Florida Panthers are usually found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mix swamp forests of which there is plenty of this kind of habitat from north of Lake Okeechobee and south to the coastal Everglades.
Males can weigh up to 160 pounds, measure 7-feet long and up to 28” high at the shoulder. Panthers live within a range that includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. This population, the only unequivocal cougar representative in the eastern United States, currently occupies 5% of its historic range. In the 1970’s, there were an estimated 20 Florida panthers in the wild, and their numbers have increased to an estimated 100 to 160 as of 2011. In 2013, it was reported that there are only 160 Florida panthers in the wild, though I would venture to say there are several times more than 160 given my two sightings as well as the number that have been reported by many of my fellow fishing and hunting friends.
Their diet consists of small animals like marsh hares, mice, and waterfowl but also larger animals like storks, raccoons, cranes, armadillo, white-tailed deer, wild boar, beef calves and even the alligator and we hope Burmese pythons. Panthers are nocturnal hunters by nature as are their main prey rabbits, deer and wild pigs. This makes it all the more scary for a hunter walking in or out of the woods to a hunting stand at dark:30 in the morning or after sunset. Panther will kill a deer every other day to feed itself. It has been speculated with the profusion and explosion of the wild pig population that panther diet has changed to wild hogs since they are slower than deer and there are so many more pigs than there are whitetail deer.
Panthers need a lot of untamed and wild territory to survive—an average of 200 square miles for a single male. That is why Central Florida and the Florida Everglades given their large expanse of wilderness has become on enclave and last refuge for the panther of the Southeast. That is why it is important to save and preserve the interior of Florida as a wild/farming/cattle ranching environment.
If you read my last post about me sighting a panther recently while hunting you may wonder if I was in any danger being at ground level with this amazing predator. While I never felt threatened and did not worry I was reminded of friend of mine who was attacked by a panther the spring before last spring during turkey season. And, according to this article, Panther Attacks Hunter, it happened to another hunter this year near Lake Wales, which is about 30-miles to the north east of where I was hunting. My friend was also in a sitting position up against a palmetto ledge trying to call turkeys into his decoys when he was attacked. The panther jumped him from behind and my friend had the claw marks just above his eyebrows to prove it when he told me the story. He deliberately chose not report the story so as not to draw attention to his hunting lease or himself. A fishing buddy of mine was nearly attacked by a panther when one leaped at him from behind a stand of bushes. My friend dropped to the ground and out of view and the panther once losing sight of its target made a move only a cat could do by making a 180-degree turn mid air and retreating back in the bush. Another hunting bud of mine had a panther follow him unbeknownst to him one afternoon as he made his way along a narrow path through the forest to his tree stand. It was only after he had settled into his stand that he saw the panther come down the same trail and circle the tree he was in. The cat never looked up and wandered away. I will say seeing the panther the day before gave me much to think about the next morning as I stumbled around the dark laying out a pig bomb and setting up my chair along a tree line. I made sure I was up against a tall ledge of palmettos but both of my flanks were open for an attack if the panther had decided to pounce on me.