GAYS MILLS - I don’t hunt. I never have. I didn’t grow up around hunting and didn’t live in a place where hunting took place in my formative years. So, it’s interesting to me to observe the ritual that’s currently going on here throughout the Driftless and the entire state–The Gun Deer Hunt. Over a half-million gun deer hunting licenses have been sold for the Wisconsin deer hunt this fall. The vicarious excitement of hunting can be contagious and the financial boost to the state is significant.
My dad, born in 1920, grew up in Barnum. He claimed that there were no deer to be found around here throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Local hunters had to travel north to get to where the deer were. Compare that to now, when deer are plentiful bordering on pesky between damaging crops, carrying ticks, and colliding with cars. Today, deer here thrive on our rough, hilly, and diverse landscape that offers shelter, water and all the pasture, hay, corn and soybeans they can eat.
Man seems to have an inborn tendency to hunt things. I’m currently reading a great book called ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.’ The book tells quite a bit about the long period of time when we were strictly hunters and gatherers. We settled down to growing food (the development of agriculture) and living in one place a mere 10,000 to 12,000 years ago but we have hundreds of thousands of years of hunting in our DNA. So good luck to the hunters, hunt safe and use or share what you shoot.
There is another kind of quarry that may appeal to the hunters among us when deer hunting season is over. The season for that quarry is longer (and warmer). I speak here of an invasive species that has been outrageously successful in its new habitat. It is an apex predator, defined as “a predator at the top of a food chain that is not preyed upon by another animal. Rather than paying to hunt this game, you can actually get paid to hunt it. Figure it out yet? Okay, it’s pythons in the swamps of southern Florida.
The problem with pythons, for pythons, is their sheer beauty. They are gorgeous reptiles, you have to admit, even if one doesn’t like snakes, and this one doesn’t. Imported as pets from Asia, young Burmese pythons quickly grow to an unwieldy size. And what do you do with an overgrown pet snake, a snake that may live for 25 years and grow to be 18 feet long? Sadly, since the 1990s enough of them have been turned loose in the swamps of Florida that they have established a healthy population and thrived.
The problem with pythons, for us, is that they are superb predators. They are eating all forms of other swamp critters and completely dominating their habitat. No rabbit, rat, bobcat, raccoon, opossum, deer, or even alligator is safe, when there be pythons about. Having eaten through that section of the ecological menu, the snakes are now threatening and decimating the bird population.
Nobody knows just how many pythons there are in the swamps. Estimates range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of pythons slithering around. The rangers of the Everglades National Park don’t quite know what to do about the problem. There have been bounties set for pythons and contests to encourage their capture, but all efforts seem like shoveling sand against the tide.
Perhaps some Wisconsin deer hunters could help with python control between deer seasons, see some new country, and break up the winter a bit?