This coming hunting Season I’ll be hunting close to home and on public land which limits me to two locations, The Upper St. Johns River Marsh Wildlife Management Area and the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area.
This weekend I’ll be making my third trip to the Upper St. Johns to do some scouting. The first two trips were merely to become familiar with the location and its boundaries.
Although the Upper St. Johns River Marsh has a total of 120,000 acres, I’ll be focusing my hunting efforts this year on an area that is approximately 3,200 acres. Most of this area is, presently, dry marsh which looks like a giant meadow except for having tall species of grass normally associated with wet areas. Sawgrass being the predominant ground cover.
This location doesn’t permit the use of motorized vehicles, so, on my first two trips I brought my mountain bike and was able to get a really good idea of the geography of the location. That being the case, I’ve picked out nine areas of interest that I’d like to explore further and at which I’ll begin my search for animal signs.
My primary target for this year’s hunting season will be whitetail deer and my secondary target is wild hog. I won’t be hunting for trophies so any buck with antlers at least five inches long will be on my hit list. For hogs, I’ll be searching for any between 50 to 150 pounds, but weight on these animals is very difficult to judge in the wild and at a distance, therefore I’ll simply be aiming, not at the biggest, nor at the smallest, but whichever pig in the group appears to be medium sized.
The nine areas of interest that I’ll be scouting this weekend consist of two canals, each approximately 2 miles long. These two canals hold the majority of the area’s trees. There is an area of approximately 500 acres on the south side of one canal which appears to have no entry point unless the hunter wades through the canal, (extreme caution will be required to do so because the canal connects to the St. Johns River which holds some of the largest alligators in the state.) I’ll be looking for a narrow and very shallow portion of the canal at which to attempt to cross. If successful it could prove to be a valuable hunting location because I doubt many other hunters will bother getting their feet wet.
By using Google Earth I discovered a two track trail from the second northern gate that appears to lead deep into the western portion of the area. I plan to bring my mountain bike again and ride down this trail to a large group of trees. One mystery I would like to solve is that on Google Earth this group of trees doesn’t appear to be very large, but when viewing it in person from two miles distance it appears to be huge with a large number of very tall trees. Furthermore, regardless of its true size, if it contains oak trees, it could potentially be a good hunting location because both deer and hog love to eat acorns.
There are some sporadic small groupings of trees just inside the first northern gate. I’ll be scouting for animal signs there as well.
There is also a third stand of trees a short distance inside the third northern entrance, however I’ve already seen several other hunters exploring this location and I suspect it’s because of its relatively easy access and proximity to the main trail. I’ll look for animal signs there but am not sure I want to compete with other hunters once hunting season arrives.
Deep inside the fourth northern gate I discovered a covered shelter that has a picnic table under it. This shelter was constructed on an area of land that’s several feet higher than the surrounding area. From it I’m able to overlook a large area of open land. My thought here is that if I can get down there and scout for animal signs around this large open area that’s overlooked by the shelter I could perhaps set up a position at the shelter.
To the north of this shelter is a long hard packed dirt path that, I discovered, runs along some very marshy, wet areas. Because hogs like mud, I’m thinking this might be an excellent spot to sit and wait for hogs to potentially cross the clearing along this hard packed trail.
The last place I would like to explore is the granddaddy of them all. It is the largest piece of undivided land and also happens to be the furthest from the parking lot. Remember, motorized vehicles are not permitted beyond the parking area, so I suspect few hunters come out this far and even fewer try to enter this area because of its thick, tall sawgrass. However, because there are few trees in this location I am mildly concerned about having no means of retreat should I accidentally provoke a wild boar while scouting the area. So I haven’t yet decided how I should proceed.
One idea I had that I think is worth making note of, is that at each location I want to scout, I could stop and lock up my bicycle in an obvious location, such as a fence post, with a note that has my name, date, time of day, and a description of where I was going when I left the bicycle.
(Photo credit: Flickr creative commons, Whitetail deer buck by Field Sports Channel TV)