The Wire

  • Boy with autism builds world’s largest Titanic LEGO replica

    Excerpt from Fox 17:

    A young boy with autism spent more than 700 hours to build the world’s largest Titanic replica out of LEGOs.

    Brynjar Karl Bigisson, now 15, of Reykjavik, Iceland, built the massive project when he was 10. It took 11 months to complete.

    The ship, built from 56,000 LEGO blocks, made its American debut on Monday and will be anchored at Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge.

    “The world calls him LEGO BOY and that’s just fine with Brynjar Karl Birgisson, after all he had spent a good part of his young life surrounded by thousands of LEGO bricks – the building blocks of his monumental tribute to the 2,208 men, women and children who sailed on Titanic,” attraction owner Mary Kellogg-Joslyn said.

  • Ala. First Class Pre-K Named Nation’s Highest Quality Pre-Kindergarten Program for 12th Consecutive Year

    Excerpt from a news release:

    Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program was today named the highest quality state-funded pre-kindergarten program in America. This is the 12th year in a row the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds has received this distinction.

    The title was bestowed upon Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program by the National Institute for Early Education Research in its 2017 State of Preschool Yearbook. The State of Preschool Yearbook is an annual report measuring the quality of state-funded early childhood education programs across the country. In this year’s report, NIEER’s 15th edition, Alabama was one of only three states, along with Michigan and Rhode Island, to meet or exceed all ten of the benchmarks NIEER measures to determine program quality.

    In its report, NIEER also featured Alabama as one of six states to watch. NIEER profiled the state’s sustained commitment and incremental approach to giving more families an opportunity to voluntarily enroll their four-year-olds without lowering the pre-k program’s quality standards.

    Advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance welcomed today’s announcement.

    “NIEER’s endorsement of the state’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program is another sign that the investments state leaders have made in early childhood education will have a strong return,” said Allison Muhlendorf, the executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. “However, being number one in the nation for quality should be only half of the state’s goal. State leaders should also strive to also be number one in access for four-year-olds.”

    Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is managed by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

  • Why a lack of GOP enthusiasm could benefit Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s campaign

    Excerpt from

    Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s absence from the Republican debate stage ahead of the June 5 primaries is occurring the same time national polls suggest a widening enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans ahead of November’s midterm elections.

    The Alabama GOP governor hopefuls, individually, are pointing to their own candidacies to suggest that the disenchantment, reflected in poll after poll, isn’t trickling into their race.

    But Ivey’s lack of interest in attending the debates isn’t helping to drum up Republican enthusiasm, according to the political pundits. The governor will, once again, be a debate no-show during the 7 p.m. Reckon by GOP gubernatorial debate tonight at the Lyric Fine Arts Theatre in Birmingham.

    In fact, most of political observers believe the governor’s race, overall, is lacking in much intrigue just months after the international spotlight shined on Alabama during the special U.S. Senate race which saw Democrat Doug Jones defeat Republican Roy Moore.

4 days ago

WATCH OUT: Disease-carrying ticks widespread across Alabama

(M. Finney)

As a turkey hunter, I am keenly aware of the threat posed by sneaking through the Alabama woods. And I’m not talking about the danger of encountering a member of the serpent family.

I’m talking about something much, much smaller but possibly just as harmful.

It’s the family of ticks that turkey hunters dread each spring, and the prevalence of disease-carrying ticks is becoming more evident each year.


Emily Merritt, a research associate at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, has been working on a project, with funding assistance provided from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (Pittman-Robertson) through the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), since 2015 to determine the species of ticks in Alabama and their ranges.

Merritt said a study on ticks and tick-related illnesses hadn’t been done since the early 1990s, and it was very limited in scope.

The study that started in 2015 was to update and expand that research to include field collection sites for ticks.

“We collected ticks once a month for a year,” Merritt said. “We were all over the state. We also worked with WFF wildlife biologists to collect ticks off of deer for all three years and with the USDA (Department of Agriculture) to get ticks off of raccoons for two years.”

The most commonly collected ticks included the Lone Star tick, the Gulf Coast tick, the black-legged tick (aka deer tick) and the American dog tick.

The Lone Star tick is the most common tick in Alabama and can transmit a host of diseases, including the alpha-gal red meat allergy, Southern rash disease (a Lyme-like illness), tick paralysis and spotted fever diseases that are closely related to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A white dot in the middle of the tick’s back is the reason for the Lone Star name.

“We found that the Lone Star tick and the Gulf Coast tick are the most aggressive,” Merritt said. “They hunt down their prey. Some ticks sit and wait, but the Lone Star and Gulf Coast ticks will actively seek out hosts. Turkey hunters complain that when they’re hunting they can actually see ticks crawling to them. Usually, that’s the Lone Star tick. I’ve also heard it called the turkey tick.”

Merritt said the Lone Star tick is found primarily in hardwood stands, while the Gulf Coast tick, which is a little larger and transmits similar diseases, is found primarily in more open areas with shrubs.

“The Gulf Coast tick likes areas like new clear-cuts, and they are found in controlled burn areas,” she said. “These are harsh, hot environments where you don’t often find ticks, but the Gulf Coast tick loves it.”

The tick that has gained the most notoriety because of its association with Lyme disease is the black-legged tick.

“It is the main culprit for spreading Lyme disease, but it also can spread other illnesses, like anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia,” Merritt said. “We find black-legged ticks equally in pine and hardwood stands.”

Merritt said the American dog tick also can transmit all the diseases associated with the other tick species.

“As the name implies, they bite dogs a lot,” she said. “We find them in people’s backyards, especially if they’ve got a nice, green lawn and a nearby wooded area. Obviously, people’s dogs are at risk. If their kids play in the backyard or if you’re gardening or landscaping in the yard, people can come in contact with the American dog tick.”

At one time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) insisted that Lyme disease was limited to the Northeast U.S., with a concentration of the disease around Lyme, Conn. In recent years, the presence of Lyme-like disease (Lyme borreliosis) has been acknowledged in Alabama.

“Lyme disease refers to one specific bacteria,” Merritt said. “Lyme borreliosis indicates there is a host of similarly related bacteria that cause illness in Alabama.

“Another thing we hear from doctors is there is no Rocky Mountain spotted fever here. That’s not true at all. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has been tracking this. The problem with the CDC and other health agencies is they don’t consider it much of an issue down here. But it definitely is an issue.”

In fact, a graphic from ADPH shows that spotted fever-type illnesses have skyrocketed in recent years compared to the other tick-related illnesses.

“People are getting sick from ticks down here,” Merritt said. “So it’s counterproductive for those agencies to say it’s rare. If you are an outdoors person your chances of coming in contact with these ticks is pretty decent. There is definitely a risk.

“One of the reasons I’m trying to get the word out, and when we publish our research (later this year), is we really need doctors to recognize that these tick-borne illnesses are here in Alabama.”

One aspect of Merritt’s research includes a survey conducted through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The survey was sent to hunters and anglers to ask about their experiences, knowledge of and costs associated with ticks and tick-borne illnesses.

For those who spend time outdoors, Merritt said the project research found that the most effective deterrent for tick attachment is a spray that contains permethrin.

“You don’t apply it to your skin,” Merritt said. “You spray it on your clothes, boots, hats, socks, backpacks, basically any fabric. When I go camping, I spray my tents and tarps with it. Depending on what brand you get, it will last anywhere from two weeks or two washings to six weeks and six washings.

“More so than bug spray, we found that the products with permethrin significantly reduced the amount of ticks we encountered. It also works well on other biting insects like chiggers and mosquitoes.”

Although the likelihood of contact with ticks is higher during the warmer months, Merritt said the insects are active year-round in Alabama.

“Be on the lookout, not only on pets, but your children, your loved ones and yourself,” she said. “If you go outside, there is the potential to come in contact with ticks. When you come back inside, check your clothes and gear immediately to see if there are any crawling ticks on you, your pets or children. Then take it a step further and check your body thoroughly for ticks. If you need to use a mirror or a partner, do that. Ticks can hide in all sorts of areas that are hard to see.

“And the longer a tick is attached, the better the chances are to get a tick-borne illness if that tick is harboring that illness.”

If you do find a tick attached to your body, Merritt said don’t haphazardly try to remove the insect.

“Don’t try to pick it off with your fingers or burn it off with a match or anything like that,” she said. “Get tweezers and get as close to the skin as you possibly can. Firmly grasp the tick where it attached to your body and start pulling with steady, even pressure until it eventually releases. It might be uncomfortable and a little painful, but you want to get that tick off as soon as you can.”

Merritt said tick-borne illnesses may cause symptoms as early as a couple of days, but symptoms could also occur as late as a couple of months after the exposure.

“If you start to experience flu-like symptoms, like aches and pain, or you see an expanding red rash, sometimes spotted and sometimes circular, you need to see a doctor,” she said. “It’s normal for a bite to be red, but if you see an expanding rash or it seems to be spreading to other parts of your body, that’s a clear indication that you do have a tick-borne illness.”

Merritt said if the tick is found it can be saved for testing by taping it to an index card, placing it in a freezer bag and storing it in the freezer.

“But don’t wait for test results,” she said. “If you think you have a tick-borne illness, your doctor should go ahead and start treatment. For most tick-borne illnesses, that involves treatment with antibiotics. For tick paralysis, it’s removal of the tick. For the alpha-gal allergy there is no treatment. You just have to avoid eating red meat, and that’s terrible.”

