Its Turkey Season in the Big Cypress Swamp, my favorite time of the year out there. Turkey season is in March and runs into April. Sometimes in March , it is biting cold out in the Big Cypress. The damp wet air, soaks through your clothes and nothing seems to keep you warm. This particular March is perfect weather, its in the 60's before sun up and then the day warms into the low 70s. There are several reasons that turkey season is my favorite, the ground is dry, the bugs have been killed off by the cold winter and have not revived yet, but most of all I like it because the plants and animals are coming to life. It's the beginning of mating season for most of the animals in the spring. This causes the animals to travel, looking for a mate, and it is an excellent time for photography. In my experience this is the time of the year when you have the most opportunity to watch wildlife. For that reason I always carry my camera during the spring.
On this morning, I was up before any light was breaking on the horizon. I hiked about a mile north of camp, to a place we call Drake's. This area is a former cattle ranch, the brush was frequently burned off to give the cattle new green browse to feed on. This also provides an excellent habitat for wild turkeys and quail. Drake's consistently has good turkey hunting on it. This particular morning, as twilight started on the horizon, I could hear gobbling in the distance coming from several directions. I picked out the closest one, and headed over toward it. Now I could relate how the hunt went, but it would just delay the real story, so lets leave it to say, the Gobbler was still in the woods when I left.
As the sun got up into the sky, I decided to head to a large area that was open, with short grass. Its not uncommon for a Gobbler to show up in this area with his harem of hens and strut around in the open, showing off in all his glory. For this reason, I sat down in a natural blind, where I could view this area. After a while, I notice movement off to my left. The movement was low to the ground, but so was I. I couldn't quite see what it was. Knowing that any movement would spook a turkey, I waited, watching. After a while, the ground started getting hard and my patience was completely gone, so I ease up and slipped over in the direction I had seen movement. As I peered around a bush to look down an old trail, I could see what had caused the movement.
There in front of me was a very large gator. Gators this time of the year travel for one of two reasons, the first is that a lot of the swamps are drying up and the gator has to move to existing water. They have a sixth sense about where water is and in heading for it. The other reason they travel this time of the year is it is mating season for them. In the spring the bull gator will bellow a noise, that sounds to me like someone trying to start a single cylinder motor with a pull rope and it almost starts, but not quite. Now this gator was not making any noise, so maybe it wasn't a bull gator. For all the years that I have been in the swamp, I can't tell a male from a female gator by looks.
This seemed like a good opportunity to take some pictures, so I set my shotgun down against a tree and started to approach the gator. It didn't take to long before I was noticed. Now a big gator isn't too concerned about anything in the woods. They are pretty much master of their surroundings. They are though, very uncomfortable (nervous) in their surroundings, when they are not in water or very near water. As I got closer, this gator started to get very uncomfortable. He reacted by showing me, with a little smile, that he had very sharp teeth (folks, don't try this at home). Ok, so maybe I was a little to close, pretty much way into his comfort zone. Now gators don't really have a very big brain. There isn't any real thinking that goes on in their head. Pretty much, everything is instinct. The gators brain is going through simple reasoning, "is this friend or foe or something to eat". Now, I have been around gators long enough to know when they are going to react, and it was time for me to be backing up out of this gators comfort zone. As I did, the gator swung around quickly and started to move in my direction.
Now, when you see a gator doing this, it is time to keep a distance from it. He has either decided that you are a foe or something to eat. Neither of which is very good for you. Since I had eased back far enough, the gator decided it was time to head back where it had come from. When gators walk they get up tall on their legs and start walking. This gator got up tall, but he was still unhappy that I was there, so it was blowing up its throat, hissing and growling, while slowly walking along.
it walked, I sort of tagged along. Unfortunately, I had run out of
film, so I will have to describe the rest of the story. As we walked
along the trail, I noticed a small pond , out in the distance, that
was mostly dried up. In the middle was a small puddle of water that couldn't
have been three feet wide. As we approached this little pond the gator
started walking faster and faster and soon I was jogging to keep up. This
gator ran and dove into this little pond. When the water settled, you couldn't
see the head of the alligator, because it was completely underwater. The
whole rest of the alligator was sticking out of this little water hole,
just like an "Ostrich".
As I said earlier, a gator's brain is very small, no thinking power at all and this one proved it.
This page created 10/2/00 Story by Steve DeLine