The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 day ago

ADCNR named Agency of Year at Sportsmen’s Caucus Summit

(ADCNR/Contributed)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently received special recognition by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation with the presentation of the State Agency of the Year Award at the 16th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Greensboro, Georgia.

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is honored to recognize the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as the State Agency of the Year,” said Jeff Crane, CSF President. “The DCNR has been a consistent supporter of CSF, NASC, and the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and, through this support, the Caucus in Alabama has grown tremendously to become a strong and effective voice for sportsmen and women. CSF thanks Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes for their continued support and steadfast dedication to Alabama’s vast natural resources.”

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Hosted by the CSF, this year’s Summit brought together 50 legislators and leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies to discuss the theme “Partners Advancing America’s Conservation Movement: NASC, Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Industry and NGOs.” Topics discussed included promoting hunting and fishing, boating access, chronic wasting disease (CWD), the spread of invasive Asian carp and a variety of other issues affecting sportsmen and women.

“This is the largest gathering of pro-sportsmen legislators who come together to discuss issues that are of great importance to our hunting and angling traditions,” Crane said. “The 16th Annual NASC Summit was successful in that it brought together our bipartisan caucus leaders and members, fish and wildlife agency leaders, NGO (non-governmental organizations) representatives, and leading industry partners to focus on how to advance opportunities for sportsmen and women and to ensure sound, science-driven conservation policies are enacted.”

DCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship said he was elated that the Department was awarded the CSF’s State Agency of the Year.

“We were very happy that we were recognized for multiple initiatives by the Department,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Foundation noted several reasons for the recognition, starting with Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and all the work that has been done with red snapper. Alabama has been the leader in securing the state management of red snapper. The work we did in Congress helped inform the legislators on the issues on the Gulf Coast with the short seasons. We were able to work with the congressional delegations in Washington to implement the exempted fishing program (EFP) for the past two years and then win approval of management for the long-term.”

The EFP was in effect for the 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons. Each of the Gulf states was given a snapper allocation, and each state managed its allocation.

Alabama’s quota was slightly more than a million pounds of red snapper in each of the two years of the EFP. The timely data from the mandatory Alabama Snapper Check program allowed Marine Resources to manage to the quota each year.

This year the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed regional management of red snapper. That amendment is awaiting the signature of the Secretary of Commerce and will go into effect for 2020 and beyond.

“The Foundation also recognized the work that Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes is doing with Senator (Doug) Jones (D-Alabama) and Senator (Cindy) Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) concerning funding for CWD research as well as the work Chuck is doing as the president of SEAFWA (Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) on a myriad of hunting and fishing initiatives,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have also worked with Senator (Richard) Shelby (R-Alabama) and, to a lesser extent, Senator (Lamar) Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Senator (Mitch) McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Asian carp issues. We want to reduce Asian carp populations in Tennessee and Kentucky rivers and keep them contained in the rivers upstream that flow into Alabama.”

WFF’s Sykes said a great deal of the recognition from the CSF was due to Alabama’s willingness to meet and discuss the issues that are facing the nation’s sportsmen and women.

“The Department has allowed me to come to the CSF’s Summits to share a variety of programs we are doing,” said Sykes, who also serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “I’ve spoken at three of the last four events. The hunting and fishing days that the Department has promoted were mentioned as well as our CWD response plan and major educational campaign. The Foundation said they appreciated the time I had taken to come and participate in roundtable discussions with legislators around the country on important issues, from funding to our R3 efforts.”

The R3 effort stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. Those R3 activities try to recruit new participants or increase participation rates of current or lapsed outdoor enthusiasts.

Sykes also said the Foundation recognized the contributions of the WFF’s Special Opportunity Area (SOA) and adult mentored hunting programs, programs in the Alabama Black Belt and the promotion of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Day annually to help educate legislators on outdoors issues and improve Caucus participation and increase Caucus membership.

“Our legislators were happy to see the Department recognized,” Sykes said.

Commissioner Blankenship said the State Lands Division, under Director Patti McCurdy, contributed through its efforts to expand public boating access in Alabama. McCurdy has worked with the staffs in D.C. to continue to promote recreational access funding in Coastal Alabama. Through several funding sources, improvements to boating and angling access are planned for Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island, the Intracoastal Waterway in Baldwin County, and the Middleton Causeway site on Battleship Parkway at the north end of Mobile Bay, Foley and Daphne.

Commissioner Blankenship also cited the work of Bee Frederick, who was the CSF’s representative in Alabama until recently, for holding annual events in Montgomery to promote the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

“Bee was very helpful in getting the legislators more involved in hunting and fishing issues and helping us provide the scientific and management information to make informed decisions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Caucus’ legislative agenda has been very helpful for the Department and people who hunt and fish in Alabama. The award highlights the work we do in Washington and in Montgomery with the Alabama Legislature. I think those relationships we built in Washington and here at the State House are very valuable when issues come up that affect sportsmen and women. We can pick up the phone and discuss the issues with the legislators or their staff. I think we have built a great amount of trust that we will provide them with balanced information so they can make good decisions.”

Other than naming the Alabama DCNR as State Agency of the Year, the CSF handed out several other awards at the Georgia Summit.

The Friends of NASC Award went to Shimano American Corp. and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.

NASC Heritage Awards were presented to Rep. David Wilson (CT), Sen. Mike Bell (TN), Sen. Mark Allen (OK), and Rep. Casey Snider (UT).

During the Summit, CSF announced the signing of a partnership with Birmingham-based B.A.S.S. to further conservation efforts. Safari Club International (SCI) was also recognized for its long-standing financial support of NASC and the annual summit.

Founded in 1989, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was formed to work with Congress, governors, and state legislatures to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.

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.

1 week ago

Hunting and fishing boost Black Belt economy

Quail hunting is one of the staple activities at numerous hunting lodges in the Alabama Black Belt. (Alabama Outdoors/Contributed)

With other areas of Alabama enjoying an economic boon in manufacturing and industry, one well-known area of the state has discovered its treasure lies in its fertile soil and natural resources.

The Alabama Black Belt’s treasure is found in its abundant wildlife and fisheries with the multi-species hunting and angling opportunities and the significant economic boosts those provide.

At a press conference and book-signing event held at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery last week, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) revealed the results of a study on the economic impact of hunting and fishing in the Black Belt, a swath of counties that cuts across the middle of the state.

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The Black Belt counties are Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

“You may not know that hunting and fishing in the Black Belt generates $1 billion of economic impact and provides thousands of jobs throughout the 23-county area,” said Thomas Harris, ALBBAA president and founder. “There are over 11 million acres that are truly unique in this country with its abundance of wildlife, culture and heritage. These assets are on the ground and under our feet. Our mission has been to energize these assets and recruit these eco-tourism dollars to the region. This is a rural economic development program that is working. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a leadership team and dedicated team of board members who are passionate about promoting and branding nationally the Alabama Black Belt Adventures as the premier destination for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.”

Alabama State Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said the impact ALBBAA has on the area has been “tremendous.”

“Being a son of the soil, I want to thank the Black Belt Adventures for their dedication to the area known as the Black Belt,” Sen. Singleton said. “While we may not be inundated with a lot of industries with smokestacks, we are inundated with a successful industry called wildlife. As an avid hunter and fisherman myself, I enjoy the Black Belt as much as those who travel to the Black Belt to enjoy our rich culture. We look forward to hunters and fishermen who come into our area to visit our lodges, who come into the area to see and visit our historic civil rights sites. We welcome them to the area. We love to hear about that $1 billion industry in the Black Belt.”

ALBBAA commissioned Southeast Research to study the economic impact of outdoors activities in the Black Belt. The research company derived its economic impact report from data from a national study from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association. Hunting and fishing license holders who had shared their email addresses with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) were also polled by the research company.

The study revealed that spending by sportsmen and women in the Black Belt supports 24,716 jobs, resulting in salaries and wages of $364 million, state and local taxes of $62 million, a $28 million contribution to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund, and a total economic impact of more than $1 billion.

“Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation are part of the way of life in Alabama, and especially important in the Black Belt,” said ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “I have enjoyed participating on the Board of Alabama Black Belt Adventures to promote this portion of Alabama. These 23 counties contain some of the best hunting land anywhere in the United States. It produces big bucks and turkeys, as well as big bass and crappie in the lakes and waterways. There are some pretty special small towns and special people in the Black Belt. I hope more people will venture out into this beautiful part of Alabama and visit the small-town shops and eclectic restaurants and attractions that really show some of the best of Alabama.”

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes grew up in the Black Belt and has witnessed its emergence as the destination of choice for hunters and anglers.

“Some of my fondest childhood memories are of hunting with my father in Choctaw County,” Sykes said. “Those early years hunting and fishing in the Black Belt shaped me into who I am today. That love of hunting and the outdoors fueled my desire to attend Auburn University and pursue a degree in Wildlife Science. Since that time, I’ve dedicated my career to managing wildlife, either through one-on-one landowner consultations or now in my current position. Not only is hunting a way of life and a time-honored tradition, but I’d bet many of the little towns in the Black Belt would dry up and go away without hunters and fishermen.”

Statewide in Alabama, outdoor recreation supports 73,553 jobs, providing $1.1 billion in salaries and wages, $185 million in state and local taxes and $84 million for the Alabama Education Trust Fund. The total economic impact of hunting and fishing in Alabama is $3.2 billion.

Pam Swanner, ALBBAA Executive Director, debuted two new 30-second television advertisements that will reach a quarter of the nation’s households. Gray Television, which acquired Raycom Media early this year, will continue Raycom’s partnership with ALBBAA to air Black Belt tourism commercials on almost 150 affiliates.

Dr. David Bronner, Chief Executive Officer of Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), said the television market has been a boon for the Black Belt, and he wants to continue that outreach through the RSA-controlled print media.

“We were at 12½ percent of the American population, but now we’re up to 25 percent,” Dr. Bronner said. “With Gray Television, you (ALBBAA) are in more than the Southeast. You’re actually in Alaska. You’re in Hawaii. Right about 25 percent of the American population sees you daily. What we want to work on more is our newspaper group. We have 100 daily newspapers in 22 states, from Massachusetts to Texas basically. We can put full-page ads in those pages. We’ll be glad to help with that. For many decades we have tried to do things to impact the Black Belt. It’s extremely difficult. We’ve funded a couple of pulp mills, but when Thomas came to me with this idea, I knew it was something really special. He brought with him Mr. Deer (Jackie Bushman) and Mr. Fish (Ray Scott) – those two guys did our first ads. But I came to thank you, because doing something for the Black Belt is so meaningful for the entire state.”

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said the Alabama Black Belt is special to him for a variety of reasons.

“I love the outdoors,” Lt. Gov. Ainsworth said. “I love Alabama, and I love the Black Belt. I have stories that are personal to me. I was fortunate to kill my first deer with my dad, hunting in Linden, Alabama, when I was 5 years old. I killed my first deer with a bow, hunting in Wilcox County when I was 12. I got to watch both of my sons shoot their first deer in the Black Belt. When you talk about the Black Belt, it’s very personal to me. Being in the hunting industry and traveling around the country, people know about the Black Belt. Just like South Dakota is known for pheasants or other places are known for great fishing. They know about the Black Belt because of what the Association has done. I want to thank Dr. Bronner for helping us get the word out. It’s a huge industry, and we need to continue to promote it. We want to do everything we can to make sure the hunting and fishing industries in the Black Belt continue to be vibrant.”

To celebrate ALBBAA’s 10th anniversary, the new coffee table book “Black Belt Bounty” was unveiled at the press conference. Numerous contributors, including James Beard award-winning Alabama chefs Chris Hastings and David Bancroft, celebrity chef Stacy Lyn Harris, wildlife artists, wildlife photographers and outdoors writers, were on hand for a book-signing event for the deluxe hardcover book that highlights and commemorates the outdoor traditions and culture of the Black Belt. Full disclosure: I had the honor to contribute three stories for the book.

Visit alabamablackbeltadventures.org/blackbeltbountybook/ to purchase “Black Belt Bounty.” It would make a perfect Christmas gift.

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.

2 weeks ago

Study: Hunting, fishing had $3.2 billion impact on Alabama in 2018

(Brittany Dunn/Alabama NewsCenter)

Hunting and fishing in Alabama during 2018 had a $3.2 billion economic impact on the state, according to a new report.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ABBAA) shared that number and others during a news conference Wednesday in Montgomery. Pam Swanner, director of ABBAA, said the report underscores the economic importance hunting and fishing has on Alabama’s economy, especially in rural Alabama’s Black Belt region.