For more information, go here or this website, the Alabama Lyme Disease Association’s website.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

3 months ago

Beginning Hunter’s Dream: Lucky five learn from pros in Mentored Hunt Program 

(David Rainer)
(David Rainer)



A group of five scored what might be considered the lottery for hunters who want to pursue white-tailed deer in the Black Belt of Alabama.

Those lucky hunters were selected in a random drawing to participate in the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Adult Mentored Hunt Program.

Before the weekend was over at Cedar Creek Special Opportunity Area in Dallas County, one participant had shot a firearm for the first time and followed that with a shot that sent her home with venison. One hunter made a 10-hour drive from central Florida to participate and also went home with venison. And another hunter, who didn’t have time to pursue hunting during his military career, was able to bring his 12-year-old to join in all the activities as a guest, including watching his father take his first deer and an additional one during the event.

The Adult Mentored Hunt Program was developed to facilitate new or novice hunters in their quest to learn the skills necessary to pursue Alabama’s wild game. The most recent hunt treated those five hunters – Mary Beth Brown, Esther Conde, Chris Forman, Marynell Winslow and Jeffrey Bogue – to weekend hunts like those available at one of Alabama’s premier hunting lodges with a notable exception. That exception was personal instruction from a variety of WFF personnel.

Before the hunters ever sat in a hunting stand, they underwent instruction in firearms safety before participating in a live-fire event at the lodge range. The hunters also learned about the function of the Division and how it operates, wildlife management, the use of safety equipment while hunting as well as shot placement.

That shot placement instruction served Conde well when she shot a 4 ½-year-old, mature buck. Her shot dropped the buck in its tracks.

“I’ve done several BOW (Becoming an Outdoors-Woman) events,” said Conde, who traveled from St. Cloud, Fla. “That’s more educational. This is more of an experience. We got instructions on all the equipment. It was hands-on and we could actually use it. I felt more comfortable in what I was doing. Even if I didn’t harvest a deer, I felt comfortable enough when I got home I was going to be able to apply what I learned.”

Conde was definitely in the hot spot on the 6,000-acre tract with 25 deer spotted on her first hunt. She was not comfortable with any of the shots presented and decided to wait.

The afternoon hunt was markedly different.

“We saw three deer soon after we got into the blind,” she said. “Then I decided to shoot. It was all about when I felt comfortable. It felt right. I didn’t feel any pressure.

“I got really, really excited. When the buck got right to the perfect spot, I did what my mentor told me, breathe and squeeze the trigger. I didn’t even know if I’d shot it. My mentor said, ‘you got it.’ I looked in the scope and there it was. He dropped right there. In the classes, they show you where to shoot and have a decoy to show you. It was a perfect shot.”

Other than the deer meat, Conde said she is taking more back to Florida.

“The confidence, the confidence,” she said. “I’ve already called my son. He’s 19, and we do these things together. We’ve never been confident enough to try it. I told him now we’re going out the first weekend we’re not working.”

Despite growing up in Winfield, Ala., Mary Beth Brown had never even fired a gun.

“Over the past few years, I realized I was interested in going hunting, but I didn’t have anybody close to me that hunted,” she said. “I had some distant cousins but I really wasn’t comfortable asking them. I just Googled adult hunting in Alabama and found the program.

“I sent in the application. I got lucky. When we went to the range, I found it was a lot less scary than I thought it would be.”

The only problem was that Brown and her mentor, Marianne Hudson, realized on the final hunt that Brown was shooting right-handed but was left-eye dominant. After some practice and letting a couple of deer walk, Brown found looking through the scope with her left eye worked best.

“There was a buck behind the doe, but the buck was facing away from me,” she said. “He walked off and never turned around, so I got the scope on the doe. She was in the perfect position. I took the shot. I didn’t feel nervous at all. I had decided to take the next shot that was doable.

“Even if I hadn’t shot something, I really enjoyed it because I don’t know many hunters. It’s been great talking to everyone and learning about their experiences. I was really actually glad I was able to get a deer. Even if I hadn’t shot a deer, I still learned so much.”

The person who went home with an ice chest filled to the brim with venison was Jeffery Bogue, who bagged a buck and a doe during the Saturday afternoon hunt.

Although Bogue got his hunter education certificate when he was 16, he didn’t have much of an opportunity to hunt before he joined the Army. After a 20-plus-year military career, he settled in Alabaster and recently decided to get involved in hunting with his son, Vincent.

Bogue also was surfing the internet when he found the mentored program, applied and was selected.

“You just can’t beat it,” Bogue said. “This is such a great opportunity for inexperienced hunters to come out and work with the mentors. They were so helpful with everything and getting in the right position. If I had gone out on my own, there would have been no way I would have been as successful as I was during this event.

“Now we’re going to have our freezer stocked with venison. I can’t wait to try some burger like we had at the event.”

WFF’s Justin Grider, the Adult Mentored Hunt Program coordinator, said one-day mentored hunts had been available in Mobile County for a couple of seasons, but this is the first for the program on a statewide scale. The hunts are available to adults 19 years of age or older.

Grider said the response to the mentored hunt program has exceeded his expectations with applications coming in from all over the state as well as Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

“We opened the process in September,” Grider said. “I was apprehensive that there wouldn’t be very much demand for the program. I was surprised and excited that that wasn’t the case. We’ve had 115 applicants and more than 40 percent were female. We’ve had participants from 19 years to 78. I’d say the majority have been folks in their 30s, 40s and 50s.”

Grider said the applicants cover the societal spectrum and those selected are done by random computer drawing, so he has no idea of the roster for the hunts until the draw is completed.

“We’ve had teachers at UAB, who are doctors with private practices,” he said. “We’ve had high school teachers. We’ve had people in the professional trade industry, whether it’s HVAC or welding. So, we’ve had folks from all walks of life and different personalities. It’s really been fun getting to know our hunters. With the random-draw process, we never know who our hunters will be or where they’re from, so it’s been fun.”

Grider has also discovered that sometimes the students in a mentoring situation can provide as much insight as the mentors.

“We’ve had some really great groups, and we’ve learned a lot from them,” he said. “A lot of times when you’re hunting, you’re predisposed to doing things certain ways. So, when you have folks from different walks of life, who have different experiences than you, it allows them to see things through a different lens. They ask questions, and that allows you to dig into your reasoning and why you do things the way you do.”

Grider said what connects all the applicants is they want to learn something new and to take control of where their food comes from.

“When they get here, we have a welcome portion where we get to know each other, and we learn why they applied for the program,” he said. “The common theme each hunt is they want to have control over where their food comes from and to be able to provide for themselves.”

Grider couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of the most recent hunt despite the cold weather.

“It’s great to see them do that and to see them go home with coolers full of their own meat,” he said. “We feed them several different dishes with venison. We share recipes with them, and on Saturday, we let them get involved in a cooking workshop, where they execute a simple burger recipe. They grill the burgers and eat their own venison creations.

“They learn how to hunt. They learn how to prepare the deer, and they learn how to apply those recipes at home.”

Visit this link for information on upcoming mentored hunts.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.


3 months ago

DROOL-WORTHY: Sporting chef shares tips for tasty venison

(David Rainer)
Scott Leysath, The Sporting Chef, slices seared venison hind quarter to prepare a dish for those in attendance at the SEOPA conference last fall. A quick sear is all venison needs and don’t overcook it. (David Rainer)


With Alabama in the peak of deer season, freezers are getting full, which means it’s time to prepare some tasty venison.

As a buddy and I were discussing on a trip home from a hunting excursion, venison got a bad rap back in the day because of several reasons. Most deer hunting in the mid-20th century was done in front of a pack of hounds on a hot deer trail. Plus, it was verboten to shoot a doe back then. Hence, bucks replete with rutting hormones or lactic acid from being chased by the hounds, or both, made some of the meat less than palatable.

There was also the practice of hauling a nice deer around in the back of the truck to show all your buddies that contributed to the venison stigma.

That last practice is what really irks Scott Leysath, aka The Sporting Chef, when he hears people complain about the taste of venison. Leysath, who has roots in Grand Bay, Ala., and once produced the “Hunt, Fish and Cook” show out of Huntsville, said the care of the deer carcass right after it is harvested is a crucial step to tasty venison.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Alabama,” Leysath said. “Despite this recent cold spell, it can be a little warm during deer season. When I see people driving around with deer in the back of their trucks before it has been field-dressed, it makes me cringe. As with any animal, you need to get deer cleaned and cooled as fast as possible. If you ride around with the deer in the back of the truck, it’s not going to encourage it to taste good when it’s cooked.”

The best-case scenario, according to Leysath, is to have access to a walk-in cooler where the skinned deer carcasses can be hung for at least a week. He hangs larger animals for up to two weeks. The failure to properly age the venison can lead to a chewy meal.

“I actually had a buddy of mine from Centre, Ala., call me and say he had done everything I told him to do to prepare the venison,” Leysath said. “He said, ‘I did not overcook the backstrap. It was 130 degrees in the center. I made that balsamic dressing to go with it. But it was really, really, really tough.’

“I asked him when he shot the deer. ‘Yesterday.’ He hadn’t given that meat a chance. It has to go through rigor for 24 hours, and then you have to let it hang or age. If that backstrap had been aged for a week, it would have been a whole different animal.”

Leysath said that venison that is frozen soon after harvest can still benefit from the aging process. If you don’t have access to a walk-in cooler but have room in a refrigerator, you can put the meat on a rack above a pan and let it age. Another option is to use a large ice chest, but don’t put the venison in the ice. Arrange some method to keep the venison elevated above the ice and ensure the temperature inside the ice chest doesn’t get above 40 degrees.

