For most hunters, the parts are greater than the whole.
This Labor Day week-end kicks off the beginning of hunting season when hunters take to the fields on Saturday for the first of this fall’s hunting seasons. Each season is successively followed by another season, but for the true outdoorsman, the parts add up to much more than the total because no matter what quarry is being sought, it’s about hunting season…
It’s about crickets. It starts with those constant companions who slip in during the last days of summer heralding the arrival the fall season, when geese and ducks take flight in the evenings and the sounds of summer fade away.
It’s about mowed fields. The smell of the harvest on the cooling evening breezes bringing back memories of all the hunting seasons that have been and all those yet to be.
It’s about muddy boots. Who yearn to soak up the clay of the great outdoors and transport their owners to those special places where no tire dares to tread then humbly wait by the door at the end of the day to seek the next adventure.
It’s about dog hair and feathers. Of course, it’s always about dog hair. In the truck, in the house, on your clothes, but the feathers are a prideful reminder than some dogs are meant to be more than just pets and who, like the hunter, also seek the solace of outside.
It’s about high school football. Not from the bleachers, but the sounds of the bands and the dimmed cheers of the crowd that waft across the landscape reaching even into the tree tops where the solitary hunter waits in with great anticipation for his own game to begin.
It’s about orange in the windshield. That unspoken custom in the language of the outdoorsmen who simply acknowledge one another with a nod or raising of the hand at a stoplight or passing on some lonely rural highway at all hours of the day.
It’s about blood. Because let’s face it, hunting is about killing, and killing involves blood and the shedding of the quarry’s blood is sacred and not to be taken lightly, either in action or responsibility, but provides color to the soul.
It’s about country diners that open at 4:00 AM. The din and clatter of coffee cups and plates, feeding the hungry who have little time to eat. It’s about bleary eyed hunters, dressed in drab clothing, and bleary-eyed waitresses trading cash for calories in the fluorescent glare of pre-dawn darkness.
It’s about bullets. Bullets everywhere – in pants pockets, in the washing machine, in the console of the truck, but never one more when you need it the most.
It’s about empty boat ramps and empty beaches. It’s about the fear that while you rekindle the feel of the rod after a long hot summer the trophy buck you’ve been chasing will let his guard down and you won’t be there.
It’s about a whole new wardrobe, designed not to stand out in a crowd, but to blend in with nature. It’s about long forgotten gloves and hats, tucked away in heavy jackets, religiously stored away and washed to retain no human scent, but still smell like old dirt.
It’s about hunting buddies – past, present and future. The memories of those who have gone on to better hunting grounds and those oh-so-predictable ones who show up every fall. It’s about those who now have responsibilities and just can’t be there and those who just need a little more time.
It’s about hunting season…and it’s about time.
Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest on the show will be Jamie Burnett from Egret Baits. Contact Gentry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regardless of the quarry sought, for true outdoorsmen, hunting season is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Photo by Phillip Gentry.
Dig if you will, a picture – of a late summer afternoon as the sun is moving from scorching hot to almost tolerable. A cut-over grain field lays sheared in strips accentuated with round bales of hay strategically placed to conceal figures clad in camouflage clothing and a dog. Off in the distance, just above the tree line, a trio of tiny gray streaks, mourning doves, come flying into view. The species of bird is unmistakable by the hooked shape of the head and beak as the birds enter the field.
The sight is underscored by the pop ,pop, pop of the hunters closest to the far end of the field as the hunters rise up and attempt to bring down the little rockets with shotgun blasts. In no time, all horizons are marked with birds as they circle the field hoping for an opening to descend and land.
This is what it looks like, when doves fly.
12:00 Noon on September 3rd will mark the opening of the 2016 Dove Season. Possibly more than any other shooting sport, dove hunting conjures up memories of both hunts and hunters from days gone by. The sport has changed in some ways due to better management of the resource but at the basis is still an outing where friends and family members gather to spend time in a dove field and fellowship over the opening event of hunting season.
Here in the Upstate, the prospect of the upcoming dove season is good. Preparing for dove season is a labor of love for field managers who begin plotting and planting fields in late April and May to insure that food crops, used to draw birds to the hunting fields, are fully ripe and mature come opening day.
Richard Morton, Region 1 wildlife biologist whose territory includes most of the Upstate said dove hunters who planted their crops early this year should have a better than normal shoot when the first of the three-part dove season opens next week-end.