“When we create jobs in this rural area of our state, it releases a tax burden on the rest of the state of Alabama,” Swanner said. “We think we’ve got a great product.”

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Hunting, fishing created $1.1 billion impact on Alabama in 2018 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The report, which Southeast Research compiled for ABBAA, found:

  • Spending by sportsmen and women supports 73,553 jobs
  • Salaries and wages — $1.1 billion
  • State and local taxes generated — $185 million
  • Contribution to Alabama Education Trust Fund — $84 million
  • Total number of hunters – 535,000
  • Total number of anglers – 683,000
  • Hunters spent more than 14.3 million days hunting in Alabama
  • Anglers spent close to 10.9 million days fishing in Alabama
  • Alabama residents accounted for almost 91% of the total spending on hunting and fishing in the state.
  • TOTAL 2018 ECONOMIC IMPACT — $3.2 BILLION

The report also detailed the impact hunting and fishing in the 23 counties of south Alabama known as the Black Belt
had on Alabama’s economy in 2018. More than 40 percent of all those who hunted in Alabama in 2018 were hunting in Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox counties. Other Black Belt hunting and fishing impacts include:

  • Sportsmen’s spending in the Black Belt supports 24,716 jobs
  • Salaries and wages — $364 million
  • State and local taxes generated – $62 million
  • Contribution to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund – $28 million
  • Hunters and anglers spent an estimated 6 million days hunting and 2.3 million days fishing in the Black Belt
  • More than 4 of 10 (42%) of the hunting days in Alabama occurred in the Black Belt. This proportion was higher among non-resident hunters, with about two-thirds (66%) of their hunting days being reported in the Black Belt
  • More than 2 of 10 (21%) of the state’s total fishing days occurred in the Black Belt. This proportion was higher among non-resident anglers, with close to 3 of 10 (29%) fishing days reported in the Black Belt
  • Combined direct spending by resident and non-resident hunters in the Black Belt is estimated at $540 million, accounting for almost 42% of the total spending on hunting in Alabama
  • Combined direct spending by resident and non-resident anglers in the Black Belt is estimated at $166 million, representing almost 21% of the total spending on fishing in Alabama
  • Total visitors – 363,900
  • Total room nights – 2,890,000
  • Number of nights commercial lodge – 57,200
  • Number of nights in a hotel – 276,900
  • Number of nights in campground – 433,100
  • Total lodging tax collection — $1.4 million
  • TOTAL 2018 ECONOMIC IMPACT — $1.1 BILLION

ABBAA founder and president Thomas Harris said the report clearly shows ABBAA is a boost to rural Alabama.

“Our mission is to recruit these eco-tourism dollars to the region,” Harris said. “It is truly a rural economic development program.”

ABBAA also announced two new TV commercials are now airing on 150 TV stations around the country, thanks in large part to financial support from the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). David Bronner, CEO of the RSA, said nearly 25% of the country’s TV viewers see these TV commercials each day.

“When Thomas came to me with this idea, I knew it was something that was really special,” Bronner said. “For many decades, we’ve tried to do things that impacted the Black Belt. It’s extremely difficult. Your effort to do something for the Black Belt is so meaningful to the entire state. Thank you.”

ABBAA, a not-for-profit organization, was created in 2009 to market the region to outdoors enthusiasts across the nation. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said more people outside of Alabama talk to him about Black Belt hunting and fishing.

“They know about the Black Belt,” Ainsworth said. “It’s because of a lot of hard work this association has done and the leadership of Dr. Bronner and making sure we had the means to get out this message.”

To celebrate the association’s 10-year anniversary, ABBAA unveiled “Black Belt Bounty,” a new book celebrating the Black Belt’s hunting and fishing heritage. Among the contributors to the deluxe hardcover book are James Beard award-winning Alabama chefs Chris Hastings and David Bancroft, celebrity chef Stacy Lyn Harris and several wildlife artists, photographers and outdoor writers.

“The book is awesome,” Swanner said. “If you have anyone in your family that enjoys hunting or fishing, this is a must for their Christmas stocking.”

Swanner said the book was made possible through financial support from Alabama Power, Thomas and Cindy Harris, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alabama Conservation and Natural Resource Foundation, Alabama Wildlife FederationPowerSouthUniversity of Alabama Center for Economic DevelopmentUniversity of West AlabamaSumter County Nature TrustAlabama Farmers Federation, and John Hall and Company. To order your copy or to find a retail location near you, visit alabamablackbeltadventures.org/blackbeltbountybook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Alabama’s Fears fuels fire for dutch oven revival

(Alabama Outdoors/Contributed)

Now that the weather has finally cooled, the outdoors takes on a whole new appeal for many in Alabama. Hunting and camping are likely on the agenda, and being able to feed a delicious meal to a group of hunters or campers can often hinge on your upbringing.

If you’re like J. Wayne Fears, who calls Tater Knob in Jackson County, Alabama, home, it means breaking out the cast iron, just as his ancestors did while trapping and living off the land in north Alabama.

What Fears finds interesting is that a new generation is discovering the benefits of cast iron.

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“Millennials are discovering the advantages of cooking on cast iron,” said Fears, a certified wildlife biologist and prolific outdoor writer. “My grandma knew that. Lodge (Manufacturing in Tennessee) had to build another foundry because of the popularity of both the cast iron skillet and the cast iron dutch oven.”

When it comes to cast iron dutch ovens, two different models are available for distinctly different purposes. The flat-bottom dutch oven is made to be used on conventional stovetops, while the dutch oven with legs is designed for outdoor cooking at campfires with coals from the fire or charcoal briquets.

“For camping, you need a dutch oven with three legs and a recessed lid,” said Fears, who held a seminar recently at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association annual conference. “The legs keep the bottom of the dutch oven off the coals, so you don’t burn everything. It has a recessed lid so you can put coals on top to use it for baking.”

Fears honed his dutch oven expertise during numerous years of overseeing hunting operations all over North America, including the western U.S., Canada and Alaska.

“Especially in our remote camps, we depended on dutch ovens to do a heck of a lot of our cooking,” he said.

If you’re planning a hunting or camping trip, or just cooking on an outdoor campfire, Fears recommends certain cast iron cookware to achieve a delicious meal. If you expect to draw a crowd when the smell of the cooking spreads, Fears recommends a No. 12 dutch oven. The No. 12 is the diameter in inches of the pot. Fears said you might need more than one, possibly in different sizes.

“It depends on what you’re cooking, whether it’s a stew and a pan of biscuits. You’re going to need one for each,” he said. “For the stew, I’d recommend a No. 12, and a No. 10 dutch oven so you can cook some cathead biscuits. If you’re going to make a cobbler, you’re going to need another No. 10. You can cook all three, and all of your meal will come out at the same time.”

Fears also recommends that you don’t look for the cheapest dutch oven you can find.

“I want to stress to get a quality dutch oven,” he said. “There are so many dutch ovens made overseas that are pitted or they’ll shatter if you drop them. If you get good quality cast iron, it can be a lifetime investment. In fact, a lot of my dutch ovens are in their third generation.”

Fears doesn’t discount the value of cooking with coals from the campfire if you’re in remote locations. However, if you can take a sack of charcoal briquets with you, your meals will likely be more palatable.

“Charcoal is just better as far as consistency and heat control,” he said. “Most people who cook with dutch ovens can go either way. With a little practice and good hardwood coals from the campfire, you can cook just as good as you can with charcoal. But most people who are just camping will use charcoal briquets because it’s a lot easier to fool with and the temperature is more consistent on top and on bottom.”

Contrary to what you may have seen in western or pioneer movies and TV shows, veteran dutch oven cooks have more heat on top than on bottom.

“You want to use twice as many coals on the lid as on the bottom,” Fears said. “You’re cooking down more than you’re cooking up. Most people, when they first start, they want to stick a dutch oven right in the middle of the campfire and put a few coals on top. Generally, they’ll burn everything on bottom, and it’ll still be rare on top. That’s why you have the lipped cover so the briquets won’t roll off of the top.”

Fears admits to making a “world of mistakes” while learning the fine art of dutch oven cooking and says adjustments have to be made depending on conditions.

“You may have a recipe that says cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes,” he said. “Well, 45 minutes in a dutch oven in Ely, Minnesota, is different than 45 minutes in Montgomery, Alabama. The wind, humidity and outside temperature have effects. You have to learn to see how the conditions affect the cooking. You’ve got to be patient and, every now and then, take a peek at what’s going on in the dutch oven so you can learn what you’re doing. And I rotate the lid about a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so that if you have any hotspots, you’re moving them around.”

Fears also said not to skimp on the amount of charcoal you light when you start cooking.

“Always have plenty of coals,” he said. “If it’s cold, like it is now up on Tater Knob this time of year, you need to have more coals waiting when the first ones are burned up.”

Fears also recommends a pair of heavy-duty gloves because just about everything you touch will be hot. He also recommends lid lifters that are capable of lifting a dutch oven filled with venison stew that might weigh 40 pounds.

“A coat hanger is not going to quite get the job done,” he said.

Fears has also learned that one of the best ways to use a dutch oven is to use it as just that, an oven. He takes a wire rack and places it in the bottom of the cast iron and uses a heavy-duty aluminum pan that fits on top of the wire rack to cook the food.

“The food doesn’t come in contact with the cast iron, and it saves you a ton of time for cleanup,” he said. “Having said that, the easiest way to get started with a dutch oven is to go to the supermarket and get a peach cobbler mix and two cans of peaches. Follow the instructions on the box and cook several cobblers in your dutch oven. You can learn more cooking cobblers than you can anything else. Once you have mastered peach cobbler, move up to stew or chili. Then when you get that mastered, you might want to make sourdough cathead biscuits. It’s not difficult. You just have to get out and actually do it. Anything you can cook in your oven at home, you can cook in a dutch oven. But I burned a lot before I figured it out.”

Fears’ “Lodge Book of Dutch Oven Cooking” is about to be translated into a fourth language. It’s filled with cooking tips and recipes.

“The book is selling really well in Japan right now,” Fears said. “They’re cooking a lot of rice dishes, and it’s easy to burn rice if you’re not careful.”

Of course, when the meal is done, it’s time for cleanup. One cardinal rule prevails when cleaning cast iron.

“Never use soap,” Fears said. “You can get these pot scrubbers that look like chain mail that work really well. If your cobbler spills over, pour hot water in it and hit it with that chain mail scrubber.”

For those looking for Christmas gifts, other than his book, Fears recommends a wire rack, heavy aluminum pan, chain mail scrubber, whisk broom for removing ashes from the lid, a small fireplace shovel to move coals around and a quality lid lifter.

“And wear some good boots or shoes,” Fears said. “No sandals or flip flops. If you do, you’re going to have some interesting scars on your toes.”

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.

2 weeks ago

Alabama county-by-county rankings of largest deer now available for free online

(OutdoorAlabama/YouTube)

Alabama Whitetail Records on Wednesday announced that it has launched a website and phone app allowing hunters to view where each submitted deer ranks across all 67 Yellowhammer State counties.

AWR functions as a state record book for measuring and scoring antlers in Alabama. Previously, these rankings only included deer with large antlers and were only viewable through the hardcover books periodically published by the organization.

Now, all deer are being included in the county-by-county rankings regardless of size. All of the measurements, rankings, pictures and hunting stories are accessible online for free through the new website and phone app.

“We have been working toward this goal for about five years now,” explained Michael Smith, one of the directors of AWR, in a statement.

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“Phase one was building a museum where people could stop in and view some of these wonderful deer,” he outlined. “We finished that in Thomaston, AL, a couple of years ago. Since then our focus has been on bringing the entire records system and rankings to all of the hunters and supporters in the most accessible way possible. We also decided to open up the county rankings to all deer regardless of what size they are. We feel this is a way for everyone to participate and to create a comprehensive database of deer records for each county. We are particularly excited about the great response we are receiving from youth hunters that love having their buck scored and pictures entered into the county rankings.”

Hunters wanting to have their buck scored can utilize the various official stations throughout the state to do so. Hunters can register on the Alabama Whitetail Records website and will be directed to the nearest scoring station.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Renew Our Rivers removes 316,000 pounds of trash from Alabama lakes and rivers in program’s 20th year

(Renew Our Rivers/Contributed)

Renew Our Rivers volunteers removed more than 316,000 pounds of trash and debris from Alabama lakes and rivers in 2019.

More than 4,500 volunteers participated in a cleanup this year, which was Renew Our Rivers’ 20th anniversary. The 2019 campaign went out with a bang and ended with some of the largest cleanups of the year.