“You’re going to lose some crusty bits that aren’t going to look all that pleasant after a week or two, but the rest of it is going to be a lot more tender,” he said. “After a couple of weeks, the meat will lose about 20 to 25 percent of its weight, but what is left is good stuff. The dry-aging and hanging makes all the difference in the world.”

Leysath also has a pet peeve about trying to mask the flavor of wild game. He has a friend in Alabama who claims snow goose is by far the best-eating goose. His friend cuts the goose breasts into little strips and marinates them in teriyaki for 48 hours. Then cream cheese and jalapeno are added before being wrapped in bacon.

“That’s the universal recipe with wild game,” he said. “You marinate in who knows what, add jalapeno, some kind of cheese and bacon. Then it doesn’t taste like deer, duck or snow goose. What’s the point of that?”

Leysath said during his travels he has noticed that cooks in some parts of the country are predisposed to overcooking and are convinced wild game must be done all the way through.

“The biggest challenge I have with a lot of folks is to get them to quit cooking their deer quite so long,” he said.

Leysath gave a venison cooking demonstration at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association conference last fall, and the venison didn’t stay long in the frying pan before he was slicing it into bite-size pieces.

“I just sort of looked at it, didn’t I,” he said with a laugh. “Had I kept cooking it, it would have been less tender. And that was a muscle from the hind quarter. That wasn’t a backstrap. The key is, before serving, cut it across the grain. If you see long lines running through it, you’re cutting it the wrong way.

“And if the internal temperature is beyond 140 degrees, it starts to get tougher. Some folks can’t get past eating medium-rare venison. If I’m doing a seminar, I’ll cover it up with a dark sauce, and they talk about how tender it is.”

Obviously, Leysath does not apply the medium-rare rule to all venison.

“Sometimes, you want to go low and slow,” he said. “If you’ve got a venison shoulder, leave the bone in. Give it a good rub with olive oil and whatever seasoning you prefer. I’m going to brown it and then braise it in a roasting pan with a can of beer, celery, onion and carrots at a low temp. I’m going to let that moist heat do the work for me. After a few hours, the meat is falling off the bone. I wish deer had more than four legs, because those shanks are some of the best eating when you cook them low and slow.”

When Leysath wants to change skeptics’ minds about the taste of venison, he uses this trusty recipe.

Backstrap and Berries

½ venison backstrap

3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

¼ cup red wine

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp berry preserves

3 tbsp chilled butter

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup whole berries

Trim all silverskin off the backstrap and either cut into thick medallions or in chunks that will fit in the frying pan. Sear all sides of the venison in the hot oil and set aside. Add red wine, balsamic vinegar, garlic and berry preserves to pan and reduce by one-third. Add chilled butter. Slice venison across the grain. Pour balsamic-berry sauce over venison and top with your choice of whole berries.

Leysath also suggested a very simple dish of four to five ingredients with an Asian flare.

Sesame Backstrap

½ venison backstrap

¼ cup yellow mustard

½ cup sesame seeds

3 tbsp vegetable oil

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup chopped green onions

Optional: couple of shots of sriracha hot sauce

Take backstrap and cut into thick medallions or manageable chunks. Coat in mustard and then roll in sesame seeds (look in Asian section of the grocery store instead of spice aisle). Sear all sides of the venison in hot oil and set aside. Add soy sauce, vinegar and chopped green onions to pan. Reduce by one-third and then pour over sliced venison.

“The key is to not overcook it,” Leysath said. “If all of your venison goes into a slow cooker with a can of cream of mushroom soup, you’re really missing out on a whole lot of venison flavor.”

Of course, many hunters will grind most of their deer, save the backstraps and tenderloins. Leysath has a proven shepherd’s pie recipe that gives cooks an option other than burgers or venison chili.

Venison Shepherd’s Pie

The Filling

2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups ground venison

2 tbsp flour

1 tsp kosher or other coarse salt (or 2/3 tsp table salt)

Pinch or two black pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup chicken, beef or game broth

Dash Worcestershire sauce

The Topping

3 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup half and half

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To prepare filling, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add celery, onion, carrot and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add ground venison and cook, stirring often, until evenly browned. Sprinkle flour over and stir to mix evenly. Cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining filling ingredients, stirring to blend and cook for 2 minutes more.

Prepare topping. Place peeled and quartered potatoes in a pot. Cover with at least one inch of water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well, return to pot and whisk in butter and half and half until smooth.

Transfer filling to a lightly greased baking dish. Spread potatoes over the top and place in preheated oven until lightly browned on top and the filling is bubbly hot.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

3 months ago

Black bear sightings likely to increase in Alabama

(David Rainer)
(David Rainer)



Interaction between humans and black bears saw an uptick last year, and that will likely be the trend for the near future, at least in one corner of the state, according to Dr. Todd Steury of Auburn University.

Funded by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s State Wildlife Grants Program, Professor Steury, along with graduate students John Draper and Chris Seals, recently completed a multiple-year study of the black bear population in Alabama.

The basic conclusions were that Alabama has two populations of black bears, one in northeast Alabama and one in southwest Alabama, and each population has a different legacy as well as likely future.

The population in northeast Alabama, with roots from the mountains of northeast Georgia, has the potential for significant expansion. Hence, the likelihood that black bear sightings will become more common in the future.

The population in southwest Alabama, which appears to be an encapsulated population, is relatively stagnant, but significantly more difficult to monitor.

“We think that most of Alabama, at one time, had black bears,” Steury said. “We believe two of the sub-species kind of met in Alabama, the American sub-species from the North and the Florida sub-species from the South. Of course, black bears were pretty much hunted to extinction in the state with one very small population remaining near Mobile.”

Steury said the Auburn study was prompted by the fact the black bears in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta hadn’t been studied since 1992 and by an increase in the number of bear sightings in the Little River area in northeast Alabama.

“In that study in the Delta in 1992, it was a very small population,” he said. “There was some concern about inbreeding because of how small it was. Part of our goal was to reexamine this population to see how they are doing. The other reason for the study was the increased sightings around Fort Payne, and we wanted to know if there is a viable population up there or just an occasional bear traveling through the area.”

Bear sightings in Heflin and Oxford made headlines last year and prompted residents in those areas to voice concerns about the animals being close to public recreation areas.

Steury said his team, which included Thomas Harms, WFF’s Large Carnivore Coordinator, used a variety of methods to gather bear data. The population density numbers were derived from a DNA study.

“We used two methods to gather the DNA information,” Steury said. “One was eco-dogs. These dogs are trained to find bear scat. We took them into areas where we knew there were populations of bears – Mobile, Saraland and the Celeste Road areas. The eco-dogs are expensive to run, but they can get us a lot of data. I think it was about 1,000 samples in two months of work.

“But the dogs are not cost-effective if you’re looking in areas where you’re not sure about the presence of bears. For that, we used hair snares. It’s basically a barbed-wire fence surrounding bait. The bear crosses the barbed wire to get to the bait and the barbs pull a little hair out. Then we get DNA from the hairs.”

Steury said the team erected hair snares in virtually every township in Mobile County, about half of Washington County and most of Baldwin County in the southern end of the state. In the north, hair snares were placed in almost all townships between Interstates 59 and 20. The National Park Service helped the team erect snares all over Little River National Preserve.

“We were sampling very widely,” Steury said. “We chose townships because that’s about the size of a male home range. Overall, we had about 300 hair snares in southwest Alabama and another 100-150 in northeast Alabama.”

After all the data was collected, the analysis started. The results gave researchers population numbers, genetic diversity, points of origin and connections to other bear populations.

Steury said the DNA data indicated that the population in northeast Alabama more than doubled, going from about 12 bears to 30.

“We know those bears came from north Georgia,” he said. “We originally thought they might be from central Georgia around Macon, but the DNA showed they came right down the mountain from Georgia.”

The results from southwest Alabama were not as conclusive because of the requirements to meet the DNA profiling.

“We only got a good estimate from 2015,” Steury said. “We estimated there were 85 bears, but the estimate said there could be as many as 165. So it’s still a fairly small population. Obviously, that is not a great estimate, but we’d be very surprised if there are 200 bears down there. They seem to be very localized between Wagarville and Chatom and the Celeste Road area northwest of Saraland.

“The interesting thing is Chris Seals, the graduate student working that area, said there are what he calls bear superhighways, these riparian areas, rivers and corridors where these bears move. So we can get a lot of DNA in those areas. So we’re very confident about the bears in those areas. But in those areas in between, it’s much harder for us to figure out how many bears are there.”

The story in northeast Alabama is that bears are finding suitable habitat to establish home ranges and expand the population.

“The bears are breeding,” Steury said of northeast Alabama. “We have seen numerous examples of sows with two or three cubs on our game cameras. We feel like the population there is going to grow, and there are still bears coming in from Georgia.

“We’re going to have more bears up there. There is lot of great habitat in Jackson County and Talladega National Forest. It’s just a matter of time for the population to expand.”

The prognosis for the southwest Alabama bear population is not so optimistic.

“The habitat in southwest Alabama is disappearing,” Steury said. “And, the population is not growing like it should. That is the next question we have to answer. We have some hypotheses. Those bears seem to be having good litters, but Chris is not seeing those cubs make it to adulthood. One of the aspects we’re exploring is den sites. When you think of bear dens in cold weather, what do you think about – caves or holes in the ground. In north Alabama, you’ve got bunches of caves or holes in the ground.

“In southwest Alabama, bears don’t have that. We will occasionally see denning in tree roots. What we see a lot of are nests. What we don’t know is how much protection from the elements and predators those really provide. Is the reason cubs are not making it to adulthood that they don’t have good dens?”

