Saturday, March 31, 2012

Field Notes and Photos - March 2012

Spring came early in March 2012 and most flowers were done blooming by April first. Migratory birds did not appear much earlier than in past years however, as different facets of nature stayed on a steady track. A bone dry February was followed up with a rainy weather pattern in March that brought relief to the landscape. Whether it be the return of butterflies, termites hatching, flowers blooming or snakes coling - I remain a fascinated wildlife observer and am glad to share these images with blog followers.

Beautiful butterfly on pink flower

This is known as a wild azalea

White-winged termites hatching on old stump

Canebreak rattler coiled in the leaf litter
Close-up of a luna moth
To view past blog entries with Field Notes and Photos click here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 Savannah River Invitational

Custom box calls are the prizes after bragging rights
Art Fileds - winner of the 2012 SRI

Billy Farrior and Ervin Harriatt

Art Fields, Ted Rainwater and Jerald Sholar
This fundraiser for Tall Timbers S.C. Quail Project was held March 29 at Oak Grove in Hampton County. The 2nd annual Savannah River Invitational (SRI) enlists turkey hunters who are willing to raise awareness about the restoration of grassland habitat that benefits Northern bobwhite quail, as well as a host of songbirds - and turkeys too! The entry fee goes towards the continued work of Jerald Sholar to reach willing landowners in S.C. who want to focus on understory management of their forestlands. Limited to only 30 teams, the SRI uses a scoring system involving beard length and spur length in order to determine who will have their name etched into the SRI perpetual trophy. A beautiful morning allowed the two-man hunting teams to disperse into their favorite hunting grounds in search of the elusive boss gobbler, with some mosquitos and warm temps in the mix. The action got off to an interesting start when Scott Rhodes began calling for turkeys and a coyote came over about 8 a.m. to try and slip up on any unsuspecting turkey. Rhodes did the right thing and rolled the coyote over into his grave with one shot, but neither Rhodes (of Beaufort) nor teammate Gene Simmons (of Walterboro) were able to harvest a turkey. Next up was hunting team Johnny Evans (of Orangeburg) and Art Fields (of Charlotte) who employed the 'divide and conquer' method of two-man team hunting, with Evans going one way and getting henned up with nothing but jakes. Meanwhile Fields ended up in a good spot with toms gobbling early from the limb, and after flydown too. With one hen in his view, he called with his MAD calls aluminum slate and the hen sauntered into gun range while dragging three gobblers with her and BLAM he was able to harvest the biggest one at 25-paces using his Pure Gold choke tube and HeviShot load. A bit later in the morning it was time for Billy Farrior (of Charleston) and Ervin Harriatt (of Estill) to get in on the action. Harriatt was calling with a Homewrecker crystal slate call when they heard a tom gobble at 11 a.m., and with hunting over at 12 noon he knew that time was running short. Harriat said they were 75-yards form a deer food plot planted in rye, oats and wheat when the strutting tom circled them and he switched from yelp calls to a cackle in order to convince the big turkey to come closer. Farrior harvested the bird at 35-yards and said that his heart was racing since it was the first turkey for him since 2009. The weigh-in was conducted by SCDNR biologists Jay Cantrell and Ted Rainwater and Farrior's bird weighed 20-pounds, taking the 'Heavist Bird' custom box call home. The overall winner was Art Fields since his bird had greater combined beard and spur length - CONGRATS!!

To view past blog entries form the Savannah River Invitational click here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 Prescribed fire in March

