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.

5 hours ago

Andrews’ AJ breaks 38-year-old Alabama record

(Alabama Outdoors/Contributed)

The 127-pound, 12-ounce amberjack that reigned atop the Alabama state records for 38 years was landed before Brian Andrews was born.

Marcus Kennedy of Mobile, who caught the big amberjack on June 19, 1981, saw the last of his state records fall on Friday, August 23, when Andrews’ 132-pound, 12.8-ounce fish takes its place after the record certification process is complete.

Andrews was aboard Capt. Bobby Walker’s Summer Breeze II soon after the amberjack season in the Gulf of Mexico kicked back in on August 1 a few weeks ago.

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Walker, who has been fishing the Gulf as a captain or deckhand for 50 years, went to a special amberjack (AJ) spot and his anglers started to hook nice fish.

“I couldn’t have had a better angler,” Walker said of Andrews, who hails from Citronelle. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. He was a big, strong, strapping guy. You talk about a guy working on a fish, he could do it.”

The 37-year-old Andrews is no neophyte angler. He has previously owned his own private Gulf boat and had some experience fishing offshore. He said the trip on Summer Breeze II started out in rough seas but turned into a nice day for fishing. After catching a few beeliners on two-hook rigs, the anglers got down to serious business at the amberjack holes.

When Andrews hooked up, he wasn’t sure what was on the other end of the line. He had caught a 70-pound amberjack earlier in his fishing career, but this one was different.

“I was trying to be positive, but several people were telling me it was a shark,” Andrews said. “He was pulling like a shark, but you never know. He made at least three big runs. It took at least 30 minutes to get him in. When he makes a run, all you can do is hold the rod and watch him go. When he starts peeling drag, you just hold on. When he stops peeling drag, you have to start taking some of the line back.”

The main thing the boat captain was worried about was the number of sharks that were hanging out in the same vicinity as the AJs.

“We had caught so many big bull sharks,” Walker said “I was hoping to goodness it wasn’t a shark. We had already caught two or three good jacks off that hole and broke off a couple. I was just hoping we weren’t wasting time reeling up a big shark. I hollered down to Paul (Resmondo), my deckhand, to let me know when he could see the fish and tell what it was. He said, ‘Bobby, he looks like he’s 40 feet down, but I can tell you it’s an AJ, and he looks huge.’”

When Andrews finally reeled the big fish to the surface, the deckhands gaffed the fish and struggled to get it into the boat.

“When that fish hit the deck, his mouth flopped open, and I said he looked like he could swallow a basketball,” Walker said. “His head was huge. I told them I’d lay money that the fish was at least 100. I didn’t think any more about it.”

Andrews said it was time for a break after the fish was finally on the deck and the deckhands were in charge.

“We admired him for a few minutes,” Andrews said. “We took a few pictures and got him on ice. I went inside for some AC (air conditioning) after that. After about 45 minutes, I was ready to catch another one. It took me a little while to recoup.”

The boat came back in and docked at Zeke’s Marina. Walker was busy squaring away the boat for the next trip when he heard something that got his attention.

“Then I heard people hollering and raising Cain and wondered what was going on,” he said. “They had hauled the fish up on the scales. When I saw it, I said, ‘Whoa.’ Tom Ard looked at me and said, Bobby, you’ve got a state record.”

The big fish measured 65 inches from the tip of its snout to the fork of its tail and sported a 40-inch girth.

Obviously, when you spend as much time as Walker on the Gulf, plenty of big fish are going to hit the marina dock.

“I’ve caught plenty of big amberjacks during my day,” he said. “I think that was the third one over 100 pounds. Believe it or not, we caught a 109 and a 111 on the same day about 10 years ago.”

When Kennedy, 17 at the time, caught the long-standing AJ record, he said big amberjack were more common during the late ’70s and early ’80s, and he was definitely gung-ho when it came to targeting big fish.

“We had caught several fish over 100 pounds back then,” said Kennedy, who held the Alabama blue marlin record for 26 years before it was broken in 2013. “I had previously held the record at 102 pounds. Some of my high school friends and my dad (the late Rod Kennedy) were out fishing. We actually caught that big fish (the record) on the Edwards Liberty Ship. I think I caught it on a small, live king mackerel, but I can’t remember 100%. I definitely was using a 6/0 reel with 100-pound test line and a Ross Hutchisson custom rod. That was my big amberjack rig. Back then, that’s what we fished for. We won the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo on a regular basis with big amberjack. When we got that fish in the boat, I knew it was significantly bigger that the 102-pounder that I’d caught before. We got him to the boat in 15 to 20 minutes. We fought them hard, and I had a good, strong back back then.”

Now that his last record is off the Alabama record books, he’s not worried about getting back on the list. He’s going to leave that up to his 28-year-old son, Tyler, who already owns three state records for other saltwater species.

“If I catch a record fish, it’s going to be something smaller,” Kennedy said. “It’s not going to be an amberjack or blue marlin. I’ll leave that up to Tyler and Ryan (Kennedy, his 20-year-old nephew).”

Walker said amberjack are usually around some kind of structure – wrecks, petroleum rigs or big rocks on natural bottom – and can be anywhere from 50 feet to 300 feet down. He said it’s easy to distinguish between the different snappers and the amberjack. He marks AJs on his bottom machine and tells his anglers how far to drop.

Although a lot of anglers will use big jigs for amberjack, Capt. Walker likes to use live bait for the big fish.

“Hardtails (blue runners) are probably the best bait,” he said. “Jigs used to work great, but AJs are just not as plentiful and are harder to catch. We just like to drop a big, live bait down and see what’s down there. The secret to catching a big AJ is having the right tackle. You’ve got to go pretty heavy. You can’t catch one like that on light tackle. First, you’ve got to get him away from the wreck or the rocks. You’ve got to have some pretty strong tackle to do that. If you can get him away from the structure, you’ve got a good chance of catching him.”

Walker said amberjack fishing has been a little slow so far, but he knows fishing success is cyclical.

“One year it’s great, and the next year you’re wondering where the AJs went,” he said. “This has started out like one of those years that’s down a little.”

Walker said the demand to catch amberjack doesn’t compare with red snapper. He fished 55 of the 62-day snapper season for charter boats.

“People like to catch amberjacks, but it’s nothing like the bookings we get for snapper,” he said. “We tell them we can also catch beeliners (vermilion snapper) and maybe a scamp or a grouper. I’ve got some more 12-hour trips coming up. I’m probably going to the amberjack hole. I want to see if lightning strikes twice in the same spot.”

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

Buckmasters longest-running hunting show on TV

(Buckmasters/Contributed)

As a teenager and young adult, one TV show I did not miss was “The American Sportsman” with host Curt Gowdy. The highlights were the bird-hunting trips with Phil Harris, Bing Crosby and the legendary Bear Bryant. Gowdy’s show was one of the longest-running TV shows that featured hunting on a regular basis.

However, at 23 years, “The American Sportsman” does not come close to the longevity record.

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That honor belongs to Buckmasters, which is in its 33rd season on the air with Montgomery, Alabama, native Jackie Bushman as its main host.

“We’ve been chasing whitetails for 33 years on major cable television,” Bushman said with the 2019 Buckmasters Expo set for Friday through Sunday this week at the Montgomery Convention Center. “Just to watch how it’s changed from the cameras, the female hunters and new hosts, it’s amazing where it’s come in 33 years. I’m very, very proud of being a part of it.”

Bushman said his inspiration for Buckmasters was Ray Scott, who elevated bass fishing to elite status through Bassmasters, the organization Scott founded.

“Way back, Ray Scott was a good friend, and I watched what he did with Bassmasters,” Bushman said. “But bass fishing and deer hunting are two different sports. There are some things you can do in bass fishing you can’t do in deer hunting. I remember the hardest thing getting started was the cameras and light-gathering capabilities. That’s probably the reason nobody did a whitetail show. With the old cameras, I just wanted to pull my hair out. The most common two words from my camera guy were, ‘Don’t shoot,’ because there wasn’t enough light.”

When Buckmasters started, the cameramen were lugging around 25-pound cameras that cost $45,000 each. The evolution in video equipment to today makes it much easier with handheld cameras with high definition that cost $3,000 to $4,000.

“It’s amazing how far the technology has come since we started,” Bushman said. “And the light sensitivity allows us to hunt in conditions that we used to never dream of.”

Bushman said he really can’t pinpoint a time when he knew Buckmasters was going to be a success, and he could quit teaching tennis at Lagoon Park.

“I was doing the consumer shows, trying to sell Buckmasters, and still teaching tennis,” he said. “When we got to go to TNN (The Nashville Network), we went from 10,000 or 12,000 subscribers to 80,000. Then it just kept taking off from there. That was the biggest catalyst to get us going to the next level. For five years, we were the only hunting show on any of the major networks.”

When TNN was sold and the new buyers didn’t want any hunting or fishing programming, Buckmasters spent a couple of years searching for a new network home before settling in at the Outdoor Channel, its home for the past 16 years.

The TV show’s content has also changed over the years from strictly hunting whitetails to hunting a variety of big-game species.

“When it was all whitetails, that put a lot of pressure on us because you’ve got only X number of weeks to hunt to get original footage,” Bushman said. “We started mixing in elk hunts, caribou hunts and bear hunts. But it’s still 80-85% whitetail, because that’s what most people want to watch. When you go on location for 4½ days, you’re trying to get 17 minutes and 40 seconds of editorial content to fill up a TV show. I always tell everybody that if you see a lot of talking on the show, we had a bad week. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Over the years, Bushman introduced new features to the show, including Officer Rusty, a genuine Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Conservation Enforcement Officer, Rusty Morrow. A puppet character named Shotgun Red was also added.

“I always wanted to have something for the kids,” Bushman said. “For the 33 years, it’s always been about the kids and getting the new generation going. I was on ‘Nashville Now’ with Ralph Emery. We were talking about the new season of Buckmasters, and Steve Hall, who was Shotgun Red, was listening.

“Steve Hall said to me, ‘What you said about hunting and conservation, that’s the coolest things I’ve heard on national TV.’ I told Ralph that if it wasn’t for the hunters and fishermen, we wouldn’t have the abundant wildlife we have today.”

Bushman said anyone who loves to see and experience the wildlife and natural resources Americans enjoy should consider buying a hunting and/or fishing license regardless of whether they hunt or fish.

“I tell people, I promise that money will go toward conservation projects,” he said.