Another concern of the researchers is the lack of new genes in the southwest population.

“The genetic diversity in the southwest is really bad,” Steury said. “It’s worse than any bear population in the Southeast United States. Normally, to differentiate between brothers and sisters, you need eight chunks of DNA. We couldn’t tell the difference between brothers and sisters with our eight chunks of DNA. It took 14 to 15 chunks of DNA to tell the difference between brothers and sisters in that population. So they’ve got really low genetic diversity. We don’t really know how low that genetic diversity has to get to affect the population. We’ve captured a lot of bears, and we haven’t seen any deformities or other effects.”

The other conclusion derived from the DNA studies is the connection of the specific populations with other populations in the Southeast.

“The northeast population is still pretty well connected with the north Georgia population,” Steury said. “The southern population does not appear to be connected with bears from Florida or western Mississippi. The DNA suggests there is basically no movement of bears into the southwest population. Bears come from Florida. We know because we track them. But they seem to get to the rivers in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and turn around and go back.

“We do catch and collar bears. The largest bear we have caught weighed 308 pounds. Chris said he has seen one that he estimates at 400 pounds. But most of our bears average 150 pounds.”

When it comes to bear-human interactions, Steury said a mailer was sent out to judge the public perception of bears.

“What we found out is that people like bears,” he said. “They want to have bears in Alabama. Generally, they were not supportive of lethal management controls except in extreme situations, where there was clear danger to people.”

Steury said it is rare when large predators do anything other than flee when they come in contact with humans.

“They can’t risk being injured,” he said. “If they’re injured, they can’t hunt. They can’t feed themselves and they’re going to die. They have no idea how hard or easy we would be to kill. They have no idea how dangerous we are, which is what basically keeps us safe.”

Steury said the sightings that happened in Oxford and Heflin last year were young male bears that had been kicked out of the mom’s territory. Those 2-year-old males were roaming to find new home territories.

“They can cover thousands of miles,” he said. “That’s why we see bears where they’re not supposed to be. They are juvenile males that are exploring for a place to settle down. The thing is they never stay around. When I got the call from Heflin about what they should do, I told them to just leave it alone. In a day or two, it’ll be gone.

“If they get into somebody’s food or people start feeding them, that’s when they become problems.”

4 months ago

Carp species are potential threats to Alabama waterways

(David Rainer)
(David Rainer)


Unwanted guests can sometimes show up during the holiday season, but they almost always go home at some point. Unfortunately, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division got word recently that an unwanted fish species has invaded Alabama waters, and Fisheries Section Chief Nick Nichols is afraid the silver carp wants to make the Tennessee River home.

If you’ve spent any time on the internet checking out Facebook or YouTube videos, it’s likely you’ve encountered the shocking videos of the silver carp jumping like crazy, slamming into boats and passengers. Some people in those videos try to make dealing with this invasive species a game, but Nichols said nothing about silver carp is a game.

“They’re like the feral hogs of the water,” Nichols said. “At least, silver carp are as big a threat.”

In the same way feral hogs outcompete native wildlife for food and habitat resources, when silver carp become established in an area, they interrupt the natural food chain and native species end up devastated.

Nichols said four species of carp, known as Asian carp, have been released in the U.S. Those species include silver carp, bighead carp, grass carp (white amur) and black carp. Of those, the silver carp and black carp are believed to be the greatest immediate threats to Alabama’s aquatic resources. Anglers and bowfishermen can report sightings, but gillnetting is the only way to catch any significant number of carp.

Many people with ponds or lakes are familiar with grass carp, which were introduced into the U.S. in the 1960s to control aquatic vegetation. Nichols said there is no evidence to date that grass carp have adversely impacted aquatic ecosystems in Alabama waters.

The bighead carp came to the states in the 1970s. The bighead is a filter feeder that collects primarily zooplankton for sustenance. Nichols said bighead can weigh 80 pounds or more.

The black carp could prove to be a potentially devastating invasive species because of its food preferences, Nichols said.

“The black carp is a species that very much worries us,” he said. “This species looks very much like a grass carp. They were accidentally brought into the country with loads of grass carp because they look so much alike. The problem is that black carp feed almost exclusively on snails and mollusks.

“If you look at Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, we’re states with a huge biodiversity of aquatic mollusks, both snails and mussels. Some of these are species of conservation concern. The big concern for us, if the black carp become established in some of our systems, is that they could have a big impact on these mollusks that are already in trouble.”

Now we get to the worst news regarding these non-native carp species.

“The species that has everybody jumping, no pun intended, is the silver carp,” Nichols said. “If you Google silver carp, you will see images and videos of these clouds of jumping fish. Those are silver carp. Bighead carp don’t jump that much. Grass carp will jump but nothing like the silvers.

“The silver carp is also a filter feeder. It filters not only zooplankton but also phytoplankton, the microscopic plants. So they’re feeding right at the bottom of the food chain. By doing so, they’re competing with every other fish species in that body of water for the food supply. If they’re cropping off that zooplankton, that’s taking food out of the mouths of the native species, like the shad and bluegills.”

Another problem with silver carp is they don’t disperse but stay in large schools, which can overwhelm some systems.

“Once the silver carp establish a heavy population in an area, they literally eat themselves out of house and home,” Nichols said. “There won’t be anything left but silver carp.”

A recent study on the Yazoo River in Mississippi reveals the impact silver carp have on the backwater areas, which are vital for the recruitment of the native species like sunfish and black bass. In that study, rotenone was applied to sample the population a couple of decades ago. All the native species like crappie, bream and black bass were present. About a year ago, fisheries biologists went in and sampled those same areas with stunning results.

“Well over 90 percent of the biomass in the most recent study was silver carp,” Nichols said. “Basically, the only thing left was silver carp. They can literally take over the habitat. That’s what has happened in some places in the Mississippi basin. There are a lot of problems in the Illinois River basin. They’re in the Ohio River. Now they’re coming into the Tennessee and Cumberland systems.”

Kentucky Lake and adjacent Barkley Lake have been hit hard with a burgeoning silver carp population that has severely impacted the sportfishing on the lakes. At my outdoors writer’s conference at Kentucky Lake in October, numerous bass fishermen I talked to said the bass fishing success has plummeted the last few years because of the carp.

“What we think happened was in 2016 there was a big spawn of silver carp in Kentucky Lake and some of those locked up into Pickwick Lake,” Nichols said. “We have had a few reports in recent years of seeing silver carp in Pickwick, but there was a marked increase in reports of not individual fish but schools of silver carp.”

Because of the threat, Alabama has joined forces with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to work collectively on mitigating the spread of silver carp. A multiple-state group called the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resources Association (MICRA) has been formed by the 28 states in the Mississippi basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and two Native American tribes are also members of the coalition.

With federal funding, Tennessee Tech was tasked with monitoring numerous lakes, including Pickwick, for silver carp. One of the goals is to catch silver carp and insert sonic tags to allow the tracking of the fish movements.

“We need to know how these things move,” Nichols said. “You can spend a lot of time out on the reservoirs, and the fish are not in high densities; you won’t find them.”

In November, WFF Fisheries biologist Keith Floyd was with the researchers from Tennessee Tech in Bear Creek on Pickwick when they made a disturbing discovery. In the six net-sets, 75 silver carp were caught.

“That’s a little scary,” Nichols said. “There’s not much to stop them from moving upstream. Typically, they will go through the locks.”

Nichols said several different methods are being evaluated in deterring the migration of silver carp, including electronic barriers and large hydrophones to scare the fish away from the locks. Although these methods are experimental, Nichols hopes these sonic devices will be installed below Barkley Dam and Pickwick Dam in the next couple of years.

Nichols said it may be up to Mother Nature to limit the spread of silver carp, which require tributary systems to successfully spawn.

“The fish have to reach large enough numbers to have a successful spawn,” he said. “Also, the tributaries that flow into the systems are critical for a successful spawn. If they move up the Tennessee River with these steep tributaries, they might not get off a successful spawn in those areas. And their spawning is triggered by flow events, flood events. They’ll wait for high water to spawn.

“If we’re lucky, these silver carp in Pickwick will die of old age before they can get off a big spawn. That assumes we don’t get more fish from Kentucky. If they do get established, it will have a big impact on the native game and non-game fish species. And that’s not good news.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

4 months ago

Attention all Alabama outdoors … WOMEN! Registration for bow hunting workshop opens January 3

(David Rainer)
(David Rainer)


Registration for the next Alabama Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) workshop opens on January 3 for first-time attendees and January 8 for both first-timers and those who have previously attended. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) sponsored event takes place at the 4-H Center near Columbiana, Ala., on March 2-4, 2018.

BOW is a three-day workshop designed for women ages 18 years or older who would like to learn new outdoor skills. The workshop offers hands-on instruction in a fun, outdoor learning environment. Participants choose from courses such as rifle, pistol, archery, fishing, camping, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, and many more. Two new courses will be offered this spring – wildlife identification and predator and prey.

BOW coordinator Hope Grier said the classes offer basic outdoor skills training. “There are many ladies who have not been exposed to these outdoor activities and are apprehensive about trying them,” she said. “BOW is ideal for those women because everything is taught at a beginner level.”

The registration fee of $275 covers meals, dormitory-style lodging, program materials and instruction. Those interested in attending are encouraged to register as soon as possible because enrollment is limited and classes fill up fast. 

