by Mike Warren

It was a cold Saturday morning in January during the last weekend of deer season in the East Everglades. As I waited for my turn to move my airboat out, I pondered the events leading up to this day. A good friend had invited me along to deer hunt with him several times before but I had never gone because of one reason or another. However, this time I made sure I went because it would be one of the last deer hunts in the area forever. I had never hunted out of an airboat or with dogs and had no idea what to expect. I was nervous because I had not driven my boat in 6 months, had no
where near the airboating experience of the others, and was worried about making a mistake that would ruin the hunt for them. As I pulled out I wondered if I made a mistake canceling my dove hunt for this. Little did I know what a special day this would be.

As I tried to keep up with the others I calmed myself down and got used to driving an airboat again. Thankfully, they were all very patient with me even when I thought I got stuck in the grass. I wasn’t really stuck. I just thought I was. It was my inexperience and nerves. My friend patiently cut a trail for me and reeducated me on the finer points of using my rudders and the gas pedal. Needless to say after that I never got “stuck” again. I suddenly discovered the gas pedal and gave some veteran airboat drivers a good laugh. My driving improved considerably and we continued on hunting several heads with no success. The group talked it over and decided to turn the dogs loose on one more spot before calling it a day. We cranked up and moved toward the head.

I took up a position where I was told to stop and shut my engine down. Once again I climbed down off the seat and grabbed my shotgun out of the case laying on my grass rake. I stood on the deck and watched the trees in front of me waiting for a deer. As I stood there waiting I told myself that at least I had fun driving my boat and learned some important lessons. All of a sudden I heard an airboat powering up on the opposite side and the sound of dogs in the distance. I had no radio but knew he must have seen something. At least the group would be successful but I still had not heard a shot. All of a sudden I heard a familiar splashing sound but no bells. It was a sound I had heard before from my treestands in Big Cypress and a sound I heard a month and a half before when I harvested my first Big Cypress buck in 11 years. As the sound came closer I told myself to calm down that it was probably a doe. Suddenly it emerged from the trees about 35 yards away and I gazed upon the large rack on the deer’s head. I see it in slow motion now but it was a split second reaction when it happened. As I leveled my Mossberg at his shoulder his head turned and he stared at me as the report sounded through the swamp. His shoulder slumped down and he ran off to the right as I racked the slide and fired a second volley of 00 buck at him.

As I dropped my gun and jumped in the seat, the dogs emerged from the trees howling. They stopped with a look of “which way did he go?” on their faces. They quickly found the scent and took off as I flipped my mags and hit the starter to give chase. I knew I hit him but was worried it was not hard enough as I’d never shot a deer with a shotgun before. I traveled about 50 yards and shut down. The dogs had stopped and there was nothing but open trail ahead and no running deer so I figured the buck was down. I wasn’t worrying anymore and was really glad I didn’t go dove hunting. As the others approached the buck was located and he turned out to be a perfect basket 8 point. He didn’t go far as both volleys had hit him. Everyone was happy and we headed back to the club to celebrate and clean our harvest. As the celebration progressed, I was extremely happy as this was the biggest rack buck I’d ever harvested in Florida and I didn’t let the guys down. I may not be a great airboat driver but at least I shoot straight.

I would like to thank my friends (you know who you are) for sharing this truly special hunt with me. It is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life and one of the most memorable hunts of my life. No I think this hunt was the most memorable because it happened behind the club with a couple of good friends. However, it is a bittersweet experience because I probably harvested the last legal big buck to be taken out of the East Everglades.

The National Park Service in their usual callous manner has ended hunting in the East Everglades forever or so they state. They are very good at destroying traditional recreational activities like hunting. There are two lessons to be learned from my experience. First I learned something about driving airboats and that you never know where that big buck will be. The second lesson I’ve already learned gradually over the past decade but many of you still need to learn it. All of you should learn to become active in protecting your hunting, fishing, frogging, airboating, and off road vehicle access rights. Support the Airboat Association of Florida and other organizations like the Everglades Coordinating Council by writing letters or making phone calls to government agencies and politicians. The environmental/animal rights/anti-use movements inundate government with thousands of letters trying to end our traditional recreational uses all the time. It is not their heritage and they do not want to spend time in a swamp. Trouble is they don’t want you there either. So the next time you are asked to write a letter or do something else to protect your access rights make sure you do it. Become active and make sure your family and friends are active. If you can’t write a letter or don’t know what to say, ask for help from me or another director or someone else. Nobody is going to laugh at you or think you are stupid. The only person who is stupid is the one who sits back and ignores the people who are working hard to destroy your heritage. Become active in protecting your heritage so that future generations can have a public place to have an experience like mine.

This story is the property of the author and may not be reprinted, reproduced, used, or displayed without his written consent and approval.