With exactly one month left before opening day of the 2014 whitetail deer season, it would seem that answers to basic questions such as “What is the limit on deer?” would be easy to answer.
Frequently, we get calls on Upstate Outdoors, the outdoors radio program that I host on Saturdays from noon till 2 on WORD 106.3 FM, with exactly that question. Truth is, I have trouble providing an answer. First I need to know if you are hunting on public or private land, what type of weapon you are hunting with, what day of the week you are hunting on, and which Game Zone you are hunting in.
Sadly, the question is easy to answer if you are hunting most places below Columbia because there is no limit on deer. It’s printed in the rule book – no limit. That information comes amid announcements over the last few years that the numbers of deer in the state are in decline. This flies in the face of true sportsmen who understands that our natural resources, whether they be fish, game, flora, or fauna, are not limitless.
Before you pick up the phone and call the DNR, let’s point out that even in the Game Zones and Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) that have limits published in the rule book, there is no method in place to account for how many deer a hunter has taken from any location or by any method. As such, deer hunters are asked to limit themselves, based on an honor system backed up by little if any accountability. The end result is a deer limit that is not enforceable even where one is posted.
You’re also wasting your time by complaining to the DNR, because their hands are tied. For several years now, Charles Ruth, who heads the Deer Project for SCDNR has presented a comprehensive plan for deer management that includes a tag system for any and all deer taken by deer hunters across the state. The plan has been presented several times to the state legislature who sets the game laws in South Carolina, not the DNR. The plan, which is well thought out and has the backing of over 85% of the deer hunters in the state, would end the wasteful situation we are in today with this most valuable natural resource. Unfortunately, the proposal has fallen on deaf ears in the General Assembly.
“If we could get a buck and doe limit and institute a tagging program where all deer are tagged and logged in, perhaps using a telephone check in system that is employed in other states, we could regulate and manage our deer herd a whole lot better than we are doing now,” said Ruth. “Pursuing such regulations remains a priority with the Deer Program and DNR will be seeking support from the State Legislature in the upcoming session.”
As a first step toward that end, DNR has stopped waiting on the state legislature and has instituted some deer limit changes on the only lands they do have control over – the state’s WMAs. Recent changes in deer hunting regulations will modify antlerless deer harvest limits on public land and the number of either-sex days on both public and private lands. Ruth indicated these limits were designed to impact the way DNR will manage the state’s deer herd. Included in these changes is a move to improve consistency across the state’s Wildlife Management Area program as well as provide a uniform bag limit for deer on WMAs.
Public land deer hunters will be limited to a season wide harvest limit as well as changes in the number of antlerless deer that can be harvested in a single day.
“It’s what we’re referring to as the 5-2-2-1 rule,” said Ruth. “That comprises a statewide WMA limit of 5 deer, no more than 2 can be bucks, no more than 2 deer per day can be harvested, and only one of those can be an antlerless deer.”
The changes will more dramatically be felt by archery hunters who will have to abide by gun hunting regulations during open gun seasons. This includes a requirement to use doe tags beginning October 11 when gun season opens in Game Zones 1 and 2 and after September 15 through the remainder of the state when does become legal for harvest.
Game Zones 1 and 2, the Mountain and Piedmont Units, are the only areas in the state with segregated seasons that provide for archery and primitive weapons-only seasons.
In seasons prior, archery hunters were allowed to harvest antlerless deer without the requirements to adhere to either-sex days or using doe tags. This season archery hunters across the state, hunting either public or private lands, will have to adhere to antlerless deer regulations including the reduction to one doe per day.
“This effectively closes a law enforcement loop hole whereas an officer had to judge whether a doe was killed by gun or bow,” said Ruth. “Now all hunters, regardless of weapon, will have the same requirements during open gun seasons.”
Ruth said the changes are a first step in adjusting to declining deer populations in South Carolina. Wildlife surveys have shown maturing pine forests and an increase in predators such as coyotes as having a negative impact on deer numbers over the last several years.