“If you had your crops in the ground before the drought set in, things are looking pretty good,” said Morton. “The rain we’ve had over the past few weeks has greened everything up and I’ve seen some good looking millet and sunflower fields.”
“I’ve also talked to a lot of area dove field managers and they’re reporting the birds are moving into the fields regularly so it looks like everything is lining up,” he said.
Mourning doves are classified as migratory birds under Federal regulation but the majority of doves that will come into play next week are resident- South Carolina born and bred birds. As the fall progresses and the second and third hunting seasons open in the state, hunters will begin to see more of an influx of migratory birds moving down from northern states.
Morton said that dove hunters who do not have private lands to hunt can view a listing of public dove fields made available by the state and are hunted on a first-come-first serve basis. These public WMA fields are only open on certain days of the week to limit the amount of hunting pressure on the birds. A full listing of public dove fields along with full season dates for the three dove seasons that will occur this year and additional information regarding regulations and bag limits can be found on the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources website at dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/dove/fields.
Morton said that dove fields in the Upstate, both public and private, are trending upward in the number of birds they attract and hold in one area. He said that the lower occurence of competing agricultural fields compared to the Low Country is a benefit to Upstate dove hunters.
“There are so many dove fields in the Low Country that it tends to really scatter the birds out and you don’t get much concentration in any one area,” said Morton. “In addition, there are agricultural fields that have nothing to do with hunting, that also spread out the numbers even thinner over a larger area.”
In regards to planning an Upstate hunt, Morton said he feels certain most fields will get hunted on opening day Saturday, Labor Day and the following Saturday. Otherwise he said hunters can increase their chances of success by coordinating hunts with surrounding properties to keep doves from accumulating in one field that is not being hunted.
Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest on the show will be Morgan Promitz, Fishing Product Manager for Hobie Kayaks. Contact Gentry at email@example.com.
Dove hunters who planted their fields well before this summer’s drought set in should expect to have a better than average year as dove season comes in next week. Photo by Phillip Gentry.
Earlier this month, on August 7, John Cox of Debary, FL won one of the most coveted titles in professional bass fishing. He won the Forest Wood Cup. To say Cox ran away with the event held on Wheeler Lake in Alabama doesn’t give much credit to the other competitiors, including local favorites Bryan Thrift from Shelby, NC, Todd Auten from Lake Wylie, SC and Brandon Cobb, from Greenwood, SC, but he did. Cox won the event by over four pounds across four days of competition.
You have to give substantial credit to Cox on how he won the event. Cox is unconventional - an extremely likeable guy who makes his own fishing rods from scratch, even doing so in his hotel room the night before a tournament. Cox also fishes from an aluminum boat.
The media circus that follows the FLW Tour around have nick-named him “The Tin Man.” You might also remember Cox when he walked away from the competition on Lake Hartwell in March during a sight fishing festival, again fishing from his aluminum boat.
Make no mistake, Cox isn’t fishing from an old john boat that he loads up in the bed of his pick-up truck at the end of the day. He has a really nice Crestliner aluminum bass boat that has all the same bells and whistles as a big fiberglass bass rocket, duly wrapped in vinyl detailing promoting his fishing sponsors and powered by a big 200 HP Mercury outboard. But the heart of the Tin Man remains the same.
“I started out bass fishing from an old aluminum boat,” said Cox. “After I started fishing pro, I won my first event in an aluminum boat. I have fished out of glass boats, but that’s just not my style, so I went back to the aluminum.”
In the circumstances of his Cup win at Lake Wheeler, having a durable aluminum ride was one of his primary reasons for winning the event. Cox said he’s never had much luck fishing on Wheeler and wanted to get as far away from the main lake as possible, while still staying in bounds.
With scorching daytime temperatures and water on the main lake approaching the 90 degree mark, Cox picked one of the tributary creeks that feeds Lake Wheeler, Cotaco Creek, and ran it about as far back upstream as he could go. Along the way, he left all of the competition behind, both literally and figuratively.
“The water in the creek was a lot cooler, with plenty of shade from over-hanging trees. I had to jump over a number of stumps and logs to get back up in that creek, but once there I found what I was looking for,” said Cox.
