Having lived in South Florida for the past 30 years I am constantly questioned as to what time of the year is the best to visit the many national parks and wildlife management areas that have become so popular with visitors from all over the world. Normally my answer would be anytime you can get here is a great time to visit but then I have to question them on what activities they are coming for. Between the coral reefs, the Florida Everglades and a host of other venues your activities can range from incredible wildlife photography safaris to scuba diving or snorkeling in the fabulous Florida Keys or hunting and camping trips in areas rich with wildlife. If you know what you want to do once you get here it will be a lot easy to decide on what time of year you should come. Floridians claim to have two seasons, the wet season and the dry season, and each has its own unique activities to offer.
The rainy season in South Florida usually starts around the end of May and continues for 5-6 months until the around end of November, and you can take it from me, its not always fund to have to chew the air before you swallow it! The air is hot, thick and very humid. During this period Florida accumulates close to 70% of its total rainfall that can be between 35-45 inches of rainfall. This is the perfect time for those who love the ocean to visit some of the parks catering to snorkeling and undersea adventures. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park located at Mile Marker 102 of the Overseas Highway in Key Largo; one of the upper Keys is only about an hour south of Miami and a favorite destination of those who want to jump on one of the many snorkeling and Scuba Diving boats for a visit to the warm colorful reefs. Biscayne National Park that is closer to Miami, and the Dry Tortugas, accessible from Key West are also great for those inclined to a water adventure. With the Summer months, the water tends to be a bit clearer, the seas a bit calmer and a bit warmer averaging in the low to mid 80’s. During the rainy season ocean activities are a bit more comfortable as you can minimize your encounters with roving bands of mosquitoes. Boat tours of the Everglades at Everglades National Park and Flamingo are also very enjoyable and a great way for the family to stay cool and not venture too far away from Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
Substantial amounts of rainfall have a profound effect on the wildlife in areas of the Everglades such as Big Cypress National Park located west of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The high rainfall in turn causes higher water levels that allow wildlife such as the American Alligator, various Turtles and other species of fish that they feed on, to scatter over an increasing larger area of the great swamp. For this reason those interest in Photography may have to cover more ground and have a slightly more difficult time getting pictures of wading birds, Deer, Turkey, Black Bear and other wildlife common in the Florida Everglades. For those that are interested in Hiking and camping, the heat and swarms of Mosquitoes can make this time of year a bit more difficult and uncomfortable, and afternoon thunderstorms are almost a guarantee, but provide for a very green landscape with a countless number of plants and flowers. Did we mention the Mosquitoes could be unbearable this time of year?
The Dry season in South Florida is by far the busiest time of the year, as not only the Snow Birds (as the season residents of Florida are often called) return but the migrating hordes of birds making their way to their wintering grounds brings bird watching enthusiasts from all over the world to Florida’s National Parks. Birders and wildlife photographers take advantage of decreasing water levels, which have the opposite effect from the rainy season. Less available water tends to cause birds, animals and fish to congregate in specific areas where the water levels are higher such as canals used for Florida’s water management system or ponds caused by the falling water levels. It is in these areas that wildlife will be the most plentiful and provide an outstanding opportunity for wildlife photography and Bird watching. It is no wonder that Florida’s dry season between December and March brings with it the majority of visitors to the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress National Park. It should be noted that it is at this time that hotels, motels and campgrounds are also the busiest and can command some high fees. Advance reservations are definitely suggested.
Most of the same activities that are available during the rainy season are also available during the dryer months however the swarms of Mosquitoes will be more tolerable. The cooler temperatures make it easier to navigate the many trails in South Florida’s parks and one of my personal favorites is an area known as Shark Valley, Located about 70 miles east of Naples on US 41 if traveling from the west coast or about 25 miles west of the Florida Turnpike to the east. This 15 miles looped road is a favorite of bike riding enthusiasts and wildlife photographers as the paved loop is easy to navigate with birds and wildlife lining the bordering canals within feet of the road. It is very common to see large American Alligators sunning themselves as if posing for a great picture. The park also has a wonderful guided tour via tram complete with guide pointing out the many things that an untrained eye may miss.
Whether the rainy season or dry season is the right time of year to visit South Florida’s incredible parks depends entirely what your goals are. Anything you might require such as boats, kayaks, bicycles or snorkeling equipment are easily rented at any time of the year, but if you take from a 30 year resident of the area who loves both seasons, I feel the rainy season might be better for water sports and snorkeling, and the dry season for wildlife photography and hiking. But the best time of year to visit is any time you can get away and leave your troubles behind!
While so many of us are grabbing whatever little bit of summer that is left by hanging out at the beach or the local swimming pool, there are those that are quietly preparing for the upcoming hunting season. These folks are trying to gain every little edge they can, which means more than just checking your equipment and wondering where in the basement you put your hunting boots or walking through your local Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s to see what sales are going on to buy the newest equipment for this season. Here are some great tips to help you gain an edge over your quarry, and over the other guy who just doesn’t think about putting in a bit more effort.