In days gone by, Grandpa caught fish and was successful hunting game because he had put his time in. Back in the day, there was no substitute for experience in the woods. Grandpa also knew where the fish were because he’d caught them there before and it made sense to him that certain conditions would bring them back to the same, or similar, locations.
Looking back, most sportsman wouldn’t have a clue how grandpa did it back in the day because we have been able to replace his time and efforts in the woods and on the water with advanced technology. What Grandpa knew instinctively, we now keep up with electronically, using pre-programmed software and data that all but point out where the action is.
Today’s technology allows sportsmen who are pressed for time, or who want to get out in the woods and water more often than Grandpa did, to hit the ground running. The only sin to be confessed should be by those who are not taking advantage.
Doug Goins, Mathews Archery certified bow hunter and owner of J & S Gun Depot & Archery in Easley sets out on foot this time of year to do his scouting. When he hits the ground, he’s not looking for places to hunt. He uses some high tech tools to pattern deer well before opening day.
“I put out remote game cameras that will give me specific data to pattern the deer that are using an area,” said Goins. “I start with the game cameras sometime around the end of July, they will allow me to thoroughly scout the area without bumping and pushing deer.”
The data that Goins wants to collect with his trail cameras is the direction deer are coming from and going to as well as the frequency of travel. He will also get some idea of the number and size deer using the area.
“If I can get an idea of sex ratios, how many does versus how many buck are in this area, I can use that information to plan later hunts when mature bucks will be more interested in the doe herd,” he said.
On subsequent visits to check his cameras, typically done during mid day when deer are more likely not to be in the area, he can adjust the camera locations further up or down the trail. This not only helps him pattern deer for hunting but also for further scouting.
“You’ll quickly learn where and when to scout so you can go in and verify food sources and bedding areas and be confident of not bumping deer,” he said.
Flipping the coin, anglers use just as advanced technology to get real-time information on the world below their boat. One of the ways tournament anglers stay on top of the tournament boards is by mastering the latest tactics and technology.
As an example, Kent Driscoll, pro-staff manager for B’n’M Poles, who lives north of Atlanta, recently fished and won a major crappie fishing tournament in central Georgia that he hadn’t laid eyes on in over 10 years. He and his partner beat a home crowd of local anglers who knew the lake very well. So how do you show up on the home turf of some of the best fishermen in the area and beat them on their home lake? Driscoll has mastered the art of reading side imaging sonar technology.
Using a Humminbird 1197 sonar unit, Driscoll was able to see fish up to 100 feet on either side of his boat and figure out a way to catch them.
“Me and pretty much everyone else in the field knew that big slab crappie would be stacked up on ledges and edges that litter the bottom of the reservoir,” said Driscoll. “We caught a ton of fish but figured out the bigger crappie were holding on little fingers that stuck out into the main channel” he explained. “Then it was just a matter of tracking down those areas—which were clearly visible on my digital mapping software that’s loaded in the unit. Once we got to an area, one pass down the channel with the side imaging and we could see both the stumps the fish were holding on and even the fish themselves.”
It’s safe to say, we no longer live in Grandpa’s world. The question is, if Grandpa lived in our world, would he be sticking to the old ways or taking advantage of our modern electronic advantages.
In Other News
Anthony Gagliardi from Prosperity, SC, fishing on his home waters of Lake Murray, won the FLW's Forrest Wood Cup and its $500,000 first-prize money by a single ounce during last week-end’s highly touted FLW Championship. Gagliardi's final round catch on Sunday of 13 pounds, 14 ounces, gave him a four-day total of 51 pounds, 2 ounces, enough to win the event by one ounce.
Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., took second place and $60,000 with a final-day catch of five fish, 13-14 -- for a 51-1 total. Third-round leader Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif, weighed in 11-10 to take third at 50-11, Casey Ashley of Donalds, SC moved up a spot from fifth to fourth with 15-0 for 50-7, and Steve Kennedy of Auburn, AL, had the biggest single day catch of the week, 20 pounds, 2 ounces, to finish at 50-7.