A backpack sprayer with water controls spot fires

A line of prescribed fire snakes through the pines

Scott O'Quinn strings fire in the woodlands

A backing fire moves slowly and burns cool
It's not too late in March to conduct some prescribed fire! At least that is what some experienced upland habitat managers have been telling Lowcountry Outdoors. Lew Crouch at Chehaw Combahee shares they usually don't begin burning until March. Bill Mixon at Black Swamp shares that the later he burns the less bracken ferns grow in, and more native grasses can develop. Jerald Sholar with the Tall Timbers S.C. Quail Project conducted a site visit with me on March 16, and said that if the land could speak it would say "Fire Me Now!' After consulting with these trustworthy advisors, I called friend Scott O'Quinn and we conducted three controlled burns on 55-acres in order to improve timber stands and increase wildlife habitat by managing the understory. Burning off limbs, pine needles and oak leaves promotes the growth of early successional habitat which favors all woodlands creatures that might like to browse on fresh and tender green stems of new growth that always spring up from the blackened environment after a prescribed fire. As a member of the S.C. Tree Farm System I remain committed to a regular regime of prescribed fire as a way to mimic the natural role that fire has always played in the Southeastern ecosystem.

To view past blog entires about the S.C. Tree Farm system and prescribed fire click here.

Weather 101 / Storm Team 2 in Colleton County

Kyle Dennis, Rob Fowler and Josh Marthers are Storm Team 2

Storm Team 2 begins their tour in the ACE Basin

Josh Marthers with intern Gwyneth Locascio

Rob Fowler with Walterboro Mayor Bill Young
The very first stop on the 2012 Weather 101 tour was in the heart of Walterboro, at the Colleton Center located on Hampton Street. The timing of their visit could not have been better for natural beauty as the dogwoods, azaleas, wisteria and more are already in full bloom! Colletonians were greeted warmly at the door by Channel Two intern Gwyneth Locascio, and given weather info handouts, and free door prize rafle tickets for weather radios. Chief meteorologist Rob Fowler did live weather from Walterboro for the 5 and 6 p.m. news casts while news director Scott Flanigan looked on. The 6:30 Weather 101 program began with morning meteorologist Josh Marthers talking about severe weather and his 'pet peeve' which is lightening awareness. Marthers knows that Colletonians are hunters, anglers, farmers, and wildlife watchers and he stressed that lightening safety is important for everyone during unsettled weather and that lightening can strike up to 10 miles away from an approaching storm. Marthers said that with the onset of warm weather (about 15 degrees above normal and 1.5-months ahead of schedule) that we will continue to see an increased chance of thunderstorms. Next up on the Weather 101 lineup was weekend weatherman Kyle Dennis who let attendees know about tornados, and of course he went into great detail about the 2012 Islandton tornado in Colleton County. Special guest Ron Morales from the National Weather Service was on hand to inform everyone about how a tornado watch differs from a tornado warning, and the progression of protocols involved in their forecasting process. Anchorman Rob Fowler then gave a fine overview of the 2011 hurricane season and explained how the 2012 season is shaping up to be active, but maybe not quite as active as last year. My own Colleton County climatological synopsis is that despite very dry conditions through mid-February, the spring rains (some of them significant) have broken the drought cycle and the landscape has put forth a healthy spring green up.

For past blog entries about weather click here.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 IFA Redfish Tour - Savannah results

Bruce Draper and Ricky Maldonado - Winners of Savannah IFA
This BUD is for you, tourney anglers!
The first event in the Atlantic Division of the Inshore Fishing Association 2012 tourneys was fished in Savannah on March 24 out of Coffee Bluff Marina. The competition was stiff in the 38-team field and included the top two teams from the Atlantic Division in 2011. Drew Arndt and Rennie Clark were in town from Wilmington (N.C.) and they have won the Atlantic Division for the past three years and were the IFA Nat'l Team of the Year back in 2010! Team Two Reds consists of Chuck and Shane Lather from Beaufort and they finished second in the Atlantic Division in 2011. Fate would have other plans for these proven veterans on this day as Ridgeland residents Bruce Draper and Ricky Maldonado came out of nowhere to lay claim to the first place prize - a Ranger boat. (see video for specs on the Ranger) Draper told me that his Team Reel Habit fished in Hilton Head after a one hour and fifteen minute run to a shell bank that they had pre-fished for three days. The reds were biting a Gulp white ripple mullet with a chartreuse tail on the incoming tide, and they weighed in two fish (4.57 & 4.85) for a total of 9.42-pounds. Finishing in second place was Nations Finley and McNeal Finley with a combined total of 9.15-pounds, and third place went to Ron and Caleb Davis of Edisto with an 8.38-pound total. Only ten teams were able to weigh-in two redfish and that included Brian Rose and Kendrick Neal from the Lowcountry Redfish Tour - taking 6th place. The next IFA Atlantic Division event will be fished out of the Charleston Harbor Marina on June 3. For cash totals and to see who fished without weighing in a fish visit the IFA Tour.
To view results from the IFA Kayak event fished the following day click here.
To view past blog entries from the IFA tour click here.