For more information on the BOW workshop including the class schedule, visit here or call Hope Grier at 334-242-3620

To view photos of past BOW workshops, visit Outdoor Alabama’s Flickr.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit here

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

4 months ago

Alabama college-age kids rejoice: You CAN make a career out of huntin’ and fishin’

(David Rainer)
(David Rainer)


If you’re passionate about the outdoors and think those endeavors will be limited to a hobby or favorite pastime, think again. The University of Montevallo in central Alabama has a path to convert your outdoors activities into a career.

The President’s Outdoor Scholars Program allows students to tailor their studies en route to a degree that could translate into a career in the outdoors industry.

Montevallo President Dr. John Stewart III, an avid outdoorsman with a penchant for offshore fishing, remembered how he was separated to some extent from his favorite pursuits when he went away to college.

“Two things really informed my thinking, considering a program that would morph into something like this,” Stewart said. “My parents hadn’t been to school, so it was a daunting time for me. I loved hunting and fishing, but when I went away to college, it was tough to find somebody who shared those same passions and interests. Unless I was home for the holidays or at home working during the summer, I was out of action for the rest of the year as far as hunting and fishing. That’s one thing that just stuck with me.

“The other thing was thinking about enrollment, and what brings kids to colleges, and should we, as institutions, encourage them to see if those passions can be matched up with a career. The people I’ve known who are happiest are doing what they love as a career. So that came into the idea.”

Stewart approached William Crawford, who was already working on the Montevallo campus, about an idea to merge a love of the outdoors with a formal education.

“In our part of the world in Alabama, what do people think about more than football and each other? That’s hunting and fishing,” Stewart said. “I knew William was a hunter and a respected breeder and trainer of retrievers.”

When Stewart shared his idea with Crawford, the response was, “I think they’d love it.”

Stewart considered Crawford a perfect fit for the director’s job. Crawford, who holds a master’s degree, has been a recruiter and fundraiser professionally, and he also runs Silver Banded Retrievers, raising and training retrievers. Crawford also played baseball at the University of West Alabama.

“I couldn’t think of a better person with a better background to trust the safety and welfare and student experience with,” Stewart said.

The way the President’s Outdoor Scholars Program was integrated into the school was through the Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) Program, which was implemented not long after Stewart became president 15 years ago.

“We forged an IDS degree with the idea that a student with any passion could hammer out a major course of study that would lead to a career,” he said. “I remember the very first student to graduate with an IDS degree finished with an audio-visual major. The kid was just passionate about a high-level career in audio-visual work. Now we’ve got a curriculum, most but not all in the College of Business, in outdoors resource management.

“The aspect of the program that was attractive to me is this is a way I can connect with students a lot younger than I am who come to our institution. It’s a unique way for me to get to know students. So far, we’re really happy with the progress.”

Crawford said in the beginning the President’s Outdoor Scholars Program amounted to extracurricular activities to keep the students connected with the outdoors.

“Very early in the program, it was brought to our attention that these students wanted more,” Crawford said. “They wanted a degree track. We started working on a program tied to the academic side that allowed students to do that.

“Starting this spring, we will start, through IDS, a program where a student can create their own major. With that, we’ve already developed a layout for the program for them to accomplish that. About 90 percent of our students in the program are going through the College of Business. They wanted to do something with the business side of the outdoors.

“We developed a program that’s called outdoors resource marketing. What sets that aside and makes it a little different than a typical marketing degree, it will have different components tied to other areas on campus. For example, retail will be added from our Family and Consumer Sciences majors. Also, some entry-level video production is included because today’s time in the outdoors, everything is shifting to digital content. You see a lot of videos on social media now. Our students will get skillsets in several different areas that can be combined into a major that will make them more well-rounded for this industry.”

Crawford said if a student wants to go in a different direction, perhaps in conservation or land management, the curriculum would go to Environmental Studies with courses in biology.

“We have one student who wants to raise quail and run a quail farm,” he said. “Of course, he needs to know about these animals and how they act. We’ve got biology for that. But he also needs to know how to run a business, so we can provide some business background. Ultimately, it’s up to the student and what they want to do. We can develop and personalize a program specifically for them.”

During the students’ outdoors studies, Stewart said Crawford lines up events for them to meet leaders in the outdoors industry through their guest speaker program.

“They’ve had lunch and tours with the president of Mossy Oak, Toxey Haas, and vice president Bill Suggs,” Stewart said. “They’ve been to Duck Commander. Jackie Bushman with Buckmasters has been a real champion for our program. He talked at our first banquet.

“What William said that I’ve found to be true is the outdoors industry is so huge, but from a people perspective, it’s pretty small.”

Stewart and Crawford are fully aware of the economic impact hunting has on Alabama, to the tune of $1.8 billion annually.

“I had the opportunity to speak at the Professional Outdoors Media Association (POMA) last year, and I was just astounded at the economic impact hunting and fishing have across the nation,” Stewart said.

The 39 students currently enrolled in the program are treated to perks that would be the envy of anybody who loves the outdoors. Students are treated to trips that expose them to outdoors activities they’ve never experienced. Stewart pointed out that no taxpayer money is used for the trips, which are paid for with private donations.

“Most of our students grew up deer hunting and bass fishing,” Crawford said. “Of course, we want them to continue to enjoy the things they’ve always done. But we also want to introduce them to new adventures.

“We’ve been redfishing in Venice, La., fished for blue marlin in the Bahamas, quail hunted in Alabama, duck hunted in several places as well as deer hunted. We’ve been bowfishing on the Alabama coast. We’ve got a trip to Colorado lined up for the spring to go turkey hunting. I tell the students if they can think of it, we’ll go and do it.”

Stewart added, “If we can expose them to lots and lots of different aspects of the sporting life, then that’s a good curriculum.”

Crawford said one of the students had never been waterfowl hunting until he was taken on an early season goose hunt.

“It was one of the best waterfowl hunts I’ve ever been on,” Crawford said. “I’ve been hunting waterfowl for about 15 years. I kind of felt bad for him because this was his first one. I told him, ‘You’ll never have a trip like this in a long time.’ But what it did was it sparked another interest. He bought all this waterfowl gear and really got into it. He got into a lease and bought a dog to train to retrieve. What that’s doing is, No. 1, it gives him a new passion, but it also pumps money into the economy from the outdoors industry. It goes full circle in everything we do.

“And the great thing about our program is some of the extracurricular activities can now count toward credit for a student to graduate. We want our students to pick a career that they’re passionate about. If they’re passionate about it, they’ll be successful.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

4 months ago

David Rainer: Treestand accidents mar early deer season in Alabama

(David Rainer)
(David Rainer)



Despite a concerted effort by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Hunter Safety Program, Alabama deer hunters are still falling out of treestands in disturbing numbers.

Plus, there has been one firearms fatality where the cardinal rule of unloading your firearm before exiting your deer stand was not followed.

Seven Alabama hunters had suffered treestand accidents as of December 1. Fortunately, there have been no fatalities in the falls, but several serious injuries were reported.

Out of the seven reported treestand accidents, only one was wearing a safety harness.

“The safety harness prevented serious injury,” said Marisa Futral, WFF’s Hunter Education Coordinator. “He was coming down the tree and his treestand went out from under him. He hit his face on the tree pretty hard and broke his nose. The harness kept him from getting hurt any worse.”

WFF Conservation Enforcement Officer Vance Wood shared an account that occurred at the Perdido Wildlife Management Area in Baldwin County.

Daniel Jares and Wood, who once served in a Coast Guard unit together, shared on Facebook about the incident, where the victim came perilously close to losing his life

Jares said he got a phone call at about 2 p.m. from a good friend. The phone service was sketchy at best but he determined his friend had fallen from a treestand, couldn’t move his body from the chest down and could barely breathe.

“There was little to no service, but I caught a few words as to where he was. I made out, ‘Close to river on an oak flat; you’re going to need a four-wheel drive,’” Jares said. “I searched the woods for hours and hours in my truck just to find his truck so I could find a starting point.”

Jares had earlier notified the WFF enforcement crew in Baldwin County and Baldwin County Search and Rescue. After two hours of searching, Jares found his friend’s truck parked under a big tree that caused it to be hidden from the search helicopter.

With more than 20 people searching, several searchers tore through thick underbrush along the river as the sun started to fade. After a parallel grid search, Jares came up on a little ridge. Jares was yelling his friend’s name and finally picked up a weak response. He ran to find his friend under the tree. The friend suffered a broken back. He subsequently had two surgeries and is facing a long road to recovery.

“It’s a miracle we found him before dark,” Jares said. “So, please wear your safety systems. You don’t want to have a broken neck or back or even run the risk of losing your life. The officer said if I hadn’t answered that call, he probably wouldn’t have made it.

“I wanted to thank the hunting community for all of the love and support and sharing this to bring awareness. I’m blown away. The post received over 1 million views in less than 36 hours and close to 3 million now. I know without a doubt in my mind this post saved lives. I had messages from all over the country of young and old saying thanks for the eye opener; we are praying. If I could help save one life, it’s worth it. Trust me, you don’t want to stumble upon your buddy miles deep in the woods in this condition.”

Futral said this many treestand accidents this early in the season is a concern.

“This is a lot of accidents for it only being through November,” she said. “Last year, we had 13 treestand accidents (two fatalities), and I think it was 12 the year before. With seven this early in the season, I hope hunters will hear about these incidents and take treestand safety more seriously. It takes only one misstep to cause serious injury or even death if you’re not wearing your safety harness and using the safety equipment.

“And we are stressing that hunters should make sure they are connected to the tree in some way when they are climbing and descending the tree. We have had several accidents where hunters have been wearing their safety harness but they fell going up or coming down the tree. There are products available now that keep hunters attached to the tree at all times. We want it to hit home that people need to be connected when their feet leave the ground until their feet hit the ground at the end of the hunt.”

