When I was in high school, 10 through 12 grades, I lived in Drew Park, Tampa, Florida. This area originally was a Army-Air base during the Second World War. When I lived there it was no longer a military base but a built over residential and light industrial area. I belonged to a small but great Boy Scout troop in Drew Park. We camped a lot in areas around Tampa. But I never saw many animals or signs. During my trip across Florida, just the opposite happened….I came upon gators, moccasins, deer, scorpions and notice evidence of bear and panther.
I soon found myself hiking along and singing my favorite camping and hiking tunes. It was a good thing no one could hear me. When the trail is flat or gradual downhill it’s a nice way to pass the miles and time away. I noticed that the pines along here were a good height, about 50-60 feet as an average. Every now and then I would come upon a small thinned out area, about an acre or two. I wondered about this, and I found out later that these thinned out areas serve more than one purpose. First a national forest actually harvests and replants the timber. Second is the fact that thinned out areas produce brush and plants that wild game feed on……...
I was very impressed by the extent of the pine forest in north Florida. Here I had been walking for a day and a half, and except for a few logged areas, it was all pine trees. About a mile farther as I was looking down I suddenly saw some very large tracks in the damp, sandy road. They looked, (and I didn’t want to think it), like large cat tracks. They were heading along the road in the same direction I was going. I set my pack down and traced the approximate outline onto my notepad. It may have been a panther.
Florida panthers can weigh up to 150 pounds and can measure up to 8 feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail. They can be found in pine forest and hardwood hammocks. They may also be found in swampy areas. Their range is from 70 to as much as 270 square miles. They are nocturnal, will sleep in the day and hunt at night, dusk and dawn. Their hunting takes them in a zig-zag pattern. They can swim and also cross rivers or lakes. Panthers have a very good sense of smell, their vision encompasses 130 degrees, and they have excellent sight. They can run in a sprint, (a few hundred yards) up to 35 miles per hour, but prefer to stalk their prey which is primarily deer and wild hogs.
As I was concentrating on this find, a car suddenly approached. As it drew abreast of me, we all waved. A ranger was driving and a couple of persons were with him. I thought to myself, there go my panther prints. Sure enough, most of them were gone, tire tracks now in their place. It was a good thing that I had just finished the tracing.
About the Author: After getting out of the Army Bob Kranich backpacked from the Georgia border to Key West in a 40 day adventure walk across Florida. His recently published book A Walk Across Florida is available from his website or Amazon.com