Category Archives: Life Outdoors

The Rise of Identity Politics in Hunting

By Jack Kredell

Somewhere around the time of Larry the Cable Guy­ hunting became a lot more than a seasonal pursuit. There were hints of the progression in the 90s, but overall it was a decidedly post-9/11 shift. As hunter participation was actually decreasing (and continues to decline), the visibility and commercial viability of hunting suddenly exploded. Hunting was now something more than a lifestyle: It was a brand.

You began to see as much camouflage in the mall as you did in the field. Decals of bucks with double drop tines, a characteristic rare enough in the wild that most of us will never encounter one, became plastered on the windows of F-250s everywhere. Camouflage went from performing the task of making you unseen to making you seen. Sure enough, pink camouflage was quick to follow for female hunters to be seen and counted, too.

Hunter

Image: http://www.trbimg.com/

Larry the Cable Guy’s use of redneck blackface made him a millionaire by branding the “blue collar” identity that was also the source of his comedy. People felt represented by him because he fully identified with the thing being made fun of: them.

After 9/11, as a result of cultural forces that are probably still too new to understand fully (social media being one of them), hunting evolved into a fixed and marketable identity with a defined set of politics. Hunting became just another popular identity, one of many in the popular cultural landscape. A reality television show about duck hunters becomes one of the most watched in TV history. For the first time, you could identify as a hunter (even without actually being one) and it made sense. It came with a known set of cultural and political affiliations. All you had to do was wear a Mossy Oak hoodie and people understood who you were. In a way, wearing camo is no different than wearing a your favorite team’s jersey. But what exactly is team hunting, and what does it represent?

In a surplus economy, hunting-as-subsistence is not going to be part of your average hunter’s identity. Very few us can make enough money to live by hunting or trapping. The one way that all of us can identify as hunters is through consumption. Some very smart people figured out that if there’s one thing that hunters seem to enjoy as much as hunting, it’s shopping.

But not everybody was hip to it. Fudds were born. Fudds resisted the rising tide of the monoculture by embracing a more austere post-war approach to hunting. For a Fudd, hunting means fair chase and a pre-64 Winchester Model 70 in .270. The arrival of the controversial AR platform made hunting a contested second amendment issue. If you came out against so-called black rifles, you were not only anti-hunting, but indirectly, anti-second amendment as well. Because hunting is not a right, hunters realized they had to bow down to second amendment politics (and its marketplace). Then Jim Zumbo came out against the AR platform and became the sacrificial Fudd. He was struck down by the outdoor powers that be, which seemed at the mercy of the new market for the AR. 

This progression towards a popular hunting identity has lumped hunters into a monolithic group synonymous with powerful rights-based politics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the more unified a group is, the more leverage it tends to have. However, unified and homogenous are not the same thing. Groups that are too homogenous are weak because they alienate members who disagree as well as those like-minded non-members who would help the cause. 

It’s at this moment when, consciously or subconsciously, hunting shows begin to appear that challenge the status quo. You can read the efforts of hunters like Steven Rinella, Randy Newberg, and Remi Warren as in no small part responding to those aspects of hunting that the post-9/11 landscape has downplayed, ignored, or even repressed. In Rinella, it’s the materiality of food consumption and its relationship to history and landscape; for Newberg it’s the egalitarian principles of public land hunting; in “Solo Hunter” Warren invokes a tradition of rugged self-reliance. Independent YouTube also contributed to the changing landscape of outdoor media.

These were not so much rebellions against the status quo of mainstream hunting media as proof that hunting is deeply varied in practice. Hunters do not all agree on what constitutes hunting, nor do we all agree on what the future of hunting should look like.

Which leads to the single biggest problem with hunting today: It is the culture itself that is prohibitive in the way we hunters get to decide how our economic and political power should be used. We can’t agree on the biggest threats to hunting because we’re not allowed to disagree.

Hunting is a deeply regional activity. A whitetail hunter in Iowa will face different roadblocks and conservation issues than an elk hunter in Idaho. This basic fact should invite differences of opinion, even irreconcilable ones, into the hunting discourse. Yet we’ve developed a climate where to disagree with one form of hunting is to disagree with the whole and be labeled an anti-hunter. This behavior is not what’s going to get us through the long nights ahead of us. 