Two Alabama-based companies make products that keep hunters attached while they are using ladder stands or hang-on treestands. Hunter Safety System makes the Lifeline, while Summit Treestands makes a 30-foot safety line.

Futral said she didn’t have the final report on the firearms fatality at this time.

“From what I’ve gathered from news reports, the mentor was handing the rifle down to the 15-year-old when it discharged, striking the youth in the chest,” she said. “That breaks the rules of unloading your firearm before you climb into or out of your stand, and never point your firearm at anything you don’t want to shoot.”

Two other firearms-related incidents occurred on a dove field where two hunters were peppered by shot from other hunters. No serious injuries were reported.

Futral reminds hunters of the 10 commandments of firearms safety:

  1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
  2. Control the muzzle of your firearm. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction; never point a firearm at anything that you do not wish to shoot, and insist that your shooting and hunting companions do the same.
  3. Be sure of your target and beyond. Positively identify your target before you fire, and make sure there are no people, livestock, roads or buildings beyond the target.
  4. Never shoot at water or a hard, flat surface. A ricocheting bullet cannot be controlled.
  5. Don’t use a scope for target identification; use binoculars.
  6. Never climb a tree, cross a fence or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.
  7. Store guns and ammunition separately. Store firearms under lock and key, and use a gun case to transport firearms.
  8. Make sure your barrel and action are clear of all obstructions.
  9. Unload firearms when not in use. Never take someone else’s word that a firearm is unloaded. Check yourself.
  10. Avoid drugs and alcohol when hunting or shooting. Even some over-the-counter medicines can cause impairment.

PHOTOS: Most treestand accidents can be prevented if hunters use a full-body safety harness and have it attached to the tree at all times after leaving the ground. New products allow hunters to remain attached to the tree while climbing into and descending from ladder or hang-on treestands.

5 months ago

David Rainer: Mark your Christmas calendars with these magical Alabama state park events

(David Rainer)
(David Rainer)



Christmas music is wafting through the air everywhere you go these days, and the Alabama State Parks System will embrace that theme throughout December.

The holiday celebrations began on Dec. 1 with Santa’s Underground Workshop at Rickwood Caverns State Park near Warrior, just north of Birmingham. Santa greeted visitors in the cave, which is decorated with Christmas lights. The Underground Workshop will be open through Dec. 23. Admission is $10.

Even if you don’t want to see Santa, a trip through Rickwood Caverns is worth the effort. The limestone cave is estimated to be about 260 million years old. The cave is about a mile long with a path of 4,962 feet that descends 175 feet underground. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to take the tour of the caverns.

A tour of Rickwood Caverns is strictly done on foot, so be aware it’s going to take a little effort to see the caverns. The cave features the Bridal Room, where couples once chose to exchange wedding vows. There’s the Diamond Room, named for the sparkling quartz and mineral deposits on the ceiling, while the Animal Room gets its name from the formations that appear to be different animals – a rabbit, bear, alligator, shark and Dachshund dog.

Heading south, Gulf State Park will hold its Coastal Christmas Party from 1-3 p.m. Dec. 3. Activities include photos with Santa, a children’s choir performance, nature holiday crafts, s’mores made in the fireplace and hot chocolate and cookies.

One of the most cherished events of the Christmas season is the Parade of Lights at Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville on Dec. 9. The 42nd annual event can be viewed from Daniella’s Restaurant, outside along the banks between the lodge and Marina or from a lodge room balcony. A holiday buffet will be served at Daniella’s beginning at 4 p.m. The boats, adorned with a wide array of lights and Christmas decorations, will start the parade along the Tennessee River at 6 p.m. To participate in the parade, call 256-247-6971 or email Joe Wheeler by clicking here.

Cheaha State Park near Anniston has two special events coming up during the holiday season. On Dec. 10, the kids can visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus to discuss their wish lists for Christmas with hot cocoa and cookies.

On Dec. 22, Cheaha will hold a “Mount Crumpit (aka Grinch Mountain) Christmas” from 9-10 a.m. Storyteller Renee Raney will entertain the children with an interactive reading of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” A breakfast buffet with green eggs and ham and Cindy Lou Who pancakes will follow. Space is limited for both events, however, so call 256-225-2188 to purchase tickets or email Renee Raney by clicking here to reserve a space. Tickets are $10 for the Dec. 10 event and $15 for the Grinch celebration.

For those who just love good eats and beautiful scenery, it’s hard to beat the Lake Guntersville State Park holiday buffet each Saturday during December, leading up to the annual Christmas Day Dinner Buffet. The Circle will entertain at the Christmas event with the sounds of the season. Call 256-571-5444 for more information.

In southeast Alabama, Lakepoint Resort State Park will hold its Christmas Buffet at the Water’s Edge Restaurant from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Christmas Day. Call 334-687-8011 for reservations.

For those who want to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, DeSoto State Park near Fort Payne has just the right answer with its Discover DeSoto Package. Couples can stay for $79 per night at the lodge with the following morning’s breakfast included. Call the lodge at 256-845-5380, or visit this link to make reservations.

If you want to do a little more than relax at DeSoto, consider the Wild Breakfast & Nature Experience that is available for $60 for a family of four.

Robert Wilson, a naturalist and wildcraft specialist, will offer a selection of natural harvested (gluten free) grains for a catered pancake breakfast, complete with natural syrups derived from local blackberries or maple and hickory trees. Chaga or sassafras tea rounds out the menu. After breakfast, Wilson will help families make journals from natural materials, followed by a forest discovery walk with Wilson pointing out the vast flora and fauna of beautiful DeSoto State Park.

And veterans, don’t forget about the new Parks for Patriots program Alabama State Parks implemented in November that provides veterans with free admission to any state park, park facility or day use area that charges an entrance fee – including boat ramps and the Gulf State Park pier.

Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks Director, said State Parks has offered free admission to veterans on Veterans Day, but expanding the free admission is the “least we can do for those who have made our freedom possible.”

A close connection between veterans and the State Parks System has been in existence for a very long time. Several Alabama State Parks were built with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which gave many World War I veterans a job during the Great Depression. DeSoto State Park has a small museum honoring the CCC contribution to the park.

For those who want to support the Parks for Patriots program, the general public can make contributions to the program for any dollar amount. This will be used only to fund free entry for veterans from any branch of the U.S. military.

Sponsorship contributions to the Parks for Patriots program can be made in three ways. Visit this link to make an online contribution. Cash-only contributions can be made at any manned park gate, while cash or credit card sponsorships can be made at most point-of-sale cash registers in park offices, restaurants, camp stores and golf shops. Contributions will be utilized at the park in which they are made. Online contributors will be able to designate the park of their choice.

Visit this link to learn more about the Parks for Patriots program.

For those who might want to walk off a few of those added holiday pounds, six Alabama State Parks will participate in the nationwide First Day Hike Program. Joe Wheeler, Monte Sano, Lake Guntersville, DeSoto, Oak Mountain and Cheaha will offer guided hikes on New Year’s Day.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.

5 months ago

David Rainer: Alabama program teaches newbie hunters the ropes

Bryan Nettles bagged his first deer on an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Adult Mentored Hunts with the help of NWTF volunteer Gary Turner. (David Rainer)
Bryan Nettles bagged his first deer on an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
Adult Mentored Hunt with the help of NWTF volunteer Gary Turner. (David Rainer)



Bryan Nettles of Mobile is of a generation that doesn’t have the connection to the outdoors that I and my Baby Boomer hunting buddies have.

We stayed outdoors and followed in our fathers’ (or mentors’) footsteps into the world of hunting, for both recreation and sustenance.

However, like many from the later generations, Nettles just needed a little nudge to join the hunting community, and he found that encouragement in the form of an Alabama Mentored Hunt.

“I had some interest in hunting, but I didn’t hunt at all when I was growing up,” Nettles said. “My father hunted some up in Monroe County, but it was bird hunting and not deer hunting. I’ve got some friends who hunt. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had an interest in hunting.

“I’ve been invited by my friends to go a few times. Not knowing much about it, I always turned those down. But my son (7-year-old Michael) started showing an interest last year, so we signed up for the hunter education class.”

Daniel Musselwhite, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ South Regional Hunter Education Coordinator, polled the class attendees about their hunting experience. Nettles raised his hand when Musselwhite asked if anyone had never hunted.

Musselwhite approached Nettles at the end of the first day’s class and mentioned the mentored hunts, which he and Jeremy Doss, an Alabama State Lands Division Enforcement Officer, had started in Mobile County on the Frey Tract, a piece of property owned by the Forever Wild Land Trust.

After a successful launch to the program, the Mobile County School Board learned about the mentored hunts and allowed their Russell Road tract to be used in the program. The Mobile County School Board also allowed the mentored hunt participants to use the Girl Scout camp located between those two tracts for their classroom activities.

After Musselwhite gave him the information, Nettles signed up for one of the mentored hunts in Mobile County and was able to gain a great deal of information even before the hunt started.

“After we had the hunter education part, I was able to talk to a lot of people who were hunters,” he said. “Then Jeremy talked to us about firearms safety and got us comfortable shooting at targets at 100 yards. The mentor was really nice. Gary Turner with the NWTF (National Wild Turkey Federation) was my mentor. We went over what we were looking for while we were sitting in the stand.

“I didn’t know how quiet you needed to be or how much you could move. It was nice to be able to find that out with the mentor there.”

As is most often the case for deer hunting in Alabama, there are long periods of little action, followed by heart-pounding excitement.