In a game winning play every bit as exciting as a 4th quarter drive into the end zone, Alan Howatt set the hook on a largemouth bass that garnered he and team mate Bryan Carroll a top 15 finish in last month’s Bassmaster College Series Wildcard tournament held on Pickwick Lake in Alabama. The finish will advance Horwatt and Carroll, both seniors at Clemson University and the flagship team of Clemson’s Bass Fishing Club, to the prestigious Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship being held this week-end on Lake Chatuge in northern Georgia.
“We knew we needed another 2 pound fish to finish well enough to advance to the Championship,” said Carroll. “We were in the final 5 minutes of the Pickwick tournament when Alan made the last cast of the day and stuck a 2 pounder and hauled him into the boat. If it wasn’t for that fish, we probably would not have made the cut.”
On Monday, the pair reported for practice at Chatuge, a deep, clear mountain lake that straddles the border between Georgia and North Carolina. With three days of open practice under their belts, and one day of competition fishing yesterday, the Clemson team will fish hard today and hopefully make the cut at the end of today’s fishing that will allow them to stay in the tournament for the narrowed down field and compete in the final round on Saturday.
“Throughout the year, anglers put their skills to the test in hopes of earning a chance to fish the Bassmaster College Series National Championship, and this year’s qualifiers are a true representation of the best college bass fishermen in the circuit,” said Hank Weldon, B.A.S.S. college tournament manager.
In the world of college bass fishing, each team competes as one angler, and are only allowed to weigh one five fish limit that will score as one team. After the championship round, the top four teams will be divided up, and each angler will be placed individually into an eight-angler bracket. They will fish for three days, Aug. 3-5, in a single elimination format until only one remains. The winning angler will be invited to fish in the biggest event in bass fishing – The Bassmaster Classic- which will be held next February on Lake Hartwell with weigh-ins taking place in Greenville at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
“Last year, a team from Auburn University had to fish head-to-head to see who got to fish with the big boys in the Bassmaster Classic on Guntersville,” said Horwatt, who will individually be making his third appearance in the National Championship. “I’d like to see that happen again this year since both Bryan and I consider Hartwell to be our home lake.”
One variable that has weighed heavily on the minds of the college contenders has simply become known as “the rat.” In the 2013 National Championship fans watched as Auburn University at Montgomery’s Tom Frink and Jacob Nummy heaved a 6-inch chunk of wood known as “the rat” and enticed some of the biggest fish in Chatuge to jump onboard for a ride to the weigh-in. Though the unusual bait was only one punch of a two-part combo that included drop shotting, the big lure stole the show. It piqued enough interest that a mass-produced composite rat — the BBZ-1 Rat — was just released by Spro at the ICAST trade show in July.
Teams will take off from The Ridges Marina in Hiawassee, Ga., at 6:30 a.m. ET today. Weigh-ins for the championship will be held at Young Harris College and are set to begin at 3 p.m. ET.
ESPNU will present coverage of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship beginning Aug. 10 at 11 a.m. ET, and the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket will air beginning Aug, 17 at 11 a.m. Fans can follow the action live at www.bassmaster.com/tv-schedule.
In Other News
Summer is not over! With plenty of warm weather left to enjoy, safety around the water is essential. Sign your family up for a free boating safety class through the SCDNR. Upcoming classes are as follows:
July 29 at Sycamore Town Hall
July 31 at the Fort Johnson DNR Office
August 7 at York County Law Enforcement Training Center
August 9 at Clemson DNR Office
August 11 at Murrells Inlet Fire Department
August 16 at US Coast Guard Auxiliary Class Daniel Island Library
September 6 at the Fort Johnson DNR Office
You can also check our website for other classes and outdoor educational opportunities offered by the SC Department of Natural Resources at http://www.register-ed.com/programs/43 or call 1-800-277-4301.
