Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's Toast to 2019

Scouting for ducks at a Lowcountry plantation
located in the Santee Delta
The Tenth Anniversary Year for Lowcountry Outdoors went by fast, and I look forward to seeing what comes into focus during the 2020 outdoors campaign. Blogging allows me to communicate about experiences from the field, while sharing life lessons that are timeless for outdoors enthusiasts. I remain thankful for the media outlets that carry my byline such as the Colletonian newspaper, Charleston Mercury newspaper, Mossy Oak Gamekeepers magazine, allowing me to cover topics ranging from hunting and fishing to conservation. I stay watchful for Field Notes along the way, and value opportunities to visit other states as a Field Expert for Drake Waterfowl.

Big dead tree I found at Tall Pines WMA 

To view top stories from 2019 click on Bear Island Duck HuntSassafras Mountain Observation Tower - Satellite Tracking Cobia MigrationKiawah Island Turtle Patrol - Trophy Button BuckACE Basin 30th Anniversary

To view past blog entries from my New Year's Eve Toast click on 201820172016 20152014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009  

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Late Dove Hunting Season Opens LATE - 12/28/19

More shells than doves is a typical late season scenario
Each year the hunting seasons and regulations for hunting migratory birds is formulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal government provides a framework of dates for individual state to choose from, and this year the last leg of dove season is running a little later than usual. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources shifted the late dove season, so there can be no Christmas Day dove hunts, but once the season opens on December 28, it will run two weeks longer than usual and won’t conclude until January 30, 2020. 
In recent memory the late dove season has run from December 15 until January 15. Most small game hunters agree that the cold of winter sometimes doesn’t build up sufficiently by mid-January and that extending the dove hunting season would be beneficial. Cold weather requires doves to eat more and stay active to keep warm, which means they are more likely to come to fields prepared for dove hunts. A couple of extra weekend hunts for doves in 2020 means that if doves congregate in good numbers due to late cold fronts, wingshooters can spend some extra time in the outdoors.
Losing the traditional Christmas day dove hunt is a trade off to shifting and elongating the dove season. Even though the bag limit of doves remains 15 doves per hunter per day, overall dove numbers are average at best, and doves can be especially fickle in the late season. When your humble correspondent was a young man, Christmas day dove hunts in Western Colleton County were common. Lots and lots of doves were reliable back then, so invitations to come hunt could be issued, and usually the affair ended with a barbecue pig pickin’. I was shooting a single-shot 20-gauge shotgun on one such hunt when I was a youth, and those holiday dove hunting memories still resonate with me today.

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian

To view past blog entries on late dove season click on 2019 - 2016 2015 - 2014 - 2013 - 2012 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wild Boars Blamed for Upstate Horse Attacks

Close Up of the tusk on the wild boar shot in the upstate horse pasture
An investigation by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division into a rash of mysterious horse injuries in the Upstate concludes that wild boars are to blame. An upstate man shot and killed a large boar in a horse pasture on December 12, which seems to offer a common sense conclusion that at least one wild boar was acting aggressively. The story of the horse injuries unfolded in Spartanburg County, requiring three horse to be euthanized due to injury. Since wild hogs are already present in every county of the state, horse owners are watching this development closely, since feral hog numbers have potential to increase over time.
The boar that was killed is estimated to be 500-pounds with three-inch tusks. If you aren’t a hunter, you might not hear the tales year after year of very large wild boars being killed with greater frequency. Obviously some of these wild boars possess the stealth to avoid detection long enough to grow to maturity, and they are most likely nocturnal in nature. A good defense for horse owners is to have a stout fence around their pasture, since large boars are not likely to jump a fence or to dig under it. While it’s likely that the aggressive tactics of the upstate wild boar documented by SLED is rare, wild pigs in general will likely remain on the landscape.

A book I picked up in 2011 called the Year of the Pig documented feral hogs across the Southeast. In the book’s forward Steven Ditchkoff writes that Hernando de Soto brought the first pigs to North America in 1539. They were already known as a species of survivors, and the explorers relied on the fact that a source of pork meat would be readily available upon return visits. Utilizing their short gestation period, a sow pig can have three litters in 14-months under normal conditions. Hunters are unable to keep up with the boom in feral hog numbers, and modern trapping techniques seem to offer the best prescription.

