First of all, Happy Thanksgiving! We are thankful to be in a warm climate right now and we are also thankful for our health, our family (though widely spread throughout the country) and so many other things. We hope you have much to be thankful for too. Secondly, we need to start this blog post with a warning:
** WARNING** If you don’t like hunting, guns, gators or the sight of field dressed animals, you should stop reading now.
OK, so congratulations! if you are still reading, you are braver than the average bear! We have been workamping at Avon Park Air Force Range for over 2 weeks now in support of their hunting/ recreation program. Avon Park AFR was founded during WWII. It is a bombing range, part of the range is also leased to a state correctional facility and there are LOTS of alligators on the range. So, you see why we had to come see this for ourselves! In reality it is not very noisy at all, we feel very safe here and as long as we don’t bother the alligators, they don’t bother us.
Our volunteer workamping jobs involve manning the game check station – aka”back porch,” posting the weekly schedule/opening/closing gates throughout the 106,000 acre Air Force Range, manning the gate on the “Frostproof” side of the range (Frostproof is the name of a nearby town) and completing various maintenance projects. These duties are shared among 6 workamping couples. The weekly assignments are divided and rotated among us by the volunteer coordinator, Patrick Blake.
Volunteer Coordinator, Patrick Blake
There is a weekly volunteer meeting when we go over the schedule and any special projects that need to be completed. We each work 24 hours per week in exchange for our full hook-up RV site to include laundry and wifi. We were given some beautiful ORANGE volunteer T-shirts upon arrival- so we are safe amongst all the hunters here.
Volunteers update the board at the back porch throughout their shift
Just another day at the Back Porch
Hunters (public and military) can purchase a permit for the season to hunt deer, hogs, quail, ducks, snipe and a few other small game. The website: avonparkafr.net, explains in detail how to go about purchasing a permit and what costs are involved. You will also find information about other recreational activities and the volunteer program on their website. The range is a beautiful little “hidden gem” with primitive campsites, hiking trails, fishing ponds and we’ve witnessed some pretty amazing sunsets here!
Depending on the Air Force schedule, the hunt program could be open Thursday through Monday. Some weeks the military uses parts of the range for maneuvers. We post the weekly status and schedule for each section of the range. Volunteers open and close gates throughout the range accordingly.
We were assigned to the Back Porch for our first 2 weekends along with experienced volunteers so we could learn the details of that job. When hunters arrive with their game we record measurements: antler length, circumference, number of points, live weight, dressed weight and shoulder to hoof length on a hog, etc. After the hunters gut their game, we haul the gut-filled buckets to an area known as the “Gut Pit.” The volunteers have access to “special” vehicles (a 22 year old F150 among others) for transportation throughout the range. Once dumped in the pit, the bucket contents get covered with lots of sand so as not to attract buzzards or coyotes. Avon Park is also an Air Force training range and buzzards are very hazardous to the planes. Bird strikes could mean an end to the hunting program. After dressing their game, some of the hunters share venison with the volunteers and we store it in a large freezer. This comes in handy when we have wild game potlucks at the screen room in the Volunteer Village. The Back Porch assignment requires the most detailed work and as you can imagine it doesn’t smell too great. The other volunteers are very helpful and have been great trainers – the job is interesting and fun.
Another task that volunteers get to participate in is gator scouting. Each year there is a youth gator hunt and in the weeks leading up to the hunt, volunteers assist the rangers in locating gators throughout the range.
When we aren’t working, we live in the “Volunteer Village.” It is a small RV park located right inside the front gate and it includes a laundry area and screen room. Each site has full hook ups and wifi is provided. Many of the volunteers have been coming back for several years. They are a fun group and we enjoy spending time with them! There are volunteers here from Florida, Ohio, New York, New Mexico and North Carolina.
photo courtesy of Larry – will get a pic with him in group next post
A lovely place to volunteer in the winter
Next post will be more details about the area surrounding Avon Park AFR. Our location is about 1 1/2 hours south of Orlando and 2 hours southeast of Tampa and the town of Avon Park is 11 miles from the Air Force Range. The weather here has been beautiful with lows at night in the 50s-60s and highs in the daytime in the 70s-80s. As we rotate through the other job assignments we will post more details and pictures of each experience. Thanks for following along with us on this journey! If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, post below – we’d love to hear from you ❤️