It's a Sunday morning, and I'm sitting in the airport in Charleston, West Virginia, with a little more than the typical travel jitters. Besides being subjected to the usual airline fun and games, now everything is ramped up once again for the wonderful demon that is COVID-19.
Will this ever end?
Sometimes I like to watch the reactions of the people who have never flown out of Charley Town (the runways are, shall we say, not lengthy), and here I am again, flying to another adventure.
The first leg of this trip will be to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area. The air rifle company Gamo has initiated a little expedition here, and it is centered around invasive species in this area, namely the green iguana.
Iguanas, Larry? Really? You are going to be hunting iguanas? Well, yes, but hear me out.
In case you don't know, southern Florida has become a mecca for invasive species of animals. An invasive species is usually thought to be one that is outside its home range, is usually introduced by humans and almost always causes harm to the environment, economics and health of humans.
Southern Florida is basically in the tropics, and many species can survive here with the warm temperatures. There are miles of water here, including canals and lakes, and the invasive species thrive in this environment as they use the canals as water highways to travel, especially the fish and reptiles.
Reptiles are really at home here and thrive with all the water and lush vegetation. Two that have gotten a lot of attention in the past few years are the Burmese python and the green iguana, both of which have been released into the wild by the exotic pet trade. The iguana has been here for many years, probably since the 1960s, but no one has ever seen these lizards in the numbers they have now.
The iguana is extremely destructive and digs massive tunnels in the earth, sometimes 80 feet long. (You do remember in the movie where Godzilla came from, right?) This causes much destruction in canal walls and under bridges and buildings. Female iguanas lay large clutches of eggs, and they reproduce rapidly. All of this has resulted in a perfect storm for nuisance animal problems.
Iguanas are voracious eaters, and although they consume mainly vegetation, this will include many vegetable garden plants, flowers and ornamentals. Iguanas also eat bird eggs and have become a major predator of different birds in Florida.
The need for more animal control has spawned several business in this area, including one by our friend Harold Rondan, owner of Iguana Lifestyles, a nuisance animal removal company.
Harold was furloughed from the hotel hospitality industry in the scramble caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He quickly saw the chance to start a business with all the problems south Florida has with invasive animals, especially the iguana. He now has contracts with several housing and apartment complexes, all of which are desperate to bring down the numbers of the green iguanas that plague their property.
From what I saw of Harold during our time with him, he is busy and hustles all day from one call to another. The bulk of his work may be removing iguanas, but he also deals with invasive birds, nuisance raccoons and several varieties of lizards and snakes, including the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which he got a call on while we were there. (They get big, by the way.)
Harold did something else with his company because he is a smart businessman.
More people are hearing about the opportunity to hunt iguanas with air guns in this area, and Harold added this facet to his business. Acting as your guide, he will take you to where the iguanas are thick, but collecting these scaly varmints is not always easy. The iguanas are wary, believe it or not, and you may not get closer than 25 yards or so. These lizards are extremely tough, and your only target that will anchor him is a quarter-sized spot on the side of his head, so the shooting can be very tricky.
Our little band consists of Lawrence Taylor, media relations manager at Gamo and Daisy Outdoors; Tony Stratis, quality control manager at Gamo and Daisy; Rick Eutsler from the website Air Gun Web — he's working on a video that should be available for viewing soon — plus Harold and me.
We are testing two models of Gamo Swarm air guns to see how they stack up with the iguanas, and no one is disappointed. These are .22-caliber pellet rifles, the Magnum G2 (generation two) and the Bone Collector 10X G2. The latter was specially designed in collaboration with Michael Waddell and Travis "T Bone" Turner of the "Bone Collector" TV series.
I have used the Swarm Magnum model quite a bit, including during the annual Squirrel Master Classic that Gamo hosts in Alabama. I knew the gun and figured I would use it on this adventure. Early the first day, however, during the sight-in period I was taken by the looks and accuracy of the Bone Collector model and used it the whole trip, sending many iguanas to iguana heaven (or wherever iguanas go). T-Bone, old buddy, you did good on this rifle.
Most of us will be using these air rifles for small game such as rabbits and squirrels, and for the odd garden and barn pests such as rats and feral pigeons. What most of us want to know is does this air rifle, which is not a firearm, have the power to humanely take these animals? Believe me, folks, if these pellet rifles can stack up iguanas as we did in Florida, they will have no trouble with small game.
We spent two days in the Florida heat and reduced the iguana population considerably, but in truth I'm not sure anyone will notice. There are a LOT of iguanas there, folks. If you want to see for yourself, give Harold a call at Iguana Lifestyles.
On Wednesday morning of that week, I climbed into another plane to visit the rifle company Weatherby in Sheridan, Wyoming, expecting it to be a bit cooler there. Tune in next time to hear about that on part two of this little adventure.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.