to kill a wooly mammoth on his own, so early man went hunting in groups.

The hunting group would look for something to kill for dinner. When they found something like a wooly mammoth grazing near a forest they would sneak up and start stabbing at the animal with their spears. They did not throw their spears. Their spears were not heavy enough to throw with any accuracy and stick into the animal deep enough to damage the internal organs and kill the animal. They all had to take turns. One person would run up to the mammoth from behind and thrust his spear into it, then pull his spear out and run. Of course, the wooly mammoth would turn to run after the little man that poked him with the sharp stick. At that moment another person would run up from another direction and thrust his spear into the wounded animal and it would turn to run after that person. This would go on and on until the mammoth bled enough to die from the loss of blood. It could take hours or even days for the mammoth to die. I’m sure that not all of the hunting party was lucky enough to get away from the angry mammoth. The wooly mammoth was big, but he was fast, so the first few people to run up to the large animal were very likely to have been chased down and stomped to death. Once the wooly mammoth had been killed, they didn’t bring it back to where they lived, it would have been much too big to move. Instead, they moved their families close to the kill site. They would set up camp and feed everyone for as long as the meat lasted. The people back then didn’t stay in the same place all the time any way, because they had to follow the migration of the animals they ate.

The groups of people that hunted and lived together were usually all members of an extended family. This was their tribe. The tribes, as I said, moved around a lot which is called being nomadic. Members of the tribe had different jobs. Some of the people of the tribe went hunting; by the way that was the most dangerous job. Some of the tribe members would go out looking for berries, fruits and other plants that could be eaten. Other tribe members stayed at the camp to keep the children safe or to make tools and lodging. If I were a tribe member back then I probably would have been a berry picker, because hunting mammoths was way too dangerous. Besides the meat that the hunters provided, the tribe needed fruit and vegetables which they found as they wandered or carried with them. When they threw away seeds and other parts of plants that they didn’t eat, some of it sprouted and began to grow new plants in spots where those plants hadn’t existed before. The tribe eventually learned that certain plants that were good to eat would be available in a certain area at a certain time, so they would plan to go to those areas at that time. There would be good food to eat because the fruit and vegetable plants also attracted the animals that the tribe liked to eat. Then they learned that they could get more from those plants if they planted them on purpose in a manageable area and took care of them rather than having to look for them growing wild in the woods. The tribe stayed longer and longer over time, until some members of the tribe decided to stay in each area where they’d stopped to maintain their fields of crops. That is how we developed permanent settlements and sustainable agriculture, but Gatorman is getting ahead of himself.

As time went on the weapons of hunting changed and were improved. This made things easier for the hunters. Man learned to sharpen flat stones and use them as tools. They could now use sharpened stones to separate the skin from the meat of an animal and to cut the meat into pieces. They also figured out that they could attach the sharp stones to the ends of their spears. The hunters could thrust a spear much further into an animal, penetrating through the fat of the wooly mammoth for example, and hit the vital organs. Also, with a heavy spearhead, the spear could be thrown accurately and from further away at the large animals. This new hunting method killed the big animals faster. Now a lot less of the hunting party were stomped to death because the animal died faster.

The stone spear tip became a new way of hunting the big animals. As the hunters would thrust their spears into a big mammoth, they would still turn and run, but it was now harder to pull out the spear because of the stone tip. The stone tip would often get stuck in the mammoth and sometimes break off. Now the hunter would have to run away with just a stick in his hand, not even a pointed stick. Before long, the hunters figured out that they could make a spearhead that fit over the end of the spear and so the detachable spearhead was invented. The hunter could now thrust his spear into the mammoth and run away as before, and as he ran he could attach another tip to the end of the spear and be ready for his next thrust at the beast. This made things safer and easier for the hunters. As time went on, even better and more efficient means of hunting were invented. Next month I will tell you about some of them.


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