Part 10: Destin, FL to Manatee Springs, FL


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The Trip

We spent the night in at the last spot available in the state park near Destin.  We got a small amount of rain at night, but not sufficient to cause issues.  The next morning, we went to the beach to check it out and then headed east toward our hog hunt site.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

The beaches were pristine white.  With the sun, the glare off the sand was nearly blinding.

We passed this nubile lass playing Frisbee with her buddies.  Ah, to be young again.  She was a refreshing change from most of the local women that we saw.

We passed some shacks on the beach.

To the east of Destin we passed this beautiful lake right next to the shore.  Above, the waves on the beach are visible.

Near Panama City, we passed this monstrosity.  Ripley's has an exhibition in the ship-shaped building.

Across the street was this odd-ball building.  It's purpose was not clear.

We traveled south from Panama City toward the barrier islands.  We encountered this lighthouse on St. George Island on our way to the state park there.

St. George Island is a so-called barrier island.  The seaward side was raw dunes with no trees.  The shore side had trees that came right down to the water.  We spent one night there and it was fine, albeit somewhat buggy.

On St. George Island, we encountered this fully restored Chevy pickup.  We met the owner and he did all the work himself.  He also restored a vintage tow trailer to hook to the back of the truck.

As we left St. George, we passed the local oyster fishermen at work in the windswept bay.

From St.G, we headed north toward Panacea.  We got a nice camp site next to the water.  It was nice, but not a panacea.

The beach behind us was nice and I would have gone for a swim, but the wind was about 30 mph and it was somewhat unpleasant.

The sky was finally clear and the moon almost full.  Sadly, the full moon, while beautiful, ruined our hunt.  The phase of the moon, as it turns out, changes hog feeding behavior and not in our favor.

We met our guide Jack Flowers from Southwind Whitetails at the Walmart in Perry, FL.  Once pleasantries were exchanged, we headed to the lodge where we would spend the night.  Along the way, we encountered a forest fire very near where we would be hunting.  The main industry in this area is forestry, so a fire endangers the livelihood of most of the locals so they respond immediately.  Indeed, we passed many tall fire lookout towers near the road.

Boss Hogg works the cell phone.  I suppose in the face of evidence, once can see where stereotypes are born.

Southwind Whitetails runs a very large farm with the whole purpose of supporting hunting.  They raise a large number of deer and other exotics at the facility and all cultivation is done solely to support the game.  Once we arrived, we were invited to take a tour of the grounds for some animal viewing at dusk.  Above is one of the many feeders at the facility.  The feeders are on timers and dispense corn for the herd.

We spotted these elk close to the lodge.

Some of the farm was planted with trees in an area that had been harvested at some point in the past.  Note that the trees are planted in neat rows.

We encountered this buck elk as the sun set in the west.  Note that his horns are still growing and are covered in "velvet".

We also passed this black buck antelope.  These animals are native to India.  Note the war mask and the spiral horns.  The speckles in the photo are high ISO noise.  The waning light of dusk pushed the limits of the camera on a moving target.

We also spotted an Axis deer, one of several that are on the ranch.  This is a magnificent specimen of this species of deer.

Next morning, we arrived at the hunt site just before dawn.  The site was about 45 minutes travel from the farm and is on land leased specifically for hunting from a local forest products company.  Hunting leases run from $5 to $10/acre/year depending on the location, fecundity and owner of the land.  The land has both planted trees and clear cut areas.  As the name implies, clear cutting takes out most of the trees when the timber is harvested and leaves large open areas that are then replanted with seedlings that will be harvested in 10 years.  The clear cut areas provide the ability to see game approaching the feeder area from a long distance.  Above, the game feeder is visible at the right center of the photo.  At the site, we spotted plenty of "hog sign" which included tracks, scat, and wallows.  Alas, the presence of hog sign does not insure that the hogs will visit when you are there.

Both Kathleen and I were in a tree stand about 20' above the floor of the field.  The stand had padded seats, but it was cramped.  After sitting there for about 4 hours and seeing nothing, I had to stand up to stretch my knees.  Our stand was very exposed and therefore the game could see us as well as we could see them.  To be successful, you have to be still like a statue and blend in with the surroundings.  We probably should have worn camouflage clothing, but we did not bring any with us. And, in this case, it would not have mattered.  The absence of tracks indicated than no hogs came by the site.