Shotgun Red quickly became a part of the Buckmasters TV show and was an instant hit. One promotion promised a Shotgun Red doll for youngsters who wrote into the show. Demand quickly outstripped supply.

“Kids loved Shotgun Red,” Bushman said. “I didn’t have a clue of how big it was going to get. I’ve had grown men come up to me and say, ‘I never got my Shotgun Red doll.’ It’s funny how it touched a lot of people.”

Another celebrity soon joined the show. The Buckmasters Classic was a huge event at Southern Sportsman’s Lodge outside Montgomery that combined deer hunting and a wide variety of celebrities who competed in all sorts of games. Jim Varney, the rubber-faced comedian of Ernest fame, came to Buckmasters Classic one year and asked how he could help promote the outdoors lifestyle.

“We couldn’t use Ernest, so we had to come up with another character,” Bushman said. “We went to an outdoors store, and Jim started trying on hats. He looked like Elmer Fudd in one hat, but then we found an orange hat with ear flaps. He put one flap up and one down, and he looked in the mirror and said, “Bush, this is it.’ From that day forward, he was Bubba. When we put Shotgun Red and Bubba together with me in the middle, it was a huge, huge hit. Now I’ve lost both my co-hosts. Jim Varney passed away when he was 50, and Steve Hall passed away this year.”

Bushman said Varney also helped him with his on-camera presence.

“He told me one day, ‘Bush, you look mad,’” Bushman said. “I said, ‘Jim, I ain’t mad, I’m scared.’ He taught me so much about the camera. He said, ‘The camera is your best friend. It’s not your enemy. When you’re talking to the camera, it’s got to be your buddy.’ I’m still not great, but I’ve learned to relax a little and be more myself.”

Bushman still marvels at the reach of the Buckmasters TV show.

“I’m just a country boy from Montgomery, Alabama, doing a hunting show,” he said. “You walk through an airport, or you walk on a beach, or you’re in a restaurant, and people come up and tell me they love the show. I never fathomed that so many people would watch the show. And believe me, the show was not about me. It was about getting people ready for deer season. I promise you, there are a lot better deer hunters out there than me. There are a lot of deer running around out there laughing at that part of it. I could do a three-year series on just missed deer.”

Bushman said his goal for the show is to project their love of hunting and try to point out the positive aspects of the outdoors experience.

“You know, bird watching is the fastest-growing sport in the nation,” he said. “What people don’t know is who funds the conservation efforts so that we have abundant wildlife of all species. The hunters fund it. But we want you to come hunting and be a part of our fraternity. A part of it is access to hunting land, but a lot of kids these days are in single-parent homes. If everybody in a hunting club took a kid or an adult newcomer hunting, it’s a pretty simple equation. We have 11 million hunters. If everybody took a kid hunting who didn’t have access to it, we’d double our numbers. If we don’t do that, our numbers will continue to decline.”

This weekend, Bushman will be hanging around the Buckmasters booth at the convention center with a variety of activities going on around him. More than 300 exhibitors will have the latest hunting equipment. The Brewster buck, the new world record whitetail, will be on display. Hunting celebrities will be available for autographs as well as the usual indoor archery championship. New this year will be the Buckmasters collegiate fishing competition.

Visit www.buckmasters.com/resources/expo for more information. Entry fee is a can of food that will be donated to the Montgomery Area Food Bank.

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

Youth dove hunts provide a gateway to the outdoors

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) provides several youth dove hunt opportunities throughout the state each fall. A simple hunting setup combined with a fun, family-friendly atmosphere makes WFF’s youth dove hunts an ideal way to introduce young people to the outdoors.

Registration for this year’s hunts will open at 8 a.m. on August 19, 2019. Although the hunts are free, online registration is required. For most of the state, the hunts begin on September 7. For more information including a complete hunt schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/youth-hunting/youth-dove-hunts.

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Josh Burnette from Gadsden, Alabama, has taken his son Logan to an ADCNR youth dove hunt each year since he was six years old.

“When he was a younger kid, it was a good, safe way to introduce him to the outdoors,” Burnette said. “As he has gotten older, he has progressed to learning more about gun safety and taking good shots.”

Since his introduction to the youth dove hunts, Logan – now 10 years old – has also harvested his first deer, been turkey hunting several times, and even has his own squirrel dog named Clover.

Burnette, who is a forester for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said that in addition to being a gateway to the outdoors for young people, the youth dove hunts help build relationships between landowners and hunters.

“It can be hard to find places to introduce kids to hunting,” Burnette said. “We are thankful for the landowners who donate their time and money to prep their fields for these hunts.”

To participate in the hunts, youth hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent) who has a valid state hunting license, a Harvest Information Program (HIP) stamp and a Conservation ID number.

Alabama’s youth dove hunt events are held in open fields and staffed by WFF personnel, which encourages a safe, secure environment for both parents and participants. Before each hunt, a short welcome session with reminders on hunting safety will be conducted. All hunters are encouraged to wear eye protection and earplugs.

Doves are migratory and covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has special rules and regulations that apply to dove hunting which all hunters must follow. To review the Alabama Cooperative Extension System recommendations for plantings related to dove management, visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/mourning-dove-hunting-alabama.

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

(Courtesy of Outdoor Alabama)

2 weeks ago

Alabama announces two additional days of red snapper season for private anglers

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

After completing a review of the 2019 private angler red snapper season through August 5, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has determined two additional days can be added to the private angler recreational season. The additional days will begin 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, August 31, 2019, and run until midnight on Sunday, September 1, 2019.

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Landing estimates are derived from mandatory angler reports submitted through Alabama’s Snapper Check Program. Anglers are reminded that greater amberjack is available for voluntary reporting through the Snapper Check app.

Detailed red snapper landing information from the 2018 and 2019 seasons is available at www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/exempted-fishing-permit.

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

2 weeks ago

Alabama high school students win Bassmaster championship for second consecutive year

(Photo by: Brenden Kanies/B.A.S.S.)

Alabama’s Grayson Morris and Tucker Smith completed a wire-to-wire win this past weekend to secure victory in the Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors, earning a $4,500 scholarship towards their college education.

A statement from the prestigious tournament added that this win made for back-to-back titles for the duo and their boat captain/coach, J.T. Russell. This is the first time in history that a high school team has won in consecutive years.

Morris and Smith are both students at Birmingham’s Briarwood Christian School.

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Morris and Smith finished the three-day tournament with a total weight of 50 pounds, 1 ounce, beating the second place finishers by 1 pound, 9 ounces.

“We were ecstatic after winning last year’s National Championship, but to do it two years in a row was unbelievable to all of us,” Russell said. “We were confident coming into this year’s event, but to pull it off two years in a row and for it to come down to the wire like it did was amazing. We caught our last keeper with only 15 minutes left and had we not caught that fish, we wouldn’t have won.”

Morris will continue his career this fall as a freshman for the University of Montevallo Fishing Team, where Russell is now a senior angler.

Smith is going into his senior year at Briarwood Christian.

Morris and Smith earned an additional $875 in scholarship funds for having the “Big Bag” of the tournament.

“We weren’t going to leave anything out there,” Smith said. “If we were going to finish second, we weren’t going down without a fight.”

RELATED: South Alabama boys win Bassmaster Junior Championship

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

2 weeks ago

South Alabama boys win Bassmaster Junior Championship

(Fox 10 WALA/YouTube)

Two boys from Southwest Alabama on Sunday triumphantly returned to the Yellowhammer State after winning the Bassmaster Junior Championship.

According to Fox 10, Citronelle’s Triton Graham and Huntley Dees were given a champion’s welcome back in town.

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They were met by a large crowd of family and friends, who congratulated the young fishermen on their accomplishment.

Graham and Dees now hold the world title for ages 15 and under.

Watch Fox 10’s report:

RELATED: Lake Guntersville ranked nation’s second-best for fishing by Bassmaster

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

2 weeks ago

Alabama sets first sandhill crane season in century

(David Rainer/Contributed)

Alabama hunters will have their first opportunity in 103 years to hunt a migratory bird that has been making a steady comeback for the past few decades.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division will conduct a draw hunt of 400 permits to hunt sandhill cranes, becoming the third state east of the Mississippi River to hold a sandhill hunt.

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“The last sandhill crane hunting in Alabama was in 1916,” said Seth Maddox, WFF Migratory Game Bird Coordinator. “This is the first time in 13 years that we’ve had a new species open to hunting. The last was alligator in 2006. It’s pretty exciting.”

The sandhill crane season will be split with the first segment from December 3, 2019, to January 5, 2020. The second segment will be January 16-31, 2020.

The daily, season and possession limit will be three birds per permit. Hunters can harvest all three birds in one day if they choose.

“This sandhill crane season came about through the feedback of hunters,” Maddox said. “They started seeing increased numbers of sandhills while they were out hunting other species, especially waterfowl. Hunters wanted the opportunity to hunt this species in Alabama. They’d heard about the seasons in Kentucky and Tennessee from their friends. Hunters have paved the way for the species recovery of sandhill crane. We want to provide hunting opportunities when they are available.”

In the early 2000s, discussions began about possible sandhill crane seasons in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. In the Eastern U.S. the subspecies is called the giant sandhill crane.

Maddox said by 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approved a sandhill crane management plan that included a hunt plan for the Mississippi Flyway, which includes Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

“Kentucky was the first state to take advantage of that,” Maddox said. “They opened their season in 2011. Tennessee opened their season in 2013. We’ll be the third state east of the Mississippi to have a sandhill season this year.”

Thirteen states west of the Mississippi River have sandhill crane hunting seasons.

“We started counting sandhills in 2010 in conjunction with our aerial waterfowl surveys,” Maddox said. “We conduct the aerial surveys each fall and winter. Since 2010, we’ve seen a 16% increase on average per year in the state.”

In 2016, WFF staff began discussions about the possibility of a sandhill season and began the tedious process to get a hunting season approved by USFWS.

“We had to go through the Flyway (The Mississippi Flyway Council) process, just like any other state that wants to add a new season on migratory birds,” Maddox said. “We began discussing that with the Flyway. We gathered all of our data and put together a proposal for a hunt plan. It took a couple of years to get through that process.”

When that effort was completed, Alabama was granted a three-year experimental season, beginning in 2019.

WFF opted to make the season a limited draw with 400 permits that will be issued through a computer-controlled random draw. Those drawn must complete the process. Once approved, each permittee will be issued three tags for a maximum total harvest of 1,200 birds.

