By: Carrie Mae Sorensen

I’ve been a hunter my whole life. The kind of hunter that looks forward to the moment you realize you’re likely lost and the only thing you have to rely on are your senses to get you back to base. It’s not an anxious feeling, as much as it is a sense of relief…..there is still a place in the world where true solitude can be achieved, and self-reliance is necessary. For many, this would be a nightmare, and for others, it is the quintessential version of a “home.”

I’ve walked a million miles through the Rocky Mountains, the vast majority of them I trekked alone, and never published to social media, or the scrutiny of the internet’s prying eyes. But each memory scarred across me like a tattoo, a badge of honor.

It ’s rare when I find myself leaving my mountains for hunting adventures, the vast majority of my travel consists of meetings about meetings, and conferences about those meetings. But as of late, I’ve made it my goal in life to align myself with people who are like-minded and strive for the same sense of purpose in life that I do.

I  was introduced to the Wroxx brand in November of 2017, fascinated with the quality of their Camolith gear, but profoundly moved by their sense of family, tradition, and heritage; I inserted myself into their operations as far as they would let me.  The brand itself is high-quality hunting apparel, but the story behind their company goes far deeper than that.

Invited to join the founders of WROXX on a hunting excursion in Florida, I stood over my empty suitcase unsure of what to pack for hunting hogs in the woods of Florida. Every other time I had come to Florida for work, my bag was full of some type of hair lubricant  to keep the humidity at bay, while it wreaked havoc on my already full head of wild mustang hair, a collection of white shorts, navy blue tops, and high heels that would compete with the locals. Just packing the bag reiterated my core belief that I was finally headed in the right direction in my life. Boots….I probably needed boots. I also needed a tan (shorts), and my Wroxx gear. Good as gold.

From the metro areas of Southern Florida, up the coast, and into the Disney trap, one would never expect the central region of the state to be exceptionally rural, and home to a large cattle ranch owned by the LDS church. Massive groves of Cyprus trees and foliage that are unrelentingly beautiful are strewn wildly across the wide-open landscape, laced with waterways, alligators, and adventure. The idea of walking through them is both daunting and exciting.

Given the nature of the trip to Florida, I had decided my best friend and hunting companion should probably join me, he also happens to be my husband. Neither of us had ever hunted in what he referred to as “the jungle scene” and it was only fitting that we experience it together.

After a 2 hour drive from the Palm Beach area, in a rented truck, we approached the pickup point. A massive jacked up Ford sat idle waiting for us, it was like we had never left home. Familiar scenes in unfamiliar places have a way of tying you to the moment.

A giant of a man, who likely stands 5’11, sat on the tailgate. Decked out in WROXX camouflage, head to toe, he greeted us with a large wave, and a “get your behinds in here, we’re burning daylight” kind of smile. I watched everything intently, learning the road in, is the best way to learn the road out. In the off chance, Mr. Larson decided to test our outdoor knowledge and leave us in a swamp, I was bound and determined not to disappoint.

The dirt roads of my childhood were highly contrasted here, instead of the red dirt I ran down, these roads were made of sand, and rather than being lined with sage, they were lined with palm trees and vivid green grass. The hunting camp was exactly how I would have painted it in my mind. A solid collection of heavily used and deeply loved trailers pulled together in no sort of order or fashion, adorning their harvests and deadhead collections of years past as trophies and conversation pieces. European mounts hang from trees, and treasures adorned the screened porches of each family’s campsite.

Being from Utah, a jacked up truck is commonplace. What we didn’t expect were 25’ tall buggies parked in the driveways of each campsite. Both my husband and I salivated as we wove down the sand road, each one seemingly larger than the last. We exchanged a glance, silently deciding together that owning a hunting vehicle with tractor tires and 9 seats would define our overall success in life.

“Which  gun do you want?” Mr. Larson asked. Until now, a man of mystery, only one I had spoken to over the phone, he moved quickly from his truck to his side by side. Like it was the opening morning of the greatest hunt of his life, it was clear that every chance he gets to go to the woods, his sentiment towards the experience is the same. Two strangers from a different state, unprepared, and uneducated about his stomping grounds, and he still acted as though there wasn’t anywhere else he’d rather be.

While I was equally excited, my excitement did not equate into extensive preparation and finely tuned strategy towards the day, in fact, I left my boots and gear sitting on my bed before we left. I blame jet lag, but there is little excuse for a woman of my age to be quite that dim-witted. For the record, if you are planning on hunting Florida, I strongly suggest you take something other than white shorts and flip flops……….

Despite my stupidity, we loaded up, guns in toe and started our guided tour of a place that became so much more than Central Florida Remote Woods.

