Local Hunters Share the Appreciation for their Sport and the Skills Involved
Pokey Rogers, foreman and hunting guide at Rocking W Ranch east of Wauchula, prefers to shoot quail with a shotgun. “They [shotguns] don’t do too much damage to the meat,” he says. “If you shoot a quail with a bow, you’ve got to really be good.”
While the majority of hunters at the 1200-acre preserve use guns, Rogers says, some northerners bring bows. “A lot of people prefer the bow and the crossbow because it’s quiet,” Rogers explains. “If they miss, a lot of time they get a second shot without getting a whole lot of noise.”
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Bows vs. Guns
Jake Pettitt, vice president of the Central district for the Florida Archery Association, prefers the bow. “I prefer the tranquility of the archery season. There are not a lot of people,” says Pettitt, who lives in Hudson. “You have to be extremely quiet, very clean. The animal has to get very close to you to hit it with a bow.”
Pettitt enjoys the experience of being in the woods, relaxing. “I don’t get any particular enjoyment out of shooting animals,” he says. “It makes me high to set out there on the tree, watch the woods and see the little critters run around.”
During hunting seasons, archers are allowed to hunt first, as well as throughout the entire season. Although Pettitt has used pistols and rifles, he dislikes the crossbow. “Crossbow is very cumbersome to me,” he explains. “It just seems dangerous to me. There’s no way to really unload it.”
Lamar Collins, who owns Hal’s Gun Shop in Bartow, uses “a little bit of everything.” But he likes the crossbow because of the crossbow season, which gives him a little more time to hunt on public lands. “It is like shooting a rifle or shotgun,” he explains. “Anything can be dangerous if you don’t use it properly. As far as anything happening, as long as you respect it, learn how you use it, you’re fine,” Collins says.
The crossbow can help those who are not as strong, including women, children and the handicapped. “Crossbows have enabled people that otherwise may not be able to pull a bow to hunt,” says Brad Lowery, president of the Florida Bowhunters Council, which is holding a family-oriented Bowhunter Jamboree Broadhead Shoot Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 in Inverness. “As long as you spend time practicing, it’s very effective.”
A hunter’s choice of tools, or even the word he uses to describe them, varies. “No matter what your choice of tools for hunting animals, each has a limitation,” says Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC). Morse, who has 25 years of experience in hunter education (16 of those years as an administrator) says safety, ethics, and practice are all important. Hunters must be very familiar with their tools and limitations, along with their own limitations.
“It’s safe to say that your choice of tools . . . would depend on your level of expertise,” Morse advises. The type of animal, your anticipated distance from it, and your chances of hitting the animal in a vital area and killing it cleanly with your tool are important factors. To Morse, the distinction between weapons and tools is clear. “Weapons are used against people,” he says.
There’s plenty of variety in firearm and bow. For example, Nathan Henderson, general manager of Southern Archery Outfitters in Lakeland, uses the compound bow, a bow with a sight and mechanical release. “I like it over the recurve (a type of traditional bow). It’s a little easier to shoot more accurately. It goes faster and farther,” he says. “It’s a little more of a challenge. You have to get closer to the animals to make a good, clean kill.”
On the firearm side, there are muzzleloaders, rifles, and pistols, in addition to the shotgun.
The hunting season, which began August 3 for some regions of Florida, runs through April 20. Rabbits, wild hogs, raccoons, opposums, coyotes, beavers, skunks and nutrias can be hunted year-round. Details are here: http://myfwc.com/hunting/season-dates
Teaching Safety for All Ages
No matter what tool you use, safety is an important consideration. A hunter safety course is required to buy a hunting license, with some exceptions. More information is available here: http://myfwc.com/hunting/safety-education/courses/
Training also is available through the 4-H program and the Youth Hunting Program of Florida. Amanda Squitieri, the Polk County 4-H agent, says youths can pick a nearby club geared towards their interests, work on their chosen project, and attend training and practice sessions. All instructors are re-certified every three years.
“We’re pretty big in our county and in our state with archery,” she says, adding the archery program is open to children eight and up.
“A lot of the parents are actual instructors. We get support from the National Rifle Association,” she says, adding certification training is being offered in September. “They have grants available, equipment that comes from them through their grants.”
One shooting instructor is Nick Christensen, with the Clovers on the Ridge 4-H, who teaches youth how to safely use rifles. “I just teach the kid to hit the paper [target],” he says, adding it’s a great confidence builder. “I teach them safety, safety, and more safety,” he continues. “I don’t call it a weapon, I call it a gun. Weapons are used to defend.”
The Youth Hunting Program teaches youths how to hunt safely, legally and ethically, helping them to develop marksmanship and firearm skills. They also learn how to track and process game.
In Polk County, improvements are under way at Lakeland’s Tenoroc Shooting Center, where a $1 million facelift is expected to make it one of the finest public shooting ranges in the country. “We’re moving as fast as government will allow us to move right now,” says John Weatherholt, who oversees the center for FFWCC. “The original goal hopefully was moving into the offices last month.”
A new trap facility has been added. Plans call for a new classroom and office building, a free 22-caliber youth-only shooting range, plus a new five-stand sporting clays range and a second trap field.
Improvements, which eventually may include lodges for overnight camping, are being funded through the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, a non-profit group funded through donations. “Our vision is to create a youth conservation center. The goal is to get kids out of the chair and back outside,” Weatherholt says. The aim would be to create a place where “grandmas will be comfortable to bring the kids out for the day.”
TEN COMMANDMENTS OF FIREARMS SAFETY
1. Treat every firearm with the same respect due a loaded firearm.
2. Control the direction of your firearm’s muzzle. Carry your firearm safely, keeping the safety on until ready to shoot. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3. Identify your target and what’s beyond it. Know the identifying features of the game you hunt.
4. Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions and that you have only ammunition of the proper size for the firearm you are carrying.
5. Unload firearms when not in use. Leave the actions open. Firearms should be carried unloaded when traveling to and from shooting areas.
6. Never point a firearm at anything you do not want to shoot. Avoid all horseplay with a firearm.
7. Never climb a fence or tree, or jump a ditch or log, with a loaded firearm. Never pull a firearm toward you by the muzzle.
8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or water. During target practice, be sure your backstop is adequate.
9. Store firearms and ammunition separately beyond the reach of children and careless adults.
10. Avoid alcoholic beverages or other mood-altering drugs before or while shooting.
story by Cheryl Rogers
above photo by PEZZIMENTI