October Weekend
In the Big Cypress Swamp

Its been five months since our last trip into the Big Cypress Swamp. Not that it was planned that way. The mid-summer trip planned to visit camp was cancelled, because it looked like the weekend was going to be a rainy washout. A tropical depression, turned into a tropical storm and passed right over the camp. There wasn't any point in going, if the work that needed to be done, couldn't be done. That tropical storm went on to become hurricane Katrina which destroyed the coast of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Fortunately when it went over our camp, it didn't do any damage.
During that period of time, Camp Six Pack and the others in the area were visited by  burglars, not criminals per say, but opportunists and destroyers of property. Six camps were broken into. The perpetrators made no effort to cover their tracks. They left their prints all over everything, even the sides of the buildings. Their chief mode of operation, was to break a glass window and enter the premises, then they did their dirty work. Besides ransacking the interior of the camps and eating all the food found, they left "used food" all over the place, if you know what I mean, by used food.

Here is one of the crime scenes:

Hall's Camp, (looks like they lived here awhile)

So, that's the way it went at the break ins, smash a window, rummage around, grab some food, return it digested and leave. Not a pretty sight. Now one of the camp owners named Bob, decided he was going to identify the perpetrators and set out a security camera at his camp.

The following picture shows he was on the right track, but still didn't get a good look at the burglar:

This was better, but still no cigar!

Finally, Bob got a good shot of the perpetrator:

It seems a momma bear and her cub (the cub is above) have been visiting the camps and helping themselves. Another large single bear has also been spotted in the area and may also be in on it. They haven't made it into camp Six Pack yet, but its not for trying. Paw prints are all over the outside of the camp buildings. After we had several break ins over the years, we learned you can not have glass windows exposed to bears. They will jump right through a solid pane of glass. We use wooden shutters, bolted shut and so far it works. That and making sure there is no smell of food around, "that is real important". A determined bear will get into anything it wants too.

I saw a ghost while hunting last week. I was sitting in a tree stand, in what looked like a pretty good place. A small piney area, surrounded by cypress on three sides. The pine area, which would normally be dry, was almost completely covered by shallow water. The water in the Big Cypress swamp, is at a ten year high level and parts of it have been closed to hunting. But, back to the ghost.

I was sitting quietly, looking for a deer to go by and I heard splashing of water off to my right side. The noise came from a small cypress area, but thick enough you could not see into it. Now I could say, it was twilight, with a fog rising from the water and getting thicker in an eerie way,  but it was a nice sunny quiet morning, the kind of morning that makes you want to sit in the swamp for hours. Not a ghostly type morning. The splashing was not quiet, I was expecting any minute to see three or four deer break into the open, running in the water. Muzzleloader at ready, I watched intently.

What appears is a low to the ground, dark object, large floppy ears, with a flat nose and a little curly tail. I rub my eyes, it can't be a wild hog. Everyone knows that the panthers have eaten all the wild hogs in the Big Cypress Swamp. I set my muzzleloader down on my lap and reach for a camera. I need a picture or no one will believe I have seen a wild hog. But I am not fast enough, I get two good looks at it as it walks the edge of the piney area and with a crash of palmetto branches, it disappears in a scrubby oak thicket.

Now some might ask, you had a gun, why didn't you shoot it. Then you would have your proof you saw a wild hog. I say NO! you can't shoot a ghost. Everyone knows the bullet would just pass through the ghostly body. If I did shoot, and I was wrong and it was not a ghost, I would not want to be the person that shot the LAST wild hog in the Big Cypress Swamp. So, I couldn't shoot and I hope no other Sportsman can either.

In a frivolous way I have touched on a subject that is having an extreme effect on the Big Cypress Swamp's animals, in a major way. The Florida Fish and Wildlife commission decided that to ensure that panthers were saved from extinction, they would introduce Texas Cougars (panthers) into the gene pool of Florida panthers, to reduce genetic problems with inbreeding. They have been very successful. The number of panthers or are they now Cougars, has increased substantially. Florida's panther biologist has stated that the Texas Cougar genes will over take the Florida panther genes in ten years, so there will not be Florida panthers in the future.

The number of other animals has been reduced substantially. The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, stated recently, that 95 percent of the wild hogs in the Big Cypress Swamp are gone. That 90 percent of the raccoons in the Big Cypress Swamp are gone. That 25 percent of the deer are gone in the Big Cypress Swamp. I can't remember the last time I saw a raccoon, a possum, a armadillo or a wild hog, (ghosts excluded) or their tracks. Gone, they are gone!  Panther food!

There are now more panthers in the Big Cypress Swamp then can  be supported. Per the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, the panthers are now showing an aggressiveness toward humans, also a lack of fear. Why, because they are hungry! They have expanded beyond their food source. The most at risk humans will be children, because they are smaller and panthers attack based on prey size. The number of panthers in the Big Cypress Swamp will be reduced. No species can expand beyond their food supply and not reduce in numbers. So, it is just a matter of time and the number of panthers will reduce to the level that can be supported by the food source in the Big Cypress Swamp. I hope that no humans are attacked before that happens.

It also seems that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, no longer does game management. Back when they had another name, they would manage game animals. If a species population was down, they would adjust the hunting rules, to give that species a chance to recover. Even though the wild hog harvest has reduced to almost nothing in the past few years, there has not been a change in the hunting rules governing harvests. It's still allowed to hunt raccoons, but you won't find any, so where did  game management go? Gone with the name change I guess? Gone with the Quail that used to inhabit the Big Cypress Swamp. Gone with the heritage of hunting in the Big Cypress Swamp. Soon the hunting tradition will be a ghost. It is already a "ghost of itself", compared to before the forming of the "Big Cypress National Preserve".

There is no shortage of these in the Big Cypress Swamp. Maybe the panthers will develop a taste for these:

That would solve the over abundant panther problem. They can bite each other and then the panther can enjoy its last meal.


Story by Steve - October 18, 2005