Post Season Bacon

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Depending on where you are in the country, hunting season has just about wrapped up. Deer season was months ago, and turkey season has pretty much come to an end. If you’re anything like me, you’re already counting down until opening day in fall. But don’t be so quick to put away the camos just yet. There’s one animal in particular that still offers hunting opportunity far later in the year, and year round in some cases: The feral pig.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

By this point in time, if you’ve never heard of the feral pig or wild pigs, you’ve probably been living under a rock. They’re extremely invasive and have spread themselves throughout almost all of the Southeastern United States. The pigs were originally brought in by the Spanish, and in conjunction with a series of farm escapes throughout the years, they’ve spread like wildfire.

Pigs pose a major problem to agriculture. They cause millions of dollars in damage to crops every year because of the way they feed. Pigs naturally root up the ground to dig for tubers and roots. Areas that’ve had a group of pigs come through honestly look like someone came in and dragged a tractor disk across the ground. They rip up everything, and when you add in their extremely fast reproductive rates, they’ve gotten out of hand.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

Over the past few years, states have begun to recognize the wild pig issue. All states that have feral pigs present have incorporated harvesting them into regular hunting seasons, but many have actually taken it a step further. States like Florida have unique laws. On specific Wildlife Management Areas, there are extra wild pig seasons that are open during various times over the summer. This not only allows the public access to many of these WMA’s during non-standard hunting times, but it also allows them the opportunity to hunt outside of the regular hunting season.

And let’s not forget private land. Depending on what part of the state you’re in, many counties allow for wild pigs to be harvested with the use of spotlight, night vision, or even the help of dogs. Hunting on private land for pigs also lasts year round; there’s no defined season. This has been put in place to try and help curb not only their spread, but also the amount of damage they can do to private land owners.

As with any outdoor activity (but especially hunting), be sure to check up and familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations regarding pigs as each state is different. Hunters should also be well-prepared as far as gear goes to hunt pigs. Many public land areas forbid the use of center-fire rifles during pig seasons. This means a hunter is restricted to either archery hunting or shotguns. Using a bow for pigs can be very effective, but it’s important to ensure a clean shot as they are extremely tough animals. With shotguns, I would avoid buckshots entirely and just stick to slugs.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

On private land, you’re usually welcome to use whatever you’d like. My personal favorites are either a 7.62×39 or a 30-06 when chasing pigs. There are obviously about a hundred different options for cartridges that will work for wild pigs, but that’s a discussion for another day. Just be sure to pick something that has a decent amount of knockdown power. Even a fairly small pig can be somewhat dangerous if cornered and wounded. If you’re planning on hunting at night, be sure to outfit your firearm properly. High-powered scopes are often difficult to wield when using spotlights, and finding your target in the crosshairs can be just as challenging.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

So if you’ve found yourself down in the dumps because hunting season is over, consider taking a look at wild pigs. Harvesting them isn’t just for hunting’s sake, it’s actually good for our natural environments and agricultural productivity. And let’s be honest, there are few things better than waking up on a warm summer’s day and cooking up some bacon for breakfast.

Sea Robins and Boneless Chicken

Eastern Sea Robin [Image: www.danasrig.top]

Eastern Sea Robin [Image: www.danasrig.top/]

The boneless chicken breast, a formless glob of translucent meat usually found under a window of cellophane, is a terrifying thing. It is the perfect representation of the American palate: Cheap, industrial, and nearly flavorless.

The meat’s formlessness leaves you unaware and unconcerned that it was once part of an animal, a small flightless bird that lived its entire life in a small cage without much natural light. It is completely lacking in anatomical markers beyond the word “breast.” You trust that it is a breast and not something else. Whatever it is, it seems to come from a limitless supply because it’s always there when you want it.

The boneless breast cannot be used creatively because creativity works though limitation and obstacle. With boneless meat the obstacles are already overcome. Being perfectly bland, it can accommodate a limitless variety of spices and condiments. It lacks the very things—blood, bone, marrow, skin, and fat—that would give it flavor and texture through the transformative act of cooking. The boneless breast is a ready-made object that is used in conjunction with other ready-made additives to become a meal. It is everything that is wrong about the industrial food apparatus.