With every turn, Mr. Larson told a story of one of the camp members or himself. His time on this particular ranch had exceeded 4 decades, and the abundance of knowledge and history was incredible. And while I soaked up the Florida sunshine and learned about survival tactics, Florida habitat, and the importance of high top boots……..I learned about Mr. Larson.

“This is my favorite tree stand,” he told me after a brief walk into no man’s land (he had told me that at every stand we came to but his tone was different and I watched him with childlike wonder as he spoke.) “I just climb up there really early,” he paused for a moment and looked up with his arms spread towards the sky, breathing deeply “and listen to the trees.”

A thousand memories of words similar to these flooded back, spoken to me by the people I respect and love the most in my life teaching me the true value of life. I wasn’t surprised by the comment, I think many people have found themselves intoxicated by the music that plays in the background while you are hunting or simply taking in the outdoors. What was surprising to me was the open dialogue into a subject matter that means so much to a person. 40 years of this man’s life have been spent learning every trail, palm tree, migration pattern, and risk of this land. 40 years of this man’s life have been dedicated to introducing the unique gifts it offers to whoever would take the time to watch and listen. Given his superb guiding skills, I would guess that number to be in the hundreds, the majority of them friends of his children, and of his family.

Both my husband and I listened intently as he taught us about Florida’s history, keeping a sharp eye on the area around us for any vulnerable game. But we had both decided early on the hog was the least of our concerns, and within five seconds of hitting a dirt road, we were 100% content and more than satisfied with the trip.

I perched up in the back seat of the side by side, gripping my camera and taking every opportunity to snap a picture of the two great men in front of me, and memorializing the story we would be telling our kids for years.

“I’ve got to take you to the old Cyprus house,” Mr. Larson beamed. “It has stood the test of time, it was built prior to the pre-civil war, and has made it through every hurricane that was ever thrown at it.”

Who were we to argue, there wouldn’t have been enough time in the next ten years to see all of the things we wanted to see.

Cruising across the landscape stopping to take in a gator here and there, we approached a cabin, set close to the Winder River. It is now used as a cabin for law enforcement, but more importantly, Mr. Larson explained, it was used as a shelter from torrential rain storms by him and his father. “The outside is still the same, the original wood.” The original intent of the cabin is unknown, and we speculated as to who built it, and why. Laughing about the fact that a woman must have been involved, otherwise, a backwoods man would have just hollowed out a tree to sleep in. We investigated the outside of the cabin, and the artesian well that bubbled crystal blue water, and likely had been doing so for longer than the cabin stood. “Brand new houses around here are destroyed by hurricanes,” Mr. Larson explained, “But this cabin made it through them all.”

He went on to explain that for the last 90 days, there was an imminent (and what they thought to be certain) concern that the lease on the land for their hunting camp would not be renewed. 40 years of catering to the land, caring for it, and watching it prosper would be lost to a commercial tourism camp. The blow of the threat had stifled the optimism of the entire family, and everyone was left scrambling to find a new alternative to what they had come to love, and what had become a part of their fabric. But the day before our arrival, the camp was informed that they would be allowed to stay, and the lease would be renegotiated.

Today was the first day Mr. Larson had spent on the property since he had heard the news, and it was like he was seeing it all for the first time again. For 90 arduous days, the men, women, and kids of this camp had attempted to find a way to say goodbye, reminisced against the prominent position their time here had taken in their life, and find a new place to escape what daily life throws at them.

While still a fresh wound, time will reveal that the threat of loss is often times the exact remedy for any kind of complacency. Not a soul left at that camp will take a single moment for granted, nor miss an opportunity to be there.

We saw owls, coyotes, alligators, deer, catfish, frogs, birds, spiders…..oh we saw spiders…… We learned about petrified pine in Florida, and that it can be used as exceptional kindling, and is very very flammable. We learned that wild mistletoe grows here,  and the wild grapefruit is delicious and sweet, but the wild oranges are bitter and you’d just assume suck on a bottle of Mr. Clean than eat one. We learned that there are rivers that flow north in Florida, and chiggers that don’t discriminate but took a particular hankering to my exposed legs.

But more importantly, we learned about Mr. Larson, his history and his upbringing. We developed a sincere respect for him, and the uncompromised understanding that the land he relies on, also relies on him.  

It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Florida hunting, especially if the thought of putting a tree stand in palm tree makes you raise an eyebrow. But the takeaway for us, that will last, has to do with the preservation of opportunity and being abundantly present when you are in the outdoors. Never take the opportunity for granted.

 #gearforthejourney #listentothetrees


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