Day two of my unconventional first hunt began at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m. when my alarm went off. I sighed as I reached my arm over to the hotel nightstand and flipped on the lamp. I unlocked my phone to check what time the sun would be up: 6:44 a.m. I sighed again and slowly rolled out of my hotel bed. That would be at least two hours and forty-four minutes before I would come to life. With eyes half open, I met the others in the hotel lobby about ten minutes later to load the suburban with our Air Force Air Rifles, Norma airgun pellets, and our gear to set off on day two of my unconventional first hunting experience: iguanas in the everglades of South Florida.
We arrived at the Everglades Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where we met our guide, Levi, around 5:00 a.m. – the same starting location as the previous day. We pulled up to a different dock than day one, however: the airboat dock. Directly beyond the dock and water channel was a massive wall of darkness – the dense foliage of the everglades that houses native wildlife and plants. The airboat dock would not open for tours for a few more hours, so we had plenty of time to get situated for the day and grab drone video footage of the everglades in the early morning hours before setting off.
Or so we thought.
A bolt of lightning lit up the dark morning sky to reveal dense clouds as far as my eyes could see, and a clap of thunder reverberated above us. A storm was coming…and boy, did a storm come. As the rain pounded down, we immediately snatched the drone and camera equipment and covered the rest of the gear with a tarp as best we could before diving into the suburban for shelter.
The good news: I was 100% awake now. The bad news: I was soaked from head to toe, as was everyone else, and it was barely 5:15 a.m. As I sat shotgun, watching the rain roll profusely down the car windows, I told myself that at least my first hunting experience was in Florida and not somewhere up North in a tree stand freezing to death while waiting to shoot a deer and inevitably – with my track record so far – miss. Small silver lining, right? I shifted my feet and my sneakers squished out water. Rain boots and dry socks would have been a godsend.
After what felt like a century, the rain slacked off to a mild sprinkle, and we ventured out of the suburban and back to the boat, my sneakers squishing all the way. Once situated in our seats, Levi started the boat engine, and we tore off through the dark water towards the everglades, with the wind whipping all around us, to shoot some lizards.
The sky slowly turned from black to gray, with the sun hiding bashfully behind the clouds as Levi directed the boat down the first everglade channel we came upon. I gazed up at the dense trees decorated with vines snaking around them. Lily pads lined the banks on either side of the boat. Suddenly Levi slowed the boat, and it drifted toward the bank slowly.
“There’s one,” he said quietly.
Perched at the back of the boat, my eyes searched the trees in front of us. I saw nothing but leaves and branches – but both Ton and Travis spotted the iguana also. Ton pointed his air rifle up the tree, and I spotted about 10 feet up the tree a scaly, orange iguana roughly five feet in length from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. Before I knew it, Ton shot at him again and the iguana lost his grip on the tree branch and fell into the water with a splash. The lizard swam out of sight under the boat and Levi motioned for us to keep still and quiet. So, we waited.
Until Travis saw the iguana drifting slowly away from us hiding in tall grasses against the bank. Ton aimed again and was successful. The lizard collapsed in the water as it was struggling to climb onto the bank. Travis hopped off the boat onto the bank and scooped the iguana out of the water by the hind legs and tail. It looked even larger now than it had lounging on its tree branch. After securing the iguana in the back hatch of the boat, we sped off again.
A few hours went by, we nabbed a second monstrous sized iguana, and the sun began peeking out of the clouds a little more by this time. My stomach began to grumble – snacking on peanuts can only hold you over for so long. With my socks and sneakers still wet, and my growing hunger, I was relieved when Levi drove the boat to a secluded little picnic area off the bank that some kind soul created for hungry iguana hunters to rest and eat for a bit.
Now, this is when the magic happened. Ton carefully selected two twigs from the ground and began whittling them to a point with his pocketknife. Levi then pulled a gallon sized Ziploc bag full of skinned iguana legs and tails out of the cooler – yes, the same iguanas we hunted the day before. Ton grabbed a portable charcoal grill we had on the boat and set it up on the picnic table. While Levi got the charcoals going, Ton created large tin foil pouches that he filled with seasoning, butter, and the iguana legs and tails. In a separate tin foil pouch, he placed seasoning, butter, and whole brown mushrooms and then set both pouches on the grill to begin cooking.
As the tin foil pouches smoked on the grill for a bit, Ton created a tin foil platter and gently laid out all the iguana limbs and mushrooms with his makeshift chop sticks. After coating them generously in barbecue sauce, he placed them all back on the grill to cook for longer. The smell was heavenly and finally, the time came. Ton laid the cooked and marinated iguana meat back out on the tin foil platter. With no utensils or napkins, the four of us each grabbed a leg or tail and sat down to devour.
In case you are wondering – iguanas do not taste like chicken. They taste exactly like what you might imagine a reptile tastes. The buttery, seasoned barbecue sauce that Ton created did wonders to make the meat tasty. After tearing through about four or five legs each and some mushrooms, we cleaned up, chunked the rest of the iguana legs into the water for an alligator that Levi said inhabits the area, and went back out to hunt for a little longer.
We nabbed one more iguana that afternoon before more storm clouds took over the sky, signaling another storm was brewing. Figuring we’d done enough for the day to help South Florida’s overwhelming iguana problem, we began the boat ride back to the Everglades Holliday Park, snaking through the water channels having completed our mission to help rid South Florida of the invasive iguana.
So, would I go iguana hunting again? Yes – but I’ll be sure to bring waterproof shoes and plenty of snacks for the boat ride. Would I eat iguana again? Yes – but only if Ton prepares the meal again. All in all, my unconventional first hunt was a success: ten iguanas in total, an explorative adventure through the channels of Ft. Lauderdale and the everglades, a unique meal I never imagined myself consuming, and an adventurous, learning experience I have enjoyed sharing with you.