A sea robin is the exact opposite. Being nearly all bone and covered in mildly poisonous spines, this ugly northeastern trash fish is the palatal antichrist to boneless chicken. In New England, it’s considered an overabundant nuisance fish that poaches bait meant for stripers. In fact, the robin is considered so unworthy a fish that fishermen refuse to acknowledge them in their catch. A Long Islander who catches 10 sea robins and one bluefish will tell you he didn’t get into the striper.

When my fishing buddy reeled in a huge robin, I plucked it out of the surf in excitement and got a half-inch spine lodged in my thumb. The wound hurt, but I was proud of it.  We were no doubt the only Long Island fishermen that day happily leaving the surf with a bucket of robins.

The first time I had sea robin was on a party boat out of Sheepshead Bay. It was fried and served on white bread with spicy mayonnaise and tomato. It was delicious. I couldn’t believe that this was the ugly red fish with the oversized head and bat wings that everybody scoffed at. When the captain decided to move the boat from our current location because we were hooking too many robins, my friend and I looked at each other in mild disappointment.

There are two paths available to us going forward this century: The sea robin and the boneless chicken breast. The path of the sea robin is about embracing what it is ugly, precarious, labor-intensive, and near; the path of the boneless breast embraces what is cheap, easy, and removed from the reality of our food practices. The robin, like any freshly caught fish, reminds you of the pleasure of standing on the beach and casting into the surf. Eating boneless chicken is a completely forgettable experience unless you get salmonella. The path of the sea robin is sustainable and forces us to partake in death and manage waste; the path of boneless chicken breasts leads to oblivion.

My Thoughts on Hunters Criticizing Hunters: Do it

Image: http://www.prohuntersjournal.com/

Image: http://www.prohuntersjournal.com/

By Jack Kredell

When did hunters become so sensitive? Every other week some think piece comes out in one of the major outdoor publications warning hunters about the dangers of criticizing other hunters. In the big hunting forum I frequent, whenever somebody posts something critical of high fence operations or comes out in favor of wolves, they get called an anti-hunter. You’d think we were the most sensitive group in America. Most recently, “Outdoor Life” published an article by hunter and blogger Tyler Freel that faithfully repeats the dogma:

Worse than any anti-hunter’s criticism is friendly fire, attacks from within our community of hunters. The only thing anti-hunters would love more than to see us destroy hunting from within is to see all hunting gone. I don’t know if hunters attacking and belittling each other’s methods is more common now than in the past, but it is certainly more audible and visible. And it’s often reduced to a simple and damning phrase: “That’s not hunting.”

This appeal to self-censorship is a disturbing trend within the outdoor community. It’s disturbing for several reasons, the most obvious being the apparent inability of hunters to deal with criticism. Another disturbing pattern is the deep and self-righteous investment in what non-hunters think of their activities. So much so that hunting is often depicted for them as opposed to other hunters. This kind of extreme reactionary behavior is the real reason why hunters and anti-hunters have a problem with one another. It’s how we’ve arrived at the silliness of people posting bloody grip and grins on Facebook and then getting upset when they’re called a monster. The problem comes from within, not from without.

Within, not from without: Hunters are afraid to pass judgment on one another because the mainstream elements of our culture tend to promote the view that our way of life is under attack from the outside. The modern hunter lives more or less in a constant state of emergency. There isn’t a day that goes by where the modern hunter’s inbox isn’t bombarded with emails begging for attention and money about this or that politician and this or that company refusing to accommodate gun owners. It follows a logic that we should all be familiar with from this political cycle: Blame anything or anybody for our problems except ourselves. Not enough jobs? Build a wall. Elk are all gone? Kill the wolves.

The idea is that we have to band together to combat this external threat, a threat that never actually occurs (meanwhile the guns and ammo fly off the shelves, and it’s a victory for the NRA). It’s ironic how the prohibition on judgment reproduces the very political correctness that annoys conservatives.

Does PETA want to end hunting? Yes. Are there lots of groups that would like to see an end to hunting? Sure. Is the EPA part of a liberal conspiracy to weaken industry from within and close rivers and streams to fishing? No. Did the auto insurance industry, in cahoots with state fish and wildlife agencies, introduce wolf-hybrid coyotes to the eastern United States to reduce deer vehicle collisions (many hunters in my state believe this)? Doubtful. The only way we’re going to get out of this insane deadlock between hunter-conservationists and environmentalists and between hunters and anti-hunters is if we mutually disown the more irrational elements of our respective sides and really come to terms with what we both want. Because I really do believe that the majority of us want a similar thing: Land that belongs to everyone and no one simultaneously and that anybody can enjoy the way they see fit.