The registration process is limited to Alabama residents 16 or older or Alabama lifetime license holders. Applicants must have their regular hunting license and a state waterfowl stamp to apply.

Maddox said the registration process will open in September and be open for several weeks. The drawing will occur in October.

However, the process is not complete even if you are lucky enough to be drawn.

“If drawn, they will have to take an online test that includes species identification and regulations,” Maddox said. “Once they pass that test, we will issue the permit and tags. Then they must purchase a federal duck stamp and HIP (Harvest Information Program) license, and if hunting on a WMA (wildlife management area), a WMA license. Once they have all that, they are good to hunt.”

Maddox said the number of permits was derived from the number of sandhill cranes counted over a five-year average. The guidelines under the hunt plan allow a state to harvest 10 percent of that five-year average.

“Our five-year average is 15,029 birds,” he said. “For the experimental season, we elected to keep the harvest below 10 percent because we wanted to take it slow and ensure hunting will not be detrimental to the population.”

Maddox said the majority of migratory sandhill cranes are found in the Tennessee River Valley with some birds wintering in Weiss Reservoir on the Coosa River.

Sandhill cranes prefer wetland habitat with emergent vegetation. Unlike other wading birds, sandhills don’t target fish or other aquatic species for forage.

“Sandhills mainly eat small grains,” Maddox said. “You see them feeding a lot in harvested grain fields, corn fields particularly in Alabama. They normally roost near water and forage during the day in the harvested grain fields. They typically roost in water to stay away from predators. But they roost in large numbers to give them more eyes to watch for predators.”

Sandhills stand 4 to 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 4 to 6 feet. Maddox said those who have harvested sandhills rave about the taste of the bird, although he’s never eaten it.

“I know they call them the ribeye of the sky,” he said. “They’re known as one of the best-tasting migratory birds out there.”

Hunting will be limited to north Alabama in a zone that runs from the Georgia state line down Interstate 20 to Birmingham, then north of I-22 to the Mississippi state line.

Maddox said the typical migration route for sandhills is to enter north Alabama before moving east into Georgia and then south to Florida.

“There are areas south of Birmingham associated with non-migratory populations in southeast Mississippi and in Florida,” he said. “Those birds are protected. That’s why we chose to keep it in north Alabama.”

After the season, all permit holders will be required to take a postseason survey provided by WFF. If those permit holders fail to complete the postseason survey, they will not be eligible for the drawing in the future. WFF is required to provide that information to USFWS to continue the experimental seasons.

As expected, Maddox said WFF received some negative feedback when the sandhill season was announced.

“We have received some negative feedback,” he said. “Mainly, the callers did not know much about the species. We try to provide them with information about what the hunt is going to be like, the data we have collected, and the vetting and thought process that has gone into this. Conservation efforts funded mostly from hunters is one of the main reasons for the rebound of the crane, similar to many other species of wildlife. Most of the people I have talked to have changed their minds by the end of the conversation, or at least been okay with it. There will still be people who are not going to be swayed because they don’t want to see this species hunted. But sandhills are like any other game species. A hundred years ago, deer and turkey were rare in the state. We had to build those numbers back up. It just took sandhill cranes a little longer.”

Maddox said this likely won’t be a slam-dunk for those who get permits.

“Sandhills have great eyesight and are pretty wary,” he said. “It can be tough hunting. Some people will pass-shoot them and others will use blinds and decoys. It will be interesting the first couple of years to see how hunters adapt.”

A friend of mine from Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., just outside Chattanooga, shared some insights on the Tennessee seasons, at least the first five. To his chagrin, he didn’t get drawn for last year’s season.

Tony Sanders, an outdoor writer and radio host, said, without a doubt, it’s the most exciting hunting he’s ever done.

“I’ve hunted two ways, and both are fun,” said Sanders, who also is the District 4 Wildlife Commissioner for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “I’ve hunted just pass-shooting, coming off the water going to the fields to feed. It was almost like a big dove shoot. But sandhills are deceptively big and extremely tough. I didn’t realize that the first year. I feel like I’m a pretty good shot. There was a group of five birds coming by. I’m on the first bird in the group. When I shot, I dropped the third bird. It didn’t make any sense. Ten minutes later, I walked to my car parked in a small food plot. The birds were flying over, and I realized how fast they were flying. These birds are so big and deceptively fast.”

Sanders most often opts to hunt cranes another way, which is in a blind with a decoy spread.

“The second way is more fun,” he said. “You set up a decoy spread and call them in. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see them cup their wings several hundred yards away, knowing they’re coming to your spread. But they are extremely wary birds. They’re like ducks on steroids. Everything has to be right, and you’ve got to be hidden. I hope the people of Alabama really love it. I can’t wait for our drawing. It’s our anniversary. I told my wife I had to be at the drawing. She’s great. She understood.”

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

NOAA’s Gallaudet gets tour of Alabama coastal culture

(David Rainer/Contributed)

One of the top officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently received a grand tour of the Alabama Gulf Coast during one of the busiest weekends of the summer.

Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, who holds a doctorate in oceanography and currently serves as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and as Deputy NOAA Administrator, was the guest of Dauphin Island Sea Lab Executive Director John Valentine.

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Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), joined Admiral Gallaudet’s visit, which included stops at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), the world’s largest saltwater fishing tournament, as well as the Weeks Bay Reserve, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and an oyster aquaculture operation.

“We appreciated the opportunity to get Admiral Gallaudet down to the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo and showcase what great fisheries we have in Alabama and further offshore,” Blankenship said. “He’s the man who supervises the Assistant Administrator of NOAA Fisheries. He was able to see many big red snapper, tuna, king mackerel and inshore species like red drum and spotted sea trout and to talk with Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. We were able to talk to him about our artificial reef program, state management of red snapper and the need for more timely stock assessments that come through the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Science Center. Having him at the rodeo and seeing how much fishing means to the economy and culture in Alabama helped to show him the importance of quality management and why we need them to do their part on the stock assessments.”

The 86th annual ADSFR definitely made a big impression on Gallaudet.

“I was very impressed with the Jaycees,” he said. “They were opening up the whole rodeo to science. That’s really important from a conservation standpoint. Then there is the contribution to the local economy. But it was their ethic of service that impressed me. They were just a bunch of great guys.”

Gallaudet was also able to enjoy working hands-on with the Gulf sea life.

“I held a barracuda and a huge black drum. There were speckled trout and the red snapper. They were all beautiful to me,” he said. “It was really, really interesting and fun.”

Commissioner Blankenship said the department had two main goals for the NOAA administrator’s visit.

“One of the main reasons Dr. Valentine wanted Admiral Gallaudet to see the rodeo during his visit was to see all the research that was being done at the rodeo by the Sea Lab and Dr. Sean Powers and the University of South Alabama’s Fisheries Ecology Lab,” Blankenship said. “We have the opportunity to get data on a lot of species and different sizes of those species at the rodeo. The event is a real treasure trove of data collection and scientific opportunities. I think the admiral was really impressed with Dr. Powers’ team and the students. Another area Admiral Gallaudet is responsible for is the national estuarine reserves, including Weeks Bay Reserve and Grand Bay Reserve. State Lands Director Patti McCurdy and her staff took him out in a boat on Weeks Bay to show him some of the work that’s being done to protect those areas as well as the research being done on those critical habitats. He asked a lot of good questions about the work and value of the reserve system and especially what was happening in and around Weeks Bay. It was very informative. I learned a lot too. Our staff is great!”

Blankenship also discussed how the funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement are being used to enhance marine habitat all over the Alabama coast.

“It was great for him to come for a visit so that we could talk about specifics for the needs for our area from NOAA and the Department of Commerce to help to continue to grow the $15 billion outdoor recreational and commercial fishing interests in Alabama,” Blankenship said. “We also got to talk about the burgeoning oyster aquaculture in Alabama and why we need NOAA’s support as we try to grow that industry. He was extremely interested in oyster aquaculture. One of the tenets of the ‘Blue Economy’ is aquaculture. I think he saw the possibilities and room for expansion of oyster aquaculture here on the Gulf Coast.”

Admiral Gallaudet ended his visit to Alabama with a public meeting at the DCNR Five Rivers Delta Resource Center where he talked about a myriad of issues relevant to the work taking place at NOAA.

“I want to give a shout out to Senator (Richard) Shelby (R-Alabama) for his leadership in the Appropriations Committee,” Gallaudet said. “He has taken great, great care of my organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He is a partner and fan, and we are grateful for his service. I would also like to thank Dr. Valentine for his leadership in the Mobile Bay area and really nationally. He gets all around, advocating for science and conservation. He is a great partner and key ally.”

A retired rear admiral who spent 32 years in the U.S. Navy, mainly in oceanography, Gallaudet also directed the Navy SEALs during the insurgency in Iraq and served as deck watch officer on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk.

“I am having more fun in this position as deputy administrator at NOAA and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere than in the service, which I loved,” he said. “I love the Navy. But what we do is so interesting and fantastic – weather, information about fisheries and ecosystems, charts and data and information services that affect every American life every day. We also affect one-third of the U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) directly.”

Gallaudet mentioned the recent celebrations around the nation of the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon and how that era of the 20th century became known as the Space Age.

He believes the world is moving into a new era in the 21st century that is a lot closer to home.

“I will wager that if you look at all the activity in the maritime domain, our oceans and coasts for our states and territories, the activity is increasing so much – 400 percent over the last two decades – that I think this first half of the 21st century will heretofore be regarded as the Ocean Age,” Gallaudet said. “In this Ocean Age, our main effort is growing the ‘Blue Economy.’ This is the area I own for NOAA.”

The ‘Blue Economy’ is the contribution from the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes to the nation’s economic health. That effort has been divided into five categories – seafood production, tourism and recreation, ocean exploration, marine transportation and coastal resilience.

“Two of these really relate to me as far as this weekend – tourism and recreation and seafood production,” Gallaudet said. “Tourism and recreation is really about protecting our natural resources and places so that people can use them sustainably. But the main element of this is recreational fishing. I definitely got an eyeful of that this weekend at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. That was really, really a joy. We do a great deal to support the recreational fishery in the Gulf and nationally. It’s big business.”

Gallaudet said commercial sales alone in recreational fishing account for $208 billion annually, generating about $62 billion in personal income. Other indirect impacts are valued at $97 billion.

Gallaudet said recreational anglers caught more than 1 billion fish last year with 65 percent of those released back into the wild.

Seafood production presents unique challenges, according to Gallaudet, because of the amount of foreign seafood the nation imports.