“I was beginning to think we weren’t going to see anything,” Nettles said. “Right at sundown, there was nothing out there. Then, all of a sudden, there were three or four deer out there. Gary talked to me about staying calm and waiting for the right shot. They walked behind a little stand of pine trees, which was nice because it allowed me to calm down. Gary told me they would be back. About 10 minutes later, they came back and I was able to get a shot. Gary told me to take my time. I thought I might be taking too much time.”

When the rifle fired, the deer bolted into the woods, and Nettles had no idea if the shot was accurate.

“I wasn’t watching as closely as I should have,” he said. “After the shot, I was just shaking because of the rush of the adrenalin. Gary told me take my time and pack up my stuff. Gary watched where the deer went into the woods. We got down and he talked to me about finding where the deer left the field. Then he talked about finding blood and following the trail. It didn’t take long to find the deer. It didn’t go but about 30 yards.”

Nettles admitted that experience stoked a desire to continue his hunting career and to bring his son along.

“Right then I started trying to find a gun for my son,” he said. “I had bought a gun for me before the hunt. We spent most of the summer trying to find a place to hunt. We decided to get into the lease to have somewhere private to go and set up our blinds. I would have never done that if it hadn’t been for that mentored hunt. My 12-year-old daughter, Meg, and 6-year-old son, William, are warming up to the idea of hunting, but Michael is gung ho.

“Since that hunt, my son and I go to the Outdoor Alabama website and find out what’s available. Because of that, we participated in one of the trapping workshops in Citronelle. We also went on a youth dove hunt this year. And I’ve told several people about the mentored hunts since then.”

Nettles’ mentored hunt was a one-day experience. However, for the ultimate Alabama Mentored Hunt, WFF recently teamed with Forever Wild again to acquire the Cedar Creek Special Opportunity Area, a 6,500-acre property in Dallas County. Cedar Creek will hold six mentored hunts, three three-day deer hunts, one-day hunts for rabbits and squirrels and a two-day turkey hunt. The lucky applicants will be able to experience what it would be like at one of Alabama’s commercial hunting lodges for the deer and turkey hunts.

“One-day hunts are great, but what we are wanting to reproduce with this program at Cedar Creek is the whole hunting club experience we all had growing up,” said Chuck Sykes, WFF Director. “This weekend hunting trip will include firearm safety, tree stand safety, habitat analysis, game processing, wild game cooking, and most importantly quality campfire discussions.  All mentors and hunters will stay together at a centralized location and spend quality time together both in the woods and around the camp.  It will be a great experience for the new hunters as well as the mentors.”

Musselwhite said as the average age of hunters in Alabama gets higher, it’s imperative that outreach focuses on the younger generations.

“The average hunting license buyer is in their mid-50s,” Musselwhite said. “So, we’re trying to get the age groups from the 20s to even the 50s introduced to the outdoors, whether it’s hunting or just watching wildlife. We’re low pressure. If they don’t want to squeeze the trigger, we’re fine with that.

“We’ve seen situations like Bryan’s, where people have turned down invitations because they don’t want to ask what they feel are stupid questions. They feel intimidated when they’re around more-experienced hunters.”

Doss and Musselwhite said participants feel better prepared after sessions on hunter education, time on the shooting range and discussions about deer biology and shot placement.

Quality mentors are also a significant factor in the new hunter’s experience, which is why volunteers from the NWTF are so important to the Mobile County hunts.

“The NWTF has been a great partner,” Doss said. “They not only provide mentors for the hunt, they provide lunches for the hunters, help us clean deer, clean up or whatever.”

Musselwhite added, “The guys from the NWTF are at that stage of hunting where they are more excited to see someone else shoot their first deer than if they were shooting. It reminds them of taking their first deer.”

Five mentored hunts are planned for the Mobile County properties with a total of eight mentored hunters per hunt.

To apply for a mentored hunt event, download and complete the application. Applicants should be at least 19 years old, possess a valid driver’s license, and be new to hunting or have limited hunting experience. Applications for multiple mentored hunts will be accepted, but you may be selected for only one, depending on the number of applicants.

Email the completed form to Justion Grider. All mentored hunt program correspondence is through email, so be sure to include a valid email address on your application. Applicants will receive an email when their application is received, and those selected for a mentored hunt event will be notified by email.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.

5 months ago

Sweet Gun Alabama: The yellowhammer state has nation’s highest concentration of concealed weapon permits

(Photo: Ibro Palic
(Photo: Ibro Palic



Alabama’s motto is “We dare defend our rights,” and judging by the number of people packing heat across our state, we’re more than ready to back that up.

A recent study from the Crime Prevention Research Center indicates that Alabama has the nation’s highest concentration of concealed weapon permits.

The study found that about 755,000 adults in Alabama, or slightly more than 20 percent of the adult population, are licensed to carry concealed weapons. Indiana is second in the nation, with nearly 16 percent of its adults holding permits and South Dakota third, with about 14 percent.

There are even efforts underway to allow concealed carry without a permit, a move supported by the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, news of the popularity of concealed carry in Alabama comes as no surprise considering our state’s well-known support for the Second Amendment, and requests for permits are on the rise.

“The numbers are going up each month,” Elmore County Sherriff Bill Franklin recently told the Montgomery Advertiser. “But if there is a serious crime in the nation, or an unusually serious crime in Alabama or even here in Elmore County, we’ll see a spike in applications over the next few days after the crime occurs.”

The Crime Prevention Research Center also published a series of graphs demonstrating a rapid rise in Internet searches about concealed carry following the school shootings in Newtown school, the Umpqua Community College shooting, the Paris terror attack, the San Bernardino shooting and the Orlando nightclub shooting.

Because Alabama doesn’t keep statewide data on this issue, the CPRC collected information from seven counties with 37 percent of the state’s population – Baldwin, Cullman, Madison, Montgomery, Jackson, Jefferson, and Shelby – and assumed that sample represented the entire state.

To learn more about conceal carry and your Second Amendment rights, come to one of the two NRA town hall events this weekend in Alabama:

Huntsville: 7-9 p.m. tonight, at Cabela’s, 7090 Cabela Drive NW.

Birmingham, 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Hoover Tactical Firearms, 1561 Montgomery Highway.

Jeremy Beaman is a Huntsville-native in his final year at the University of Mobile. He spent the summer of 2017 with the Washington Examiner and writes for The College Fix. Follow him on Twitter @jeremywbeaman.
5 months ago

David Rainer: Alabama hunters, don’t make this mistake when going into the woods

Brad Williamson of Quint’s Sporting Goods in Saraland, Ala., checks a scope (David Rainer)
Brad Williamson of Quint’s Sporting Goods in Saraland, Ala., checks a scope (David Rainer)



The buck of your dreams steps into the open. You try to remain calm and get ready for the shot. You place the crosshairs of your trusty scope-rifle combination on the deer’s shoulder and squeeze the trigger.

As the boom echoes across the bottom, the buck snaps his head to attention and then darts into the thicket with his white tail pointed skyward, indicating a clean miss.

What just happened? The scope had always been dead on, an inch high at 100 yards.

However, when you get back to camp and fire a test shot, the projectile lands 6 inches low at 100 yards.

That is why Brad Williamson at Quint’s Sporting Goods in Saraland, Ala., always urges customers to check their rifles before they head to the field on the opening day of gun deer season, which happens to be Nov. 18 this year.

Williamson, the son of Del and Sandra Williamson, has grown up in the sporting goods business, and he’s seen quite a few distraught hunters come in the store on Mondays to tell how they missed the big one.

“If you didn’t move anything and you go to the range, nine times out of 10, the gun will be shooting where you left it,” Williamson said. “That one time out of 10 is what’s going to cause you to lose your big buck opening weekend. We hear a lot, ‘Well, I’ve never had to touch that gun. I missed that deer, but it’s always been dead-on every year.’ Maybe last year as you were coming down out of your climbing stand or your ladder stand, you bumped it or it fell over or took a jar on a four-wheeler. Most scopes are built to where if they take a jar or bump they return to zero. But it’s still an optic on top of a rifle, and sometimes they can get out of alignment.

“What we see a lot is a lot of guys hunt hard at the end of the year, during the rut. They’re hunting in the rain or pulling tree stands out of the woods at the end of the season and neglect their guns. They put their firearms up wet sometimes. They don’t clean the barrels like they should. They’re wondering why their gun is not shooting as good. It’s because the gun had a rough end to the year.”

This is a busy time of year for the firearms department at Quint’s. Many hunters in the area bring their firearms to get them cleaned and checked out to ensure the point of impact has not changed.

If you’re going to get your gun ready yourself, Williamson suggests running a patch down the barrel to clean out any powder residue, followed by a patch lightly saturated with a powder solvent. If the barrel has been neglected and you can see rust or discoloration in the barrel after running that first patch through, it may be necessary to run a bore brush down the barrel several times to remove the rust. Follow all the cleaning with dry patches until they come out clean.

“If I’m putting a gun up at the end of the year, I put a drop or two of gun oil on a patch to run down the barrel,” he said. “When I get that gun out before the season, I’ll run a patch through the barrel to get that oil residue out. I shoot a fouling shot, and then check for accuracy.”

Typically, a missed shot from an experienced hunter can often be traced back to the riflescope and its mounting system. With the Redfield- and Leupold-style mount with windage screws to adjust the rear mount, Williamson always makes sure those screws are still tight.

Then he moves to the ring screws that hold the scope in the mount. Make sure they’re tight but don’t overtighten. A little touch of blue Loc-Tite on the threads of the screws for the rings and bases will help keep anything from coming loose.