The Clemson Tigers Bass Fishing Team will be represented by Bryan Carroll (left) and Alan Horwatt (right) in this week-end’s Bassmaster College National Championships on Lake Chatuge in north Georgia. Photo courtesy Alan Horwatt.
I’ve long held with the belief that 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish. The reason that saying rings true is that those 10 percenters understand that 90% of the fish are found in only 10% of the water. Professional tournament anglers have a process they go through while pre-fishing for a tournament that they refer to as “eliminating water”.
While that process sounds more disgusting than it really is, “eliminating water” means verifying that fish either are or are not holding to a given pattern in the 10% of the water that se anglers seasoned anglers would expect them to be in.
During the summer months when fishing can become extremely difficult, much of the 10% of the water that anglers are looking to find fish in is related to a thermocline.
A thermocline is a layer of water more often found in a large body of water, where the temperature gradient is greater than that of the warmer layer above and the colder layer below. To understand the concept, a quick physical science lesson is in order.
A typical reservoir may have uniform temperatures throughout the lake, from top to bottom, for only a short time in the spring and again in the fall. In the summer, most lakes with sufficient depth (usually 30 -40 feet) are stratified into distinct, non-mixing layers of different temperatures. The top warmer layer is referred to as the epilimnion and the colder bottom layer is known as the hypolimnion. These two layers are separated by the metalimnion layer. The metalimnion, better known as the thermocline, is a zone of rapidly changing temperature.
You’ll understand the concept better if you have ever dove down into a lake while swimming and found substantially colder water several feet below the surface. Fish thrive in this cooler layer because it has the best balance of dissolved oxygen. The colder water below, the hypolimnion layer, is actually devoid of oxygen. Because little sunlight reaches the hypolimnion, photosynthetic oxygen production is negligible and decomposition of dead plant and animal matter on the lake floor leads to declining oxygen levels as the summer progresses.
At this time of year, any lake that can and will develop a thermocline has done so. This means that 90% of the fish will most certainly be holding at specific depths in stratified reservoirs to take advantage of the cooler water that provides the highest dissolved oxygen.
To understand the seasonal movements of fish in our local reservoirs – striped bass, largemouth and spotted bass, and even larger catfish species, during the expansive summer months, you have to be constantly on the water monitoring them. As the temperatures and water inflows change, so do fish movements.
The best way to determine the level of the thermocline is by adjusting the sensitivity on most of today’s modern sonar units. The cooler, denser water will rebound the signal and chart a slight line across the graph, marking the depth level. If fish are present in that area of the thermocline, it will also be the level where most of them are residing.
Another way to judge the thermocline is by the life of live bait such as herring, a typical striped bass favorite, or bait shop minnows, frequently used for bass and crappie. If you raise the minnow up too high, the heated water will quickly kill the bait. If you drop the bait below the thermocline, the lack of oxygen from the decomposition of plant and animal material on the lake floor will also kill the bait. This is an important consideration when fishing any live bait vertically beneath the boat.
The next step to finding fish is locating where the thermocline layer meets suitable fish cover.
Anglers often confuse the terms “structure” and “cover”. Simply stated, structure is any terrain feature that crappie, bass, stripers, or other fish will find favorable given the time of year. Cover is a physical object, a stump, tree, rock pile, bridge piling or boat dock, that usually rises vertically in the water column to either break current or provide a hiding place.
Many professional anglers and guides have made a living fishing break lines – an underwater ridge where the bottom drops away to deeper water. As a method of locating fish at a particular depth, get on a specific break line and just follow it all over the lake. Since we already know that fish are more inclined to suspend at the level of the thermocline, the key is to put your baits right in the top of the thermocline and then follow the break line until you come across the fish holding on or above some kind of structure.
In Other News
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the Enoree District of the U.S. Forest Service, will host a special youth dove hunt in Union County on Saturday, Sept. 6.
The Sept. 6 youth dove hunt will be at the U.S. Forest Service Herbert Field about 5.6 miles southeast of the town of Carlisle. Only youth 17 years of age or younger will be allowed to shoot, and youth must be accompanied by an adult 21 years or older. Adults must remain in the field and closely supervise participating youth at all times.