“We actually import 90 percent of the seafood we consume,” he said. “Half of that has been growing in a foreign fish farm. Those foreign fish farms practice some pretty sketchy protocols, which make that seafood not the most healthy or most ethical. But that is a lot of the shrimp you see in stores.”

Gallaudet said NOAA is focusing on turning that trend around in seafood production in three ways.

“First, for wild-caught, commercial fisheries, is maximizing yields in a sustainable way,” he said. “We have restored more than 45 fish stocks since 2000. This is something for the best managed fishery in the world.”

Gallaudet said NOAA is also working to streamline regulations that will make it easier for commercial fishermen to increase yields.

“We’re also trying to promote aquaculture,” he said. “This is an incredible opportunity. We have no aquaculture going on in our federal waters. Most of it is happening in state waters. I saw Andy Duke’s great (Mobile Oyster Company) farm. We basically want to clone what Andy is doing. We want a lot more of that going on, not only in state waters but federal waters. We have several successful companies who are doing their aquaculture overseas because permitting in federal waters is a mess. As many as four national agencies are involved. We are seeking to put (NOAA) as the central, one-stop-shop for aquaculture permitting. We have some of the best science in the world, so we can do this sustainably. And there’s also the export-import imbalance. We’re $16 billion in the red annually. With aquaculture, we can turn that around.”

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

4 weeks ago

Snapper Check data supports season extension

(David Rainer/Contributed)

With less than ideal weather conditions so far this summer and the ability to closely monitor the harvest data through Snapper Check, the Alabama Marine Resources Division recently announced a five-day extension of the red snapper season that runs from August 1-5.

Stormy weekends and Hurricane Barry made it more difficult for offshore anglers to head out this year compared to the 2018 season, when anglers couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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“Last year was an anomaly of a year in terms of weather,” said Scott Bannon, Director of the Marine Resources Division (MRD). “I even had charter boat captains remark that they had fished every single day in June last year, and they’d never done that before. The weather was phenomenal, and people caught a lot of fish, which is good. But the result of that was we had to close the season earlier than projected because more people got to go catch more fish. I think people were excited that the state was able to manage the season. They were excited about a 47-day season. There’s no doubt there was disappointment when we closed early last year (after 27 days), but that is actually one of the benefits of the program. That is, we have the ability to monitor the catch and ensure we don’t go over. If you go over the annual quota, you’re penalized the next year.”

The traditional June 1 date for the opening of snapper season this year was similar to 2018, but weather conditions deteriorated after that.

“Opening weekend was beautiful, and (fishing) effort was very high, which was good,” Bannon said. “The effort was even a little higher than it was for some of the days last year. Since then, the weather has been more typical. We had a couple of weekends where it blew pretty good, and effort was down. When Hurricane Barry came along, the effort was basically negligible. People choose not to fish when the weather is bad and having Snapper Check in place allows us the ability to quantify how much the weather affects efforts and landings. We want people to understand that they don’t need to put themselves in an unsafe situation just to go catch fish. We have the ability to monitor the amount of fish being caught, and just as days can be removed from the season during ideal conditions, they can be given back when conditions are not favorable for fishing.”

After the 4th of July weekend, MRD staff determined that a significant portion of Alabama’s total allowable catch for red snapper remained.

Alabama was allocated 1,079,573 pounds for the 2019 season, which is operating under an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) that NOAA Fisheries granted for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

“When the catch data for the season through the Independence Day weekend was analyzed, we realized we had enough quota remaining that we could go beyond the six days remaining in July,” Bannon said.

Red snapper anglers, at the same time last year, had harvested about 360,000 more pounds of fish.

“We calculated how much harvest could occur during the remainder of the season, based on the average daily catch and weather conditions through the current fishing season,” Bannon said. “We decided we could easily add the first five days of August, which would be a Thursday through Monday. Kids wouldn’t be back in school yet, and the amberjack season would be open. It would be a combination of weekends and weekdays. We had heard from the public they would like more weekdays.”

Bannon believes the attitude of Alabama’s snapper anglers has changed since the state has been able to manage the fishery.

“I think we are past the point of what I call panic fishing – people just fished because they felt they had to because they weren’t going to get many opportunities,” he said. “Now, anglers’ attitudes are more relaxed toward snapper season, knowing they are going to be provided an opportunity to fish a specific quota and days can be added to the season due to bad weather, if necessary.”

One feature that has played a huge role in the transition to state management is Snapper Check, a mandatory reporting system that is required of all anglers who catch red snapper. Red snapper must be reported before the fish leave the water, either on the way in from the trip or at the dock before the fish are off-loaded. The good news is, it appears more anglers are participating in the system.

“The reporting rate is the highest it has been,” Bannon said. “We appreciate that, and we hope the anglers appreciate that, because it allows us to make better decisions when calculating the season length and the number of days to add to a season. Real data makes a difference. People participating in the dock-side survey helps as well. That’s where we get the average size of the fish. Average fish weight is an important part of the equation to determine the number of days in the season, which is based on effort and the average size of the fish because the quota is determined by pounds. Having Snapper Check means we’re getting information in near real-time.”

Bannon said MRD officials saw that with two-thirds of the season over, only a little more than half of the snapper quota had been caught.

“We want to fish very close to our quota, but we do not want to go over,” he said.

For 2020 and beyond, the Gulf States will transition from the EFP to a state-managed red snapper fishery with Alabama receiving an allocation of 26.298 percent of the total quota, which is an increase from 25.3 percent in 2019. It is anticipated that Alabama will receive an allocation of about 1.2 million pounds for the 2020 season.

“The in-season adjustments to both this season and last year’s season show why we worked so hard in Congress and at the Gulf Council to get state management of the red snapper fishery,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The nimbleness of the state to quickly adjust seasons to protect the resource and also to provide maximum access to citizens is good for both the fish and the fishermen.”

Bannon said the new management plan also gives the state the ability to set the seasons, bag limits within certain parameters, and size limit. MRD can also implement area closures.

“For next year, we probably won’t make any significant changes to the size or bag limits,” Bannon said. “I want to be pretty conservative with changes. I want to provide some consistency, which makes anglers more comfortable and allows us to more easily compare trends in the data.”

Bannon said the 2018 and 2019 snapper seasons are proof that Alabama can manage its own red snapper season to the benefit of all involved.

“We’ve shown that we can and will work toward that allocation to the best of our ability,” he said. “That includes not going over the allocation, because that is not a benefit to the anglers. In years prior to the EFP, harvests were consistently over the quota, which slowed the recovery of the stock. We want to be close to the allocation but not over. We want to fish as many days as possible. I think that when conditions are favorable and fishing effort is very heavy or if the weather kicks up and people don’t go fishing, we have a system in place that can provide timely and realistic estimates of impacts on the harvest rates. Under the federal system, we could have never done that. During the short federal seasons of the past, people felt like they had to go, and people shouldn’t feel they have to do that. That can be dangerous and takes the fun out of fishing.”

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

Free range days set for WFF facilities in August

(Billy Pope/Contributed)

Public shooting ranges, already one of the best bargains around, are about to be even better as The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, in partnership with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), offers free access to five several days during the month of August.

“On Free Range Days, people don’t have to have a hunting license or Wildlife Heritage license to use the range,” said Marisa Futral, WFF’s Hunter Education Coordinator. “It’s an incentive for people to come see these facilities and start using them on a regular basis.”

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As part of National Shooting Sports Month, Free Range Days will be held on three Saturdays in August: on August 3 at the Cahaba River WMA Shooting Range, August 10 at Barbour WMA Shooting Range and Etowah Public Shooting Range, and August 17 at Upper Delta WMA Shooting Range and Swan Creek WMA Shooting Range.

Futral said certified firearms instructors will be on-site during the Free Range Days events, which run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those instructors will monitor the safety of everyone at the range to ensure everyone follows the proper firearm-handling protocols.

“We’ll have instructors to help them sight-in their hunting firearms, or if they just need some help with a firearm they aren’t familiar with or got as a gift,” she said.

In addition to the help of certified firearms instructors, those who don’t have access to a firearm can borrow one from Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

“We have several firearms available for loan under the supervision of the firearms instructors,” Futral said. “We will have rifles and shotguns for them to try out.”

If you choose to borrow a firearm from WFF, ammunition will be provided. If you bring your own firearm, Futral said you should also bring your own ammunition.

“Normally, people have to bring their own targets,” Futral said. “On the Free Range Days, we will provide targets. If somebody is bringing their 30-06 rifle, we won’t have 30-06 ammunition. If they want to use one of our rifles or shotguns, we will have ammunition available for those. Also, we will have a special promotion on the Free Range Days. If you bring a new shooter to the range, you will get a free gift from the NSSF as long as supplies last.”

During the Free Range Days, a range safety officer will call whether the range is hot or cold. If the range is hot, everyone must remain seated at or behind the shooting benches. When the range officer calls for the range to go cold, all firearms are to be unloaded with actions open for inspection. All visitors should remain behind the benches until the range officer gives the okay to replace targets down range.

WFF will have eye and ear protection available, but I always bring my own for extra protection to preserve the bit of hearing I have left.

The Cahaba River WMA Shooting Range opens the Free Range Days events on August 3. Cahaba provides shooting opportunities at distances of 25, 50 and 100 yards. A shotgun range for shooting at clay targets is located east of the rifle range and is on the left side of the gravel road as you drive into the rifle range.

Located at 3956 Coalmont Rd., Helena, Ala., approximately 10 minutes southwest of Helena, the Cahaba range is open five days a week and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On August 10, the Barbour WMA and Etowah Public ranges will be open free to the public.

The Barbour WMA Shooting Range provides shooting opportunities at distances up to 100 yards. A small concrete pad to shoot shotguns at clay targets is located to the south of the 25-yard pistol range. The 25- and 100-yard ranges are separated by an earthen berm to allow shooters to travel downrange independently on each range.

The Barbour range is located approximately 5 miles south of Comer, Ala., at 370 County Road 49. The range is located about 1 mile north of the Barbour County Public Fishing Lake.

The Etowah Public Shooting Range, which is operated in cooperation with the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, provides shooting opportunities at distances up to 200 yards. The four ranges are 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards and located side by side with a dividing berm to allow shooters to go downrange independently of each other. A small concrete pad for shotguns shooting at clay targets is located to the south of the 25-yard pistol range.

The range is located approximately 5 miles north of Gadsden at 8302 Owl’s Hollow Road in Etowah County.