To view the entire feature story in the newspaper click on Colletonian

Thursday, December 12, 2019

ACE Basin Conservation Celebrates 30 Years

Colleton County has a direct impact on all three ACE River Basins
In 1989 the river basins of the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers were dubbed the ACE Basin. Like-minded conservation leaders knew that they wanted to protect the tapestry of land, water and pluff mud that defines this zone of coastal South Carolina. The word conservation was not the same term that we think of today, regarding habitat preservation through legally binding easements. Conservation efforts started by private landowners were embraced by federal and state government, leading to over 300,000-acres protected in the ACE Basin over the past 30 years.
The 20th Anniversary of the ACE Basin was held at Willtown Bluff Planation on Sunday, November 22, 2009. Rainy and cold weather that day did not dampen the spirit of the outdoor enthusiasts, but the big tent under the grand live oaks did offer a measure of comfort. The 30th Anniversary of the ACE Basin event returned to Willtown Bluff on Sunday December 8, with much more pleasant outdoor weather. The featured speaker in 2009 was Matt Connolly of Ducks Unlimited, and the one of the speakers in 2019 was Senator Chip Campsen. No one conservation group or set of leaders can represent what truly is a collaborative effort to grow the ACE Basin.

River Basins of South Carolina 
The ACE Basin may become a blueprint for other areas in the United States to navigate where other conservation projects are warranted. South Carolina is home to a second grand scale conservation area which encompasses from the Francis Marion National Forest up to the Santee Delta. These areas are well-known to hunters and anglers, birdwatchers and Lowcountry locals, but they are also gathering newer acclaim and partnerships. Dominion Energy recently donated a $50,000 grant to DU in recognition of the ACE Basin. Governor Henry McMaster praises natural beauty as being one of the Palmetto State’s greatest assets. “The ACE Basin serves as a perfect example of what we can do when we collectively commit to being good stewards of the natural resources,” said McMaster.

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

2019 Waterfowl Numbers Rise, While Birds Decline

Waterfowl habitat work is paying off, but birds need help
A bird’s eye view perspective is something that humans can grasp only when viewing objects from an elevated position. Avian life utilizes a bird’s eye view every day to discern where they might like to fly down to for food, water or rest. How ground habitat looks to a bird is likely to affect their decision about visiting a place, or whether to just keep on flying. Recent studies have documented a sharp decline in songbirds, and a moderate increase in waterfowl populations, and a focus on duck habitat conservation could be the blueprint to help songbird recovery.
The increase in waterfowl populations is a bit deceiving as it concerns the Atlantic Flyway, since the bag limit on mallards and pintails decreased in 2019. The conservation group Ducks Unlimited (DU) was founded with the mission to conserve wetlands to ensure healthy waterfowl populations. DU understands that pothole nesting habitat in Canada was just as important as habitat in North America and works on either side of the border for the betterment of the ducks. Establishing that habitat took decades and since the 1970’s waterfowl populations have begun to rebound and are up 56-percent. It is possible that this current formula for success will continue in the future too.

Common birds such as the red-winged blackbird and the Eastern meadowlark are indicator species, and recent studies show they are in drastic decline. Ornithologists estimate that nearly 3 billion birds have vanished from North America over the past 50 years. Once seemingly staggering numbers of common birds is now thought to be in trouble, and the most likely trigger for this is loss of habitat. Grassland birds, birds of the forest, and those that prefer scrub shrub habitat are all in decline across the spectrum. With higher human populations comes more development, which decreases the open space available to common birds.

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Rabbit and Quail Hunting Seasons Return

A pack of beagles ready to hunt rabbits in the woods
A large selection of game hunting seasons are set to open around Thanksgiving in time for traditional and annual holiday hunts. Big game hunting for white-tailed deer runs until New Year’s Day, while many small game seasons will continue all winter. An abbreviated dove and duck season will be open for Thanksgiving week before closing again on Saturday, November 30. Quail season kicks off on November 25 and rabbit season begins on November 28. Open season on common snipe and woodcock round out the small game options for hunters willing to spend time walking in the woods in search of these more elusive game birds. 
Thanksgiving is a time to gather friends and family together and give thanks with fellowship. Cooking and eating turkey is likely the number one pastime, followed by watching football and perhaps even doing a little Christmas shopping. So not everyone looks to ‘turkey day’ as a time to get outdoors and hunt, but for a certain segment of Lowcountry folks it is just another part of the tradition. A hunt can be a solitary affair, perhaps walking down a brushy fire line with a dog in hopes of flushing game, or looking upward in the pines for a squirrel to shoot.

Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy watching canines work, but not everyone owns a hunting dog. Thanksgiving is a time to pool resources and join together for specialty hunts such as a rabbit hunt. It takes a cold-nosed tracking beagle to find the scent of a cottontail and then to give chase, all the while howling back at the hunters to be ready to shoot. Beagle owners have to run their dogs before the season is in, to train them and to get them in shape. If you have a friend that is willing to bring some beagles in order to hunt rabbits, I highly recommend it. A rabbit hunt includes lots of time spent in the woods, and other educational wildlife encounters are almost a certainty.

