"Not that I always had the money to pay for it," Carlton grinned. "Most of the time I was mortgaged into the ground—literally. After 23 years of marriage and three children, I got around to building my wife a proper house only five years ago. But spending money on a lot of senseless luxuries never made much sense to us when there was good land for sale.
"Each time I managed to swing a new piece of property I'd lease it to some truck farmers or watermelon growers in exchange for their clearing it off. Then the next season I'd plant it in clover and carpet grass and put a few head of cattle on it. I grew some pretty raunchy looking critters in those days, but cattle raising was a new business in Florida then. It took a lot of pioneering to hit on the pasture and breed combinations that were right for this part of the country.
"Twenty years ago I used to think a 250-pound yearling was pretty good. Now, with improved pasture and breeding, our yearlings run at least 500 or 550 pounds. And we are still not satisfied. We keep trying to improve the land, not just to produce better cattle, but also to produce better hunting. It makes no sense anymore to develop land for only one use when it could be developed as practically, and as easily, for many uses. There is not enough land left for that kind of waste.
"What we are pioneering now is the working concept that good cattle range can also be good game range if it is developed with both game and cattle in mind. That also means preserving the natural cover and the beauty of the land and managing it in a way that utilizes the wildlife. My land produces two things—cattle and recreation. To me they are of equal importance. I never turn down anyone who wants to hunt or fish on my property as long as he asks permission. And everybody who comes here acts like he is having the time of his life. I guess he is. I sure know I am. But one day there are going to be more people wanting to hunt and fish here than my land, or any private land, will be able to handle. That is why we must have public land.
"Politicians talk on and on about schools, roads, industrial development, economy in government," Carlton explained as he trolled for bass along the four miles of Horse Creek that runs through his property. "But one of the most important issues today is recreational development. Almost nothing has been done to meet this need realistically. And the need becomes greater each year. But by the time its full impact is realized, most of the land that should have, and could have, been set aside for public recreation throughout the country will be gone. Then legislators will suddenly find themselves scurrying around trying to raise thousands of dollars an acre for land they might have bought for $75 or $100 today.
"The people who should be agitating right now to have such land set aside," Carlton said, "are the sportsmen. They are the people who would benefit most by it. But unfortunately too many of them are concerned not with the overall picture but with 'when is the season going to open?' or 'how do we get more deer?' The majority of hunters and fishermen are so divided by petty personal interests that they never get together to support the big issues. The only way to make certain that adequate lands are set aside for recreational purposes is to unite the public behind the idea. Get them to shout loud and strong for it. It is surprising how quickly legislators respond to a shouting public."
The son of a longtime state legislator who was Florida's governor from 1929 to 1933, Carlton has himself been a Florida lawmaker (from the 27th district) for three terms. In 1953, at the age of 30, he was named Florida's outstanding freshman legislator. Over the years his persistent efforts to open new hunting and fishing areas to the public, to add to those owned and leased by the state, to improve and increase game habitats as well as game populations in Florida have earned Carlton a statewide reputation as the "sporting senator."
The title fits him as well in the field as on the senate floor. Carlton is as rugged and tough as the ranch he runs. There is no part of its operation that he cannot perform as well as the best of his ranch hands, a fact that contributes considerably to their admiration for him. Doyle Carlton has become a rich man in the years since he made his first down payment on a parcel of swampland, but little has changed to indicate this. A deacon of the First Baptist Church of Wauchula, he neither smokes nor drinks, although he confesses to a fondness for sweets and buttermilk. He still prefers driving a pickup truck to the family sedan, but in the last year he has developed a strong affection for the Cessna 182 which he has been learning to fly.
Carlton's now graying hair, still cropped to a bristle, is the only thing about him that suggests his 44 years. His big, 195-pound frame is as lean and muscular as a college athlete's. Most mornings, in fact, he runs a fast mile before climbing into the saddle for what may end up being 15 or 18 hours of cattle cutting, bobcat chasing, quail shooting, boar hunting or—as he likes to describe the casual combination of all these activities plus a little fishing, exploring and daydreaming—just plain plunderin'.
"It would be a pretty sorry life to live," he said as we watched a pair of deer browse at the edge of a grass field, "if there were no land left where a man could get away to do some plunderin' every now and then."