On August 17, the Free Range Days promotion will be held at the Upper Delta WMA Shooting Range and the Swan Creek WMA Shooting Range.

The Upper Delta WMA Shooting Range has a unique configuration that uses a large, 20-foot steel tube to ensure that projectiles from firearms hit the large earthen berm at the 100-yard range. The muzzle of the firearm must be inside the steel tube before the firearm is discharged. A small concrete pad to shoot shotguns at clay targets is located to the south of the rifle range.

The Upper Delta range is located approximately 9 miles north of Stockton, Ala., off of St. Luke’s Church Road.

The Swan Creek WMA Shooting Range provides shooting opportunities at distances up to 100 yards. Ranges of 25, 50 and 100 yards are located side by side with a dividing berm to allow shooters to go downrange independently of each other. An area to shoot shotguns at clay targets is located to the north of the 100-yard rifle range. The range is operated by the WFF in cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

All Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) ranges are wheelchair-accessible and have concrete walkways for downrange access to the target lines.

License and permit requirements will remain in effect for all other ADCNR public shooting ranges.

“The mission of our ranges is to provide a safe, friendly, inexpensive place to have a great time shooting your firearms,” Futral said. “For the cost of a hunting license, fishing license or Wildlife Heritage license, we have 12 ranges where you can practice your marksmanship skills before hunting season or just have fun shooting targets. We also want to remind people that the money used to build these ranges comes from the sale of licenses. The license money is then matched three-to-one with funds from the sale of firearms and ammunition through the Pittman-Robertson Act.”

Except on the days and ranges included in Free Range Days, Alabama residents ages 16-64 must have a valid hunting, Wildlife Heritage, fishing or WMA license to use the ranges.

For non-residents, a valid WMA license is required for all range users age 16 or older.

Certain rules apply to all ADCNR ranges:

    • Guests under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult while on the property.
    • Alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
    • Any legal firearm and ammunition, except armor-piercing or tracer, may be used on a target range.
    • Keep all firearms unloaded and muzzles pointed in a safe direction when not firing. Actions on uncased guns shall be open when not on the firing line.
    • All persons are to remain behind the shooter while firing is taking place. No firing shall be allowed while anyone is downrange.
    • All firearms shall only be fired from designated stations on the concrete shooting line into the embankment at stationary paper targets, self-healing or metal automatic-reset targets. Targets must be placed so shots will impact the bottom 5 feet of the embankment.
    • Only one person may shoot from each designated location at any given time.
    • Shotguns with no. 4 shot or smaller may be fired at moving clay targets on designated clay areas only.
    • All used targets, brass, shotgun hulls and other trash shall be placed in a garbage can or removed from the range.

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/shooting-ranges for more information on ADCNR’s public shooting ranges including directions.

For more information about Free Range Days, contact Futral at 334-242-3620 or email Marisa.Futral@dcnr.alabama.gov.

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.

Mobile Bay reefs project aims to help renew aquatic habitats, vanishing shoreline

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

The following is the latest installment of the Alabama Power Foundation’s annual report, highlighting the people and groups spreading good across Alabama with the foundation’s support.

 

If you were able to travel back a couple of hundred years and visit the edge of Mobile Bay near where Helen Wood Park is today, you’d see miles and miles of marshland, veined with tidal creeks and teeming with fish and other marine creatures that look to the safety of the marsh to spawn.

At low tide, there would be vast mounds of oysters around the edge of an estuary that was about 30 feet deep at its deepest point. The marshes and oyster beds of the past didn’t only serve as havens for creatures. They reduced the ability of storm tides to erode the mainland.

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But a lot can change in a pair of centuries. The oyster reefs that used to encircle the bay have dwindled, and there is more ship traffic. As a result, waves eroded the marshes and shore.

“We’ve changed the dynamics of the bay,” said Judy Haner, marine and freshwater programs director for The Nature Conservancy, which is leading the charge in rebuilding Mobile Bay. “What we’re doing now is trying to give that shoreline a fighting chance. We want to help boost those habitats, not only for fish and birds and wildlife, but also to protect the shoreline from erosion.”

In this effort, the Alabama Power Foundation provided resources to build reefs in the brackish waters off Helen Wood Park, in Lourdes on the west side of Mobile Bay, and the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) provided manpower.

In May 2018, some 60 APSO volunteers – aged 12 to 70-plus – rolled up their sleeves, put on their boots and clamdiggers and went about the business of reef building.

In the past, The Nature Conservancy had attempted to build replacement reefs using bags of spent oyster shells – the same ingredient nature uses for reefs. But the erosive power of waves proved too intense, scattering the bags of oyster shells. Now, the conservancy opts to use “oyster castles” to construct new reefs.

Oyster castles are a relatively new way of constructing artificial reefs, using interlocking 35-pound concrete blocks. APSO volunteers developed a system using plastic “barges” to move the blocks along a human chain that snaked out into the rich brown marsh waters adjacent to a bridge over the Dog River.

Over the course of eight hours, the team of Nature Conservancy and APSO volunteers built seven artificial reefs.

“This was a new project for us,” said Erin Delaporte, an Alabama Power Customer Service manager in Mobile who is the APSO chapter president and coordinated the project. “It was a very labor-intensive day, but it was a wonderful day. It was tough work. I heard someone say they had worked eight hours on the project, but it took 48 hours to recover.

“It was worth it,” Delaporte said. “It was one of the most unique projects we’ve ever done in Mobile.”

As for the reefs, the positive effect was instantaneous.

“We wanted to restore the vertical topography of that reef and restore the waves, and you see that pretty much right away,” Haner said.

While there will be future scientific measurement of the growth of the reefs, native fish and crabs found them soon after completion of the APSO project.

For more information on the Alabama Power Foundation and its annual report, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

State parks foundation seeks to boost Alabama opportunities

(Alabama State Parks/Contributed)

During his career, Dan Hendricks has seen first-hand the impact charitable foundations can have on a wide range of organizations.

Retiring to picturesque Florence, Ala., after a long academic career with a final stop at the University of North Alabama, Hendricks channeled his love of the outdoors and nature toward one of our state’s greatest treasures – the Alabama State Parks System.

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With an extensive background in foundation work, Hendricks led a coalition of like-minded individuals to form the Alabama State Parks Foundation, which was officially launched at Oak Mountain State Park this past spring.

“I noticed when I was planning for retirement that Alabama didn’t have a state parks foundation, and they had a beautiful state parks system,” Hendricks said. “My wife (Barb) and I love to be outside hiking. We love gardens and learning about nature. As I was planning retirement, I thought of how I was going to be of use to the community, because I was going to have a lot more time. I also noticed that there were very few states where the parks didn’t have a foundation.”

Shortly after his retirement became official, Hendricks traveled to nearby Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, Ala., and visited with Chad Davis, Northwest District and Wheeler park superintendent. That eventually led to meetings with State Parks North Region Supervisor Tim Haney and State Parks Director Greg Lein.

“I told Chad that state parks might need a foundation, and I shared my background in running foundations,” Hendricks said. “He showed interest, so I ended up meeting with Tim Haney and Greg Lein.”

Hendricks said in 2017 a design team was formed to determine the objectives of the foundation and work out requirements to reach those goals.

“One thing we wanted was a geographically disbursed state board so that all parts of the state would be represented,” Hendricks said. “We tried to identify strategic goals. One goal was to be able to mobilize park people and create a kind of park movement in the state. It was not necessarily that they would learn anything new, but they would realize something they already knew – that the state parks were a wonderful treasure for the state, and that other states had foundations that were important private-public partners with the state parks systems.”

Hendricks studied the Iowa State Parks Foundation and how it dealt with the continuing need for strong funding that makes parks sustainable, along with private-public partnerships that complement state funding.

“That is particularly important for Alabama, because the state parks system doesn’t receive much support from state revenue,” Hendricks said. “It is mostly a fee-based system, so parks are run almost like independent businesses. They rely on good business practices and fees for revenue.”

Hendricks said the Iowa Foundation developed a model to divide the state into regional cluster groups with one or more parks that highlight that particular region.

For example, among Alabama’s 21 state parks, Joe Wheeler, DeSoto and Monte Sano would represent north Alabama; Lurleen Wallace, the west; Rickwood Caverns and Oak Mountain, the Birmingham area; Cheaha, Guntersville and Cathedral Caverns, the east; and Lakepoint and Gulf State Park, the south.

“What we’re going to do is try to create working groups for each of these zones, focused on one or more of the parks in that zone,” Hendricks said. “Then we are going to invite municipalities, individuals, businesses and corporations that have the most interest in that particular park. Then we want to identify ways we can drastically improve the infrastructure of the parks to do two things – increase the number of people the parks are serving and create sustaining sources of revenue. One of the things that the research done by the Iowa foundation revealed is that cabin and primitive camping and recreational vehicle (RV) camping are services that can increase the number of people and, at the same time, generate additional income.”

Hendricks said Iowa is trying to mobilize businesses, individuals and municipalities to build cabins and amenities for their parks.

“To do that, they are emphasizing how important the parks are for quality of life, elevate the value of communities, provide recreational services for all Alabamians in our case, and they attract individuals,” he said. “If you have a great park in America, people are attracted to those recreational amenities.”

Lein, who has been State Parks Director since 2012, said the work of the Foundation will contribute to the ongoing success of the state’s treasured parks, which continue a current winning streak. Alabama State Parks earned a record 18 Certificate of Excellence Awards from TripAdvisor.com in 2019, and the Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park were deemed one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.

“Dr. Hendricks has done a great job of researching the different foundation models that exist across the country and marrying that to how Alabama’s park system operates,” Lein said. “We are especially optimistic about the vision that he and other Board members share in pursuing financial support from other foundations and corporate entities who share our desire to make the parks better for the people. While we have made great strides in addressing the park’s maintenance backlog, we hope that financial support through the Foundation can lead to creating new programs, features and amenities within the parks. These are such positive times for the park system, and we are excited about having the Foundation as a new park partner.”

The Alabama State Parks Foundation officially launched at Oak Mountain State Park for a specific reason.

“The launch was to invite people to become part of a great parks movement in Alabama,” Hendricks said. “Like I said, it was not necessarily to redo their experience, but to simply say let’s join together to not only to preserve this wonderful natural treasure, but let’s see if we can actually expand it and make it better. From the kickoff, we’ve been able to identify people who have become First Friends and founding members of the Foundation. I think we have between 350 and 370 individuals who said they would like to do that. I was encouraged by that. Almost half of that number also have made gifts.”

