By Bob Bramblet

This weekend my Florida Sportsman teammates Eric and Chris were working, so I decided to work a little closer to home. I did a little research on Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Collier County.

On the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands, the Reserve is one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. Encompassing 110,000 acres, it includes pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters. Wildlife, including 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals, thrive in the reserve.

In early 2010, the first Burmese pythons were found in the reserve. Since then, more than 30 large snakes have been captured within the reserve and these snakes are believed to have come from the original point source near Everglades National Park.

I have never visited the reserve so the Python Challenge was just the excuse to check it out. My friend, Photographer Doug Stamm came along hoping for some pictures. It was a cool morning and the sun was expected to shine, warming up the trails we’d be walking. Heavy rains had made the area very wet and the night before a large python was photographed just outside of the reserve, escaping the waterlogged area for the higher ground of a nearby housing area.

Soon after we entered it was clear just how wet the area was. At several points the trail disappeared into water ranging from ankle deep to over knee deep. We walked the trails and the power line road for miles in the morning sun, searching path edges and looking deeper into wooded areas. There were many birds and I even glimpsed a large wild boar crossing the trail ahead of us. On our way out, empty handed, we came across other hunters just entering the reserve. They had hunted the area several times and had not seen pythons. In fact, only one snake had been taken from the reserve during the hunt so far.

On the hunt for the invasive python.

Back at the entrance, we checked out of the Reserve with FWC and met another hunter. His name was Ken Flute and he hails from Ontario, Canada. Ken is the hunter who caught the only python in the Reserve, an 8.5 footer, and was headed back in to look for number 2. While talking to Ken his motivation for participating in the Challenge was apparent. He obviously loves the outdoors and his youthful exuberance speaks of a childhood spent in the wilds of Ontario chasing snakes and learning about nature.

Team Florida Sportsman still has yet to catch a python, but every day I go out I learn a little more about the invasive Burmese python and a little more about the real intent of the challenge. Maybe it’s really about visiting places you have never been, spending time with friends and family in the great outdoors and meeting new and interesting people who share a love of the outdoors. Next week the team has a plan that will give us our best chance yet at a python, but I’m just looking forward to another weekend in the Everglades. Maybe that is the real intent.

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