FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The stormwater treatment areas in South Florida can be great places to hunt ducks.
Because of the way they are managed by the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and a lack of hunter ethics, they can also be incredibly frustrating places to hunt ducks.
A friend's recent visit to Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) 3-4 was an excellent example of the latter.
All the hunting spots at the STAs are numbered, but as my friend discovered, they are not in order. So when he drove into the area, the first sign he saw was No. 13.
There was also a sign below the 13 that read "This STA levee CLOSED to Public Use Beyond This Point."
Being a law-abiding type, he figured his hunting spot, which was close to 13, must be in the other direction. The first numbers he saw were for spots 11 and 12. The next numbers were 37 and 38. The next number was 23.
My friend doesn't have a computer, so he couldn't view a map of the area before the hunt, and his cell phone wasn't able to call up the map from the myfwc.com website.
So he started to backtrack, asking every truck he came up on where the spot he sought was located. The people in the first five trucks had no idea and two of them didn't speak English.
Finally, someone in the sixth truck knew of the spot and said to go past the 13 sign and make the first left. When my friend asked about the no access sign, he was told that applied to alligator hunters.
After making the left, my friend saw signs for spots 7 and 8, then for 9, 10 and 13. That was followed by individual signs for 14, 15, 16, 17 and so on.
Later, when my friend asked me to call up the parking map on my computer, I told him that inexplicably stupid first 13 should have been a 1-3.
Most of the other STAs also have numbers out of order. So if you're hunting an STA, print your own map, because the FWC has run out of maps.
How hard is it for the FWC to put the numbers in order each season? And to put up signs saying "Levee open to duck hunters?"
Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers Florida always volunteers his group's help to the FWC to put parking numbers in the right spots.
"Every year we're hopeful they'll pay attention to us," Cook said. "It is the No. 1 public waterfowling venue in all of North America. That deserves the FWC's attention.
"We need to be sure it is run correctly."
Cook noted that when the FWC assumed 40 parking spots for 40 hunting groups was enough, he was able to persuade the agency to have 60 parking spots.
He also said that parking at the STAs will get worse as the water district allows walls of cattails to grow along the levees to prevent damage during hurricanes.
Several parking spots will be at each opening in the cattails, so hunters will have to cooperate and not set up on top of each other.
Hunters like Paul Schmitz and Ken Massey avoid the STA hassles by hunting on public waters where the nearest hunters might be half a mile away. They shoot plenty of ducks and have the luxury of allowing birds to work and come into their decoys.
That didn't happen to my friend at STA 3-4. The other hunters in his pond said not to worry because they were going into the interior of the area.
Instead, they set up just down from him, their white faces and white hands flaring every duck that came by.
That didn't stop them from taking unrealistically long shots every time, and there were no FWC law enforcement officers around to witness the breach of hunting ethics.
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