The Alabama State Parks Foundation board meets four times a year with the next meeting scheduled for July to develop a corporate partners program to recruit charitable investors to help improve and expand the infrastructure so state parks can serve more people.

Hendricks, who was the Vice President for University Enhancement at the University of North Alabama before he retired, has extensive foundation experience. He was vice president at the LSU Foundation, VP and executive officer at Western Illinois University, director and chief operations officer for The Campaign for the University of Kentucky, and director of planned giving for Hanover College.

He has also been active in the Audubon Society in Kentucky and Indiana as well as serving as president of the Baton Rouge Audubon Society.

Hendricks said the geographical diversity he’s experienced during his career has given him a perspective on how the various state parks he’s visited are operated and cherished by the communities.

“Running three foundations also has helped,” he said. “I understand how they work and hopefully ways to make them successful. But it’s always difficult to start something new. Something in the charitable world is even more difficult. A lot of people have to be convinced something is valuable enough. So, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to start that park movement and inviting people to be a part of it. Historically, the formation of the parks in Alabama is fascinating. A lot of the parks were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Depression. In my speech when we kicked off the Foundation, I said we are also creating this Foundation as a tribute to the young men who built it in the 1930s and who left this as a legacy for us and the six or seven generations who have used those parks since they were built. We want to continue to leave a legacy for our children and their children.”

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

Alabama cotton farmers may be affected by new virus

(Pixabay)

Alabama cotton farmers will face threats to their crops this year in the form of a new virus with no known cure.

WSFA-TV reports cotton leafroll dwarf virus is a new strain of cotton blue disease.

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension System says the virus is transmitted by aphids and diminishes blooms and bolls in the upper canopy, resulting in lower yields, mainly in late-planted cotton.

The new strain was discovered in Alabama in 2017 but has been observed in Brazil in 2006. It has since been confirmed in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

The virus reduced cotton yields by nearly 50,000 bales in 2018.

Alabama Farmers Federation’s Carla Hornady symptoms include red leaf veins, cupped leaves and sterility.

Hornady says it will likely take years to develop new resistant cotton cultivars.

(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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2 months ago

Seatrout, flounder limits change August 1

(David Rainer/Contributed)

Alabama’s saltwater anglers will soon be required to abide by changes to the bag and/or length limits on several popular fish species.

On August 1, the length and bag limits will change for speckled trout (spotted seatrout) and southern flounder, while the length limit will increase for cobia, also known as ling or lemonfish.

Jason Downey, Alabama Marine Resources’ Enforcement Chief, said the speckled trout regulations will move to a slot limit, which means anglers will be allowed to keep trout that measure between 15 and 22 inches total length with an allowance for one fish over 22 inches total length. The bag limit will be reduced to six speckled trout per person per day.

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Alabama’s inshore anglers should be familiar with the slot limit. Red drum (redfish) have been regulated for several years by a slot limit of 16 to 26 inches total length. An allowance for one fish larger than 26 inches (bull red) is included.

The southern flounder size limit will be increased to 14 inches total length, and the bag limit will be reduced to five per person for recreational anglers.

The limits for commercial anglers will be 14 inches total length with a daily limit of 40 per person or 40 per vessel.

The entire month of November will be closed to flounder fishing, both recreational and commercial. November is when flounder migrate to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn.

Marine Resources (MRD) conducted five public meetings along the Alabama Gulf Coast to discuss proposed trout and flounder changes, provide information from the stock assessments for those two fish and gain feedback from the public on the potential changes. MRD also accepted email comments from the public as well as by phone.

“In general, the public was supportive of making changes to both trout and flounder because people had noticed changes in their ability to catch these species,” said Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “They also realized the amount of people who are targeting these fish and how dramatically that has increased over the past few years.”

Eastern Shore resident Rob Constantine recently shared how he often watches boat after boat heading to the inshore artificial reefs to target trout, redfish and flounder.

“I used to be able to count on catching five or six speckled trout every time I went out,” he said. “I can’t do that anymore. Some days I don’t catch any trout. I’d like to be able to take my grandchildren out and catch a few trout. The future is our grandchildren, and we have to have something for them to catch or they lose interest.”

During the recent fishing event for The Fallen Outdoors, Capt. Bobby Abruscato said he welcomes the changes to the trout limit.

“The people who fish with me understand that I prefer to release as many fish as possible,” Abruscato said. “Most of my customers just want enough fish for supper, and others don’t want any fish at all. They just love catching them.”

Abruscato is one of the veteran guides who started fishing the Alabama Gulf Coast when the inshore fishing pressure was limited to a dozen or so regular guides. Those numbers have increased dramatically.

Bannon said MRD sold 269 guide licenses for boats with six passengers or less in 2018. Most of those guides are fishing inshore.

“We saw a huge increase from the early 1990s through the early 2010s,” Bannon said. “We went from 50,000 inshore fishing trips annually in the early ’90s to more than 500,000 in 2011. That’s 10 times the number of anglers targeting trout.”

Bannon said the increase in the number of inshore trips has not abated since that survey was completed.

“I tell people that a good economy translates to an increase in fishing pressure,” he said. “We’ve seen that in the last couple of years. We realize some of that comes with effort shift with the short seasons for some of the federally regulated offshore species that are highly sought after. People still want to fish, so they target these inshore species. In south Alabama, fishing is just a way of life. That’s what people want to do with their recreational time. So, they’re going to target species that are available to them, whether it’s inshore or offshore fish.”

Kevin Anson, Marine Resources’ Chief Marine Biologist, noted during those earlier public meetings that stock assessments conducted independently through the University of South Alabama indicated that both speckled trout and flounder populations are in decline. The harvest in the past five to seven years shows the trout breeding stock are not at a sustainable level. Although not as critical as flounder, speckled trout could reach that stage if changes (in harvest) are not made.

Anson said an increase in the trout minimum length to 15 inches would allow more than 227,000 trout to be returned to the water annually. The slot limit will increase the survival of the large, female trout, which account for the bulk of egg production during spawning activity.

Other Gulf states have seen reduced flounder landings and have either made regulation changes or are considering them.

MRD estimated the harvest of about 350,000 flounder in 2002. That harvest has dwindled to about 150,000 in 2017.

Fisheries managers use spawning potential ratio (SPR) to determine the health of a fish stock. For flounder, the target SPR to maintain the population is between 25 and 30 percent.

At the current harvest rate, a 12-inch minimum size for flounder would not be able to reach the target SPR and achieve a sustainable population. The larger a female flounder grows, the greater the number of eggs she releases during the spawn.

According to MRD data, an increase in the minimum size to 14 inches would allow 38 percent more flounder to remain in the water.

After hearing concerns from anglers, MRD approved an increase in the cobia size limit to 36 inches fork length, consistent with federal regulations. The bag limit remains at two per person for recreational anglers.

When anglers get ready to renew their fishing licenses at the end of August, a new endorsement will be required for those who target popular reef fish.

“The Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement will be available when people renew their licenses for next year,” Downey said. “When they renew their licenses, they need to get the Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement if they plan to fish for snapper, triggerfish, tile fish, amberjack and a list of other reef fish.”

The Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement will be $10 per angler for private recreational anglers. Charter boat fees range from $150-$250, and commercial vessels are assessed at $200 per vessel.

The reef fish covered in the endorsement are defined in state law 220-3-.46. Visit www.alabamaadministrativecode.state.al.us/docs/con_/220-3.pdf for a complete list of reef fish included.

In other changes, the minimum size limit for shortfin mako shark has been increased to 71 inches fork length for males and 83 inches fork length for females, which is also consistent with federal regulations.

Also, new hook regulations will go into effect for reef fish and sharks. When fishing for sharks and all Gulf reef fish, anglers must use non-stainless circle hooks. Additionally, hooks used for sharks must be non-offset, which means the tip of the hook must be in line with the shank.

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

GSP’s Eagle Cottages gain National Geographic recognition

(Gulf State Park/Contributed)

Already a beacon of sustainability, education and eco-tourism, Alabama’s Gulf State Park is again at the forefront of providing visitors with much more than the traditional “toes in the sand” experience.

In fact, the ultimate compliment has been bestowed on Gulf State Park’s Eagle Cottages by National Geographic with a Unique Lodges of the World designation, the only such recognition for any facility east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S.

The Unique Lodges program is a highly selective process. Only 56 properties worldwide are included in the program. Only six other properties are in the United States, two in Alaska and four in the West.

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Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said he always knew Alabama was special, but he’s glad that National Geographic will now draw the world’s attention to the biological and cultural diversity throughout our great state.

“I think this is very fitting that we are recognized by National Geographic,” Blankenship said. “This is a significant milestone for Alabama. This opens us up to about 730 million people through the National Geographic magazine or their digital network around the world. A good portion of those 730 million people don’t know that Alabama has such beauty and biodiversity. This will not only be good for the Gulf State Park and the Alabama Gulf Coast, but people also will learn that we have the largest artificial reef program in the world. They will learn how special the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge and the Mobile-Tensaw Delta are. They will also learn that Alabama is No. 1 in aquatic biodiversity.”

Commissioner Blankenship further highlighted the great range of special places in Alabama, from the river shoals that feature the Cahaba lily in Bibb County, to the Red Hills salamander habitat in Monroe County, to the beauty of the Paint Rock River Valley in north Alabama.

“Working with National Geographic has been great. They did not realize what a wonderful place the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is until they came for some site visits,” he said. “Then they looked at other opportunities in the area that included the Grand Bay Savanna and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. It was an eye-opening experience for them. We think it will be that way for so many people around the world once National Geographic starts to promote the Eagle Cottages. I can’t express how big this is for Alabama as a whole.”

Chandra Wright, Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, said the Eagle Cottages program is one aspect of the overall Gulf State Park (GSP) Project. The vision statement of Gulf State Park reads: “Gulf State Park will be an international benchmark for environmental and economic sustainability, demonstrating best practices for outdoor recreation, education and hospitable accommodations.”

“A typical National Geographic traveler is looking for property committed to taking care of the environment, taking care of the resources, taking care of the local communities and making sure we preserve those assets for the future,” Wright said. “It also includes immersing the traveler in the local culture. We’re targeting a slightly different traveler than we normally target in coastal Alabama.”

With the Unique Lodges designation, Gulf State Park will have access to National Geographic resources, including training to elevate the visitor experience.

“Our staff who undergo that training will be able to promote themselves as a National Geographic guide,” Wright said. “We’ll be working with National Geographic to bring additional programs to the park. It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen over the next few years.”

