Monday, December 10, 2012

Swamped! Santa Fe Swamp WEA

The 2012-2013 hunting season saw a significant increase in acreage for Santa Fe Swamp Wildlife and Environmental Area.  Santa Fe Swamp WEA is a dedicated primitive weapons area, starting with archery season in sept/oct then a short early muzzleloader season in October.  For almost all of November and December the area is open for archery or muzzleloader. 

Santa Fe Swamp is a challenging area.  Except for a small portion along it's far eastern boundary, no roads traverse it.  In a wet year, most of it is under water.  Widespread peaty soil makes walking treacherous.  Because of raging wildfires in previous years many of the standing trees are dead snags, pretty unsafe for a tree stand.  I'd only hunted it once before, and that afternoon essentially amounted to hiking the eastern roads with a gun at the ready.  I did have a chance to take a shot at a rabbit, but it would have meant shooting towards the nearby parking area so I passed it up. 

The new addition is to the west of the main parcel, connected to it by a ribbon of land that includes the headwaters of the Santa Fe River.  I'd heard it was largely under water early in the season but it had recently dried up some.  This past Saturday I went over to conduct what would amount to a mid-season scouting trip, but since the season was open I brought my gun just on the slim chance I got lucky and ran across a legal buck. 

Two new parking areas, one on either side of SR 325, were created to grant access to the new parcels.  I started with the western parking area, which was empty of vehicles.  Brush-hogged trails lead away from the truck to the west, branching around either side of a large basin swamp.  I chose the right hand trail, but it quickly became submerged so I attempted to follow game trails around the water.  It wasn't long before these became thicker than I cared to fight with so I backtracked and started down the left hand trail.
Dark and dreary afternoon in the swamp.
The left trail followed a marshy logging road for a short distance, running near the property boundary where "No Trespassing" signs were plentiful.  The road petered off into a game trail that passes through some drier areas with a few oaks, not bad deer habitat.  I was attempting to use my iPhone with Google Maps to make sure I stayed on the correct side of the property boundary.  This got a bit confusing at one point, with my phone saying one thing and the physical signs saying another.  

Clouds starting to break up over the Loblolly Pines and Loblolly Bays
I eventually made it mostly around the basin swamp, and came to a dense forest of loblolly pine and loblolly bays (btw, I think Gordonia is just fun to say).  I'm sure this forest is periodically flooded.  I had planned at that point to pick a place to hide and wait until sunset, but suddenly the mosquitoes, which had not been too bad, became a swarm.  I was without the ThermaCell.  After a moment of soul-searching I decided to just head back and briefly check out the other side of the road.

Saltbush releasing seed.
The other parking area was also empty.  Its next to a man-made pond that has a few date palms and the stumps of dense clumps of bamboo.  I guess it was at some point intended to be a home site to have been landscaped so. 
The dug pond, it was teaming with frogs and such.
The sun was about to dip below the tree line so I just headed off to the north with the idea of actually seeing the channel of the Santa Fe River, if it existed at this point.  I ended up climbing over downed and half-rotten cypress trees tossed like pick-up sticks before realizing this would be a shitty place to sprain an ankle and headed back to the truck.  I never found  a channel.

Somewhere near the channel, if there is one.
All in all it was much more of a bushwack hike than a hunting trip, but as I said this outing was more for exploring and scouting anyhow.  I only covered a very small portion of the addition, I want to go back on a colder day (if it ever gets cold) and try to push farther.  It should be drier in a couple of months also, by Spring turkey season more areas should be accessible without wading.

Adios, Santa Fe Swamp!  Hopefully we'll have some good days together in the future.


  1. I had no idea they opened up more area for it. I've only hunted out there once. Definitely gonna have to check it out again!

  2. Alex, I think I spoke too soon when I said I thought that place would shortly dry out a lot more, we had over two inches of rain in Gainesville yesterday. I bet some of the places I walked on Saturday are under water now. The place has a ton of potential though, there are huge areas that are really difficult to get to. I'm sure there are plenty of deer and turkey hiding in there.