Drew Arndt and Rennis Clark finished in 9th place

Coffee Bluff Marina on Hunter Creek
To view past blog entries from the IFA tour click here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pro Turkey callers support youth in Lowcountry

Steve Cobb gives the youth a lesson in turkey calling

Tony Cachere and Tom Stuckey are thankful to be in Lodge

The H.S. Strut 'yellow bus' rolled into the Lowcountry
After the season opener for osceola turkeys in Florida, it is South Carolina that is next in line for a host of traveling turkey hunters. A 'bus' full of Pro Staff from the H.S. Strut brand of turkey callers arrived in Lodge, S.C. to stay in the Coon's Den and to hunt some turkeys. Hunter's Specialties brand sent their best videographer to capture these hunts on video with the likes of Tom Stuckey and Steve Cobb. Everyone came together on the evening of March 17 to enjoy some southern hospitality served up by a group of local farmers. The event promotes and encourages youths to go turkey hunting, and included H.S. Strut hats and mouth calls for the youth. Cajun celebrity chef Tony Cachere was in town from Louisiana and he sponsors a youth-oriented heaviest turkey contest that is administered by Rizer's Pork and Produce. The main speaker was Tom Stuckey, who called on H.S. Strut Pro Staff Phillip Vanderpool and Steve Cobb to come up front and reveal their best turkey tips. The visiting hunters were thankful to be in the Lowcountry, and showed their appreciation by taking time to visit with everyone.
To view a blog entry from one of the Pro Staff hunts click here.
To view turkey hunting tips with Eddie Salter click here.

Phillip Vanderpool behind the camera as usual

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Safari Club International annual banquet

Eric Edmundson's fine 8-point buck on the SCI hunt,
shown here with guide Michael Paul Thomas

Eric Edmundson, Bill Snow and Miles Crosby at the SCI Nat'l Convention

Anna and Hamilton Boykin represent Leica Optics

Mark and Holly Peterson enjoy the SCI banquet
The Charleston Yacht Club was the setting for the annual banquet of the Lowcountry Chapter of Safari Club International (SCI). The March 10 dinner and auction was held with a special honoree in attendance,  Army Sgt. Eric Edmundson of New Bern, N.C., who is the 2012 SCI Pathfinder Award winner. An Iraq war veteran, Edmunson suffered serious injury while serving our nation, but he has not let that deter him from attending the annual SCI Wounded Warrior hunts in the ACE Basin - look for more about Edmundson in the April 5 edition of the Charleston Mercury. A groundswell of patriotism buoyed the entire evening as SCI patrons dined on quail, reflected on past big game hunts, and enjoyed gathering in their cocktail attire for a grand evening. Funds raised at the banquet go to benefit outreach programs that the local chapter supports.The Lowcountry SCI chapter has a fine website, thanks to web guru Mark Peterson, and the chapter will host a sporting clays event at Kensington Plantation on April 28 for prospective new members. Remember, SCI is First For Hunters!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lowcountry Fishing Report - 3/20/2012

Fishing Report for the Coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina:

Charleston Inshore Report: Bart Manley at the Market Street location of The Charleston Angler reports water temperatures steady at 64 to 65-degrees, and the redfish have started to break away from their schools. Increased redfish activity includes anglers seeing the fish on the flats during high tides that are sufficient to flood those areas. An imitation crab lure such as D.O.A. or Gulp have been producing strikes, but live mud minnows should do the trick too. Cut mullet and blue crab chunks are just two of the best stink bait options where the pig redfish can nose their way into your float plan. The trout bite is sparse, but not altogether obsolete when trolling Z-man grubs along the marsh edge or when fishing oyster bars using a D.O.A. shrimp under a popping cork. For all the latest seminar information on the web visit Charleston Angler.

