First and foremost, I want to begin with a disclaimer: I’ve only been to Big Cypress once, and saw a grand total of one hen during five days of hunting. With that being said, Big Cypress is certainly the most beautiful and unforgiving place that I have ever chased gobblers, and I plan to make it a regular trip. I won’t offer any tips on how to find birds in this massive swamp (although I’ll take any suggestions for next year!) but I can provide a few tips for planning a hunt.
Bring a Bike
This is easily the number one thing that I believe could have changed our success this year. We walked an average of 14 miles a day, which was a difficult pace to keep up when moving through water. Many of the units in Big Cypress have roads that can be accessed with an off-road vehicle permit. Given the massive swamp buggies that are everywhere, I assumed these roads would be in terrible condition. For the most part, that seemed to be completely wrong. Almost all of the roads that we walked were in suitable condition for biking, and most hunters we saw were using bikes for access. Having a bike may not have resulted in a dead turkey kill, but it would have given my group the mobility to scout and hunt the entire unit we were in. Perhaps just as importantly, it would have added several hours of sleep on some nights, as 2-hour long hikes resulted in early mornings and late nights after roosting.
Bring Multiple Pairs of Shoes
As ridiculous as I felt packing five pairs of shoes for a hunt, I am glad that I got this one right. Walking miles in wet boots is probably the worst thing you can do to your feet, and Big Cypress provides great opportunities to do just that. Depending on the area we were hunting, I primarily used three pairs of shoes: lightweight hiking boots, Keen sandals, and rubber boots. By the third day, I had whittled this down to just the sandals and rubber boots, as I found the sandals were comfortable enough for hiking roads. I usually started the morning off walking roads in sandals, and would carry the boots in the game bag of my vest. The boots came in handy whenever we ventured off the road, as they provided more protection for my feet while still giving me the ability to walk through water. They were a little warm and not designed for hiking, which was why I would only wear them offtrail. Carrying along a pair of sandals (or Crocs, as a buddy of mine did) on every hunt was a game changer, as most days we hit water that was over knee deep. Water shoes gave us the chance to cross without creating a situation that would lead to blisters.
Bring Plenty of Gas
There are several gas stations around Big Cypress, but I would recommend having a full tank when you arrive. Big Cypress is not set up well for driving, and also isn’t a place you want to be stuck without gas. While this never happened to us, we weren’t prepared for how far a drive it would be to access particular spot. For instance, we hunted our first morning off a walk-in along Interstate 41. After hunting, it appeared our campsite would be just a few minutes away. We were very wrong. Getting to camp required driving 10 miles up the interstate just to turn around, then taking an exit. From there, we went 15 miles the other direction before realizing there was no off ramp at the road to camp. This meant we had to go 5 more miles before an exit, then take a road paralleling the real road to camp about 20 miles before driving 5 miles back to hit the actual road to camp. After 20 more miles driving on a dirt road, we reached our campsite that was literally within 5 miles of where we started. Even though most of your hunting will be from bike or foot, prepare for long drives to stores for food, gas, and ice.
Bring a Map (and use it!)
The last bit of advice that I will give is to bring along a map or GPS. The flat, swampy terrain of Big Cypress lends itself to getting lost, especially when you cover the necessary miles to hunt it. I personally used OnX during our hunt, which worked perfectly. Cell service is spotty on Big Cypress, so being able to download maps for use in the field is absolutely critical. Additionally, having the ability to keep track of where we walked made it much easier to find our way out, as some ditches in the swamp can only be crossed in a few shallow spots that are difficult to remember without a map. I feel I am decent at navigation, but having OnX was absolutely critical to keeping us from getting lost on our trip.
Go for it!
At the start of this blog, I mentioned the lack of turkey hunting success we had. Big Cypress is a tough place, but this was one of the most fun hunting trips I have been on. I’ll be going back to chase Osceolas next season, and I hope you’ll consider doing the same!