One of the first thing hunters need to do is to decide how they are going to hunt this season, and if you are planning on being one of the growing number of bow hunters heading into the woods this year, you will have to take even more time for preparation. Practice, practice, practice; and look over your equipment to replace anything that may be worn or troublesome before it causes you aggravation. You need to get out and shoot at least once or twice a month, I prefer shooting outdoors, but if you can only get to an indoor range, so be it, but remember, there isn’t any wind indoors. The key to successful bow hunting is knowing what your comfortable distance to your target is and being able to accurately judge that distance accurately. At the range you will have your distances marked for you but remember that you are shooting flat. If at all possible try shooting from a tree stand outdoors to more precisely simulate your hunting situations. A rangefinder is of great help if you are having trouble correctly judging distances. When you are sighting in your bow get a good idea of how small corrections on each sight pin changes your shot. I have gone back to using only one pin that is sighted in for 20 yards which is an easy shot for me and I am very accurate with only slight trajectory changes from this one pin. After 30 yards, I am hesitant to take a shot in wind beyond 20 yds as my average ability could make this an irresponsible shot. One or two pins should cover most situations with dedicated practice. If you don’t have a range finder, count out the comfortable yardage from your stand and place a marker there for some idea of distance when hunting.
Whether you are hunting with a gun or a bow, it is important to practice from where you will be hunting, this means the tree stand or the ground blind, not in the exact spot you will be hunting. I tend to frown from practicing in the exact spot you plan to hunt as even though it may be a while before you use that spot to hunt, why take the chance on polluting the area with scent, or giving the critters something to get nervous about. If you do go to place your tree stand or ground blind in the woods, (and perhaps place a trail cam), then bring along your weapon by all means, and make certain you have adequate shooting lanes and are comfortable with the stand, Also remember that the prevailing winds may be a bit different by the time hunting season rolls around, so take that into consideration when placing your tree stand or ground blind. If you are hunting on public land and must remove your blind each time you hunt, try marking your trail with tape, reflecting tacks or something that will assist you to find your spot. Also become proficient in setting up your ground blind or tree stand in the dark. This you can do in your backyard or a local park, the quicker and quieter, the better.
I have recently begun hunting with my Ruger Super Red hawk .44 cal handgun with leupold scope, and god only knows that I need lots of practice with this. I will try to get to the range a few times a month before season opens to know what my comfortable shooting distance is and how many yards out I feel I can take a responsible shot. I’ve used the term responsible shot a few times in this article, there is nothing sensible in taking a shot that requires more luck than skill. If you aren’t reasonably certain you will make a clean kill, don’t take the shot, there is no feeling worse when hunting than wounding an animal that you will not be able to harvest. If you are planning on hunting with a rifle or shotgun, practice at the outdoor range and know the distance and comfortable range for the weight of the bullet you will be using. The folks at Bass Pro Shops have helped me a lot with instruction on various techniques for using my Ruger Super Red hawk, and I now feel comfortable out to 35 yds. Funny, all I had to do is ask for some assistance at the range, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
It is so important to do some serious scouting well before the season opens not only to familiarize yourself with the area so you can easily and safely get to and from your stand but to also learn what animals are frequenting the area. In addition to placing a few inexpensive trail cameras in the area, you may want to take some walks or sit in an area that you have found deer sign so as to actually see some of the deer moving about. This is done well in advance of the season as we do not want to pollute the actually area we would like to hunt. Take a leisurely walk through the woods and look for deer scat, deer scrapes and converging game trails. These are usually great spots to place a trail camera. My good friend and hunting buddy Dave Sumner, owner of Turkey Dave’s Footrests and Flirty Girty Panfish jigs in Wisconsin always has a hot cup of coffee ready in the early morning hours when I visit. This and an extra set of binoculars and then we are off to ride around the local farms and fields in order to see what the coming dear season may hold for us, (before he kicks my butt in a “friendly” round of golf). The point is; do your homework, see where the deer want to be, and with the camera, when they want to be there. Look for a good tree or area for your tree stand or ground blind and perhaps cut some shooting lanes.
OK, so the key tips for a successful deer hunting season are practice, practice, practice, make sure you are skilled enough with your weapon of choice and the maximum comfortable distance for taking a shot whether it be bow hunting or rifle. Familiarize yourself with the area you wish to hunt, including scouting possible locations for a tree stand or ground blind. Place trail cameras at those areas in which you have found substantial deer activity, such as deer scrapes, game trails and bedding areas, this includes scouting the area from time to time with binoculars in advance of the hunting season. If you put the time and effort into preparing properly, you will not only give yourself the best chances for harvesting a great buck, but you will more than likely have a nice end of summer and be ready for an even better fall!