PHOTOGRAPHY: SEAN MURPHY
Constantly generating new innovations and ideas, we at BOTE try to use our boards in a multitude of situations for every lifestyle. In an effort to use our boards for as many activities as possible, our Creative Brand Director, Rob McAbee, went on a trip to explore hunting and fishing on our inflatables in a virtually untouched region of Florida.
In the Northwest corner of Florida before the turn of the Panhandle, there is a small town, that to this day, has many characteristics of old- Florida. Traditionally based on agriculture—primarily farming, ranching, and timber—Chiefland has changed very little since the early to mid 1900’s, and takes you back in time to a Florida unknown to most. Two of our ambassadors at BOTE, Lacey Kelly and Gray Drummond, run a hunting and fishing outfitter there called, “the Florida Outdoor Experience.”
In an earlier conversation that Gray and I had while touring the property, he explained how a flooded area we were driving through was a part of the old Suwannee River watershed. Because of historical rains earlier in the year, the river had actually backed up and flooded these areas. Due to these floods, small islands and hammocks were formed which were now inaccessible by foot or vehicle but were still being accessed by wildlife. Discussing how we could hunt these spots, we realized that the BOTE inflatables would be a great way to access these areas. This Chiefland trip came to life just a couple of weeks later.
Situated on roughly 12,000 acres, the property where the Florida Outdoor Experience is located, was originally settled by Gray’s family in the late 1800’s before the Civil War. Today, Gray and Lacey live on the property and take great pride in the heritage and conservation efforts they have made in keeping this property, more or less, timeless -- conserving it as a piece of history far separated from the tourist traps and condos that most people associate with Florida
When I first pulled through the gates of the “the Farm,” it was like stepping back in time. After driving through the towering oaks and Spanish moss, a clearing appeared revealing an old farm house which was the center piece for this historic property and used to lodge FOE clients. Our crew for this trip included: Sean Murphy, our photographer; Cavin Brothers, our videographer; Chris Whittman, another BOTE ambassador with an extensive background in all types of hunting and is also the host of “Wild Instinct Outdoors”; Chris’ girlfriend, Sarah Griffin; and friend Mark Hetrick. As a group, we had an array of backgrounds and experiences to make this trip one to remember. The first night we organized our equipment, looked over some maps and settled around the fire for dinner, drinks and some laughs. We called it an early night, eager to head out in the morning to see what we could find.
The use of the Drift and Breeze inflatables, and in particular, the Drift, was a no brainer, due to it’s versatility and the way it can be outfitted with the BOTE Tackle Rac and Receivers, the cooler / gear tie downs and the integrated bungee systems. Hunting can tend to be a very gear intensive operation, so having areas of the board to secure and store equipment was a major plus. The ease of storing, transporting and on-location inflation and deflation made the inflatable boards ideal for the adventures we were planning. A new feature BOTE is offering for 2016 is the Travelink system which consists of a shoulder strap with removable, watertight storage pouches. This system works with integrated latch points on the boards for a hands free transportation option, which in our case, made it much easier to carry the other necessary gear without having to make multiple trips to and from the truck(s). Durability was incredibly important—the flooded areas we were accessing were riddled with cypress knees, logs, and debris which we knew the military grade PVC could easily handle and take a beating without any deflations or punctures through the course of the weekend.
The first thing we wanted to attempt was the deer hunting aspect of the trip. Not only did we want to explore the ability to use one of our inflatable paddle boards, the Drift, as a vehicle for accessing some of these islands, but we also wanted the ability to pack out an animal and get it to back to dry land—so that’s what we set out to do. Gray had scouted some areas prior to our arrival and had a pretty good idea of some deer movement. We outfitted the Tackle Rac with gun / bow rack typically used for ATVs and set out to hunt. The morning ended up being everything we could have asked for! With the sun coming up we finally had enough shooting light and within 20 minutes we had a beautiful 9 point appear out of nowhere. With more luck than we deserved, Gray got off a great shot and the real work began. After tracking through some very challenging terrain and giving wide berth to a few water moccasins we found the deer and started the process of getting him back to camp. We were able to utilize the front bungees to secure the antlers and the rest of the body rode evenly on the board. The stability with Gray, the whitetail and the gear was astonishing. We were unbelievably excited with the outcome of this hunt and looked forward to our evening of duck hunting and our next day of fishing and hunting at Cedar key.
After some downtime in camp, we headed to a pond located on the property called “Drummond pond,” which has a great population of Wood Ducks that light down at sundown. For this hunt, we used the Drift, not necessarily as transportation, but more as a working platform for the waist to chest deep water. It was great to have a place to put gear down on a dry surface. We held decoys with the board’s bungee straps and laid gear bags, guns, ammo and calls on it so that they would be above the water line and stay secure. We were able to wade around using the board and ended up having a very successful hunt with a ton of ducks coming in at last light.
With the taste of such success the previous day, the following morning we loaded the boards ready to explore a different area. It was freezing cold with bluebird skies -- not an ideal day for ducks -- but we were still stoked to be heading out on the water. We hooked up the boats, loaded up in the truck, and headed out to an area about 15 miles from the Florida Outdoor Experience called Cedar Key.
This area, which is along the Gulf Coast, is incredibly marshy, making it ideal for duck hunting and fishing. We got to the boat ramp and not having checked on the tides and ignoring the fact that we had a full moon, we were not looking at water, but more or less looking at mud flats. We loaded the boards and gear and launched the mud boats. Even with the ability of these boats to get through some insanely shallow waters, we weren’t able to access the the deeper waters as early as we would have liked. Thankfully, we had the inflatables and were able to paddle through some narrow channels to some nearby islands and utilize the cover there as ducks started coming in. With these shallow waters, the inflatables were able to withstand paddling over and being dragged across oyster rakes - not something you would want to attempt with other type of boards or boats. Finally, the tide pushed in giving us more depth and we were able to get out and access more areas. Chris had done some scouting out in the marsh and had set up a few areas where we could use the board and palmetto fronds to camouflage ourselves and, in essence, create blinds in the middle of the water. We set out decoys around the Drift and were able to utilize the board not only as a dry area and a working platform but also as concealment from view. We ended up seeing a plethora of ducks from Canvas Backs to Buffleheads and had a great hunt.
Once the sun was high overhead, it started to warm up quite a bit. We headed back to the ramp to switch boats and trade our hunting gear for our fishing gear. This area is a diverse fishery and is home to schools of resident redfish. We ran out to a few of Gray’s favorite spots and launched the boards to access some areas that were too shallow for the skiffs. As the tide started moving again, so did the redfish. It wasn’t long before everyone had hooked their fair share of fish and decided to call it a day.
We loaded up and headed back to camp to reminisce on the last few days and the success we had. The trip to Chiefland was not only a field experience, but a field experiment. Being able to take our products and see how many different uses and utility based challenges we could solve using the inflatables was eye-opening. It opened doors for so many more innovations and future features for our brand. Chiefland is a trip that I will never forget, in a place set in the past that I will definitely be visiting again in the future.
Special thanks to FOE and friends! To check out how you can take a trip just like this, check out the Florida Outdoor Experience here: floridaoutdoorexperience.com
A big shout out to our partners for supplying rad gear : Howler Brothers :: http://howlerbros.com/ , Realtree® :: http://www.realtree.com/ , Banded :: http://banded.com/ & Berne :: http://www.berneouterwear.com