One of those was on Lake Demopolis on Oct. 4-5, which witnessed a record turnout.

“We had an excellent turnout this year, and we are so excited to see the Renew Our Rivers program continue to grow in our community,” said organizer Jesse Johnson.

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More than 100 volunteers worked in Demopolis to remove over 23,000 pounds of debris from the lake and surrounding areas.

“This is truly such a community effort. We couldn’t continue to make such a difference without the continuous support from our partners and volunteers,” Johnson said.

The final cleanup of 2019 was held the first weekend of November on Lake Martin.

Despite chilly conditions, more than 220 volunteers turned out to help. Many of those were students, including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire girls, third- and fourth-graders from Stephens Elementary School and student-athletes, clubs and organizations from Central Alabama Community College.

Lake Martin Resource Association president John Thompson said 650 large bags of trash were removed from the shoreline as well as 300-plus bags of litter from nearby roadways.

“This is the 15th LMRA Renew Our Rivers, and each year the participation has grown and the results have increased,” Thompson said. “Lake Martin is without a doubt the cleanest lake in the South, and with the continued help from all these committed, dedicated volunteers, we will be able to keep it that way.”

Since Renew Our Rivers was founded in 2000, more than 120,000 volunteers have removed almost 16 million pounds of trash from waterways across the Southeast.

“We had an increase in the number of volunteers and pounds of trash removed in 2019 from the previous year,” said Mike Clelland, who coordinates Renew Our Rivers for Alabama Power. “We hope to continue that momentum into 2020 and beyond.”

A full calendar of 2020 cleanups will be available in January. To see how you can get involved in the campaign, visit alabamapower.com/renewourrivers.(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Alabama scientist helping oysters grow stronger shells

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A marine scientist at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) has figured out how to help oysters grow heavier and stronger shells, a discovery he says will help oysters rebuild their habitats across the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Lee Smee is a senior marine scientist and chair of University Programs at DISL. His team has discovered an oyster builds stronger, heavier shells when it believes predators are nearby.

“For a little ball of snot, they’re pretty smart,” Smee said.

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Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist helping oysters grow stronger shells from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Smee’s recent findings determined the simple presence of crab urine is enough to trigger an oyster to build a stronger, deeper shell — a shape that increases their chance of survival by up to 15%.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do some chemistry and figure out what the actual molecules are going to be that drive the patterns,” Smee said. “We also know they respond if other oysters are being injured or killed. So, if a crab is eating another oyster, or if you just take an oyster and crush it up, they respond to that as well.”

Smee says he is working with oyster farmers to do more testing on the predator cues. Once he determines which molecules trigger the best reaction in the oysters, he hopes a chemical can be mass-produced and deployed in oyster reefs around the Gulf Coast.

“We want to do the chemistry and figure out what the chemicals are and hopefully that will lead to the hatchery being able to say, ‘add this and this’ to the water,” Smee said. “Then, we want to do this on a big scale and see if it really matters for restoration.”

Smee said he hopes his research will help restore and strengthen oyster habitats across the Gulf Coast.

“Oysters are one of the most important species in the Gulf of Mexico,” Smee said. “They are foundation species. They protect shorelines. They build habitat for other species and protect us from storms and coastal erosion. They filter water. A lot of things we like, like blue crabs and different fish species, count on them for habitat. But, the oysters in Alabama have been disappearing. Harvesting of on-bottom oysters has been closed for a couple of years. We’re hoping our research takes some steps forward to rebuild the fishery and recover some of those important aspects that oysters provide.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Military active duty, veterans get extra waterfowl hunting days

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Active duty military and military veterans will have two extra days to pursue waterfowl in Alabama this season under new federal guidelines. Those military personnel and veterans will be able to hunt waterfowl on November 23, 2019, and February 8, 2020, the same dates as the Alabama Special Youth Waterfowl Hunts.

Military active duty and veterans must have proof of service and all applicable licenses and stamps to participate.

The new federal guidelines also allow states to end their waterfowl seasons on January 31 instead of the last Sunday of January. Alabama has taken advantage of this change and has set waterfowl seasons for November 29-December 1, 2019, and December 6, 2019, through January 31, 2020.

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“Some years, it’ll add 6 days at the end,” said Seth Maddox, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Migratory Bird Coordinator. “It’s a good management tool at our disposal. The only difference is the season may end during the middle of the week instead of Sunday. For the upcoming season, it ends on a Friday.”

No matter what day the season ends, Maddox just hopes we don’t have a repeat of last year’s season, which was mainly a bust for the whole southeastern U.S.

“It was a rough season, not only in Alabama but in most states,” Maddox said. “It was a mild winter with very little snow and ice cover in the Midwest. Most of those storm fronts that came through that normally bring ice and snow brought rain. That put a lot of water and flooding on the landscape. In turn, that spread the ducks out. It opened up a lot of available habitat for the ducks to utilize. It was tough hunting because the birds were never concentrated anywhere. I’d say that was true from Illinois south. Most states in the South had tough seasons.”

Maddox said conditions for the 2019-2020 season appear to be favorable right now in terms of habitat.

“So far this year, we had rain that continued into the spring and early summer, so the vegetation looks pretty good,” he said. “From late summer through early fall, most of Alabama has been in drought conditions. Parts of west Alabama have had decent rainfall. We’re probably looking at some dry conditions, at least early in the season. But the rain has picked up the last couple of weeks, and I feel pretty good about having a decent amount of water for the opening day after Thanksgiving.”

Until recently, mild conditions continued before the latest cold front plunged temperatures well below freezing in most of the state.

“We seem to be in an almost weekly pattern where a front will come through, and it will get cold,” Maddox said. “Then it will warm back up. It’s a cyclical weather pattern we sometimes see throughout the season. Right now, it’s looking good with the cold fronts pushing some birds in. We’re seeing some birds show up, so I think we’ll have a decent opener.”

The news from the annual waterfowl survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is both concerning and encouraging.

The overall number of ducks was estimated at 39 million birds, which is down about 6 percent from last year’s numbers.

“We’ve been on a slight downward trend over the last few years, but we’re still 10 percent above the long-term average,” Maddox said. “For most duck species, the numbers are looking good. They’re well above their long-term averages. But a couple of species are not doing as well. Northern pintail and scaup (bluebills) are below their long-term averages and they continue to decline. So, there’s a lot of research on those two species to see what’s causing the declines. But other species have taken advantage of these situations, like the gadwall, which is one of our bread-and-butter ducks. The gadwall numbers are 61 percent above the long-term average, and their numbers continue to grow. Green-winged teal are doing well also. Other species are filling that void left by the lack of pintails and scaup.”

Most successful hunters in Alabama will likely have gadwalls in their bag at the end of the hunt.

“Gadwalls are fun ducks to hunt,” Maddox said. “They respond to calling really well. People are pretty happy shooting gadwalls, and they taste good.”

The bellwether bird for most duck hunters and managers is the mallard. The male’s unmistakable green head makes it the most recognized duck on the landscape.

Maddox said the mallard count came in at about 9.5 million birds during the breeding survey, which is 2% above last year’s numbers and 19% above the long-term average.

“The mallard is a big, hardy duck,” he said. “They’re the last ones to arrive. It takes really cold weather to push them down into our area. They can survive and thrive in areas of cold with snow cover. We need that cold weather to push mallards our way.”

Some duck hunters have suggested a shift in duck migration patterns for a variety of reasons, but Maddox points to one main factor in either the abundance or dearth of ducks.

“Most of it is tied with the weather,” he said. “As I say every year, we are very weather dependent. We’re seeing the warming trends, and fewer ducks are migrating south. There is some ancillary data that ducks aren’t making it as far south as they once did. If this trend continues, we’re likely to see fewer ducks in the Deep South. It is a concern for us and most waterfowl managers in the South. We’ll still see birds. We may not see as many birds as in the colder times.”

The bag limit of six ducks remains the same as last season’s with no more than 4 mallards (no more than 2 of which may be female), 3 wood ducks, 1 mottled duck, 2 black duck, 2 redhead, 1 pintail, 2 canvasback and 3 scaup. The bag limit on mergansers is 5 per day, only 2 of which may be hooded mergansers.

Hunters must use non-toxic shot. Hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset except on special management zones, like the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. If you hunt any type of migratory bird – doves, ducks, woodcock, gallinules or cranes for example – you are required to have a Harvest Information Program (HIP) permit in addition to a valid hunting license, state duck stamp and federal duck stamp. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/waterfowl-season for specific rules and regulations.

Alabama will also have its first sandhill crane hunt in 103 years. For the first hunt since 1916, 400 hunters were selected by random drawing in September. Those selected were required to pass a test and accept the hunt. Once that was completed, WFF mailed the hunters the sandhill crane hunting permit and three tags each.

The sandhill crane season has two segments. The first segment runs from December 3 to January 5, 2020. The second segment is from January 16-31, 2020.

“We had 591 people apply for the permits, which is a few less than I would have thought,” Maddox said. “So, you had a good chance of getting drawn this year if you applied. I think people may have been hesitant to apply this year because they didn’t have any spots or didn’t know any spots to hunt. Unless you went to one of the other states that allow sandhill hunting, you have no experience hunting them. It will be interesting to see how our hunters do this year. Once our hunters get the hang of it, I think we’ll have more people apply.”

Maddox said he will be happy with “average” waterfowl hunting for the 2019-2020 season.

“We’ve been through some extremes the last few years,” he said. “We had a really good season in 2017-18 and then last year was pretty tough. Hopefully, we’ll have one closer to normal. If we get some cold weather early in January, we should have a good season.”

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 weeks ago

Fish added to Alabama creek to boost tourism

(Rainbow Fly Fishing club/Facebook)

Hundreds of fish have been added to an Alabama creek as part of an ongoing effort to boost tourism.

Black Creek was restocked Tuesday with about 1,100 pounds of trout above Noccalula Falls by the Rainbow Fly Fishing Club, The Gadsden Times reported.

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The group also stocked 1,000 coppernose bluegill into the watershed in late March.

Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Rainbow City) is a member of the fishing club, and said they’re working with the city to fill a gap for activities at the falls in the winter months.

“We’re thinking about eco-tourism,” he said.

Lipscomb said trout fishing in Georgia brings in tens of millions of dollars for the state and Gadsden would benefit even from a fraction of that.

Georgia has about 4,000 miles of trout streams and they are managed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Fly fishing for trout is expected to last beyond the winter months.

“They’re a cold-water fish but they’ll stick around into summer,” Lipscomb said.

He said the club plans to feed the fish to keep them in the upper part of the watershed instead of following Black Creek downstream into the Coosa.

Lipscomb said even in summer, the deeper part of the pools and shaded areas of the gorge will be habitats for the fish.

The trout will be stocked twice a year — once in November and once in February.

Fishing for trout requires a permit issued by Noccalula Falls Park as well as an Alabama State Fishing License.

Permits cost $9 per day or $11 for a three-day pass.

There are other limitations including dates for catch and release and only using fly rods, artificial lures and barb-less hooks.

More information can be found at www.flyfishgadsdenal.com.
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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4 weeks ago

Alabama snapper anglers stay within 2019 quota

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

Unlike last year when almost perfect weather during snapper season led to a faster-than-expected harvest of the quota, the 2019 snapper season reverted to normal weather conditions, leading to a longer season than initially announced.

Snapper anglers enjoyed a 38-day season in 2019 after the 2018 season had to be ended after 27 days to avoid exceeding Alabama’s quota of about 1 million pounds. Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) officials were able to add three weekend extensions to the 2019 season to fill this year’s quota.

“This season was more typical of a south Alabama summer,” MRD Director Scott Bannon said. “We had more thunderstorms and increased wave heights on some weekends as opposed to 2018, which had near perfect weather through June and July.

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“So, the effort dropped over several of the weekends due to the weather. But that is something we want to have happen; we want people to avoid going when the weather is rough or when it exceeds their boat’s capabilities and their personal capabilities. We want them to stay home during the bad weather because we will still have those pounds of fish to catch later in the year.”

Alabama’s 2019 quota was 1,079,513 pounds, and the final numbers show 1,050,651 pounds of fish were estimated to have been caught, leaving a little more than 28,000 pounds in the water. Bannon said the goal was to get as close to the quota as possible without going over.

“That 28,000 pounds is less than one good weekend day of fishing in Alabama,” he said. “I don’t think we could have done any better.”

MRD officials are able to closely monitor the snapper harvest off the Alabama coast through the mandatory Red Snapper Reporting System, otherwise known as Snapper Check.