For questions on the youth dove hunt, or for more information, contact the Union office of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at (864) 427-5140 or contact the U.S. Forest Service Enoree Office at (864) 427-9858.
Last week the internet controversy over Kendall Jones, a 19 year old Texas Tech cheerleader who has dedicated her Facebook site to exhibiting her kills of big game animals in Africa, hit a critical mass as news reports and public response to the issue from both sides of the right-to-hunt debate mounted. Jones has received death threats from site viewers extolling the villainy of her African safaris. The result has been a galvanizing of viewers and a rekindling of the hunter vs anti-hunter debate in the news media.
The antis rally to the side that any and all killing of animals is wrong. Some leeway is afforded when hunters reply with the argument of money that is paid to participate in the safari hunts goes toward conservation and wildlife management, feeding of the local population, and funding law enforcement that keeps poaching of the animals at bay. However, years of cable television documentaries have swayed the general public to the point that many viewers feel that any big game animal is endangered and should never be hunted.
When pressed for an opinion, hunters will take the same stand with big game hunting in Asia and Africa that gun owners take any time a gun issue is presented, basically the right to bear arms (or in this scenario hunt) shall not be infringed.
To the dismay of some, hunters are harder on themselves and their peers than many outsiders suspect. An example of this is white tail deer hunting. The entire group will rally in support of the right to hunt deer but archery-only hunters in the group frequently look down their noses with disdain at gun hunters who use long range, scoped rifles to basically do the same job the archer does with different gear. In these cases, it’s for the end user to determine what is “sport” and what is not.
You also don’t have to travel to Africa or even outside the state to find the same controversy over what level of hunting some find acceptable and others don’t. For the last 6 or 7 years, the SCDNR has operated a lottery draw system for hunters to apply for tags to hunt alligators in the lower part of the state. Once an endangered species, the American alligator has rebounded back to sustainable populations where the number of human/alligator encounters often makes the news. Wildlife management officials have sought to control the rising population of alligators by allowing limited harvest of these animals.
Regardless of the science behind the motive, anti-hunters frequently come out against the state’s alligator hunters who hunt and harvest a particularly large specimen that garners enough attention to make it into the mainstream media.
An additional hotly contested example is the legal hunting of black bears in both the Upstate and Low Country where biologists cite that number of black bears in the Appalachian chain has reached or exceeded the social carrying capacity. Two week long seasons for bear hunting in the Upstate are provided by the DNR and likewise, when news and photos of bears harvested by hunters hits the mainstream media, the outcry over killing “cute and cuddly” or “defenseless creatures” always rears it’s head.
One side of the Jones debate that even divides the general hunting population is that African safaris costs range in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for one single animal. Most hunters don’t have that kind of money to spend on a sport and simply write Jones off as a spoiled rich girl out spending Daddy’s money.
The subject of fair chase rarely arises when connected to African safaris. American hunters who hunt high-fence or pen-raised animals for sport are placed on a lower social hierarchy by both the hunting and general public. These areas are maintained as private preserves and the cost to hunt within, as well as the likelihood of success, are high.
Perhaps the general public nor the anti’s would be so quick to judge Jones if she were truly a Sheena Of The Jungle who scouted, patterned, and then stalked and hunted her African prey without the aid of outfitters, guides, and the like. In the meantime, it’s an issue that neither side is likely to sway the opinion of the other over.
In Other News
According to a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, dove hunters still have time to plant fields to attract doves during the upcoming season. The Upstate has an abundant population of resident mourning doves and the best way to attract the speedy, acrobatic birds is to plant an abundance of good dove foods in an environment conducive to feeding by doves.
Individuals interested in dove field planting recommendations should contact the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Small Game Project in Columbia at (803) 734-3609 or their local regional wildlife biologist. A planting guide for dove hunters is available, as is the South Carolina Migratory Game Bird Hunting Guidebook which contains information on field preparation and frequently asked questions.