The First Day

You should read the story "The Beginning" before you read this story.

This story continues the saga of our first trip into the Big Cypress Swamp and our stay at Stuart's Camp. We had traveled all night, in the pitch black darkness, only seeing what was in the headlights of the swamp buggies. We arrived at camp very early in the morning, just before time to eat breakfast and start our morning hunt. Hunting in the swamp was new to everyone but Bruce and myself. I had actually never hunted myself, but I had gone on hunts with other people, so I was familiar with hunting the swamps. All the others were rookies, unfamiliar with swamps  and certainly unfamiliar with where we were. We knew we were still in Florida, most likely still in Collier County, but that is as close we were to actually knowing our location. This little fact greatly affected how far we went from camp. The rookies felt if they could not find our way back to camp, then they would never be seen again.  With Alligators and snakes behind every bush, if they got lost they would soon be devoured and never seen again. That was their frame of mind.

Everyone ventured out, but Bob. Bob became known as the camp hunter. He patrolled the edge of the camp clearing, but rarely ventured off of the cleared area. The others went out in groups of twos or threes. To help keep from getting lost, the groups followed the buggy trails, which ran here and there between the camps in the area. This whole adventure was new, everything was interesting, and the expectation was that the game was just just out of sight, right behind the next turn in the trail. I should mention that the games laws were very different back then, the state wide rules applied and they were much less stringent then the rules of today.

 As John ventured forth he carried a long pole made out of a small cypress tree. To solve the problem of getting lost, every so often, he would draw a line on the ground in the sand or mud. On this line he would put an arrow head, pointing back to camp, (sort of like this <----). Now this seems like a good solution to the problem of getting lost, but John had not anticipated the practical jokers in the group. Someone, who remains un-named, came across these arrows on the ground and decided they would look better with an arrow head on both ends, (like this <---->). John figured it out and eventually returned to camp, but it must have been a little unsettling when he first discovered the additional arrowheads.

Some of the guys decided to hunt with Bruce. Bruce was very familiar with the area and after awhile decided that following buggy trails was not the way to go. So he set  off through the pine islands, heading for the thickest woods that he could find. The guys with him had been relying on Bruce to know where they were and to bring them back to camp. So they had no choice but to go cross country with him. Now Bruce is somewhat of a practical joker himself, so he decided to give these guys a real tour of the swamps. As you get into the thick part of the pine and palmetto islands, you  start to encounter what we call "wait a minute" vines. These tough vines grow horizontally throughout the palmetto bushes. The have small thorns, shaped back along the vine toward the roots of the vine. These hooks grab your clothes as you try to push through them and it takes a minute to unhook them and get away, hence the name. The guys with Bruce told the story of following Bruce, latter that night at dinner time. They said that it was so thick at one point the only direction they could see was straight up at the sky. At other points they  were crotch deep in swamp  water, walking on their tiptoes to keep their privates dry. Expecting at anytime for an alligator to take a little bite of them. Bruce wore them out, not that it was hard to do that, because they were without a nights sleep from the night before.

As the sun got straight up in the sky everyone was returning to camp. Hungry, thirsty and dead tired, they started to snack on the provisions they had brought along and then lay around like a pack of tired dogs. At this point Bruce's father, Ed arrived at camp. After he and a friend he brought along unloaded their gear, he was ready to hunt. Looking at all the guys in camp, he decided that a drive was in order to spook up some game.

Most hunters know what a drive is. Each guy spreads out a certain distance apart and walk forward in a staight line, at the same speed as the other hunters. This forces any game in front of the hunters to get up and try to avoid all the hunters. This sometimes presents the opportunity for someone to get a shot at the game. So the drive was organized. Each guy was spaced apart and given the direction to head. Now, some of this area is very thick. Keeping the next guy in sight soon became a problem. The rookies wern't too sure about this hiking through the thick palmettos stuff. That's where the hundreds of rattle snakes were, (at least in their imagination they were). Bruce and Ed were in the middle of the line of hunters. As the drive slowly progressed, the rookies started edging closer to Bruce and Ed. They were the experienced guys and could protect them from the snakes. As each guy edged closer to the middle of the line, the guy next  to them was doing the same thing. The drive hadn't gone to far and they were almost walking single file. Not that the rookies would have seen anything if they were doing it right, because they were too busy looking down at the ground making sure there next step was not on a snake and then quickly looking over a Bruce and Ed, so they didn't lose sight of them. In all it didn't work out.


This page created November 3, 2000, Revised Aug 8, 2001 by Steve