“We were able to get that close because of Snapper Check,” Bannon said. “The more people who report, the better the numbers and the better we can predict the effort for the weekend.”

Bannon said one angler lamented that he lost 12 days to weather but only got five back. However, other anglers had the opportunity and took advantage of it.

“I explained to him that he, as an individual, lost that many days, but not everybody was like that,” Bannon said. “We had landings for every weekend, even when the tropical storm went by. I would not have recommended it on some of those days, but some people went anyway. We added some additional days during amberjack season in August and then some days on Labor Day weekend. Ultimately, we added the final weekend in October to give people enough time to plan and to have dates when people were more likely to go fishing. The 38-day season is probably more typical of what would be an average season with the weather days. I know the July average wave heights were 3 feet or higher.”

The average size of the snapper caught during the 2019 season was down slightly to 6.81 pounds, which Bannon attributed to several reasons.

“One reason was the weather,” he said. “People didn’t run as far and went to areas that are more heavily fished. Also, I think some people now are not as concerned about trying to catch the biggest fish possible. They’re just catching fish, which is what we want. High-grading or culling and discarding fish works against us if the discards don’t survive. I think more people were happy with the fish they were catching, and they felt this wasn’t going to be the only day they were going to get to go fishing.”

Alabama’s snapper seasons for 2018 and 2019 were operated under an exempted fishing permit (EFP) as the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council worked to approve a state management system, Amendment 50, which passed and is awaiting the Secretary of Commerce’s signature.

“I think the EFP worked well,” Bannon said. “Under Amendment 50, we will have the ability for the state to make adjustments to size, bag limits and season dates. We think our bag and size limits have worked well. It helps keep our data similar from year to year, and we have a good handle on effort based on that.

“So, we’re going to be cautious about making any changes. We want people to get comfortable that the states are managing the snapper season effectively. I think the EFP proved we can manage it as effectively and efficiently as possible. We have been able to give anglers more days because we’re able to account for the fish harvested during the season. The key to the success is the angler reporting the data, and that is why we have the optional reporting for greater amberjack and gray triggerfish in the app.”

Bannon took the opportunity last week to join the University of South Alabama Marine Sciences Department and Dauphin Island Sea Lab on their last red snapper research trip for the year out of Dauphin Island.

The research trip was designed to explore several artificial reefs that Skipper Thierry, captain of the Escape, discovered during his regular charter trips this past summer. Each reef was of unknown origin. On several reefs where a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was deployed the structures were chicken transport cages, which held a variety of fish species including an abundance of small red snapper.

“From a research perspective, you want to be able to sample a variety of sizes and ages of fish and reef structures,” Bannon said. “These were not public reefs that were placed out there. We don’t know anything about who placed them or when they were placed. They held a lot of younger fish, but the numbers of those fish looked good. In a management system, if all you see are older fish that’s not always a good thing. You want to see a wide spectrum of ages. You want to see the younger fish coming into the system and aging out at the appropriate time and that we’re taking the appropriate numbers.

“That’s the advantage of a program that does hook-and-line sampling along with the ROV; you get to see what’s there. That helps add to the data. It’s not necessarily that only the small fish were biting. If you sample the reef with only hook and line, you may only see one age group of fish. With the ROV, we know that particular reef had an abundance of small fish as well as larger fish. Those spots were loaded up.”

During the trip, several large gray triggerfish were landed, which is encouraging for Bannon.

“Triggerfish is definitely a species of concern for us,” he said. “These research trips have shown an increase in abundance. So, we feel good, in the Alabama reef zone, that they are rebuilding. That’s a good sign. We hope that is reflected in the next stock assessment.”

The snapper research like that executed last week will be partially funded by Alabama’s new reef fish endorsement to the saltwater fishing license that went into effect September 1, 2019.

Dr. Bob Shipp, Professor Emeritus at USA Marine Science, has been doing this snapper research for more than two decades.

“For the last 21 years, we have been maintaining a sampling program for red snapper and triggerfish,” Shipp said. “I think it’s probably the longest time-series available for those two species. A time-series really gives you trend information you can’t get any other way. What it has shown is that the availability and ability to catch red snapper have really improved since 2005. The average size has increased a little bit. When you put the ROV with the camera down on our reefs, they’re teeming with snapper. There are tremendous number of juveniles, 2- and 3-year-olds, more so than in the past. That might indicate a strong year class, but it could be an outlier on the five stations we sampled, so we’re going to be watching that. But there was an abundance of juvenile fish on the reefs we fished today.”

Shipp said the red snapper population in Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zone is in great shape.

“Our program, along with that of Dr. Sean Powers at the University of South Alabama, shows a really healthy population in our artificial reef zones,” he said. “We have 1,200 square miles of reef zone, and anybody can go out in that reef zone and get a bag limit of red snapper in about 20 minutes.”

During last week’s trip, where the anglers fished a designated amount of time at each spot, several triggerfish that weighed a whopping 8 pounds or better were hauled onboard.

“For triggerfish, the average size has really increased,” Shipp said. “We saw that today. We’ve never seen so many big triggerfish. We really think there is a problem with the data coming out as far as triggerfish are concerned. Off Alabama, we don’t see them in trouble at all.”

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.

1 month ago

CWD seminars keep public updated on disease

(B. Pope/Alabama Outdoors)

With archery season underway and the opening day of the gun deer season on the horizon, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division is traveling the state to give hunters and the general public updates on chronic wasting disease (CWD) that affects members of the deer family.

First, CWD has NOT been detected in Alabama’s deer herd, which is estimated at about1.5 million animals.

However, CWD has been confirmed in the neighboring states of Mississippi and Tennessee, which caused the WFF’s CWD Response Plan to be implemented. Positive tests near Pontotoc, Miss., and Franklin, Tenn., were within a 50-mile radius of Alabama, and a specific response plan was initiated for those areas in northwest Alabama.

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“We have had a CWD Response Plan in place since 2012,” said Amy Silvano, Assistant Chief of the Wildlife Section, at the recent seminar in Prattville. “When CWD was confirmed in Wisconsin, the first time the disease was detected east of the Mississippi, our agency started surveilling for the disease then and formalized the response plan. This is a fluid document. We are learning things every day. As we do, we update our plan.”

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/CWD-Info and scroll down the page to view the Alabama CWD Strategic Surveillance and Response Plan. CWD has only been shown to affect members of the deer family, including whitetails, blacktails, mule deer, elk, moose and caribou.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease, called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), which affects the deer family and causes lesions on the brain. As the disease progresses, the affected animal will develop holes in the brain and eventually die. Infected animals may be 5 years old or older before they show symptoms.

“There is a lot of misinformation about what a CWD-infected deer looks like,” said Chris Cook, WFF Deer Program Coordinator. “Some of the deer that have been found positive for CWD look perfectly healthy. Most of the CWD-positive deer have been hunter-harvested deer with no outward signs of CWD.

“When the deer start showing symptoms, it can be a wide range of symptoms. The most common is just abnormal behavior. They don’t act right, because it’s a disease of the central nervous system. They have a drooping, sick posture. You will see that in a deer that’s been wounded by a hunter or hit by a car, so that alone doesn’t indicate a deer has CWD. Other symptoms include trouble with balance, excessive salivation or the loss of weight, but there are a lot of reasons deer lose weight. ”

Cook said the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is charged with managing the wildlife resources of the state for the benefit of the public now and for future generations.

“Any disease like CWD has the potential to affect any wildlife population,” Cook said. “Anything like that gets our attention. That’s why we do all we can to head it off. And once it shows up, we do everything we can to minimize its impact. It not only affects the wildlife resources but also our hunting heritage. A lot of rural areas in Alabama depend heavily on income from hunters and hunting-related activities. Hunting generates an impressive $1.8 billion economic impact in Alabama.”

The first case of CWD was discovered in Colorado in 1967. Over the next 30 years, the disease spread very slowly, only taking in a 15- to 20-county region on the Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming borders. In the late 90s, CWD was detected in Saskatchewan. That incident was traced to live elk from South Dakota that were transported to Canada. CWD continues to spread and now has been found in 26 states and three Canadian provinces. South Korea and Norway also have detected CWD. South Korea’s CWD-positive animals can be traced back to the live transport of deer from infected areas. Over the past decade, the movement of live cervids or infected carcasses by humans has contributed to the increased spread of the disease.

Alabama has long had regulations that banned the importation of live deer. The regulations were amended a couple of years ago to prohibit the importation of deer carcasses from all states and countries. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/cwd for regulations about importing deer parts from out-of-state.

Regulations allow for the importation of certain parts of the deer but not whole carcasses. Permitted parts include:

  • Meat from the family Cervidae (white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, fallow deer, red deer, sika deer, caribou, reindeer, etc.) that has been completely deboned
  • Cleaned skull plates with bare attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present
  • Unattached bare antlers or sheds
  • Raw capes, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present
  • Upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present
  • Finished taxidermy products or tanned hides
  • Velvet-covered antlers are prohibited unless part of a finished taxidermy product.

The disease is primarily spread by body fluids such as saliva, urine and feces. The infectious agent, called a prion, can even survive outside the animal’s body.

Cook said there is no evidence at this time that CWD can be transmitted to humans.

“Officials have been following hunters who have been hunting in these CWD areas for a long time and, to date, there has not been any connection between human illness and consuming venison from CWD-positive deer,” he said. “We are not a food safety agency. We defer to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.”

The CDC recommends that hunters who harvest deer in areas with CWD should have the deer tested for the disease before consuming the meat. If the test comes back positive, the CDC recommends the proper disposal of the venison. That venison should not be thrown out by the individual; rather, contact a WFF official or enforcement officer who will ensure its proper disposal.

The WFF’s sampling program will include hunter-harvested deer, roadkills and reported sick deer with a goal of testing 1,500 animals for CWD. WFF is working with Cornell University to help identify areas with the highest likelihood of infection.

Hunters can aid the WFF sampling program by dropping off their deer heads at the WFF CWD Sampling Station freezers located around the state. The goal is to have at least one freezer in each county.

“Our district offices will have freezers,” Cook said. “A lot of our WMAs (wildlife management areas) will have them. People who want to have their deer tested can bring the heads with 3 to 4 inches of the neck intact. The antlers can be taken off. For deer the hunters want to mount, they can go ahead and cape it out. The samples that we use come from the lymph nodes in the upper neck.”

Hunters who drop off deer heads are required to fill out tags that include contact information and location where the deer was harvested. A tear-off tag has an identification number that the hunter should retain. A list of locations will be posted on the CWD page on outdooralabama.com.

“We also started the Sick Deer Report last year,” Cook said. “If you see a sick deer or a deer that doesn’t look or act right, call our district office and give the information to the people who answer the phone. Provide your contact information, location and the symptoms you observed. Somebody will follow up to see if that deer can be sampled.”

Lt. Michael East, the WFF officer in charge of the game breeders program, said the disease is an issue that affects both captive deer and wild deer.

“CWD does not discriminate,” East said. “We have to protect the resource for all involved.”

East said a recent case was made in 2016 for the illegal importation of live deer in Alabama, and the violator was fined $750,000 and lost his game breeder license.

The WFF Enforcement Section has also implemented procedures to intercept the potential illegal importation of deer carcasses into the state with surveillance along state borders in an effort to keep CWD out of the state.

Florida is the latest state to implement a deer carcass importation ban. With exceptions for Alabama and Georgia, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner (FWC) issued an executive order that bans the importation of deer carcasses, effective Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. The executive order allows exceptions for white-tailed deer legally harvested in Georgia or Alabama with certain requirements. The person who harvested the deer must possess an FWC Georgia/Alabama Carcass Importation Permit prior to the carcass being imported into Florida. The hunter must report the carcass importation within 24 hours of entering Florida using the FWC’s online Georgia/Alabama Carcass Importation Reporting Form and must dispose of any remains using FWC-approved disposal options outlined at www.myfwc.com. Also, white-tailed deer legally harvested from Georgia or Alabama properties that are bisected by the Florida state line and under the same ownership are exempt from importation permit, reporting and disposal requirements.

Meanwhile, the Alabama WFF Division is promoting a campaign titled “Don’t Bring It Home” to highlight the ban on the importation of deer carcasses.

Concerned citizens have numerous opportunities to come to a town hall-style meeting to ask questions concerning CWD. Go to www.outdooralabama.com/node/2747 for a list of upcoming CWD seminars.

As WFF Assistant Director Fred Harders said earlier this year, “We don’t have it. We don’t want it.”

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.