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries on Small Game seasons click 20182016 - 2014 - 2012 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

2019 Old Bonnie Doone Plantation Youth Deer Hunt

Take One Make One Hunt Results on Nov. 16
A low pressure system pushing through the Lowcountry last weekend did nothing to hinder the success of a youth deer hunt in Colleton County last Saturday. The Take One Make One (TOMO) program is a product of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and Officer Mark Ferrell serves as the hunt coordinator. Since the hunts are scheduled months in advance, and applicants arrange their own transportation, these hunts go on no matter the weather. Six hunters went into deer stands in driving afternoon rain, and three were able to harvest a fine 8-point buck.
The mission statement for the TOMO program is taking youth on their first hunt, while teaching values that last a lifetime. “The TOMO program is open to youth ages 10 – 17 who would like to go hunting,” said Ferrell. “In most cases, their parents do not hunt, and they don’t have anyone to take them hunting or to educate them about hunting. The TOMO program can take that youth and get them on a hunt, plus we show them the bigger picture of land conservation, planting food plots, and hopefully even skinning out a white-tailed deer.”
“This is the third year the TOMO program has hunted at Old Bonnie Doone Plantation,” said Ferrell. “One of our youth hunters named Trey Bowers was on his first ever deer hunt and was able to harvest his first ever 8-point buck. Seeing that kind of success for a first time hunter is what makes TOMO hunts special. The other youth that harvested a buck, Joey Luther and Tyler Bowers, got their first bucks last year during a TOMO hunt. Our other three hunters were Jake Stilwell, Sebastian Robinson and Tyler Hancock. We only have a limited number of hunts each year, and while the youth are eligible with TOMO until they graduate from high school, many of them branch out and find a regular place to hunt on their own after a TOMO hunt experience.”

To read the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entires from Take One Make One click on 2017 White Hall Plantation -  2011 Bamberg - 2009 Newberry

To view past blog entries on youth hunting click on 2012 Waterfowl Hunt at Bear Island WMA  - 2019 State Youth Coon Hunt at Webb Center WMA

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Trophy Button Buck Set Free

My Trophy Button Buck, before being set Free
The first really cold weather of the Fall means that most deer hunters will return to the woods, free to wear layers of camo clothing to ward of the chill in the air. Deer movement is enhanced this same time of year due to factors like the rut, and the need to forage more in direct relation to the temperature drop. As the chance increases for hunters and deer to cross paths, so does the traffic at venison processors, and the chance of big bucks arriving at the taxidermist. The 2019 deer season brought a different kind of trophy into my lifetime of deer hunting experiences when I found a young button buck seemingly unharmed but trapped inside two sections of hog wire fence, and in need of my assistance.
Royce Herndon cutting hog wire fence with
young button buck watching and waiting
Part of the history of rural Colleton County is that farmers and small landowners would keep their cows fenced into their woodlands, allowing them to graze on natural vegetation. In today’s modern practices, cows are fenced into pasture land where they are sure to receive proper food, water and medicine. Although the old woodland fence is no longer in use to restrain cattle, remnants of the fence network remain intact. Like so many things from the days of home place farming, the old fence was built to last, and the fat-lightered fence posts remain strong today. During a late October afternoon walk along one old fence line, I found my trophy button buck inside two adjacent sections of hog-wire fence, that hemmed him in like a pen.

My grandmother used to joke about me having to wrestle with a buck one day during my hunting exploits. Could the trapped button buck be that scenario? Drawing on all my experience as a woodsman, I recognized this as once in a lifetime territory, and that returning in the morning to free the young buck would be the best course of action. The possibility that his buck could be newly orphaned, made me more sure that I would do whatever it takes to set him back on natural path to becoming a mature buck one day. I decided that I would need to call a friend to come help me, thinking that one man could deal with the buck while the other cuts with the fence. My call went out to veteran cattleman Royce Herndon, and to his credit he agreed to come and meet me at 8 a.m. the following morning.

To view the entire feature story in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

2019 FestiVELO Cycling Event Rolls Through Colleton County

2019 FestiVELO guide cover
The 22nd Annual FestiVELO, or bicycling festival, is going to be rolling through most parts of Colleton County this week. Cycling enthusiasts arrive in Walterboro on Wednesday November 5 to check-in to their lodging accomodations for the four day FestiVELO event taking place on November 6 – 10. The 2019 FestiVELO marks the fourth consecutive year that  Colleton County is hosting the daily bike rides, with all FestiVELO meals and meetings based in downtown Walterboro. 

Walterboro native Stacey Price is an active cyclist with years of experience supporting the Criterium bike race that calls Walterboro home. Price now volunteers as a FestiVELO committee member, joining a cadre of other volunteers that will represent the local initiative to support FestiVELO from the start to finish. “Our local community welcomes the hundreds of FestiVELO riders to town, to ride along our scenic rural roads, and to utilize our meeting facilities at the commercial kitchen and Farmer’s Market,” said Price.

