Out and About in North Carolina's Woods and Waters

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Opening Day – Special As Always

Last Saturday was a special day for those sportsmen who have a penchant for hunting whitetail deer. For many, it’s sort of a combination of Christmas, Halloween, the last day of the school year (back when kids were in school) and your birthday all rolled into one. The first school where I taught used to schedule a “teacher workday” for the first Monday of the deer season because the administrators there knew that a large number of the boys (and many girls) enrolled in that rural temple of higher education would be absent that day; they’d be in the woods with their dads and grandads.

They didn’t do such a thing at Smithfield High School when I was a teen for the simple reason that there very few deer in Johnston County in those days. Now it’s different. Thanks to a lot of dedicated sportsmen and hard-working wildlife professionals, the whitetail population in our state is larger than it has probably ever been, even in early colonial days. Strict but sensible conservation measures have allowed the animals to increase in places where they’ve always been and expand their range in areas where they were almost extinct in the early 20th century. In addition, expansive farms and woodlands provide excellent habitat, especially in the coastal plain.

Even in suburban neighborhoods, homeowners’ decorative plants present irresistible forage in many cases. Such is the case in Trent Woods, N.C. I walked out the front door one morning last week and was startled to see a half-grown deer bedded down in the border right next to our front porch. A couple of days later, I went out to get the newspaper just in time to see a doe and three young bucks come loping across our next door neighbor’s front yard.

You can actually deer hunt (with a bow and arrow) in our little community but I choose not to. To me, hunting is more than just bagging game. It’s about spending time with old friends and family, exploring the magnificent autumn woods, and having opportunities to interact with all kinds of wildlife in their natural habitat. That’s why I get out of bed well before daylight, flush deer out of my wife’s flowerbeds as I walk to my truck, and then drive a half hour or more to where I’m going to hunt out in the country.

I did that on opening day last week just as I have for a number of years. My destination was in Jones County where I met several friends at the house where one of them grew up many moons ago. He lives in another town but maintains his old home place as a gathering spot for those who like to convene there, sit on the front porch, and visit a spell before dispersing to various spots in the nearby woods where they hope a ten-pointer will make an appearance. One does just often enough to make everyone think it can happen again, exactly where they’re waiting.

All experienced hunters know that bagging a trophy buck on any given day is a long shot as best. But, the idea that it could happen is enough to keep them rising well before dawn, trekking through the dark woods and sitting for, sometimes, hours on end waiting for that deer of a lifetime. More often, what they see are does and small bucks, as well as lots of squirrels, turkeys and other critters but not what they’re after on opening day.

That was the case this year. As I sat in a wooden “box” stand along a logging road, I spotted something moving in a lane in the piney woods just as the sky started to turn gray. As it got lighter, I was able to discern that it was four russet-colored does that apparently had no idea that I, with my rifle, sat no more than fifty yards away.

As the sun continued its incessant climb, others began to appear. Several more does as well as a couple of small bucks came and went in the lanes and along the logging road. One fellow – a forkhorn – appeared directly out front, about 70 yards away and began browsing. Suddenly he froze and stood, peering into the adjacent thicket. I thought, this might be it; he might be seeing that buck-of-a-lifetime getting ready to step out. I quietly reached over and gripped my rifle.

Before I could bring my gun up, another deer did appear but not what I was hoping for. This one was a cowhorn – an immature buck, probably a year or two old with just one antler tine sticking up on each side. I relaxed, sat back and watched as the deer approached his smaller counterpart. They moved toward each other stiffed legged, paused for a moment, and then began fighting!

Perhaps fighting isn’t the best term. What they were about could better be described as sparring. They didn’t seem to be trying to kill one another but they were definitely going to it – butting, pushing, thrusting, grunting. They reminded me of two teenage boys trying to determine who was the baddest man on the street corner; and who would be most impressive to any girls who happened to be watching.

I reached in my pack for my camera and began snapping shots as the bout continued for about fifteen minutes. Then, they did a strange thing. The two deer stopped, stood facing one another and turned to look directly at me. They didn’t seem to show any concern but just stood there motionless, almost as if they were posing. I could almost imagine them saying, “Ok, did you get our best side?” Then, after a few moments, they dropped their heads and went at it again. Their antics continued for another ten minutes or so until the four-pointer, apparently tiring of the whole affair, turned abruptly and disappeared into the bushes.