1 month ago

Flounder fishing prohibited in November

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

Flounder fishing in state waters will be halted in November to protect migrating fish.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is reminding anglers that commercial and recreational fishing for flounder is prohibited from Nov. 1 through Nov. 30.

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Flounder migrate from Mobile Bay, the Mississippi Sound and other inshore waters into the Gulf of Mexico to spawn beginning in November each year.

Kevin Anson, chief biologist with the Alabama Marine Resources Division, said the November closure was established to protect the migrating fish and help grow the population.

Additionally, the department said Alabama waters will close to the recreational harvest of greater amberjack on Nov. 1.

That coincides with the closing of Gulf federal waters.

State and federal waters will remain closed to amberjack fishing through April 30.
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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1 month ago

B.A.S.S., Alabama Power to award scholarships to two Alabama students

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

For the third consecutive year, B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power are partnering to award two $5,000 scholarships this year for students currently attending, or planning to attend, a technical school or community college in the state of Alabama.

The applicant must reside in an Alabama Power service area and be a member of a B.A.S.S. High School Club or the B.A.S.S. Nation, a worldwide network of affiliated B.A.S.S. clubs whose members are active in conservation initiatives and youth programs.

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“Alabama Power not only keeps the lights on in our home state of Alabama,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, “but it also brightens the future of young people in the state through these innovative scholarships. All of us at B.A.S.S. are proud to take part in this effort to help young people achieve their dreams.”

The award can be used to cover tuition, textbooks or living expenses.

Applications can be found at Bassmaster.com/nation-application. An official academic transcript, a letter of introduction and two letters of recommendation are required to apply. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with B.A.S.S. This initiative provides a great opportunity to teach students the importance of environmental stewardship, while also equipping them with the right resources to be valuable contributors to our skilled workforce in Alabama,” said Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of External Affairs.

Recipients will be notified by Monday, Dec. 9 and will be featured on Bassmaster.com.

For more information, contact B.A.S.S. College and High School Manager Hank Weldon at hweldon@bassmaster.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Fishing at Gulf State Park Pier on fire

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

Those who love to fish the Gulf State Park Pier should not hesitate to head down to Gulf Shores-Orange Beach right away. Judging from what I witnessed last week, the fishing is on fire, especially for Spanish mackerel.

Anglers were reeling in Spanish after Spanish on the Gulf’s premier fishing pier, which juts some 1,540 feet into Gulf of Mexico waters. Throw in redfish (red drum), king mackerel and huge ladyfish, dubbed the poor man’s tarpon, and you can see how much fun the pier anglers are having right now.

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Fortunately, Tropical Storm Nestor sailed quickly past the Alabama coast, and fishing is back to its fall peak with the migration of kings and Spanish on their way back to wintering grounds in south Florida.

Another reason not to hesitate is that the Gulf State Park Pier will likely be closing sometime this winter for renovations. The closure is tentatively scheduled to start on January 15, 2020. The treated wood decking, which is showing the wear and tear of 10-plus years in the rugged saltwater environment, will be completely replaced with composite boards that are designed to hold up for decades of great fishing. During the projected closure of about 2½ months, the pier’s bathrooms, offices, lighting and bait shop will also be refurbished. Ashley Connell, acting pier manager, said the new composite decking will solve the current problem of the deteriorating wood planks and make it a more enjoyable experience for the pier anglers and sightseers. The pier is 20 feet wide and boasts 2,448 feet of fishing space.

An educational component is available all along the pier with signs that provide information on native fish, birds and other wildlife in the area.

“Gulf State Park Pier is such an asset to Coastal Alabama,” Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said. “Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the pier every year for fishing and sightseeing. I would bet 80 percent of the people who vacation in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach visit the pier at least once during their stay.”

Speaking of the fishing, Steve and Stephanie Langston said they and other regulars on the octagon at the end of the pier are starting to see that mackerel migration.

“The kings are just starting to show up,” Steve said last Thursday. “I hooked two, but one got sharked. I had two other hook-ups. They’re catching slot reds (16 to 26 inches) and bull reds (longer than 26 inches) all up and down the pier.”

Stephanie added, “They’re just slamming the Spanish right now.”

Steve said the cooler weather should be a boon for mackerel fishermen. He said the water temperature last week was 81 and falling.

“When the water temperature is between 67 and 80 degrees, that’s when the kings will be coming through,” he said. “The bait (mainly alewives) is all balled up around the pier now, so the fish will be here.”

Another regular, George “Haywire” Carlton, flopped another Spanish on the pier deck as I walked up. He also said bait is the key right now.

“Spanish are biting, and there are a lot of small alewives to hold them,” Carlton said. “Most of the Spanish are being caught on small alewives, just free-lining them or on bubble rigs. Now that the weather has cooled off a little, it should just get better.”

A bubble rig consists of a float that can be partially filled with water to increase casting distances with a 2- to 3-foot piece of wire or heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leader (Spanish have sharp teeth). A Gotcha lure with its colorful plastic tube with a treble hook on the end is the go-to rig, but some people make their own lures with a piece of McDonald’s straw.

John Giannini, a pier regular and also co-owner of J&M Tackle in Orange Beach, said he hopes the weather will cooperate during the pier renovation work.

“We can get a lot of nasty weather during the winter at times,” Giannini said. “Hopefully, there won’t be any delays.”

Now that the cooler temperatures have finally arrived, Giannini said plenty of fishing opportunities will be available before the pier renovation work starts.

“It’s been such a warm year that fishing is pretty darn good right now,” he said. “The fish (mackerel) are starting to get active as they move east.”

Giannini suggests taking advantage of the mackerel bite as long as possible because a little break will follow before the shallow-water species start biting. After the mackerel migration has ended, Giannini said most people will be fishing closer to the shore for other species.

“There will be a little lull before we start getting into the whiting, pompano and sheepshead fishing,” he said. “During the colder months, sheepshead is the targeted species. From the end of November through Christmas, people will be out on the octagon catching sheepshead.”

Giannini is glad to hear about the renovation project.

“That pier has taken a lot of wear and tear since it was opened in 2009,” he said. “With all the people who walk the pier, whether fishing or just looking, and the service vehicles, the decking is showing the effects of that and the weather. The composite boards should help tremendously. I’m out on the pier quite a bit, and the wood is in pretty rough shape in places. Some of the boards have been replaced, but it will really be great to have all new decking.”

The pier’s decking is built-in panels that are designed to be dislodged during any type of tropical weather. Instead of a steady pounding from the huge waves produced by the storms, the panels are blown out, saving the basic infrastructure of the pier.

Giannini hopes the pier renovations will be completed on time because the spring fishing on the pier is excellent.

“When we get those days in March when you want to be outside, that’s when the spring pier fishing starts to get good,” he said. “With the renovations, we’ll miss a little bit of fishing next spring, but maintenance has to be done. The pier has a lot of traffic and something has to be done before it needs a major overhaul. That pier is a giant draw from all over the nation. Some people come down here on vacation just for that pier. It’s just a great atmosphere. I have heard from many customers that we have, by far, the nicest, most helpful group of regular pier fishermen. It’s just a great group of regulars that fish that pier.”

Fishing licenses are required on the pier and sightseeing permits are sold at the pier office. Visit www.alapark.com/parks/gulf-state-park/fishing-and-education-pier for more details.

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.

2 months ago

Alabama spearfishers cash in on lionfish money

(Craig Newton/Contributed)

The red lionfish population off the Alabama Gulf Coast is a little smaller now that the second of two spearfishing tournaments finished a two-week run, with the final weigh-in last weekend at Tacky Jack’s in Orange Beach.

An invasive species from the Indo-Pacific, lionfish have spread throughout Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic waters. Lionfish compete with native reef fish for food resources, and holding spearfishing tournaments is one way to mitigate the invasion.

In 2019, the Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians served as sponsors and provided $10,000 each for the lionfish tournaments. The Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) and Alabama Spearfishing Association provided support, while the Alabama Reef Foundation distributed the prize money. The tournament payout was based on the number of pounds of lionfish harvested during the event.

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Josh Livingston was the top spearfisherman in the lionfish category at the most recent event and took home $1,779 for bringing 279 pounds of lionfish to the weigh-in. David Murphy was the overall Master Spearfisher at the Orange Beach Open.

Livingston spends a great deal of time diving for lionfish, harvesting for the commercial market and research work for several educational entities.

Livingston brought in about 650 pounds of lionfish at the first tournament in the spring. He said the number of fish he spotted over this past weekend was definitely reduced. An ulcerative skin disease has been observed in lionfish, especially in Florida, and Livingston thinks that may be a reason for the reduction.

“Normally, we see 30 to 40 fish per site,” Livingston said. “We’re seeing 15 to 20 now or less. That’s great news. They’re still out there, just not as many. But I did shoot 79 fish on one dive during this tournament.”

Livingston has no doubt the increased prize money will boost participation.

“If there is money involved, people are going to go after them,” he said. “If they can subsidize what they’re doing, paying for fuel or buying a new speargun, they’ll do it.”

Chandra Wright of the Alabama Reef Foundation said the foundation understands the threat lionfish pose to the native reef fish species in the Gulf.

“They are voracious eaters and are competing with our commercially and recreationally important species, like red snapper, grouper and gray triggerfish,” Wright said. “We want to do as much as possible to protect our reefs and native species. So having great partners, like the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and CCA Alabama who donated $10,000 each, gives us a great incentive for divers to bring in lionfish.”

Chas Broughton of the Alabama Spearfishing Association sees a great future for the lionfish tournaments when more divers find out about the cash prizes.

“I believe the new money incentive is helping to bring in more divers,” Broughton said. “If we can do it for another year or two, I think we’ll see it grow much larger. We just need to get the word out to more divers. We probably picked up 10 or more divers for this tournament.”

Craig Newton, MRD’s Artificial Reefs Program Coordinator, said lionfish were introduced to the south Atlantic waters in the late 1980s when Hurricane Andrew caused significant destruction in south Florida. One or more homes in Andrew’s path had aquariums with red lionfish. Andrew swept away the homes and the lionfish were released into the wild.

“Through DNA genetic work, the lionfish population we have in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic is traced back to about eight females from that initial release,” Newton said. “So, the thousands and thousands of lionfish we have today in the Gulf and South Atlantic originated from that handful of females.”

The red lionfish first showed up off the coast of Alabama in 2009. Although there had been rumors of lionfish, the first hard evidence came when a diver speared a lionfish at the Trysler Grounds about 25 miles south of Orange Beach.

Starting in 2013, Marines Resources began directed monitoring efforts to get an idea of how many lionfish actually existed in Alabama waters.

“The trend is that the majority of reefs that are deeper than 100 feet of water have lionfish,” Newton said. “They do occur in waters shallower than that but not in alarming numbers. We have a few documented cases of lionfish inshore around Perdido Pass and Old River. Typically, the turbidity of Gulf waters just offshore of Mobile Bay tends to push the lionfish away from the mouth of Mobile Bay. They prefer higher salinity and clearer waters. They don’t seem to be extremely tolerant of sudden changes in water temperature. Lionfish can be found 1,000 feet deep. Those waters are real cold, but they’re real stable. Inshore, the water temperature changes pretty quickly. In the winter, those inshore temperature changes will cause them to leave or die.”

The MRD monitoring started with SCUBA diving surveys and evolved into diving and ROV (remotely operated vehicle) surveys that could monitor much deeper water.

“The high definition cameras on the ROVs allow us to not only evaluate the reef fish population but also include lionfish,” Newton said. “Over the past couple of years, we have seen a significant trend. From 2009 to 2016, there was a significant increase in the abundance of lionfish from year to year. Then from 2016 to present, those numbers seem to have stabilized.”

To mitigate the invasion of lionfish, the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission has marketed the table fare of lionfish with its white, flaky meat. The lionfish filets can be prepared in variety of ways from raw, sashimi-style, to battered and fried like white trout, for example.

Participating in lionfish tournaments is also part of MRD’s mitigation effort. Newton said more research will have to be done to determine how effective these methods are.

“The lionfish tournaments and marketing of lionfish for table fare could have had an effect on the population, or it could mean the lionfish have reached carrying capacity within our waters,” Newton said. “The predator fish have not evolved to prey upon the lionfish with their venomous spines, so the carrying capacity is related to food resources and habitat rather than any control from predation.

“They do compete with our native reef fish. They eat a lot of the same items that vermilion snapper, lane snapper and red snapper do. They do eat crustaceans, but a large part of the diet are small finfish, just like the snappers. The lionfish is something we’re going to have to learn to live with. We’re never going to get rid of them. We’re just hoping we can handle the impact from them.”