Whether it's Tournament Time or a charter, Tucker pushes the limit.
Scott Hammond at Haddrell's Point West is almost too busy to fish since he is busy running in-store sales and making trips into the turkey woods, however his customers who target trout are seeing some consistency. Not too many in terms of big catch totals but solid days with between 5 and 15-trout running from 14-18 inches in length. The trout are biting Zman paddlerz, D.O.A. shrimp, live shrimp, or even a good ole mud minnow (or mumichug). Redfish continue to transition into a warm water pattern and can be located under docks, on the flats and around structure like rock piles. Live bait and cut bait are still a no-fail option for spot-tails but Gulp artificials and Refish Magic spinners are working reasonably well. Solid reports of sheepshead are coming in from the jetties and the nearshore reefs, but plan on weeding through several black sea bass before nailing the sheepies. For the latest seminar information visit the Internet at Haddrell's Point.

Captain Jody Tucker with Looking For Tail Charters is fishing the tournament trail pretty hard, but his charter customers are finding out that the redfish bite is strong. Tucker reports water temperature around 69-degrees in the ICW and the redfish are being found around oyster beds, under docks and on the flats. Other redfish delights include live finger mullet, mud minnows, or live shrimp under popping corks are working well. Carolina rigs with cut mullet is Tucker's go-to bait for working reds in deep pockets under docks, while scented soft plastics work in the tighter spots. The trout bite is erratic but Tucker can find one or two around deeper oyster banks in 4 to 8-feet of water. If it's sheepshead you want, Tucker says they are being found at bridge pilings and will eat fiddlers, oysters and clams. Looking for Capt. Jody Tucker? Try or call 843-870-5245.

Charleston Offshore Report: Scott sounds joyful in reporting that the bluewater has awakened with some awesome fishing! Unless you are under a rock well inland, then anglers have heard that the wahoo bite is going off right now. Reports of 5 to 10-wahoo per boat have been pouring in from boats fishing in the 150 to 300-foot range, while a few report success in 700-feet of water. Most boats are fishing to the north in the neighborhood of the southwest banks and the Georgetown Hole. The deli area has begun serving up some slinger dolphin (perfect for a mahi sandwich), and blackfin tuna are being found along the ledge. This is one of the best starts to the offshore season in recent memory, and may be related to the mild winter, which may translate into the gulf stream being more robust.

Bart relays that offshore results have been varied thanks to those March winds that roared like a lion. Black seabass have started to move into the offshore and nearshore wrecks, and although anglers are not allowed to keep them, they can provide a morale booster. The mahi bite should start to pick up towards the end of the month, and it could be sooner rather than later that the first schools come through. The moon has been good for the wahoo bite when trolling dark colors like black, purple and orange using an Ilander lure and ballyhoo combo.

To view past Lowcountry fishing reports click here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

JAKES turkey hunt in Ridgeland

Dennis Axson and Hal Wall with the successful JAKES

The female JAKES and Hal Wall

Most of the youth hunters from the March 17 event

Adam and Rob Wallace from Senoia, Ga.
For the 7th year now, the Board of Directors of the S.C. Chapter of NWTF has put on a youth turkey hunt in the South Lowcountry. Roseland Plantation owner Hal Wall is the event's organizer and the 2012 hunt included 30 youth hunters! The youths fanned out onto different properties on March 17 in hopes of finding a willing tom turkey. With light rain the afternoon before and overnight, the gobbling activity was less than normal, but five youths were able to bring back a Lowcountry longbeard to the hunt camp breakfast at 11 a.m. on the banks of the Coosawhatchie River. Dennis Axson sits on the NWTF state chapter board and serves as the JAKES coordinator for S.C. and said, "This is a great opportunity to let kids experience God's nature, and to give them an alternative from video games and being indoors." The successful youth hunters were D.T. Smith, Adam Wallace, Tristan Sistare, Jed Coltrane and Harrison Wall - Congrats!! D.T. Smith actually shot his first ever turkey while hunting with his Uncle John Treadway and dispatched the gobbler at 20-yards with his single-shot 20-gauge Savage shotgun. When asked how he felt at that moment, Smith said he was speechless. All of the youth participants were smiling after this hunt, and special thanks go to all the landowners who share their hunting grounds.