I saw several more does later in the day but the big buck I was hoping for never appeared. As I walked up the logging road toward my truck in the gathering darkness, I thought about it. It would have been nice to have at least had a chance at a trophy deer but, all in all, it was a good day anyway – an opening day that afforded unique experiences and memories. And, my hunting buddies waited on the front porch with a cool drink in hand and their own tales to tell.

The young bucks pushed, butted, jabbed and grunted for all they were worth.
Then, at one point, they stopped and appeared to be posing for the camera.

Outdoor Notes

Barden Inlet Channel Markers Removed

The U.S. Coast Guard has removed the last pilings marking shoaling areas in Barden Inlet, a popular access from Harkers Island to the ocean between Core and Shackleford banks. During the first week in October the last five fixed aids to navigation were removed by contractors because the inlet has had additional shoaling, resulting in the waterway becoming unstable and too shallow to be considered safe for navigation for many boaters.

According to Coast Guard Chief Boatswain’s Mate Chris Winters, “Those users with shallow draft vessels and local knowledge are free (to) transit the area as they see fit. Barden Inlet Channel is still deep and stable up to Buoy 24; those buoys remain in place and mark a channel from Barden Inlet past Cape Lookout lighthouse, providing access to coastal recreational and fishing areas. The channel no longer connects to Back Sound.”

Dredging the channel will require a coordinated effort by the Coast Guard, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Carteret County. It will cost several million dollars and depend on the results of various required impact studies.

Wildlife Commission Asks For Help Monitoring Rabbits

Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are asking the public to help them monitor the potential spread of a deadly rabbit disease that has not yet been observed in our state’s rabbit populations by reporting any sightings of dead rabbits to the agency. NCWRC personnel are working with other agencies to monitor the spread and impacts of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus, a fatal disease that affects both domestic and wild rabbits. There is no cure for wild rabbits and a vaccine for domestic rabbits is not readily available in the U.S. The virus is classified as a foreign animal disease in this country and is primarily found in the southwestern United States. People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes, but it does not impact human health.

Wildlife Commission biologists are asking the public and hunters to report any sightings of one or more dead wild rabbits where the death is not readily apparent or those found with blood around their nose, mouth or rectum. Anyone who finds a dead rabbit should refrain from touching it unless necessary and call the Commission’s Helpline 866-318-3401, or email wildlifehelpline@ncwildlife.org. The NCWRC will rely on reports of rabbit mortality to document the disease’s occurrence and potential spread in North Carolina.

Hunting Seasons

Dove: Nov. 14-28; Dec. 12 – Jan. 30. Bag limit – 15 birds, including mourning doves or white-winged doves either singly or in the aggregate.

Rails (all species), Gallinule and Moorhen: through Nov. 20. Check NCWRC Regulations for bag limits.

Deer (NE & SE zones): through Jan. 1

Raccoon, opossum, rabbit, grouse, bobcat, gray squirrel: through Feb. 28

Fox squirrel: through Jan. 31

Common snipe: Oct. 27 – Feb. 27

Ducks: Nov. 7-28; Dec. 19 – Jan. 30

Tundra Swan (by permit only): Nov. 7 – Jan. 30

Light Geese (incl. Snow Geese & Ross’s Geese): through Feb. 13

Sea ducks: check the NCWRC Regulations Digest

Bear (Coastal Management Unit, Zone 3): Nov. 14-22; Dec. 12-27. Check NCWRC Regulations Digest for other zones.

Woodcock: Dec. 10 – Jan. 30

Aside

“Getting Started”

Getting Started cover - 1

Hunting with a retriever, whether for mourning doves, ducks, geese or any other game bird, is not a competition between hunters or dogs. It’s quiet moments spent scratching a close friend’s ears while he rests his head on your leg and you both scan the horizon for approaching birds. It’s the sudden, intense thrill when a flock of doves appears as if by magic, dipping and swerving as they sail over a picked corn field. It’s the involuntary crouch you assume when the “twee-twee” of widgeon sounds directly over your duck blind and your dog peers upward to locate the source of the noise. It’s the incredible sense of satisfaction and love you feel when a dog you trained plows through a river’s chop to retrieve a wing-tipped mallard that fell beyond the farthest decoys, or returns after a long search carrying a dove you feared might be lost in thick cover.

The competition in hunting is between hunters and the game they pursue, and well-trained retrievers are their staunchest allies. Many hunters would no more think of going hunting without their Chesapeake, Golden Retriever, Lab, Boykin or other fetching dog than they would without their favorite shotgun. The role those dogs play in the process depends to a great extent on how they’ve been trained and that is the purpose of “Getting Started.” It’s designed to facilitate a hunter in preparing a young retriever for the field or, if he wishes, for formal hunt tests such as those sanctioned by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The latter are not competitions per se but rather measurements of a dog’s ability at various points and an indication of where he and his master are in their training.