Newton said lionfish spawn numerous times and release the eggs in a gelatinous mass that is poisonous. The egg mass floats in the current until the fry disperse to the ocean bottom. As they near maturity, they move to some type of structure, whether natural bottom or artificial reefs and petroleum platforms.

Lionfish don’t get nearly as large as the snapper, topping out at about 3 pounds. Typically, a mature lionfish will range from ¾ of a pound to 3 pounds. Obviously, it’s the number of lionfish on each reef that becomes a problem. That is one reason the tournament organizers decided to change the format for the last tournament of the season.

At the spring tournament, prize money went to the first three places and in a random drawing for any spearfisher who brought in a certain amount of lionfish.

“The strategy for the second tournament was to incentivize more people to target lionfish,” Newton said. “The idea was that the average diver who may not shoot lionfish would be encouraged to shoot lionfish. This tournament was based on a bounty. Prize money, $10,000, was awarded based on the number of pounds of lionfish weighed in. This way, each competitor would get some type of prize money. The rate of return would basically be how much effort you put forth to shoot lionfish. This prize structure enables even the novice spearfisher to target lionfish to pay for gas or entry fee money or tank fills. We had 45 competitors and some of those wouldn’t have targeted lionfish at all if it hadn’t been for the prize money provided by CCA Alabama and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.”

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.

2 months ago

Wheelchair-bound Stone bags gator at Eufaula

(Alabama Outdoors/Contributed)

Mandy Stone worked hard as a paramedic in Roanoke, Alabama, which often required a weekend away to decompress. Stone was on one of those getaways when her life changed forever.

“Ten years ago, I went to north Georgia for the weekend,” Stone said. “On the way home I hydroplaned, went down in a ravine and spent the next two-and-a-half months at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Everything changed in just a split second.”

The accident impact crushed numerous vertebrae in her back. She was left paralyzed from the waist down.

However, the accident did not crush her spirit or her love for the outdoors. Not long after she was discharged from Shepherd, a world-renowned rehabilitation center for people with spinal cord and brain injuries, Stone went to one of her happy places.

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“Hunting season is my favorite time, and I think it always has been,” she said. “I’ve been able to go hunting ever since I got hurt. I hunt deer and squirrels mostly. I have one of those Action Trackchairs, and I’ll ride around and shoot them from it.”

The shooting houses on her mom and dad’s property as well as shooting houses on property Stone and her sister own nearby were made handicap-accessible.

The first time in a shooting house after her accident was truly special.

“It was great,” she said. “My mom made sure I had plenty of cover, which was good. It was actually awesome. I think I killed one that day. I know I killed three or four that season.”

Not content to allow any barriers to stop her hunting passion, she decided to kick it up a notch and pursue an alligator during Alabama’s late-summer, early-fall season at Lake Eufaula in southeast Alabama.

“I’m all about hunting everything,” she said. “I told my dad, ‘Look Pop, we’ve got to go alligator hunting.’”

Stone had applied for several years for a tag at Eufaula, which has only 20 tags available annually. The points system, which applies points for each year the applicant is unsuccessful, finally paid off for Stone.

After receiving her tag, Stone went to Lake Eufaula to look around because she didn’t know anything about the reservoir that serves as a border between Alabama and Georgia. Stone emailed Chris Nix, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Alligator Program Coordinator. Nix got Stone in touch with WFF Biologist Richard Tharp, who connected her with guide Mike Gifford, otherwise known at Gator Mike.

“I was talking to Mike, and he was telling me about his alligator hunting, and it sounded great,” Stone said. “Then I told him I was in a wheelchair and asked him if he had ever taken anybody in a wheelchair. He said, ‘Oh, I’ve never done that.’ I asked him if he was willing to try, and he said he was and when did I want to go.”

Although Gifford has been guiding alligator hunts since Alabama started its season in the late 2000s, he said this was his first outing with someone in a wheelchair.

“I’m kind of old school and think things happen for a reason, that we’re drawn to people for a reason,” Gifford said. “I felt like, no matter what, I was going to make it happen. It’s not common for somebody in her condition to want to do that, but it inspired me.”

With the obstacles Stone presented, Gifford figures divine assistance helped to make it happen.

“What’s really crazy about this is I’ve only got X amount of space on my boat, and I want her to be up on the bow so she can do everything,” he said. “I didn’t want her just riding along watching somebody else gator hunt.”

Stone gave Gifford the measurements of her wheelchair, and he headed to his boat with a tape measure.

“In a custom-built Ranger bass boat, they have what is called a locker-bar system,” he said. “All the deck lids are aligned. In the locker-bar system, a stainless-steel bar goes across the lids, and you can put padlocks on it so none of the deck lids can be lifted. I put the locker bar in and started measuring. This is why I believe things happen for a reason. When I measured for that wheelchair, I didn’t have a half-inch of extra space. When that locker bar went in there, the back tires backed up to it perfectly. The front of the wheelchair lined up perfectly to be tied off to the front pedestal, so I could lock her in there.”

The boat ramp, which she had used on two previous trips, was the perfect height for Stone’s wheelchair to roll onto the boat’s front deck.

Gifford thought about idling around near the boat ramp to try to bag the first gator they found, but when he got Stone fitted with a life jacket and locked in the boat, he changed his mind.

“I felt like I had her in there good enough, and that she was strong enough that I thought about getting the boat on plane,” he said. “I told her I was going to try and for her to give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down. I got on plane slow and easy. She gave me a thumbs up, and I knew we were in business.”

A large gator was spotted that was estimated at 12 feet, but he gave them the slip.

The gator hunters found smaller animals, but culling is not allowed during alligator season and they would have failed to reach the 8-foot minimum in effect at Lake Eufaula.

After they spotted another gator they felt would surpass the minimum size, Gator Mike got a hook in the animal and handed the rod to Stone.

“I wanted her to feel the full effects of the hunt,” he said.

“He let me do some of the reeling, which was not easy,” Stone said. “We went in a circle for about 30 minutes with this 8½-foot gator. We finally wore him down, and Mike handed me the harpoon to stick him with. That was a huge challenge. But I got the harpoon in him. Mike got him, taped his mouth and got him into the boat.”

Instead of shooting alligators to finish them off, Gator Mike prefers to severe the spine with a knife with the gator’s head immobilized.

He handed the knife to Stone, who applied the coup de grace.

“It was just as quick and simple as shooting one would be,” Stone said. “I’d never taken anything like that, but it was just as quick. It was done. I had been grinning the whole time after the gator was hooked. I was all smiles from there. It was awesome.”

Whooping and hollering and rounds of high-fives went around on both boats after the gator was dispatched.

Gator Mike had lined up a chase boat, which allowed Stone’s mom and dad to join the hunt.

“That was awesome that they got to be there too,” Stone said.

The gator is at the taxidermist for a full-body mount. The meat has been processed, and Stone will make a trip soon to pick it up.

“We hope to get together and have a big alligator cooking celebration,” Stone said.

After time for reflection on the successful hunt, Stone admitted it was harder than she expected.

“Had it not been for Gator Mike, I don’t know if I could have done it,” Stone said. “He makes it look easier. He was so good at slipping up on them. The biggest thing was the harpoon. That was hard for me. I was very ill-prepared for that. It was fun nonetheless, but there were no easy tasks.”

Although Stone achieved her ultimate goal by bagging the gator, it doesn’t mean her love of the hunt is completely satisfied.

“I’m happy with one, but I intend to apply again,” she said. “I’m definitely hooked now.”

Gifford said he has relived that night many times and still wonders why he was fortunate enough to be the guide.

“I just hope this inspires other people with handicaps to want to go and do it,” he said. “You can do it. There’s no doubt. Mandy had a will to do it, and she did it. This was the most gratifying hunt that anybody could have ever done.”

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.

2 months ago

Tackling litter with new law, coastal cleanup, Litter Gitter

(ADCNR, David Rainer/Contributed)

Very few things irritate me more than litter, especially when the litterbugs toss their trash on public land or in public waterways.

The Conservation Enforcement Officers at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) are in a constant battle to deal with litter on public lands and waterways.

Hopefully, a new law sponsored by Rep. Margie Wilcox of Mobile will provide a deterrent for those who toss their trash without regard for the environment or fellow man.

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The law, which went into effect this month, increases the fine for the first offense of littering to up to $500. The second offense includes penalties of a fine of up to $1,000 to $3,000 and up to 100 hours of community service picking up litter along the highways or waterways. The law also changes violations from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor.

The law kicks in additional penalties for certain types of littering from a vehicle or vessel, including tossing cigarette butts, cigars, containers of urine and food containers. Those violations will cost you an additional up to $500.

“The genesis of this is I used to live on Dog River, so I saw first-hand the litter I had to clean up on my own property,” Rep. Wilcox said. “I’ve been a longtime member of the Dog River Clearwater Revival. When I read the (previous) law, I felt like the fines for some of these offenses were horribly inadequate. An important thing that came out of my discussions from the public was that they wanted people punished by making them pick up the litter. That was my favorite part of the bill. On the second offense, you have to start picking up litter. It’s great that we have people volunteer for the coastal cleanups, but people need to be picking up their own litter.”

Speaking of the Alabama Coastal Cleanup, which was held last weekend, Angela Underwood of the ADCNR’s State Lands Division said that close to 5,000 showed up to pick up trash along waterways, rivers, lakes, beaches and bays. While most of the work was concentrated in Baldwin and Mobile counties, she said that other volunteer groups picked up trash in the Montgomery and Troy vicinities. Between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of trash were picked up.

“We always have great support from groups that cover all ages,” Underwood said. “We get a lot of Scout groups, student groups, individuals and corporate and business partners. For example, Airbus had supported the cleanup in the past, but they wanted to take on a zone of their own this year. So, we established a new zone in Mobile County where Airbus took the lead. Alabama Power helps us along the Causeway (Battleship Parkway) with their boats. We have great support from the community and within our own agency and division.”

Underwood said Don Bates, who developed the Litter Gitter trash collection device, Thompson Engineering and Weeks Bay Foundation have partnered with Coastal Cleanup to oversee the recycling aspect of the cleanup.

“Those three partners really take the lead on getting volunteers at each site to hand out recycling bags and talk about what can and can’t be recycled,” Underwood said. “Then they sort through the recycling material to make sure the things the volunteers are putting in the bags are what we want and that it’s clean enough to be recycled. Plastics and such, if they’re not relatively clean, can’t be recycled.”

The recycling partners then collect all the potential recyclable material at the end of the day, sort it, and transport the material to the proper recycling facilities.

Speaking of the Litter Gitter, Underwood said one of the sites monitored by the City of Mobile has installed a device to capture litter coming down 3 Mile Creek.

“I talked to one of the people in charge of monitoring that site, and they said that since the Litter Gitter had been installed they are finding less garbage there during Coastal Cleanup,” Underwood said. “From our perspective, it would be better if we had enough outreach to prevent people from littering in the first place.”

Meanwhile, Bates is busy with his company, Osprey Initiative, and updating his Litter Gitter at a new facility in Mobile. Most of the previous Litter Gitters were made of PVC; the new ones are being made of aluminum.

The Fairhope resident, who gave up an executive position with Thompson Engineering to start this venture, said he’s been working as a volunteer for many years to pick up trash, mainly in waterways.

“I grew up in the swamps of south Louisiana. I’ve been playing in ditches my whole life,” Bates said. “I’m really tied to the water. Three years ago, working with the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (NEP) on a volunteer cleanup on Maple Street in Mobile, I had the idea of a small, tactical trap that you could place where the litter is entering our waterways and collect it closer to the source.”

Bates started working on a prototype with the support of the City of Mobile.

“We put a prototype at the exact spot on Maple Street right before it flows into 1 Mile Creek, and it just worked,” he said. “It was amazing. We had some rain events, and it captured a lot of the litter that would normally have been flushed downstream. I was able to get in there and clean it out before any went into the waterway.

Bates won grants from the Mobile Bay NEP and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to install the Litter Gitters at 10 sites in the 3 Mile Creek watershed.

“Our role is to help these areas that are concentrating on restoring their urban waterways,” he said. “These waterways are at your back door and you should be able to enjoy them. We’re playing a role in attacking the litter in those watersheds and promoting their resurgence. I think that’s a critical gap for what we’re doing.”

Bates said his team is working with Dog River Clearwater Revival on a project in Dog River, while four Litter Gitters have been deployed in Decatur, Ala., as well as several in Atlanta. Bates expects Cincinnati and Charlotte, N.C., will be the next to get Litter Gitters.