For more blog entries about the NWTF in the Lowcountry click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Turkey Season IN - March 15

Jeff Dennis, Tony Chachere of La., Lori Bell Johnson and Steve Cobb

A sporting depiction of the wild turkey

Jeremy Burnham from Atlantic Tackle takes measurements

Steve Cobb congratulates me on a nice opening day tom
The early onset of spring brought temperatures well into the 80's for the opening day of turkey season. Azaleas and dogwoods are blooming and the heads of local gobbler are turning red once again. Opening day reports varied with one hunter reporting very quiet woods, and another reporting eight gobblers sounding off - but alas no luck. A well-planned opening day hunt was put into effect at Deux Cheneaux Plantation with some special guests in town. Tony Chachere came all the way from Louisiana to spread some of his cajun seasoning on some fresh turkey meat, while H.S. Strut Pro Staffer Steve Cobb came down from the upstate to call in the toms. Cobb helped Lori Bell Johnson to stop a gobbling tom while Tony was backing her up, and both veteran hunters marveled at her shot saying, the boss tom never even flopped around. Good Shot! Another hunter had a tale of woe to tell after having a turkey called in for him and he took aim at the turkey's chest. It seems the turkey's feathers deflected most of the shot, allowing the big bird to beat a hasty retreat, leaving the shooter to face good-natured judgement back at hunt camp. The rule is - always aim for the head of a turkey! I heeded every bit of Steve Cobb's advice and was able to call in a turkey of my own. The tale of the tape: 19-pounds, 1-inch spurs and a 10-inch beard. Turkey season is IN!!

To see past blog entries about the opening day of turkey season click here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ACE Basin update / Edisto Land Trust

John Frampton of SCDNR and Charles Lane
Two recent important meetings in the ACE Basin demonstrate how viable the conservation initiative has been in the past, and how it is taking shape in the future. On Monday March 5 the ACE Basin Task Force met at the Donnelly Wildlife Management Area in Green Pond, in part to honor outgoing SCDNR Executive Director John Frampton. It was Frampton who represented the state when the ACE Basin partnership began to form 20 years ago between private and public (gov't) entities. Although Frampton's presence will be missed, the ACE Basin Task Force is focused on moving ahead where issues like water quality and invasive species are concerned. Thank You John Frampton!

This property is under conservation easement

George Kimberly and Chip Campsen after the boat tour

Map of Edisto Island's protected properties
The Edisto Open Land Trust played host for a special meeting with State Senator Chip Campsen on March 13 at Sand Creek Farm. Edisto Island, Bennett's Point and the southern tip of Colleton County are now in Campsen's district and he was taking a 'boat tour' to visit his new constituents. Executive Director George Kimberly addressed the crowd of conservationists assembled for a wonderful sunset over Sand Creek by saying that conservation bank funding, tax credits for easements and scenic highway upkeep funding were all priorities. Edisto is but one piece of the ACE Basin puzzle, but since they have conserved over 50% of their island, they set a good example for the rest of the Sea Islands, Colleton County and the entire ACE Basin (see video).

For past blog entries about the ACE Basin click here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 Lowcountry Redfish Cup - Beaufort

First Place photo by Mrs. Liza Hough

Capt. Jody Tucker's RAM team with Shane Lewis Green fished the Beaufort LRC

Brian Rose and Ashley Lowder at the Capt. Mtg.