“The 11 cottages fit in the concept of a National Geographic Unique Lodge, which is focused on an international traveler who wants to really engage in the local community,” Wright said. “That includes local history, local nature, cultural heritage and really getting to know the community.”

Almost a year ago, a ‘freshening’ of the facilities started that included painting, adding new furniture and replacing artwork that better reflected the local environment and heritage.

“We established a theme that the communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach grew up around, which was a fishing community,” Wright said. “So, we thought about the old fish camps that were up on stilts. That’s how the original structures were based. We had to figure out how to translate that concept to Eagle Cottages. We rebranded and made more of an authentic Alabama fish camp experience but also worked in some additional sustainability features. All the light fixtures were replaced with LED bulbs. Appliances are being replaced with more energy efficient models. We’re embracing some of the things we’re doing at The Lodge, but also we’re testing some concepts at the cottages that may translate later to the 350-room Lodge.”

One aspect that makes the Eagle Cottages so special is the goal of providing a personalized guest experience, Wright said.

“We’re putting packages together where we can get to know our guests on an individual basis,” she said. “When we find out what their interests are, we can steer them to some personalized experiences. One of the things we talk about is the amount of biodiversity on the Alabama Gulf Coast. We have relationships with outfitters in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, at Dauphin Island, down at Fort Morgan as well as Gulf Shores-Orange Beach. This allows us to get people out to have a more intimate experience through kayaking, fishing or going on Delta tours. If they want to know about our local artists and artisans, we can set them up with a tour of the Coastal Arts Center in Orange Beach and give them the opportunity to take a glass-blowing class or a clay-throwing class, so they get to know some of the local people and engage in a hands-on experience.”

Because of this enriched visitor experience, the GSP Project team reached out to Costas Christ, a National Geographic (NatGeo) travel editor who advises NatGeo on sustainable tourism.

A friend of famed biologist, naturalist, author and native Alabamian E.O. Wilson, Christ was somewhat familiar with Alabama but had no idea of the vastness of the natural wonders that make Alabama special.

“Costas didn’t really appreciate our wealth of biodiversity until we got him to come down in December of 2017,” Wright said. “He spent three days in coastal Alabama, and we tried to give him a crash course in everything we have to offer. We took him around Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan. We took him to Bird and Robinson islands. We took him to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to showcase our biodiversity, our Native American history, our Civil War history, and we convinced him that we were worthy of National Geographic coming into the park. He has been helping us on how to transition these cottages into something that would be worthy of National Geographic selection. Christ has visited coastal Alabama every four months since December 2017, and he explores a different section of coastal Alabama on each visit. We took him to see the Delta by boat. We took him to Mobile to see a portion of the African American Heritage Trail. He had no idea we had that amount of African American heritage in our area. That got National Geographic interested in finding the Clotilda (considered the last American slave ship), which was recently discovered. He was blown away by our natural biodiversity and our cultural heritage that people around the South, around the United States and around the world have no idea about. This gives us an opportunity to educate people worldwide on what we have to offer.”

One way Eagle Cottages’ management and Wright have reached out to visitors is through an afternoon manager’s reception at the Eagle Cottages office, called the Eagle’s Nest. Coastal Alabama-specific snacks, sweet tea and lemonade provided by the park’s Woodside Restaurant are served as Cottages manager Mark Larkin and Wright interact with the guests about what coastal Alabama has to offer.

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

7 Things: Trump campaign has cash, Moore to enter Senate race, reparations circus goes on and more …

(WH/Flickr, PIxabay)

7. Montgomery parents could start paying for their kids’ crimes

  • Montgomery City Councilman Glen Pruitt has introduced a city ordinance that would require parents be punished when their children commit a crime, which is basically a copy of an ordinance that was introduced in South Fulton, Georgia, last year.
  • Legal transgressions committed by kids that could get their parents in trouble include drug and alcohol possession or use, failure to keep curfews, possession or use of firearms, truancy, improper supervision, theft and property damage.

6. The Hyde Amendment is here to stay — for now

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  • There has recently been a great deal of vocal opposition to the Hyde Amendment from 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, but the Democrat-controlled House just reauthorized the Hyde Amendment.
  • This has been a big part of the Democrat presidential debate, but a vote on a spending bill that included the Hyde Amendment reauthorization passed 226-203. No Republicans voted for it and only six Democrats voted against it, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), noted historian and de facto leader of the Democratic Party.

5. A Syrian refugee was plotting an attack on a church in Pittsburgh

  • Mustafa Mousab Alowemer was admitted to the United States as a refugee in 2016, but now he is accused of planning an attack on the Legacy International Worship Center in Pittsburgh. The Department of Justice claims this was planned “to support the cause of ISIS and to inspire other ISIS supporters in the United States.” 
  • To bolster their government’s take on this, the DOJ released a statement that laid out Alowemer’s alleged crimes. It read, “Alowemer also distributed propaganda materials, offered to provide potential targets in the Pittsburgh area, requested a weapon with a silencer, and recorded a video of himself pledging an oath of allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

4. There will be no reparations

  • In the past, Democrats like President Barack Obama have opposed the proposition of paying slavery reparations. The Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties committee held a hearing to address the bill that would create a commission that would develop an answer to whether African-American citizens should be paid slavery reparations.
  • However, during the hearing, tensions were high and Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA) was booed as he commented on the bill, “Putting aside the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago, the fair distribution of reparations would be nearly impossible when one considers the complexity of the American struggle to abolish slavery.”

3. Latest Roy Moore embarrassment kicks off today

  • Today, former Chief Justice Roy Moore will be announcing if he’s running for the Senate seat he lost to Doug Jones in 2017. But if he’s been waiting to announce without any real reason then he’s more than likely running, you do not hold this kind of an event to announce that you are not running for office.
  • Moore’s announcement will be held at 2:00 p.m. at The Ballroom in Montgomery and will likely kick off a campaign that is the dream of the media and their Democrats. Moore lost to Senator Doug Jones in 2017 and will definitely be the candidate Jones will favor in the Republican primary. 

2. Shelby wants less of Moore

  • With Roy Moore expected to announce his decision about whether he’ll be entering the 2020 U.S. Senate race on Thursday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is once again pointing out that Moore is a terrible candidate, a position that President Donald Trump agrees with. He has advised Moore to not run.
  • Shelby said that Alabama could do better than Moore, as well as noting that if Moore as the nominee would make it harder for Republicans to win back that Senate seat, and then went on to mention that if former Attorney General Jeff Sessions were to enter the race he would “probably clear the field” and win the Republican primary and general election easily.

1. Money Trumps all?

  • President Trump officially announced his reelection bid in Florida on Tuesday, and less than 24 hours later his campaign announced that they’ve already raised $24.8 million, which is far more than all of the Democratic candidates combined in the first 24 hours of their election bids.
  • It was just this week that 2020 presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden announced that his campaign has raised about $20 million. Of course, despite his substantial fundraising, Trump is still polling lower than Biden by 10 points. However, it is way too early for that to matter.

2 months ago

Captains treat Fallen Outdoors to Alabama’s great inshore fishing

(David Rainer/Contributed)

After a ride through the significant chop caused an unusual June north wind, Capt. Bobby Abruscato pulled back on the throttle and idled to one of his favorite fishing spots in Grand Bay, west of Dauphin Island.

Aboard were a couple of special guests, Derrick Warfield and Kyle McCleland, who were quickly hooking fish during the inaugural The Fallen Outdoors (TFO) inshore fishing trip that treated a group of active military and veterans to the beautiful outdoors paradise we call the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Warfield, who resides at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery with his active-duty wife, retired after 10 years of active duty.

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Since then, Warfield has taken up the cause that is TFO, which is a support group for active, retired, separated and medically retired military with a focus on the outdoors.

Before this week, TFO, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, hosted veterans and active military on mostly hunting excursions with only a little fishing mixed in.

“Most of our trips are done from Montgomery north,” Warfield said of the TFO’s Team Alabama. “We do a lot of hunting trips. Two weeks ago, we actually did a hog-hunting trip on a farm just south of Montgomery. We went out with three guys running dogs, and we got into about a 200-pound sow. The dogs caught the hog and we dispatched it.”

Needing to schedule events for the summer, Warfield reached out to several inshore fishing guides on the Alabama coast and quickly hooked up with Capt. Richard Rutland with Cold-Blooded Fishing.

“Richard said if there was anything he could do, he’d love to help,” Warfield said. “He said we could go out on his boat and make something happen. Then he said, ‘We need to make this big, something awesome.’”

Two weeks later, Warfield got a call from Rutland, who said, “I’ve got seven boats lined up. How many people can you get?”

Warfield posted the potential trip on The Fallen Outdoors Facebook page that reaches 14,000-15,000 veterans. Initially, Warfield got 25 takers, which whittled down to the 14 who enjoyed a day of fishing on the beautiful Alabama coast.

Rutland, a former president of the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, got commitments from seven other captains. He also got a donation from the Mobile Jaycees, where he currently serves as chairman of the board. Additional boat captains included Abruscato with A-Team Adventures, Patric Garmeson with Ugly Fishing Charters, Wesley Hallman with Bay Sound Charters, Terry Turner, Ben Raines, Joe Geil and Theo Atkinson with Spots, Dots and Scales.

“We just appreciate these captains being able to get these guys who are dealing with physical and mental issues out on the water,” Warfield said. “This gives them a chance to get out, get away from the real world and relax, whether it be hunting, fishing, camping or whatever we can do outdoors. This wouldn’t have been possible without Richard. Richard really pushed it. He wanted to make it really big, and he wants to make it an annual event.”

The Jaycees’ donation for the trip also provided lunch after a morning on the water. The guides took care of the equipment, and bait dealer Maurice Ryan donated the live shrimp.

The anglers hauled in a wide variety of Alabama’s inshore species, including the edible species of speckled trout, redfish, white trout, flounder and pompano. Mixed in for anglers’ enjoyment were the acrobatic ladyfish, croakers and the ubiquitous hardhead catfish.

“We’ve never had an event this big,” Warfield said. “Before, the biggest trip was with five or six guys. This was a huge, huge trip for us, and it wouldn’t be possible without all these captains. What I tell the captains is if you can help out, great. If you can’t, we understand because you have to make a living.”

Warfield said a good many TFO members want to take part in the outings, but time constraints limit the participation.

“Weekends are really, really busy for them, but today was a perfect day,” he said. “It was a Monday, and we had plenty of people who wanted to come.”