The first Litter Gitter was basically a wire cylinder, which couldn’t hold up during significant rain events.

Bates reached out to Brunson Net Company in Foley for help, and netting material was incorporated into a PVC frame. The latest Litter Gitter is made of aluminum fabricated by Custom Metal Fabricators on Dauphin Island Parkway.

“We are working out the final details, but a neat thing is we might be able to take the aluminum we’re collecting and get the material recycled into ingots in Robertsdale,” Bates said. “Then there’s a company in Gulfport (Miss.) that will make the ingots into roll aluminum. Then Custom Metal Fabricators will make the traps out of that roll aluminum. Hopefully soon, we’ll be making our devices out of aluminum we’re pulling out of our waterways.”

Bates sure hopes this venture is the wave of the future for mitigation of litter in the environment.

“I sure hope it is,” he said. “I quit my job of 19 years as an executive vice president with Thompson Engineering. It’s a great company. Three years ago, I never intended to leave Thompson. As the Litter Gitter took off, I left Thompson last spring. I still support them, and they support me. This project just stirred an entrepreneurial spirit. This gives me the opportunity to live my passion in a different way than Thompson. We’re talking to four or five other states, so the energy is there. I decided to take a shot.”

Bates has six employees in Mobile with a new warehouse facility and actually does more than deploy litter traps.

“I was trained by Thompson to be very adaptable,” he said. “It’s bigger than litter traps. We actually help by assessing where the litter is, developing litter removal plans, and we actually help handle the material after we clean it up. Our plastic from the Alabama Coastal Cleanup will be going to a facility in Atlanta that makes graduation caps and gowns out of recycled plastic. We started a little company in south Alabama from a vision that is really getting lot of attention across the country.”

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.

2 months ago

Regulators: Gulf of Mexico red grouper limits staying low

(Wikicommons)

Regulators say catch limits for red grouper in the Gulf of Mexico will stay at this year’s levels indefinitely.

This year’s catch limits and targets were about 60% lower than 2018 levels.

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They were cut after 2017 landings came in at their lowest level in recent years and fishers reported seeing fewer legal-sized red grouper.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries adds that an extensive red tide outbreak off Florida’s west coast in 2018 may also have hurt the red grouper population.

An announcement Tuesday said commercial quotas will remain at 3 million pounds (1.36 million kilograms), with recreational target levels at 920,000 pounds (417,309 kilograms).

To account for management uncertainty, commercial quotas and recreational targets are set a bit lower than the amount experts consider it safe to harvest.
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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2 months ago

New technology changes anglers’ perspectives on fish activity

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

While perusing social media during this seemingly endless summer, I kept seeing photos of slab crappie that were coming from the Alabama River.

Wait, I thought those slabs were caught in the spring when the crappie are spawning or in the fall when the weather and water temperatures have considerably cooled.

Turns out, these anglers were taking advantage of the latest technology to defy the common theory that big crappie are hard to catch during the dog days of summer, which appear set to last into October this year.

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I remember well the first Humminbird flasher my late father installed on his boat and how it helped him locate his favorite structure. It was a big deal way back then.

Considering we hold far more computer power in our hands when we are using our smartphones than the entire Apollo space program had during their trips to the moon, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the latest fish-finding technology could change the way anglers approach a day on the water.

When I asked Joe Allen Dunn how in the world they were catching those slab crappie, he responded, “You need to come see for yourself.”

That’s exactly what happened. While other anglers are using the Humminbird HELIX and Lowrance HDS, Dunn and Brent Crow, a bass-fishing guide and tournament angler on the Tennessee River, opted to go with the Garmin Panoptix with LiveScope.

When Dunn eased his boat into one of the many flats off the main Alabama River at Millers Ferry, I couldn’t imagine crappie of any size would be anywhere but deep water during this oppressive stretch of hot weather.

I was wrong, completely. Over went the trolling motor and Dunn began scanning for the structure that are typically crappie havens during cooler weather, or so I thought.

Rigged with 16-foot poles and spinning reels, we attached minnows to the double-hook rigs with either bare hooks, jigs with curly-tail plastic baits or Road Runner lures.

We dropped the bait about 8 feet down and started easing toward the structure as Dunn eyed the screen.

While I watched the rod tips on my side, Dunn watched the screen as we approached the structure.

Suddenly, a rod tip flexed and the hook was set on a nice crappie.

On the next approach, Dunn said, “You can even see your minnows, look here.” I looked at the screen and, sure enough, I could see the minnows dangling above the structure.

Then I saw something that I never expected. I saw a swirl in the structure and the fish came up and grabbed the bait. “Holy mackerel” was my response as I set the hook.

We started our venture at first light because of the heat and called it a day 4 hours later with 10 nice crappie in the livewell. About twice that many had been caught and released.

“We’ve been trolling for a long time,” Dunn said. “Everybody thinks the slough fish or shallow-water fish are gone or they don’t bite anymore. We proved today that the fish are still there, and they will bite. A lot of people don’t get in the sloughs this time of year and look for structure. Live bait is a big factor until it cools off.”

Dunn said before he was introduced to the new technology, the traditional way to catch crappie was to hit the deep river ledges, bouncing baits off the bottom when power production from the dam created current.

“It all revolved around when they were pulling water,” he said. “For river fish, you have to have that moving water. It keeps them tight to the wood, and you can do better. This new technology is not going to make fish magically appear in front of you. You’ve still got to work to find the fish. The down- and side-imaging helps you locate these fish. But you had to fish so hard to find them. Now, I can hit the GPS and mark it. I can drop a buoy and get the boat situated to face into the wind, and then you use the LiveScope to move back and forth on the structure. You don’t have to troll all over the place to find it. It keeps you from disturbing the fish. That’s the key to it. You can keep your bait in the strike zone all the time now.”

Dunn learned about the technology from James “Big Daddy” Lawler, who had been out on crappie guide Gerald Overstreet’s boat equipped with technology.

“I’ve been fishing for crappie for 32 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lawler said. “It’s totally changed the way I look at crappie fishing. I went into Pine Barren Creek and caught fish in 5 feet of water. I never would have believed that.”

Dunn said crappie anglers don’t have to adopt the new technology and will continue to catch fish, but it certainly has changed his thought process.

“Used to, we would just give up on these fish when it’s hot,” Dunn said. “We wouldn’t go into these sloughs and work to find them. Now I will. This is all new to me. Each phase of the season will be a new learning experience. Once the water temperature changes and the fish move around, I’ll have to use this to see where they go.”

Typically, Dunn said when temperatures drop in the fall, crappie anglers are hitting river ledges that are 18 to 20 feet deep. He can’t wait to find out if that pattern is the only way to catch fish when fall finally arrives.

“These fish in the sloughs and creeks, I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Dunn said. “They might not even move until it’s time to spawn.”

In the lakes in north Alabama, Crow obviously targets black bass, largemouths and smallmouths.

“When you see a fish within 30 feet of the boat, you can see his tail and fins as he swims with LiveScope,” Crow said. “I’ve been running Panoptix and LiveScope for three years. I can’t fish without it. It’s not just seeing fish. It also shows you stumps, grass, drop-offs and ledges. You know exactly where you sit. It eliminates a lot of the guesswork in positioning your boat. For suspended fish, it’s just remarkable. I have caught so many fish that I would never have thrown at without it. I would never have had a clue those fish were there. But even at places that are shallow, like Guntersville, it’ll show you the eel grass. You see the edges or isolated clumps of grass. You don’t have to guess.”

Crow said there are limitations for this technology during certain times of the year.

“You’re not going to see them if they’re spawning in 3 feet of water,” he said. “Any other time – the summer, winter and fall – it works. At Smith Lake or Lake Martin, you pull up on a point and look with the LiveScope. If there’s not any fish there, you don’t have to spend 15 minutes casting to find that out. You can see it in 30 seconds. It makes you way more efficient. You can learn about fish behavior too. They don’t necessarily sit still. You can catch one and see that all the rest of them have moved. Sometimes it’s frustrating because you can watch a fish follow your bait to the boat and never bite. It’s an eye-opening deal. If I get in somebody’s boat that doesn’t have it, I feel like I don’t have a chance. I’m kind of lost.”

Crow said the technology is especially impressive when he’s casting surface lures.

“When I’m fishing topwater, you can see your bait on the surface, and then you see the fish come straight up and eat it,” he said. “It’s awesome. When I’m guiding, I’ll watch the client’s bait and see the fish coming. I tell them, ‘He’s fixing to get it.’ They set the hook and say, ‘How’d you know that?’ I had one guy who told me, ‘Don’t tell me that. I jerk too quick.’”

Of course, the new technology is not for everybody. It’s expensive, but that seldom stops anglers. Crow recommends a graph with at least a 9-inch screen, which will cost you about $1,000. The LiveScope tacks on another $1,500. For Crow, he says the benefits far outweigh the cost.

Crow said he also found out the technology works in muddy water after a tournament on Toledo Bend on the Louisiana-Texas border.

“The water looked like chocolate milk,” he said. “Every fish I caught during the tournament I saw on the graph. It gives you so much of an advantage over somebody who doesn’t have it, it’s unreal.”

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.

Big fish, happy grandson help Selma fisherman win Best Black Belt Fish Photo Contest

(R. Knight/Contributed)

Rickie Knight fishes a lot – in tournaments all over the country and for fun near home in Alabama’s Black Belt. One particular fishing/camping trip near his home in Selma paid off with some big smiles and a win in the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association Best Black Belt Fish Photo Contest.

Knight and his wife, Carol, were spending some quality time close to home on Chilatchee Creek with family when he hauled in a nice bass with one of his grandsons, Gauge Knight. A photo snapped on the boat and entered in the ALBBAA contest picked up the most votes on the not-for-profit’s website and won a half-day guided fishing trip at Lake Eufaula led by expert Tony Adams and a night at beautiful Lakepoint State Park.

“We love Lake Eufaula, so we’re very excited to win this contest,” Knight said.

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Pam Swanner, Director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, called this year’s Best Black Belt Fish Photo Contest a great success. “We are extremely pleased with the response we had to this year’s contest,” she said. “All of our photo contests attract pictures of families involved in the outdoors in the Black Belt, and we take pride in knowing the lessons being both taught and learned in the outdoors will also foster lifelong memories.

“Our contests are meant to educate the public on the abundance of natural resources found in Alabama’s Black Belt, and this time we were happy to see almost three dozen entries, coming from 13 of our 23 Black Belt counties.”

Knight said he enjoyed time on the water with his family, which includes two sons, their wives and five grandchildren. Grandson Gauge, the son of Chase and Brandi Knight and brother of Jayden, Paisley and Spur, takes center stage with the nice Chilatchee Creek bass in the winning photo. The rest of the fishing Knight family includes Jake and Cameron Knight and their son, Foster.

“Rickie has fished all over the country in different levels of tournaments and has lots of fishing friends,” said Carol, the winner’s wife. “We asked our families and friends to vote for his photograph, too.”

The prize package for this year’s contest is valued at $430.

ALBBAA promotes and encourages ethical hunting and fishing practices. The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association is committed to promoting and enhancing outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its people. For information, go to www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Calhoun youth dove hunt draws largest crowd yet

(David Rainer/Contributed)

Tucked in the foothills of the Appalachians in north Alabama was a sight to behold: More than 80 youngsters were gathered in one of the many fields carved into the rolling hills, and not a single eye was glued to a smartphone.

Other activities occupied their minds as the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division readied the crowd of young hunters, parents and mentors for the annual Calhoun County Youth Dove Hunt.

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Before the hunt started at noon, the young participants had their choice of shooting Daisy BB guns at the National Wild Turkey Federation-sponsored shooting range, learning to throw a hatchet, or testing their skills at the ever-popular cornhole toss. Those activities preceded a hamburger-hot dog lunch and safety instructions from WFF Conservation Enforcement Officer Ben Kiser, who along with WFF’s Ginger Howell went to great lengths to continue the hunt’s tradition as one of the top youth events in Alabama’s great outdoors.

Kiser and Howell engaged the nearby Calhoun County communities to support the event, and the response was sufficient to supply plenty of food and drink as well as an abundance of outdoors-related door prizes.

“Ever since I became a game warden, my goal has been to introduce youth to what Alabama has to offer in the outdoors, whether it’s hunting or fishing, getting them off of cellphones or the internet and putting them in a treestand or blind, in a dove field or fishing on the bank or in a boat,” Kiser said. “I want to show them there’s more to offer instead of sitting at home in front of a TV or computer screen.