“If you’re trying to troubleshoot something and you don’t think it’s your barrel or your scope, sometimes you have to check your base screws,” Williamson said. “Unfortunately, you have to pull the scope off to get to the bases, which costs you some more ammo to get back on target. But sometimes that’s what you have to do.”

Once the scope mount is secure and the barrel is clean, if you’re still having accuracy issues, Williamson suggests moving to the ammunition component.

“Make sure you’re shooting the same ammo you had last year,” he said. “We’ve had cases where different brands of ammo or different bullet weights would be several inches apart on the target. Some people will tell you brands don’t matter. That might be true at 50 or 75 yards or maybe even out to 100 yards. Those shots might stay in the kill zone of a deer. But if you do get the opportunity to shoot at a deer at 300 yards, and the gun is shooting a little low at 100, you’re going to be way off at 300 yards.

“Ammunition does make a difference, especially when it comes to shooting different weights of bullets like 150-grain or 180-grain. Some people remember that forever, but some don’t even remember what brand ammo they shot last year. More times than you can believe, we’ll have a gun come in with the shell holder on the stock, and it will be filled with ammo with different bullet weights. So, make sure you’re shooting the same brand and bullet weight.”

Occasionally, the scopes will fail, and there’s no repair facility at the local sporting goods store.

“If you see fog in the scope, the seals have failed,” Williamson said. “There is nobody locally who can fix that. It has to go back to the factory. The scopes are nitrogen-filled. The seals have to be replaced and then refilled with nitrogen to make them waterproof and fogproof.

“If your scope fogged up last year, it’s going to fog up this year. And it will probably be at the worst possible time. It’s going to happen as the sun comes up and the temperature changes. Then you’re not going to be able to see through the scope. And remember, you get what you pay for in scopes.”

Quality optics are especially important for folks like me, who are getting a little long in the tooth and don’t see nearly as well as they once did.

“As you get older, your eyesight fades and scopes become more important,” Williamson said. “What your son or daughter is seeing through the scope is different from what you’re seeing. Buying a combo gun with a scope already mounted will get you in the woods, but there are better options.”

During his years behind the gun counter, Williamson hasn’t seen it all when it comes to firearms and optics, but he thinks he’s getting close. The store has a 100-yard range where they sight in rifles, sometimes up to 40 a day.

“One day we had a guy come in who wanted to know if we sighted in scopes,” he said. “We told him we did. He proceeded to hand us his scope and wanted us to sight it in. But he didn’t have his rifle with him. We told him we would have to have the rifle and the scope to be able to sight it in.

“We’ve had guns come in with the scopes mounted backwards. Some people have mounted their own scopes and used a base that is not designed for their rifle. They might have a Weaver-style base for a Marlin 30-30 on a bolt-action rifle. They could only get two of the screw holes to line up. So instead of four base screws, it only had two. The guy couldn’t get it to shoot, so he brought it to us. We ended up taking the scope off and found out he had a Marlin base on a Remington rifle.”

And don’t get Williamson started on some of the things that have come out of the gun barrels.

“We’ve had everything you can imagine, from dirt dauber nests to completely plugged with mud,” he said. “And you’ve got to be extremely careful. You can bulge a barrel with just water or oil in the barrel. If there is an obstruction, that barrel will likely explode.”

“You’ve got to check your barrel to make sure it’s clear of any obstructions.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.

5 months ago

Mobile-Tensaw Delta’s fall magic is happening now

Patric Garmeson (David Rainer)
Patric Garmeson fishing (David Rainer)


Fall is a magical time on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The white pelicans execute their synchronized flying patterns as mullet leap for the sky for no apparent reason. In the distance, the spray from their spouts reveals a pod of dolphins on the hunt as they surround a school of baitfish.

Oh, and the best part – the fish are biting. The inshore fish like speckled trout, redfish and flounder travel up Mobile Bay and end up on either side of Battleship Parkway (Causeway) this time of year as the salinity slowly increases in parts north, and the baitfish and shrimp head into the estuaries.

Patric Garmeson of Ugly Fishing Charters is from the young generation of guides who take full advantage of this angling opportunity in the fall. Savvy in all things social media, Garmeson spreads the word about the fishing in the Delta through platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

In the Delta proper, where the five rivers – Mobile, Tensaw, Spanish, Apalachee and Blakeley – form the area rich in natural resources and unparalleled biodiversity, the fishing is dictated more by river flow than cold temperatures. If upstate rain causes the Tombigbee and Alabama rivers to rise significantly, that freshwater flushes through the Delta and will chase the saltwater species back into Mobile Bay and points south.

If the winter rains hold off, the saltwater will continue to inch northward, and the fish will follow.

On our trip last week, Garmeson and I found fish mainly within sight of the Causeway because of a recent rain event that dropped up to 6 inches on Baldwin County. The good news is that freshwater went away fairly rapidly, but it did keep the inshore species from advancing very far up the Delta.

“Typically, we see this fishing in the Delta lasting until Christmas,” Garmeson said. “When it gets cold, then you’ll see the deeper-water areas like Theodore Industrial Canal and the Mobile River start to be productive.

“If you’re tough enough and can handle the cold, you can catch fish all winter. I love fishing this time of year. If the water isn’t pouring out of these rivers on these big rises, you can catch these fish until March. I know guys who have caught fish in Raft, Tensaw and Spanish in that February-March timeframe.”

Garmeson said we started our trip in the channels just south of the Causeway because of a little higher salinity level and an abundance of baitfish.

“You’ve got pogeys (menhaden), shad and glass minnows, so there’s a lot more forage in that area right now,” he said.

We threw grubs on lead-head jigs, tandem Road Runner rigs designed for crappie, and grubs a couple of feet under popping corks. While the jig-grub combination produced slightly larger fish, including a beautiful, 25-inch redfish, better numbers came on the jig under a popping cork, which produces a noise that sounds like trout feeding. The popping cork rig produced trout when the plain grub was ignored.

“We caught them from the bottom of the water column to the top in 7 to 10 feet of water this morning,” Garmeson said. “That bite could last well into December, but those fish may shoot up the rivers following the bait. There are a lot of fish staging up, getting ready to move into the Delta.

“Cold weather seems to be a big factor. They’re going to follow the salinity, but they’re going to move every time you get a good cold front. This last front kind of bunched these fish up and dictates what they do next, which is likely to move up the rivers and look for deeper water where the water temperatures are more consistent. That’s my theory, anyway.”

When the fish do vacate the ditches south of the Causeway, Garmeson said he starts looking for mullet jumping to guide him to his target species of specks and reds.

“While it’s still cool to warm, I want to see some mullet jumping,” he said. “We ran a good ways upriver and we quit seeing mullet. We came back down to where the mullet were jumping and we started catching fish again. If you’re not getting (the boat) up on plane to run around looking for fish, if you just want to troll along and keep an eye on your fish finder, you’re going to be able to see schools of fish. When we ran way up Raft River, I wasn’t marking much on my fish finder, so it was a pretty easy decision to leave. That’s not to say there weren’t any fish up there, but it wasn’t worth the time to stay up there and try to find them.”

Garmeson said anglers who fish the Delta in the fall should be prepared with a variety of baits, both live and artificial.

“Up until this last cold front, you had to have some kind of live bait, whether pogeys or live shrimp,” he said. “Topwater fishing was pretty good until the sun came up. Then you had to have something live to get a bite. On the last couple of trips, we’ve been catching them on a Yum Mud Minnow (plastic minnow bait).

“In September, you could catch a few on the Mud Minnow to find out where the fish were, but you caught more fish on live bait. Now, it seems to have swapped around.”

Garmeson admitted his choice of bait colors happened by laziness. He had asked one of his friends who fishes one of the redfish tournament tours about what grub color to use to catch fish in the Louisiana marsh. The grub had black sides, a glitter belly and a chartreuse paddle tail.

“I got back from Louisiana and still had these grubs tied on,” he said. “I just started throwing them in the Delta and the fish were nailing them. Been throwing them ever since.”

When it comes to rigging and equipment, he uses both spinning and bait-casting tackle with medium to medium-heavy rods, depending on whether he expects to encounter decent-sized redfish. Garmeson uses 20-pound braided line with a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.

“I don’t think the leader makes a lot of difference,” he said. “There are times when I get in really still areas where I want to freeline a bait, I might drop down a little on the leader size. But most of the time I still go with 20-pound braid and 20-pound leader.”

Before the water temperature cools much more, anglers will likely encounter quite a few fish under the 14-inch minimum on speckled trout. As the temps continue to fall, the fishing gets even better.

“My magic temperature range is 52 to 62 for bigger fish,” Garmeson said. “Until it gets down to that range, you may catch fish on flocks of birds around schools of trout. Most of those fish may be undersized. Those larger fish get active when it gets below 62, and that’s when I feel like I can catch big fish.”

Garmeson and his family can catch some good fish before that perfect temperature range arrives. Just last weekend, his son, Cooper, took first place in redfish and second place in speckled trout in the junior division at the Marsh Madness Fall Fishing Tournament in the Delta.

For information, visit or call 251-747-1554.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.


5 months ago

Yellowhammer News begins carrying award-winning outdoor writer

David Rainer

Yellowhammer News will begin carrying a regular weekly column by David Rainer, an award-winning outdoor writer.

“David is well known and well respected among Alabama’s outdoorsmen,” said the site’s editor, J. Pepper Bryars. “He has hunted and fished across the state with some of the best in the sport, and his insights, advice, and stories will be extremely valuable to our readers.”

Rainer, the former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.

He now writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.