Why My Grandfather Stopped Hunting

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org/

By Jack Kredell

Once my grandfather reached the peak of his hunting prowess, sometime in his late 50s, he became more and more reluctant to hunt. It seemed odd that a man who had killed a deer or elk almost every year since he was a teenager would suddenly lose interest in hunting. Was it apathy? It didn’t seem likely.

At the end of a yoga class a few weeks ago, we were instructed during shavasana, or corpse pose, to let our mind wander freely. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled, and let my mind go blank. I soon found myself on a ridge top looking through binoculars at the 8-point I would shoot a few minutes later. I raised my gun but found the shot too difficult to take standing, so I began slowly to crouch, letting my left elbow come to a rest on my left thigh. Here I breathed, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. For the first time since killing that deer, I recalled the physical violence of the gun going off, the way it popped and bucked deep into my shoulder, the half-moon gash on my forehead from the impact of the scope.

That one was so much more violent than the first two, but not because I couldn’t handle the recoil. It was violent because I felt I knew this deer better than the first two. Finding this deer had been a little different. For the first time, I had stalked a deer and entered its world completely undetected. I had plenty of time to decide not take this animal’s life. I almost felt his equal, and I didn’t want the experience to end. Killing him felt like an act of betrayal.

When you’re first starting out, getting a shot at a deer occurs when your world and their world suddenly and fortunately (for you) collide. That moment of chance is where most hunting takes place. Throw in the pressure you put on yourself to get a deer, and you can understand why people routinely miss or wound deer. That moment is fleeting (you think), and so you take the shot. The difference between this kind of hunting and the hunting where I felt I had slipped into the buck’s world is that in the former, the trigger pulls you while in the latter, you pull the trigger.

It was then, during this vision on the yoga mat, that I understood my grandfather’s waning desire to hunt. Simply put, hunting had become too intimate for him. His ego was no longer part of his practice. He was more aware than ever of death and dying, both for himself and for others. He had practiced the art of still hunting his entire life, and by middle age, he had no problem entering an animal’s world. The labor it now took to get within range of a deer required neither evidence nor reward. But it wasn’t the satisfaction in knowing he could kill the deer that prevented him from doing it. For the first time in 50 years of hunting, he knew he actually couldn’t.

Kayaks and Kayak Accessories

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

By this point, we’ve all seen them—the fishing kayaks decked out with everything from GoPro mounts and livewells to sails and even motors. To the beginner kayaker, the amount of options to add to your kayak can seem somewhat overwhelming. Sure, you can add tons of stuff to your plastic yak, but where do you start? The following are a few basic accessories that can slowly turn your barren paddle craft into a much more functional piece of equipment without getting too crazy.

Kayak on the beach loaded with gear.

Image: Alex Vail

Seats

This may seem a bit basic, but first things first, right? A good seat is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment you can “upgrade” on your kayak. Think about it: It’s where you spend almost all your time. Kayaking and kayak fishing is supposed to be enjoyable, and each trip can be much more enjoyable when you’re actually comfortable. Stock kayak seats are often extremely basic. Some even lack a bottom and are just a support to lean against. I personally suggest biting the bullet and investing in a nice seat. When you’re already staring at almost a full day in the yak or over 10 miles of paddling, the last thing in the world you want is to be cripplingly uncomfortable. 

Some kayaks don’t come with the standard cleats that are required with a seat. But with a few basic tools and sealant, it’s pretty easy to get the kayak ready to not only accept a new seat, but also make it comfortable.

Rudder

Another somewhat basic piece of equipment, but one that can make your life infinitely easier. I personally swear by a rudder—it’s far better to have and not need than need and not have. The advantage to a rudder is tackling windy conditions during longer paddles. The rudder helps the kayak track much more easily so you aren’t constantly trying to correct, and therefore alter, your paddling rhythm. A simple pedal-steered rudder can make life much easier while out on the water. These are advantageous in foul weather as well when you’ve been caught in the wind and have to turn around. Ask anyone who’s struggled with that, and they know the nightmare it can be. Finally, a rudder proves useful even in calm conditions on days when you’re out fishing. You can get the kayak moving with a few paddle strokes, and after picking up the rod, you can easily adjust the direction of the kayak with some simple footwork with the pedals. It’s even easier when the wind is at your back.