“I remember growing up hunting with my dad. There may be a lot going on in these kids’ lives, and this is a way to get them away for a few hours.”

Kiser and Howell want to make the event sufficiently special that the youngsters will never forget the day.

“If we can bring kids out here and give them a door prize or present, we can help them make a memory,” Kiser said. “Then a few years down the road, when they get old enough to hunt and fish on their own, they will remember this and be more likely to buy that license and hunt or fish. Our Department (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) depends on getting people out here and being involved in what we do for a living.”

Kiser and Howell started working on the youth dove hunt about three months ago, reaching out to the landowner to get the fields prepared for the hunt as well as local retailers who might be willing to support the event.

“We started going around to local businesses and vendors, people who had expressed interest in helping us put on one of these events,” Kiser said. “We ended up getting three shotguns donated, two of which were donated to us from Exile Armory, a Yeti cooler, several Moultrie game cameras and other items. We got a lot of help from the ACEOA (Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association) and Superior GMC-Cadillac in Anniston. They were big in making this event bigger than last year. We got items that we thought the kids would be more apt to use instead of what the adults would use. Then we got out and hit the pavement. We put up signs everywhere – in store windows, Jack’s, gun shops, Academy. We posted the hunt on social media. I talked to several people who had been here before and got it out by word of mouth. There’s a lot that goes into an event like this.”

Howell added, “We made sure we had plenty of food, and we made sure every youth here got a door prize. This hunt allows families to spend some quality time together and bond.”

The local NWTF chapter brought its shooting sports trailer with a blow-up BB-gun range and a hatchet-throwing game. The BB-gun range introduces the young hunters to gun safety and keeps them engaged.

Obviously, the first step in holding a youth dove hunt is to secure a place to hunt, which is where Randy Martin of Calhoun County stepped forward.

“I love to see all these young’uns come out here,” Martin said. “I think we live in a culture where these kinds of events can help establish a moral foundation and bring them into God’s creation so they can get a little different perspective on life. We’re trying to use our farm in ways that not only benefit us but allow others to benefit. That’s why we’re holding this dove shoot. I feel like my part is the easy part. The organization and fundraising that Ben and Ginger take care of is what takes all the time. I’m very appreciative of these people. I think they have the same goals for the youth that we do.”

One of the adult hunters, WFF Enforcement Section Chief Matt Weathers, brought his son and his son’s friend to the youth hunt. Weathers relayed an interesting incident that occurred on the way to the hunt.

“We stopped at Jack’s for breakfast on the way up here,” Weathers said. “The two little boys with me were both wearing camouflage. We were sitting there eating. After they finished, they got up to go to the bathroom. One of the guys sitting in the booth behind us, an older gentleman, was getting up to leave, and he turned around and came back to me. He said, ‘You know, you don’t see little boys wearing camouflage anymore. Most daddies don’t take their kids hunting anymore.’ I told him that we were going to a youth dove hunt in Calhoun County, and this daddy takes kids hunting, some that are not mine.”

Weathers said the conversation progressed into a discussion about how priorities are changing as well as the role of the father in families.

“He was in his late 70s, and he talked about how he had taken his children hunting all their lives,” Weathers said. “From my standpoint, I talk about that a lot. I bring that subject up, but seldom does the public come to me with the subject that I’m so familiar with. The gentleman had no idea I was the Game Warden Chief. He just knew he and I shared the same views on passing our hunting heritage along. I thought that was an interesting conversation on my way to a youth dove hunt where the sole focus is to introduce the next generation to hunting.”

Each registered adult hunter was required to bring one or two youths 15 years old or younger. The adult, who was allowed to join in the hunt, had to remain within 30 feet of each youth at all times when the participants reached the dove field.

Although the weather was hot for a typical mid-September day in north Alabama, the young hunters spread around two fields, some near round hay bales, and watched the skies for any sign of doves.

Although the doves waited very late to fly because of the heat, the hunters were able to shoot enough to make the shotshell manufacturers happy, not to mention those 80-plus young hunters.

The youth dove hunt program has provided a continued opportunity for youngsters to enter the ranks of hunters. This hunt highlights only one of the 28 youth dove hunts hosted by the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries across the state. If you’re interested in attending one of them, visit https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/Public/AvailableHunts/6 for a list of youth dove hunts still available. But don’t hesitate because very few hunts remain.
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

Complacency often leads to treestand, firearms accidents

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Hunter Education Program wants to teach old hunters new safety tricks. Actually, these are not new safety tricks, but experienced hunters seem to be failing to follow them, according to last year’s hunting accident reports.

During the 2018-2019 hunting seasons, 15 treestand accidents were reported, and more than half of those individuals were age-exempt from having to complete a hunter education course. Of the five who did take the hunter ed course, all under the age of 40, only one of those was wearing a full-body harness when the accident occurred.

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“That full-body harness probably saved his life or saved him from serious injuries,” said Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Program coordinator. “He fell asleep in his stand, but he lived to see another day. He did everything he was supposed to do, excluding the falling out of the tree part. Three of the 15 accidents were fatalities. Still, a lot of these injuries could have been prevented with a full-body harness.”

For those born on or after Aug. 1, 1977, must complete the hunter education course before they can purchase a hunting license. However, Futral urges everyone who plans to pursue game this fall to take the hunter ed course.

“Even if you are grandfathered in, there’s always something you can learn,” she said. “I’ve noticed over the years that it is the hunters who don’t have to take the course are the ones having the accidents.

“I think the mentality is they’ve been hunting their whole life and get complacent. But those older hunters could learn a lot by taking the hunter education course, which is a lot more than firearms safety. The No. 1 hunting accident is falling out of trees. That is covered extensively in the hunter ed class.”

Of the three fatalities, none were wearing a full-body harness. Two of the fatalities were using climbing stands, while the other was in a hang-on stand.

The accident reports indicated one fatality occurred when the hunter was using a climbing stand and was about 21 feet off the ground when the straps on the stand broke.

The other fatality using a climbing stand also fell 21 feet when rusty connectors broke as he was sitting in the stand.

“One of the problems is that people aren’t inspecting their equipment before they climb,” Futral said. “You cannot leave your stands in the woods all year and expect them to be safe.”

The hunter who was using the hang-on was killed when he apparently fell as he climbed into the stand.

“If they had been wearing full-body harnesses, they would probably still be alive,” Futral said.

Futral also stresses that hunters should be connected to the tree in some way when they are climbing and descending the tree. Several accidents have occurred when hunters have been wearing safety harnesses but fell going up or coming down the tree. Several products are available that keep hunters attached to the tree at all times.

Of the non-fatal treestand accidents, the 11 who were not wearing full-body harnesses suffered a variety of injuries, including broken bones and internal injuries.

“Again, the guy who wore a harness had no major injuries,” Futral said. “You don’t have to suffer the consequences of a major injury.”

WFF Hunter Education stresses the following 11 guidelines for using a treestand safely:

  1. Always wear a safety harness, also known as a fall-arrest system, when you are in a treestand, as well as when climbing into or out of a treestand. Statistics show that the majority of treestand incidents occur while climbing in and out of a stand.
  2. A safety strap should be attached to the tree to prevent you from falling more than 12 inches.
  3. Always inspect the safety harness for signs of wear or damage before each use.
  4. Follow all manufacturers’ instructions for use of a safety harness and stand.
  5. Follow the three-point rule of treestand safety. Always have three points of contact to the steps or ladder before moving. This could be two arms and one leg holding and stepping on the ladder or one arm and two legs in contact with the ladder before moving. Be cautious that rain, frost, ice or snow can cause steps to become extremely slippery. Check the security of the step before placing your weight on it.
  6. Always hunt with a plan and, if possible, a buddy. Before you leave home, let others know your exact hunting location, when you plan to return and who is with you.
  7. Always carry emergency signal devices such as a cell phone, walkie-talkie, whistle, signal flare, PLD (personal locator device) and flashlight at all times and within reach even while you are suspended in your fall-arrest system. Watch for changing weather conditions. In the event of an incident, remain calm and seek help immediately.
  8. Always select the proper tree for use with your treestand. Select a live, straight tree that fits within the size limits recommended in your treestand’s instructions. Do not climb or place a treestand against a leaning tree.
  9. Never leave a treestand installed for more than two weeks since damage could result from changing weather conditions and/or from other factors not obvious with a visual inspection.
  10. Always use a haul line to pull up your gear and unloaded firearm or bow to your treestand once you have reached your desired hunting height. Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back. Prior to descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree.
  11. Always know your physical limitations. Don’t take chances. Do not climb when impaired by drugs, alcohol or if you’re sick or unrested. If you start thinking about how high you are, stop climbing.

Alabama hunters also had several firearms-related accidents during the 2018-2019 season with three fatalities and two non-fatal incidents.

Two of the fatalities were self-inflicted. One was in a shooting house when the accident happened. The other occurred when the hunter fell, and his handgun discharged. One fatality occurred when a hunter was mistaken for game.

One of the two non-fatal accidents happened during a dove-hunting outing. The shooter covered another hunter while swinging on a dove. Failure to check beyond the target, a deer, resulted in the second non-fatal accident.

When I write about having a safe and enjoyable hunting season, I always list 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.

Even if you’ve been hunting all your life, Futral urges both experienced hunters and young hunters to complete the hunter education course for a variety of reasons.

“You don’t have to wait until you’re 16 to take the hunter education course,” Futral said. “You can take it as early as 10. Don’t wait until the last minute. For the older hunters, there’s always something they can learn. You may have been hunting all your life, but there may be one bit of information that you hadn’t thought about that could save your life. Take a young person to hunter ed class and sit in with them. It’ll be a good experience for both.”

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

Alabama adding three-day red snapper season in October

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has announced that it will open an additional three-day private angler recreational season for red snapper in October.

The additional season will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, October 4, and run until midnight on Sunday, October 6.

The possession limit will be two fish per person with a minimum size limit of 16 inches total length. Anglers are reminded that as of September 1, any angler age 16 and older must have a Reef Fish Endorsement to possess any species of Gulf reef fish.

The news was welcomed by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) on social media.

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“More good news for our Alabama fishermen! I’m proud we were able to get states more control over the #RedSnapper season, which has resulted in more fishing days,” Byrne tweeted.

Detailed red snapper landing information is available here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 months ago

Auburn University bass fishing team celebrates national championship victory

(Auburn University Bass Fishing Team/Facebook)

The Auburn University bass fishing team recently won the first-ever Major League Fishing College Redcrest National Championship, marking another impressive milestone for the most dominant collegiate angling program in the country.

The event was held on the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin, last month.

In a release from the university in recent days, Logan Parks, vice president of the team, commented, “It’s pretty sweet to be able to say we are the first-ever Redcrest National Champions. We are looking forward to defending our title next year.”

The Auburn University Bass Fishing team is currently the top-ranked Division I team in the country, and it has held this impressive ranking almost every year since the team was founded in 2007.

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Additionally, Auburn’s team is the only one ever to qualify and send a boat to every Fishing League Worldwide National Championship.

The team has some notable former members, including the winner of the Bassmaster Classic in 2017 and 2018, Jordan Lee, and his brother, Matt, who won the Carhartt College Bassmaster Classic Bracket.

“Jordan actually took another team member and me fishing in eighth grade when we first started our high school team at Auburn High School,” Parks said. “Ever since then, all we’ve wanted to do is come to Auburn and fish.”

This season, team members will compete in 15 to 20 events. Parks said he is honored to be able to compete for the same program as angling stars like Lee.

“To be able to represent the same school they did makes us set high standards for ourselves,” Parks emphasized. “They left a legacy for us to carry on and we plan on doing that.”

Team members included Parks, a junior studying supply chain management; Lucas Lindsay, a junior studying agricultural science; Will Phillips, a senior studying mechanical engineering; Chase Mundhenke, a sophomore studying agriculture business and economics; Patch Pelt, a senior studying building science; and Anthony Vintson, a senior studying accounting.

These individuals represented Auburn on three boats and brought home the recent title from the Redcrest National Championships. The team received an invitation to participate in this prestigious competition because it qualified and was ranked among the top five schools in America based on the competition’s unique point system.

The Auburn team’s top two boats caught a combined weight of nearly 97 pounds, winning them the competition and being seven pounds heavier than any of the other schools that competed.

“We ended up putting together a game plan and found enough fish to win,” Parks explained.

This came after Auburn’s team had already won the Major League Fishing College Iron Bowl held in May.

(Photo: Auburn University Bass Fishing Team/Facebook)

RELATED: Alabama high school students win Bassmaster championship for second consecutive year

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn