Turkeys take a dive

October 15, 2013 

As I spent the better part of nine hours sitting in a tree stand with Maggie this past week, her bad luck continued and not a single deer was seen.

We saw crows, were aggravated by a squirrel and even had a few of our favorite feathered friends step out to meander in front of us in the last hour of the day, which prompted Mags to say, “Daddy, when it comes to hunting, I’m the Turkey Queen. But with deer? Uh uh.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I responded, “That’s OK. We’ll come back and visit with those birds again come spring.”

Little did I know that, upon arriving home from the woods, I’d receive a bit of news that might make her claims to the crown a little more difficult to maintain when turkey season does roll back around.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources just released the findings of its annual wild turkey survey and the results were not exactly what I’d hoped to see.

After increases in 2010 and 2011 and a substantial jump in 2012, the numbers of birds this past spring reversed course and tanked 11 percent.

Each summer, DNR biologists, technicians, conservation officers and private cooperators take part in their turkey survey, which has historically shown that the reproduction rates in wild turkeys has been fairly poor for a little more than a decade. Unfortunately, this year’s results show that reproduction rates fell this past year and resulted in much lower harvest rates as well.

The DNR said 50,752 hunters took to the South Carolina woods in chase of gobblers during the season which runs from April 1 to May 1. Of those, around 20 percent were successful in harvesting at least one bird with most being taken during the first week.

The top counties for taking a Tom in 2013 were Newberry, Cherokee, Union, Abbeville and Laurens.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this time next year we’ll be celebrating another upswing.

Those 50,000 turkey hunters expended a total of 240,256 days between them during the past season and contributed well over $30 million to our state’s economy.

Considering it’s just a one month hunting season, that’s pretty impressive.

Captive bears relocated to the Rockies

The S.C. DNR recently made a long trek across the country with six black bears in tow as they made their way to a 720-acre wildlife sanctuary where the animals will live out their years.

The captive bears were “voluntarily” turned over by their owners after a four-year undercover investigation into the practice of “bear baying,” an illegal activity that pits dogs against captive bears inside a pen.

Although bear baying started as a way to train hunting dogs in a large enclosure, it morphed over time into something similar to dog fighting as the pens shrank to small sizes and gambling became the main attraction.

Three of the bears were taken from Spartanburg County while the other three were from Greenville County.

“We understand it was a pretty bad situation these bears were in, but as far as captive facilities, this is the best one in the world, and they will live in a really nice habitat,” said Pat Craig, director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary.

“These bears will be as close to living in the wild as possible. We have them in small enclosures now, but in a few days they will be released into a 10-acre habitat that is very much a natural environment, where bears could even hibernate during the winter,” he said.

During the investigation, 12 arrests were made.

“A long-term investigation, such as this, requires the highest commitment and dedication for the thousands of hours to work out the details of such a complex case,” said Col. Chisolm Frampton, DNR law enforcement director. “DNR law enforcement officers have done an outstanding job pursuing and prosecuting these criminal cases.”

According to DNR, bear baying is not a legitimate field trial. The agency has never and will never issue permits for this and does not consider the possession of captive bears by residents to be biologically sound practice or safe.

As required by law, the only legally captive bears in S.C. are those held before Jan. 1, 2006, and for which the owners have provided proof of possession before that date.

Back in 2008, the Attorney General issued an opinion making it possible for those taking part in bear baying to be prosecuted as animal cruelty.

Do it for the ducks

The S.C. DNR, in partnership with our state’s chapter of Ducks Unlimited and the Department of Corrections, is once again constructing and offering wood duck boxes to those wishing to place them on their land.

Around 1,000 of the boxes will be available and may be obtained by application.

According to the DNR, “The wood duck is the most important waterfowl species in S.C., and is the only duck that breeding habitat can be managed effectively throughout all geographic regions of the state. The project supplements natural production in tree cavities of forested wetlands by providing artificial nesting sites. Fewer natural cavities are available today because of the impacts of human activity upon bottomland hardwoods.”

With half of the cost being covered by Ducks Unlimited, this program has placed more than 32,000 of the units across our state since its inception in 1982.

If you’d like to get your hands on a few boxes (up to five) for your place, the application is on the agency’s website at www.dnr.sc.gov. For more information, call 803-844-8957.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors

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