On a recent trip to South Florida with my wife, Lisa, I was able to experience something most sportsmen never knew existed, including myself! One evening at the local watering hole, we met one of the area’s spear fishermen, named Paul. Being a sportsman, I was very intrigued with his profession. Paul told me stories of free diving 70 to 90 feet to pursue the various kinds of grouper and snapper the market preferred. I had to decline Paul’s offer to go with him on the next day’s expedition. I think it was the stories of the 10- foot bull sharks that made my decision easy, not to mention that, being from Michigan, I couldn’t hold my breath for more than a minute let alone three.
After getting to know Paul, I inquired about the hunting opportunities in the area. I found out that discharging any firearm in the Keys is illegal and just about all species are protected there. He did mention that iguanas were fair game and could be hunted with a pellet rifle, which is not considered a firearm on private property. This really caught my attention.
There are three types of iguanas in the Florida Keys and are all extremely invasive. The green, Mexican spiny-tailed, and black spiny-tailed iguanas are all prevalent throughout the area. The combinations of released pets and animals blown over by hurricanes have over-populated the islands with these unwanted pests.
South Florida’s sub-tropic climate allows these herbivores to flourish and have grown in numbers to the tens of thousands. Adult iguanas are powerful animals that can bite, inflict serious gashes with their sharp claws, and have a tail that can open a wound like a razor. Worst of all, they carry the salmonella bacteria which is spread through their droppings, contributing to the deaths of several infants as well as adults.
Along with the threats mentioned above, the iguanas are destructive to property as well. They undermine foundations and sidewalks and burrow along seawalls causing them to collapse. These feral pests end up costing islanders hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage annually.
The invasive species are now competing with the protected and endangered Key deer, depleting the food reserves the tiny whitetails depend on and devastating the local fauna which make up the fragile ecosystem for which the islands are known.
After finding out the facts, I knew I had to do my part to save the Key deer. Paul lent me his Gamo pellet rifle, introduced me to the owner of a local plant nursery who was more than willing to let me help with lizard eradication, and the hunt was on.
I spent the last two days of my vacation wading through the mangrove swamps looking for a lizard of “trophy size.” The wildlife I saw would have never been seen from the road side. Turtles, crabs, fish, birds and BIG BUGS were everywhere. A real island experience!
The green iguana is the largest of the reptiles. The “greens” can grow up to six feet in length, reaching weights of forty pounds or more. Through trial and error, I found this dinosaur-like lizard has an acute sense of smell. Early in the hunt, I could hear them jumping out of the trees into the water 80-100 yards ahead of me. I realized that using the wind is a determining factor while hunting the mature animals.
Their eyes can rotate 180 degrees, with vision unmatched by humans. Chances are they will see you well before you see them. I found that the best tactic was to locate where they feed or sun themselves and wait them out.
The reptiles proved to be honorable adversaries. They blend in with their environment better than any whitetail, disappear quicker than I could find the safety, and their hide can deflect a .177 pellet moving at 1200 fps. The gamo Big Cat 1200 proved to be just right for the job.
Not as easy as one might think!
Walled Lake, MI