Much like the seats, installing a rudder just requires a few basic tools and obviously the equipment. Be sure to sit in the seat and measure out how comfortable you are and how far away you need the pedals to be based off of your leg length. If your rudder doesn’t already have it, I highly suggest using a steel cable to link the rudder to the pedals. My last rudder with steel cables lasted 11 years before finally needing any maintenance.

Closeup of kayak.

Image: Alex Vail

Anchor Trolley 

This is one that I don’t see many people using. In fact, I don’t see a ton of people using anchors to begin with. But the advantage to an anchor trolley is the ability to adjust the direction you’re faced when anchored up. With this very simple pulley system, a kayaker can change the facing and actual location of the kayak even while anchored. Need the pivot point of the anchor line to be off the bow? Just adjust it. Need to face the opposite direction so you can cast repeatedly into that hole? Fine-tune the pivot point to your liking. It’s proved invaluable for me on several occasions, and it wasn’t particularly difficult to install.

So if you’ve just recently dipped your toes into the world of kayaking, try and start small. The bigger, more in-depth accessories can wait. Focus on the basics first. With these simple upgrades, you can easily step up your kayak game. Just be careful: Upgrading the kayak can be a slippery slope. Before you know it, you’ll be latching on sails and livewells just like everyone else.

A Woman Named Barb and the Greatest Hunt Ever Filmed

The two-part “MeatEater” episode “Unconventional: Alaska Sooty Grouse” is a masterpiece of outdoor television and a heck of a hunt. For those who are unfamiliar, Steven Rinella’s “MeatEater ” is a unique and thought-provoking example of a genre that is routinely neither. The first part documents Rinella’s failure to locate (and growing obsession with) a highly vocal yet elusive sooty grouse. The second installment introduces a soft-spoken local hunter by the name of Barbara Gabier who, almost magically it seems, puts Rinella onto a grouse in less than an hour.

MeatEater "Alaska Sooty Grouse" episodes.

[Image: https://plus.google.com/+MeatEaterTV/videos]

What the episode dramatizes so well is the hunter’s frustration and near-refusal to come to terms with failure. Rinella, a very accomplished hunter, threw the book at a bird that was most likely 40 feet over his head half the time. But rather than pursue the bird on his own until the very end, Rinella enlists Barb who essentially offers a change of perspective. She puts Rinella out of his own head and into hers, which happens to contain a lot grouse hunting knowledge. What follows is a kind of romance between hunters in which Rinella is brought up to speed on sooty grouse hunting, something he wasn’t capable of on his own in the time given to him.

Knowledge has its limits, and to overcome them, we often have to look beyond ourselves. If anything, hunting is a humbling experience; it’s even more so when you don’t have a buddy or mentor to show you the ropes. This is why young hunters hunt with older hunters. It’s an old lesson, but in “Unconventional: Alaska Sooty Grouse,” it unfolds like a short story in which an enigma is presented and then resolved in a sideways or unexpected fashion.

The Style of David E. Petzal

By Jack Kredell

Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” reveals a profane yet common reversal in which the father is led by the son. In the post-apocalyptic future of “The Road,” the father is a heartsick refugee while the son, who was an infant when the event occurred, is at home. While the father continues to serve as his son’s guardian, he is no longer his authority. It’s simply not his world. As brutal as the present is for the father, it’s the memory of the former world that destroys him.

I mention the predicament of “The Road’s” nameless father because it seemed like an apt metaphor for the duality of David E. Petzal’s output over the last couple of years. Petzal, who is one half of Field and Stream’s “The Gun Nuts” blog, is a case study in how not to get Zumbo’ed despite an obvious distaste for the tactical development of today’s gun and hunting markets. Without a doubt, he is writing about today’s world; what I find odd is how he seems to loathe every aspect of it without having the courage to say so. I find that disingenuous.

