June 04, 2022
If you’re like me, when magazine articles or television shows mention that the deer movement has all shut down because the daytime temperature has gotten up to the seventies, a bit of a smile plays on your lips. While that may be true up north, our deer would waste away through atrophy and starvation while waiting for the few days per year they were allowed to move! Florida deer and Florida hunting differ from that of most of the rest of the country. One way is the weather itself. How does the tropical weather affect deer hunting here?
First off, the warmer temperatures mean hunters deposit more olfactory evidence behind and around them. We often sweat when we are scouting, hanging stands, walking to stands, and climbing stands. To a deer’s nose, out trails smell rank. Northern hunters enjoy the luxury of their scent, warmer than the surrounding air, rising and drifting away above the nostrils of wary whitetails. Here, there is little difference between body temperature and ambient temperature and our scent is seldom likely to lift above ground level. Attention to minimizing scent and awareness of the wind becomes paramount.
Most hunters believe remaining still on the stand is a cardinal rule of deer hunting. Much of our season is warm enough that mosquitoes, turkey gnats, and deer flies issue serious challenges to Florida hunters who wish to adhere to the rule. (There are good sides to our weather as well. Very seldom do we need to bundle up to the degree we might be mistaken for the character in the Michelin commercials!)
Besides adapting to higher average temperatures, Florida hunters must also be ready for the changes tropical storms and hurricanes bring to the woods.
Our early seasons precisely coincide with the greatest tropical activity. Happily, hurricanes are less frequent, but tropical storms and persistent rainfall associated with their proximity are fairly common. With the uniform elevation of the state, even an increase in the water level of an inch or two floods a great deal of land. When the water rises a foot or more, vast acreages are submersed.
This flooding sequesters food from deer, diminishes available bedding sites, and creates currents that can wash away or kill plants deer habitually use as food so that even after the waters recede, less food is available. Deer utilize gut bacteria to enable them to draw nourishment from the plant material they eat. These bacteria are very specific for various foods so deer can only change their diet gradually. High water can enforce an immediate change and the result can be deer that starve even though they are consuming plants. Most often, the water level drops off well before a critical stage is reached, but many long-time Florida hunters remember the elevated waters of either the late seventies or early eighties that resulted in a terrible die-off of whitetails in the Everglades. Usually, congestion of the deer into the few dry areas is the primary effect of high water. Obviously, increased social stresses may result, but after the storms pass, the water recedes to more normal levels fairly quickly.
The effects of high water on hunters seem negligible when compared to possible starvation (fortunately extremely rare), but include the difficulty of reaching hunting locations. High water equates to swampy and sticky ground for vehicular travel.
The flooded land changes deer patterns as well. Of even more significance to hunters, flooded land can turn blood trailing into a nightmare.
Once the flooding abates, deer resume feeding and bedding close to their former haunts as long as severe winds were not involved. (And hunters can return to theirs!) Hurricane winds change many aspects for deer and hunters alike. Mast products like persimmons and cabbage palm berries are ripped from the trees ripe or unripe and rot in the water. Oaks stripped of their leaves by winds, put their energy reserves into growing new leaves (even their trunks sprout leaves!) and forsake their developing acorns that, in consequence, remain tiny and fail to attract wildlife.
Without mast products to lure deer to specific locations, deer hunting becomes troublesome. Also, the fallen trees, branches, and twigs render quiet movement through the swampy woods nearly impossible. However, whitetails resort to the food sources at hand and knowledge of them arms the hunter with new ideas for intercepting deer. First, at the height of the flood, creeks normally a few yards in width, swell to several hundred yards across and their rushing torrents wash the earth bare. Falling water exposes all this rich soil, allowing incredible greenery to sprout. Deer relish this luxuriant new growth. Secondly, many of the wind-toppled trees still live despite their horizontal position and their leaves are now within reach of whitetails. Maples, Dahoon holly, bay trees, water elms, and wild citrus are all have leaves that are highly favored deer browse. In addition, fallen trees can offer hunters an elevated position from which to wait on deer without even having to carry a stand!
The bottom line is that hunters in all regions have challenges related to their own terrain and climate. We might sweat a little more, swat at some mosquitoes, and have to splash through water to reach our stands, but deer aren’t alerted to our presence by the squeaks of breaking ice as we shift the position of our feet on our stands! Call a northern friend some December day and tell him you hunted in a tee shirt from a palm tree that morning and see who is jealous then!