The backwaters of Coataco Creek are laden with weeds, making it a perfect scenario for fishing a topwater frog in the same surroundings as fishing the farm ponds of his youth.
“When I got back there in practice I realized I was going to have the whole area to myself, nobody else was coming, even the media boats had a hard time getting over all the downed trees,” he said, “but once there, the fish were willing, and what better way to have four days of fishing than catching hungry bass on a topwater frog.”
In winning the Forest Wood Cup, Cox set a precedent of sorts, that winning a prestigious event doesn’t require an expensive fiberglass bass boat that costs as much as a small house.
Marty Walker, owner of Palmetto Boat Center on the I-85 Frontage Road in Piedmont agreed. Walker said he sees a lot of competitors choosing to fish from an aluminum bass boat.
“We have a lot of high school kids who are fishing for their schools in aluminum boats but there are plenty of adults who fish from them as well,” said Walker. “An aluminum boat comes rigged every bit as nice as a fiberglass boat, and the best thing is that you can get in a brand new top end aluminum boat for the same price as an entry level fiberglass boat or a used high-end boat.”
Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest on the show will be Ashley Clark, Area Chairman for Greenville Ducks Unlimited. Contact Gentry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Cox recently won this year’s Forest Wood Cup as well as the FLW Tour Event earlier this year on Lake Hartwell, all while fishing from his trusty aluminum bass boat. Photo courtesy (Andy Hagedon/FLW).
Many Upstate residents enjoy the prospect of seeing wildlife around their residences. The Upstate is home to deer, turkey and even the occasional bear that comes out of the mountains, but have you ever considered the possibility of seeing an elk?
According to Bob Santanello, chairman for the Upstate Chapter of The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the prospect that elk exist in the wild in South Carolina is not only plausible, it’s likely.
“I think there’s a good chance some elk may already be here,” said Santanello. “Rumors have persisted for some time of elk sightings around the Caesar’s Head and Jones Gap State Park areas in northern Greenville County. To date we have not verified this with any game wardens or park rangers, but we frequently hear from folks who say they have seen them up there.”
An experimental program to reintroduce elk to the Cataloochee Valley of North Carolina was begun in 2001. What started as 40 transplanted animals nearly 20 years ago has grown into a herd of an estimated 300 - 400 animals.
Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States, but were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. As the crow flies, Cataloochee is less than 100 miles from the South Carolina state line.
In 1990, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an organization committed to the future of the animals, suggested that the National Park Service reintroduce an elk herd back into the southern Appalachians. Officials chose the Cataloochee Valley because of its relative isolation. The first 25 elk arrived in February 2001, imported from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the Kentucky-Tennessee border after being relocated from Alberta, Canada. Another 27 animals were added in 2002.
“These animals are known to migrate thousands of miles,” said Santanello. “The Cataloochee valley is a natural funnel and the animals are not fenced in. It’s beginning to get kind of territorial up there. The big bulls are running off the smaller males so they take a couple of cows and go look for somewhere else to live.”
Santanello said it’s easy to tell which animals were transplanted, because the bulls all have collars and most of the cows have tags in their ears. To further support the animal’s migrations, he said there was a surprise earlier this spring in the Cataloochee Valley. “We had a mature bull show up with no collar, and he wasn’t one of ours,” said Santanello, pointing out that populations of elk currently exist in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
September and October are ideal months to view elk in the Cataloochee Valley. Pre-rutting activity (prior to mating season) begins in September and peaks at the first of October. Bull elk make their legendary bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows and bugling may be heard a mile or more away.
In Other News
The Upstate SC Chapter of The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will be holding it’s 20th annual Big Game Banquet and fundraiser to benefit the Upstate Chapter. The event will be held at The Poinsett Club in Greenville on Saturday August 13. The event will feature raffles for guns, a live auction and world class wild game food prepared by the Poinsett Club chefs. Fine craft beer will also be available from Blue Ridge Brewing Co. Doors open at 5 pm. A range of ticket packages are available by contacting Edward Wilson at 803-528-3574. Doors open at 5 pm.
Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest on the show will be John Cox, winner of last week-end’s Forest Wood Cup championship bass tournament. Contact Gentry at email@example.com.
Elk are a common site in the Cataloochee Valley area of North Carolina, but expansion of the herd may be pushing the offspring of these animals in South Carolina. Photo by Phillip Gentry.