For the most part, Petzal writes with a kind of gentle armchair pomposity about all things gun and hunting related. His hunting and firearm experience is vast, and he is humble. But there is something contrived about his style, the hallmarks of which are sentences that strain towards aphorism; solemn references to Shakespeare or classic writers who might be considered outside the purview of his audience; boilerplate tough guy bwana hunting narratives; easy and obligatory swipes at Hilary Clinton…etc, the overall effect of which is that brand of smug and pandering we’ve come to know so well during this election cycle.

David E. Petzal.

Image: http://www.fieldandstream.com/

But what sticks out most about Petzal’s language is the quaintness of it. It’s full of nostalgia. It insists on trying to describe and define the present according to various laws of history. It’s classical without being excessive and perverse—it’s Disney classical.

David E. Petzal is indeed a guardian of a certain kind of world, which may or may not exist. When he tries to relate to this world, which is the world of Black Lives Matter and black rifles, he no longer feels like an authority. He simply comes across as a crank with a quaint prose style.

Big, Bad Wolf

Grey wolf peering surreptitiously. [Image: www.oregonlive.com]

Grey wolf peering surreptitiously. [Image: www.oregonlive.com/]

Early on in January, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) took flight in helicopters over the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to radio collar elk for the purposes of herd population research. The remarkable aspect of this activity is not that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) allowed IDFG crews to land helicopters over 100 times in a fragile and protected wilderness area, but that the IDFG—expressly on an elk mission—also “accidentally” collared four wolves.

The IDFG claimed they collared the wolves because they “made a mistake not clearly communicating mission limitations to one of [the] helicopter crews.” This explanation raises some questions, like, “How does someone employed to help manage forests mistake an elk for a wolf?” Or, “How is one not properly briefed before boarding a helicopter to fulfill a rare agreement made with the federal government to enter a protected wilderness area?” All this apart from the obvious collar size and implementation differences between the animals, the misinformed crew would have needed extra gear.

Wolf in Yellowstone, sporting a Gucci Positioning System. [Image: wikipedia.com]

Wolf in Yellowstone sporting this season’s Gucci Positioning System. [Image: www.wikipedia.com/]

But the conversation is bigger than the four wolves that were collared. The wolf debate in the Northwest—that is, whether or not the rebounded “experimental, non-essential” wolf population is a primary cause for the decline in elk populations in backcountry Idaho and elsewhere, and what we should do about it—is fiery and often personal, if not omnipresent among conservationists and hunters in the West. Before wolf reintroduction in 1995, more than 100,000 comments were offered on the wolf reintroduction plan, the most that had been contributed to a single FWS survey at that time, and the opinions haven’t stopped pouring in for over two decades.

Wolves once occupied a range that spanned most of the continent, but they were extirpated largely by “wolfers,” fur tradesmen who poisoned wolves for their pelts and ranchers who saw wolves and other large predators as a threat to their livestock. This occurred particularly after the decimation of native ungulate herds by unregulated hunting and human settlement in the mid- to late-1800s.

Damn, it feels good to be an apex predator? [Image: montanaoutdoor.com]

Damn, it feels good to be an apex predator? [Image: www.montanaoutdoor.com/]

Today the wolves have regained a lot of lost ground and have again become a nuisance for sportsmen and hunters who resent their competition for elk and other game, as well as ranchers whose livelihoods are sometimes dampened by wolf depredation. Some question whether the right species of wolf was introduced to the area. Still others argue that, regardless of the type of wolf, the wolves have a right to be there and their presence helps restore some of the natural order of the region from perhaps prior to Lewis and Clark’s expedition.

Swirling in the debate are millions of dollars that help with conservation, local business, and human recreation at the same time as well as all the high emotion that comes with the investment of time and resources. The conversation never gets any simpler than that, and it’s best if it is able play out in an environment where there is transparency and accountability.

Winter Camping in the Everglades

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

When you think of camping and boating, generally an image of warm summer days and swimming come to mind. But let’s be honest—chances are that if you look out of your window right now, it’s far from a warm summer day outside. There is, however, a place in the U.S. where winter is the best time of the year to camp: The Florida Everglades are calling your name.