Third place photo by Mrs. Jessica Chappell
The Lowcountry Redfish Cup fished their second leg of the 2012 season out of Beaufort on March 10. With rainy conditions on Friday night at the Captain's Meeting at Butler Marine in Beaufort, and a windy cold front due to hit the coast on Saturday morning, participation was limited to 33 two-man teams. When the Lady's Island Marina weigh-in was complete, it was a local team - Team Two Reds that walked away with first place check of $4700. Chuck and Shane Lather won this same event in 2011 and are favorites each year during the LRC - Congrats again! Third place went to Christopher Chapell Jr. and Tim Cole.

For the full slate of results click here. (but not yet, still waiting for them to be posted)

To view past blog entries about the Lowcountry Redfish Cup click here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

2012 State Youth Coon Hunt

Lori Bell Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Chad Beard strike a pose

The 2012 State Youth Coon Hunt was held on February 25 at the Webb Wildlife Management Area in Hampton County. Tyler Johnson, an 8-year old student at Colleton Prep, finished in second place overall in the Youth Division and figures to be in the hunt for future competitions.
Finishing in first place in the Junior Division was Jace Shuler, while Kevin Barnes won the Junior Sportsman ship award. The first place finisher in the Senior Division was Austin Williamson who was hunting over his dog Bo Didley. The sportsmanship winner for the senior division was female hunter Vonne Doran, who actually was the 2011 champ at the State Youth Coon Hunt.
            Johnson’s adult supervision team during the hunt included Lori Bell Johnson and Chad Beard. Lori shares that there were five ‘casts’ with four youth division hunters each. Those groups drove to separate locations to hunt just after dark on Saturday night. Two ‘drops’ of coonhounds were completed with a one-hour time limit per hunt. “Tyler wasn’t the first boy to strike his coon dog, but he was the first to holler that his dog had treed a coon,” said Bell Johnson.

Richard Jones (Saluda), Kevin Barnes (Ulmer),
Lane Owenby (Aiken) and Tyler Johnson (Walterboro)

Coon dog handler Tyler Johnson and Bootsie
            Hunting with a borrowed coonhound named Bootsie, the female Treeing Walker was accurate and when a coon squalor was blown, the judge was able to identify a coon was looking down from the tree. Tyler Johnson actually finished first in his cast, but later finished second overall in the points standings. “When Tyler was handed the 2nd place trophy he lit up that room with an enthusiastic smile and a determination to return next year,” said Bell Johnson.

To view past blog entries about the State Youth Coon Hunt click here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

2012 S.C. State Duck Calling Contest

Daryl Hodge and Blake Hodge are The Wrecking Crew
The 2012 S.C. State Duck Calling Contest is hosted by Mark Ackerman of Swamp Thing Mallard Calls. Every two years a special Champion of Champions calling contest is held between past state champs and Ackerman blew his own duck call against other past champions - but the excitement was soon over as Mark Prudhomme of Georgetown was crowned Champion of Champions in 2012. The next event was the Jr. State Calling contest and a former two-time champion returned to the top of the class to claim his third Jr. State duck calling title. Blake Hodge is the teenage son of Daryl Hodge, and together they are the Wrecking Crew Guide Service out of Lancaster. Daryl Hodge is the South Atlantic Flyway, Field Expert Manager for Drake Waterfowl, and is a former Jr. duck calling contest competitor. (from WAY back) The title of 2012 S.C. Sate Duck Call Champion went to Zach Peavy, a former two-time S.C. champ who returned to form to beat Mark Prudhomme, Hugh McLaurin and a 14-man field. Congrats to Zach, who was blowing a Big Lake Duck Call - Force performance series call.

To view blog entires from past S.C. State duck calling contests click here.

VIDEO by Jeff Dennis: Listen to Blake Hodge blow away the competition in the Jr. Calling Contest
Mark Prudhomme: Champion of Champions

Hugh McLaurin applauds Zach Peavy's 3rd title

Faces in the crowd: Capt. J Baisch, Capt. Englis Glover,
Daryl Hodge, Zach Earle and Whitney Hemby