“This is a USA Cycling sanctioned event, and the Palmetto Cycling Coalition is one of our annual sponsors,” said Price. “Each day features three cycling courses to accommodate riders of all skill levels. The longest ride each day is 100-miles long and those that choose to ride 100-miles each day will be competing for the aptly named Iron Butt award. The shorter rides are likely to be 30 and 60-miles in length. Each day the cyclists will be touring a different part of Colleton County, and the route maps are available online at www.FestiVELO.org or using the FestiVELO app. We will also have paper maps for riders, since cell phone coverage can lapse in our more rural areas.”

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

2019 ACE Basin Fall Calendar

Monarch butterfly on milkweed plant Oct. 25, 2019
The Friends of the Edisto Beach State Park organization is looking for volunteers to establish a monarch butterfly garden at the beachfront area of the state park. Volunteers can choose from Nov. 6, Nov. 13 or Nov. 20 and the work will take place between 10 a.m. and noon. Bring drinking water, bug spray, work gloves and anything else required for work in the field. For more information visit www.frespace.org on the Internet.

The Fall 2019 calendar for the Coastal Exploration Series with the SCDNR includes trips to barrier islands and even a visit to a Lowcountry plantation. The beachfront clean up of Otter Island in the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve will take place on Wednesday, November 13. Otter Island is a 2000-acre barrier island in the ACE Basin and a boat ride is required to get there. Volunteers should meet at the McKenzie Field Station at the end of Bennett’s Point Road prior to the 1 .p.m. departure time. The focus will be on 2.5-miles of beachfront and close-toed shoes are required for all, but trash bags and gloves are provided.

Nemours Plantation will host a free workshop on how historical rice fields are still being managed today for wildlife habitat. On Wednesday, December 4 from 9 a.m. until noon, participants will learn first hand about what waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey and other wildlife that is present during an open wagon tour of the impoundments. Located in Yemassee, Nemours Plantation is situated along the Combahee River in the ACE Basin, and attendees should dress for the weather and remember to bring binoculars. Look for lots of natural beauty along the way including a mature live oak alley that leads to a handsome plantation house.

To read the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries from Edisto Beach State Park click on 2018 Coastal Geology - 2016 Coastal Discovery Boat Tour2015 Turtle Fest - 2015 ACE Basin NERR

To view past blog entries from Friends of Nemours click on 20172014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2009

To view past blog entries from Nemours Wildlife Foundation click on 2018 Waterfowl Workshop2011 Mottled Duck Study - 2012 Army Corps of Engineers - 2014 Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers - 2014 USDA Under Secretary

To view past blog entries on shorebirds click on 2017 Shorebird Symposium / Kiawah Conservancy 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

2019 Edisto River Basin Fall Round Up

Neil Kurtz, Landon Seigler and Maddie Kemp
The Edisto Watersports and Tackle annual redfish tournament scheduled for Saturday October 19 was postponed one day by Tropical Storm Nestor. Twenty-four fishing teams competed on Sunday for cash prizes and bragging rights. Anglers could weigh in any two redfish that were within the slot limit between 15 and 23-inches, and the heaviest aggregate weight wins. Captain Landon Seigler claimed first place with a total weight of 8.29-pounds of redfish, with Captain Corey McMillan taking second with 8.21-pounds and Captain Roy Brazell in third with 7.98-pounds. Captain Roy Brazell also took home awards for redfish with the most spots, and the biggest trout. Captain Jeremy Parsons weighed in the heaviest single redfish at 4.45-pounds.

Happy Halloween!
The South Carolina drought response committee met on Thursday October 31. The below normal rainfall and high temperatures have caused a steady drop in streamflow, groundwater and lake levels. According to SCDNR hydrologist Priyanka More, several groundwater gages in the Upstate dropped to below normal levels for the first time, demonstrating how the range of drought is growing. The SCDHEC water monitoring division is reporting no issues with water demands from lakes and rivers. Agricultural irrigation continues during drought conditions, raising the question about depletion of aquifers, an issue that remains on the minds of those that live in the Edisto River Basin.   

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources just announced a public meeting in Blackville on November 18 to educate citizens on a new plan to guide water usage in the coming decades. Surface and groundwater needs will only increase in the future and the SCDNR wants to engage volunteers and activists interested in serving on a council that will develop and implement these guidelines in the Edisto River Basin. The meeting in Blackville will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Clemson University Edisto Research and Education Center.

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian

To view past blog entries about the Edisto River click on Edisto River BookACE Basin 25th Anniversary - Kayak Trip - Gator Hunt - Saltwater Paddling Trail