Sunset

Image: Alex Vail

Unlike the rest of the country right now, the Florida Everglades are actually comfortable outside, and winter is the best time of the year to go out there and camp. Generally temperatures range anywhere from the high 40s to the upper 70s from the months of November through March, which is perfect weather for camping. A large majority of the mosquitoes have also died off, so you can pitch a tent and not worry about severe blood loss. It isn’t, however, as simple as driving out there and pitching a tent. There are a few things to prepare for and keep in mind before venturing out into the ‘Glades.

Before You Go

Unpacking a tent.

Image: Alex Vail

Only about 1/8 of the available campsites in the Everglades can actually be reached by foot. Another advantage of it being winter is that water levels are down so actually walking to campsites in areas like Everglades National Park or Big Cypress National Preserve is a pretty dry trek. Try doing this in summer or fall, and you’re guaranteed to be wading through knee-deep water. The other 7/8? Those campsites have to be reached by kayak or boat. Almost all of the campsites along the coast, like the Ten Thousand Islands and the southern point of Everglades National Park, must be reached by water, either by power boat or paddle craft. Be sure to be wary of shallow water if you’re bringing a boat. Most of the water out in the ‘Glades is only about three or four feet deep. It’s entirely possible to get stuck for upwards of six hours thanks to extreme tides.

Preparation

You’re going to want to bring all of your usual camping equipment. If you’re going by paddle craft or hiking, however, weight is going to be of a big concern so cut down wherever you can. If you’ve also decided to camp within the Ten Thousand Islands, you’re going to have to bring all the water you need with you. Sun protection is still very important, even this time of the year, so sunscreen and long sleeves/face protection are an absolute must. Weather is still just as unpredictable as ever, so rain gear as well as rope to tie down the tent are a good idea, too. As far as navigation goes, you should always carry two different ways of navigation at all times. I prefer a map with a compass for standard navigation, and I carry a GPS as a backup. The last thing in the world you want is to get lost out there. Finally, even though the mosquitoes have died off quite a bit, they’re still a very real thing. Heavy applications of Deet and Thermacell are a good idea.

On Arrival 

One of the big kickers with camping in the Everglades is that campsites are limited to a certain amount of campers per site. This means they need to be reserved. However, you cannot reserve campsites beyond 24 hours in advance of your trip, which really translates into reserving them when you check into the ranger station. There are stations located in Flamingo as well as Everglades City, and they have maps and information inside that can be pretty helpful as well. The ranger will want to know where you plan to camp each night of your trip, and you’ll have to reserve one for each night you plan to stay. This is obviously for safety, but also for the simple fact that some campsites only fit so many people.

In the ‘Glades

It’s wild out there—be sure to consistently check your bearings and location to avoid getting turned around. There are generally three different types of campsites out there: ground sites, beach sites, and chickees. Ground sites are simple campsites on some of the sparse dry ground in the backcountry. These sites have picnic tables, a porta-john, and that’s about it. Since these are usually tucked back into the mangroves, the mosquitoes can be horrendous. You also can’t have fires at these sites, so keep that in mind when considering how you’re going to cook food.

Tent camping.

Image: Alex Vail

Beach sites are exactly like they sound: a campsite on a beach. But they aren’t really a sandy beach with coconut palm trees on them. The beaches are made up almost entirely of crushed shell and mangroves that are within just a few yards of some of the sites. There are no tables at these (they’d get washed away), and there aren’t usually any porta-johns (some have them, though). You’re welcome to build a fire at these using the abundant driftwood that washes up.

Kayak packed with camp gear.

Image: Alex Vail

Finally there are the chickees. These are essentially raised up dock platforms that are located randomly right on the surface of the water in many of the bays and estuaries. There’s a single roof on these, no walls, and enough room for your tent, a little gear, and a porta-john. That’s it. This is where the rope comes in handy to tie your tent to the dock since you can’t place stakes. You obviously cannot have fires on these either, unless you really feel like having an adventure and burning the whole platform down with you on top. The mosquitoes can be relatively bad at these, but my big thing is just comfort. Bring a sleeping pad for your tent as the dock platform isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on.

Tent on a deck.

Image: Alex Vail

So if you’ve got cabin fever and are walled-in behind endless amounts of that white nightmare called snow, consider coming down to give the Everglades a try this winter. Keep these tips in mind, and you’re sure to have a great experience in the ‘Glades. Just don’t forget the bug spray.