“Getting Started” is dedicated to those retrievers – Beau, Duke, Murphy, Kipper, Moses and scores of others – and to the men and women who love them. It was based on notes made by John Weller, one of the nation’s top retriever trainers, over decades of producing quality retrievers, including national champions. It utilizes a format that takes a trainer through hypothetical but realistic scenarios and explains how to train for different behaviors in various situations. It is, in its essence, a work book that will help a hunter and his favorite hunting partner get the most out of their days in the field.

A limited number of copies of “Getting Started” are available from the author for $9.95 (incl. shipping and handling). Send a check or money order to 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NC  28562. The author can also be contacted by email at edwall@embarqmail.com or by phone at 252-671-3207.

Aside

“When the Bobber Jiggles”

Book Cover - 1

Cane poles and coffee cans full of red worms; early morning in a hunting camp with gentle rain drumming on the tin roof; a bird dog, floating ghost-like through a stand of long leaf pines; tales and saddle sores, missteps and milestones you love to recall. Those and other topics comprise “When the Bobber Jiggles,” a new collection of tales and reflections of life in the outdoors by award-winning author, Ed Wall.

Reading “When the Bobber Jiggles” is akin to sitting by a campfire with an old friend recollecting how things used to be and ought to be. And, on occasion, stretching the veracity of a story to the breaking point. “Hunting With Henry,” “Bear Hunting’s ‘Other’ Challenges,” “Old Fishermen May Be an Endangered Species” – these are a few of the chapters that make up the 142-page, soft-bound book. They will take the reader back to places close to his heart in some instances and tickle his funny bone in others. Whether he is a hunter, fisherman, boater, camper, or just someone who enjoys messing around in the back forty or on a secluded waterway, there are situations to which he can relate.

Published by River City Publishers, “When the Bobber Jiggles” is written in a format that allows the reader to enjoy a chapter or two, put it aside, then pick it back up and not miss a beat. He will undoubtedly want to go back and revisit some short stories and reflections. Copies (personalized if requested) are available for $12.95 (plus $3 shipping and handling if mailed) from the author at 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NCĀ  28562. Ed Wall can be contacted for more information or special orders at 252-671-3207 or by email at edwall@embarqmail.com.

 

Aside

Out n’ About

Ed Wall has a Master of Arts degree from East Carolina University with a specialty in Recreational Geography. His Master’s thesis was a study of licensed, commercial shooting preserves in eastern North Carolina. That topic was selected because it would satisfy the university’s requirements and also allow the author to spend a lot of time messing around with bird dogs and quail hunters, two groups for which he has great affection.

For thirty years, Ed taught Science while coaching football, track and cross country at the high school level. During that same time, he was writing for various outdoor publications, beginning as a gun dog columnist with the Carolina Adventure magazine. Ed is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) and produced the weekly outdoor page for Freedom Press, Halifax Media and Gatehouse newspapers in eastern North Carolina for 23 years. Other periodical credits include Wildlife in North Carolina, Southern Sporting Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, Field Trial Magazine, Fly Fisherman, North Carolina Sportsman, American Field and Ducks Unlimited Quarterly. He is the author of “Getting Started: A Workbook for Started Retrievers,” published by Atlantic Publishing Co. in 1998 and “When the Bobber Jiggles – Tales and Reflections of Life in the Outdoors.” Recognitions include SEOPA Excellence in Craft awards in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Married with two children (one a Wildlife Commission technician, the other a dolphin/sea lion trainer), Ed is a native of Johnston County, NC and a long-time resident of New Bern, NC. He is a product of eastern North Carolina’s tobacco fields, back roads, black water streams and pork barbecue. When not writing or playing golf (very poorly), he can generally be found hunting, fishing, boating or romping with his dogs. Visitors to this site are invited to come along as Ed explores the backwoods and byways of the southeast and occasionally other areas. The express purpose of many trips will be to bag a whitetail deer, trick a tom turkey, catch a mess of bluegills or do battle with a bragging-size red drum. In some cases, though, it will simply be to consider the merits of a really neat sunset, remember an old friend who shared his love of the outdoors, or maybe spin a tale or two. Come on aboard. Stow your gear, grab something refreshing out of the cooler and let’s head downstream.

Ed Wall - 2014

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