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