When I last left you, I was shooting a firearm for the first time at a local outdoor shooting range in Statesboro, Georgia. Although I was anything but talented at the time (still not the best if I’m honest), the experience did challenge my preconceived perceptions on firearms. I went from seeing zero value in learning to shoot a gun to now understanding that ultimately, understanding how to operate a gun is a valuable life skill. Now, shooting a gun for the first time is one thing, but hunting for the first time was an entirely different undertaking, especially for me as I took an unconventional route to my first hunting experience: iguana hunting in the everglades of South Florida in the midst of a quite hellish July.
Prior to learning I was attending this hunt, I didn’t realize people even hunted iguanas. It only took a small amount of research, however, for me to learn that iguanas are an incredibly invasive species in the state of Florida and they cause extensive damage to the ecosystem of South Florida specifically. I at first assumed iguanas have existed in Florida for hundreds of years based on the estimated 20,000 that currently reside there. However, reports of iguanas in Florida first surfaced in the 1960s after cargo ships from nearby countries brought iguanas to the southern coast of Florida, where they then reproduced rapidly, thriving off the warm climate and tropical vegetation. To continue my research, I made the mistake of watching a few YouTube videos of iguana hunts and realized quickly that this excursion would be one hundred and ten percent outside my comfort zone; but an intriguing adventure nonetheless.
The day finally rolled around to make the seven hour drive from Savannah, Georgia (where Norma Precision Inc. is located) to Fort Lauderdale, Florida with my colleague, Travis, who was also attending the hunt. Upon arriving in Fort Lauderdale, we met up with Ton Jones, whom you may recognize from the television series Auction Hunters, or perhaps you recognize him from his work at AirForce Airguns. Unless on private property, Florida law prohibits hunting iguanas with anything other than airguns; so AirForce Airguns graciously supplied two air rifles for this hunt.
At seven o’clock the following morning, the three of us drove roughly twenty minutes outside of Fort Lauderdale to the Everglades Holiday Park, where we met our guide, Levi Hutchinson, at the park docks. While we loaded up Levi’s boat, I found myself glancing up at the trees, searching for iguanas that may have been hiding in the park trees. I didn’t spot any, of course, but it was worth a go. After the boat was loaded with the essentials for the day, including plenty of Norma airgun pellets and two AirForce Airgun rifles, everyone found their seat, and we set off through the wetland channels to find us some lizards.
After speeding through the water for a few miles and ducking under two bridges, one so low we each had to hunch over to keep our heads from scraping the bridge underside, Levi slowed the boat next to a tiny dock extending a few feet into the channel. On top of the dock, sat an empty folding chair and next to it, a relaxed, sunbathing green iguana, probably three feet in length from the tip of his tail to the top of his head. Although it lay in a perfect position to take a shot, Florida law prohibits hunting on private property (for obvious reasons). Not seeing any other iguanas, I assumed we would keep trucking down the channel, but instead, Ton lifted his air rifle, aimed slightly to the right of the dock, and squeezed the trigger. I heard a pop.
Dozens of disgusting little green dudes suddenly came into view next to the dock, frantically scampering away through the grass. I cringed; the little suckers were hidden so well I had only seen the one sunbathing in plain sight, who, by the way, had escaped into the water to hide. The hit iguana struggled to keep up with the others; but he was doing his best. Ton quickly loaded another pellet into the airgun and took aim again.
The iguana collapsed in the grass. Levi maneuvered the boat closer to the channel bank, and Ton hopped off the boat, to retrieve the dead lizard. Much to everyone’s surprise, he held up a still wriggling, very much alive iguana by the tail and back legs and walked back to the boat. I was hoping to potentially make it through this entire hunt without having to touch a single iguana (yes, I am aware of how far fetched that is) but, alas, that dream was short-lived. Before I knew it, Ton had shot the iguana again, and lizard guts rained down on me and the boat. Quite frankly, I would have much rather preferred to pick up the iguana than to sport remnants of its internal organs on my t-shirt, but hey, at least that’s one less iguana for Florida to worry about.
After securing the dead iguana in a cooler, Levi drove the boat further down the channel until he slowed the boat in front of a clump of enormous trees. There on the bank was a small iguana, maybe two and a half feet in length, unmoving as he watched us creep closer through the water. Travis and Ton motioned for me to take a shot, and without a further thought so as not to psych myself out, I picked up the airgun beside me and shot at it. Missed. The iguana darted up the bank. I shot at it again. Missed. With my competitive instincts kicking in, I shot again.
And missed. He got away, disappearing into the trees. Sorry, Florida.
Day one was still successful, however. After collecting seven dead iguanas, we called it a day around four o’clock that afternoon and began the boat ride back through the channels of Fort Lauderdale to the park docks. Levi explained to us that the next morning we would get a 4’oclock am start out into the everglades, have a picnic lunch of iguana legs and tails, and snag us some more lizards. You know, just typical Florida man activities. Stay tuned for part two as I delve into the second day of my unconventional first hunting experience.
To Be Continued