By 11am we were getting antsy so we took some photos.  Kathleen's headset has microphones built in so you can hear speech and approaching game, but turns off when sensing a loud noise, like a rifle shot.  They work well, but because the ear cups are plastic, you sweat a lot.  Plus, the cups impact the butt of the rifle I used so I opted for standard insertion-type ear protection.

From our stand, we had a clear view of the damaged area produced by the hogs rooting for food.  The area looked like it had been carpet bombed.  All the planted seedlings were uprooted and dead.  In the photo above, near the top of the photo, you can see the rows of planted seedlings.  In the foreground, the hog damage is clearly visible.

The first day, we went back into Perry for lunch and then returned to the blind and stayed until about 2030.  Since we had gotten up at 0430 that made for a pretty long day.  Plus, we had an hour drive to get back to the farm.  Next morning, we were at it again and were in the blind just before sunrise.  Above, you can see the mist rising above the field as dawn breaks.  It was quite cold and the first day I did not wear a coat and shivered until well after sunrise.  The second day, despite the coat, I was still shivering.

We sat in the blind until about 1100 but saw nothing.  Indeed, when we went to the feeder to check for fresh signs of the hog's passage, we saw none.  None of the feed had been eaten since we left the night before.  The phase of the moon was working against us; the feeder provides a free lunch and according to our guide, Alex, the hogs usually work a circuit hitting feeder after feeder until all the food is gone.  But not today.

While we were searching the area around the feeder, Alex came to get us for lunch.  Above, the stand is visible.

The previous night, Alex and his son had spotted about a dozen hogs crossing the road about a quarter mile from our stand.  He texted us that they were coming our way, but they never became visible.  So, given that they had traveled a specific route the night before, we decided to not use the stand and instead moved to a position where their crossing site was visible.  We did see something right about dusk, but it was too dark to clearly identify what it was, so we passed on the shot.  Above, Kathleen took a photo of the area under surveillance well before dusk.

The only animal that we could clearly identify from our position was this armadillo that passed us.  These are funky creatures that look like a cross between a rat and an alligator.   A rodent with armor.  His passage through the underbrush made so much noise it sounded like a bulldozer.

We returned to the lodge and had a nice meal and then hit the rack for some shut eye.  Next morning, we had to clean the guns, pack and get on the road.  On the way out of the property, I shot a photo of the entrance to the farm.

Some of the prize breeding stock at the farm.  Note that the buck still has velvet on his antlers. 

From Perry, FL we traveled south to Manatee Springs.  Manatee is what is called a "first order" spring that put out between 50-150 MILLION gallons of water every day.  The source of the water is a several hundred square mile area that is at a slightly higher elevation.  Rain in that area seeps into the rock and reappears as outflow in Manatee Springs.  Above, you can see the nice blue color of the spring area and the boils on the surface indicating the flow.  Both Kathleen and I swam in the spring and the water was 72 degrees.  Since it was hot and humid outside, the water was a refreshing change.  The outflow was strong.  Once you got into the center of the channel, you were swept downstream with the flow of the water.

High water had left marks on the trees.  The flow from the spring varies according to the season.

Further downstream, the water lost it's turquoise color and turned into normal "river green" before it emptied into the Suwannee River and then the Gulf of Mexico.

We stayed at the state park at Suwannee River (the same river made famous by Stephen Foster) and the sites were nice.  As dusk approached, the place became overrun with deer.  They had the humans all figured out and worked the circuit looking for handouts.  Above, this pair of does groom one another.

We got skunked on our hunt.  The only hog we saw was road kill along a near-by highway.  But, given the phase of the moon, the lack of sightings was to be expected.  Now I am smarter on this issue.  We could have adjusted our schedule to attempt a hunt later in the month, but I did not know.  Next time, I will be smarter.  I was very pleased with the hunt otherwise; the accommodations were nice, the food was good and the folks were very nice.

From Suwannee, we will head south to Tampa and visit several sets of friends.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2010, all rights reserved.
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