Warfield said the organization tries to get the message out about The Fallen Outdoors through outdoors trade shows and social media. Rutland lined up several media outlets to cover the Dauphin Island event, including the Mobile Press-Register and Mobile TV stations WALA and WKRG.

“This was the most media we’ve had for a TFO event,” Warfield said. “Hopefully this will get us out there more and let veterans know there are free or low-cost hunting and fishing trips available.”

TFO was started in the 2009 in Washington state and has grown to a membership of about 34,000 veterans. Warfield said between 13,000 and 14,000 veterans are signed up in the southern region. Visit thefallenoutdoors.com for more information.

“It’s just another way to reach out to veterans,” Warfield said. “Our focus is strictly on the outdoors, whether it’s hunting, fishing, hiking or just hanging out near the water. We just want to make the connections. All of us have our demons. Nobody understands what a vet is going through better than another vet. People look at you and think you’re normal, but inside you’re torn apart. It could be physical injuries. It could be PTSD. And making the transition from military to civilian is totally different. A lot of things in the military don’t translate to civilian life. This trip was amazing. We had veterans come from Florida and Louisiana as well as Alabama. These vets get to meet more people they can lean on. They can definitely make new friendships on trips like these.”

Because of the proliferation of veterans organizations in the past decade, Rutland admitted he was cautious when originally contacted by Warfield.

“I always like to do my homework before I put something on like this,” Rutland said. “After talking to Derrick several times, I looked at my books and realized I had June 10 open. He said he could probably get 15 to 20 vets to come, and I started calling my guide friends to see who might be available. It really came together nicely. This is my busy time of the year, and it kind of got here real quick, but everything came together as well as I could have expected.”

Although June is a busy month for charter captains, Rutland said he’s sticking with an early June date for next year’s event because it’s the best time for the veterans.

“Basically, the whole deal with Derrick reaching out to me is this is kind of a dead period for outdoors activities for the veterans,” Rutland said. “They have a lot of hunting in the fall and winter and a little fishing in the spring. By the time it gets into early summer, he has a slack period until the end of the summer. They really needed to experience the Alabama Gulf Coast. I’m planning to make it an annual event.”

Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier dropped by the ADSFR site to share a lunch of fried fish with the veterans.

“First of all, anytime we can do something positive for our veterans, it’s a good thing,” Mayor Collier said. “When they can incorporate Dauphin Island into it, it’s even better. Who wouldn’t enjoy going out on a nice day and catching fish.”

The Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) provided support for the event, and MRD Director Scott Bannon also joined the group for lunch.

Warfield said the inshore fishing trip definitely exceeded expectations.

“We would have been happy if it had been two people, but it turned out to be a lot more,” he said. “We’re not going to argue with Richard about making it an annual event, because we would love to come back. I can’t say thank you enough to all the captains.”

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

WFF adds coastal zone to alligator season

(D. Rainer/Alabama Outdoors)

Two significant changes are in store for those fortunate enough to be selected for a tag in the random drawing for the 2019 Alabama alligator season.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has created a new Coastal Zone and shifted the mandatory alligator hunting training workshop to online only.

“We went from mandatory in-person training to mandatory online training,” said Chris Nix, WFF’s Alligator Program Coordinator. “We did this to try to cut out an obstacle for people to participate. It was always a problem with several people each year, whether it was weddings or vacations or other obligations. It was especially hard on people coming from Birmingham or Huntsville to make the trip all the way to the coast for one class. And, we had just one class per zone each year, so hopefully this will be better. I think people that took the in-person training got a lot of really good information and it was effective.”

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Registration for the alligator hunts is currently open at www.outdooralabama.com/alligators/alligator-hunt-registration. All entries must be received by 8:00 a.m. on July 10 to be considered for the random drawing in the five zones.

After the registration period ends, applicants can go to that same online page to check their status. If selected as a hunter or an alternative, a link to the mandatory online training video will be available.

“Those people who are drawn have seven days to complete the online training,” Nix said. “Once the online training is completed, then they can accept their status. The training is in five segments with questions to answer at the end of each segment. It will probably take most people less than 30 minutes to complete the online training.”

Nix said when the first alligator season was sanctioned in 2006, it covered only the southernmost portion of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta from the Causeway (Battleship Parkway) to the CSX railroad to the north. In the years since, the boundaries for the Southwest Zone have been expanded to include all of Mobile and Baldwin counties and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke and Monroe counties that lie east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84.

Nix urged tag holders for several years to try the prime alligator hunting available south of I-10 in Baldwin and Mobile counties, but few gators have been taken in those areas.

The creation of the Coastal Zone with 50 tags for all territory below I-10 in the two coastal counties will target that underutilized population.

“That’s where we get 95 percent of our nuisance alligator complaints,” Nix said. “That’s where everybody lives, but there are also a lot of alligators down there. We would much rather hunters take those alligators out instead of us. Historically, we have averaged less than 5% of the harvest from the area south of the interstate.”

The 50 tags for the Coastal Zone will reduce the number of tags for the rest of the Southwest Zone to 100. Nix said 96 gators were harvested in the whole Southwest Zone last season.

“The Coastal Zone will include the private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties that lie south of I-10,” Nix said. “Any body of water in the two coastal counties will likely have alligators. There are some really good alligators down there, and they’re not hunted at all.”

The Coastal Zone will have the same rules as the Southwest Zone and will utilize the same check station at the WFF’s office on the Causeway at 30571 Five Rivers Blvd., Spanish Fort, AL 36527.

Dates for the Southwest Zone and the Coastal Zone are sunset on August 8 until sunrise on August 11 and sunset on August 15 until sunrise on August 18.

The Southeast Zone, which includes private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties (excluding public Alabama state waters in Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries) will have 40 tags with season dates from sunset on August 10 until sunrise on September 2.

The West Central Zone, where Mandy Stokes’ world record gator (15 feet, 9 inches, 1,011.5 pounds) was caught in 2014, will have 50 tags. The West Central boundaries are private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox and Dallas counties. The season dates will be the same as the Southwest and Coastal zones of sunset on August 8 until sunrise on August 11 and sunset on August 15 until sunrise on August 18. The check station for the West Central Zone is at Roland Cooper State Park near Camden.

Public state waters in the Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries, south of Alabama Highway 208 at Omaha Bridge (excludes Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge) are included in the Lake Eufaula Zone, which will have 20 tags and season dates of sunset August 16 until sunrise September 30. An 8-foot minimum length requirement is in effect for alligators harvested in the Lake Eufaula Zone, which is the only zone that allows hunting during daytime and nighttime hours.

Several stories have surfaced recently about alligator sightings in north Alabama, but Nix said those animals are anomalies.

“A lot of the alligators we’re hearing about in Blount and Cullman counties, that’s not the natural range of the American alligator,” he said. “Those were likely put there by somebody. If you draw a line across the state around Montgomery, from a reproductive standpoint, that point south would be the alligator’s natural range in Alabama. You’ll have a few exceptions, like the few alligators that always show up at Lake Tuscaloosa.”

Nix said across the five hunting zones and the alligator’s natural range in the state the population is seen as stable to increasing.

“We did reduce the number of tags at Lake Eufaula several years ago and added a size limit of 8 feet, as did the state of Georgia,” he said. “We wanted to protect that female portion of the population and ensure the hunting efforts had no significant impact on their population as a whole. All other areas are stable to increasing. The Southwest Zone still has the densest population. That’s 100% due to the available habitat. It’s by far the best alligator habitat we have.”

Last year, a total of 144 alligators were harvested statewide. John Herthum of Montgomery bagged the heaviest gator in the state last year with a 700-pound gator that measured 11 feet, 10 inches in the Southeast Zone.

The Southwest Zone checked in 96 alligators. The heaviest was 603 pounds and caught by Josh Forbes of Mobile County. The longest gator was a 12-foot, 9-incher taken by Donald White of Stockton. It weighed 588 pounds. Donald Hogue of Alabaster caught the largest alligator in the West Central Zone at 12-3, 538 pounds.

Nix said the average size of the gators harvested has been relatively stable because of personal selection. People almost always want to take the largest gator they can find.

However, a new rule that was implemented last year may affect that average size. The no-cull rule means hunters cannot catch and then release an alligator to try to find a larger one.

“No more culling is allowed,” Nix said. “If you get the alligator next to the boat, it must be dispatched immediately. Once it’s captured, it’s your alligator.”

For those lucky enough to get drawn and complete the online training course, Nix recommends scouting the designated hunting areas before the season starts.

“I would recommend scouting suitable habitat during the daytime hours rather than scouting at night, looking for animals,” he said. “That is especially important if you’re unfamiliar with the body of water. Get to know the navigable waterways and huntable areas. The Delta is always changing and can get tricky, especially at night. If you can, find a hunting partner that is familiar with the waterways where you’re hunting. That goes a long way.”

And be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way during those season dates.

“It’s happening, rain or shine,” Nix said. “We do not change the dates.”

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 nonprofit takes special-needs children on hunting, fishing trips

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Kidz Outdoors works around the year to give special-needs children across the country hunting and fishing opportunities they would otherwise not have.

The Alabama Power Foundation recently presented the nonprofit with a grant that will help Kidz Outdoors continue its work.

Based in Hueytown, Alabama, Kidz Outdoors has sent hundreds of kids on hunting and fishing trips. Other outdoor activities include swimming with dolphins and more.

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All the children in the program have some type of disability or other health challenge. A recent hunt in Marengo County included those ages 9 to 21 with cancer, brittle bone disease, cerebral palsy, missing limbs and other conditions.

Later this year, the nonprofit plans to bring a young man who was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident at age 5 from his home in Anchorage, Alaska to hunt deer and pheasants in Alabama.

“He would otherwise never have this opportunity. It’s amazing how these children have reacted, the positive impact these trips have made and how it’s affected their personalities,” said Carol Clark, Kidz Outdoors executive director. “Alabama Power Foundation has been a blessing and an asset for us and a huge supporter of Kidz Outdoors.”

Established in 2013, the organization works to instill a love of the outdoors with a new generation while raising money for hospitals and research centers in hope of finding cures for cancer and other childhood diseases.

More than 4,000 children have participated in Kidz Outdoors events and more than $500,000 has been raised over the past six years.

“Alabama Power Foundation is excited to pass on a passion for the great outdoors and share the importance of being good stewards of the environment with young people, especially those with special needs,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs.

Kidz Outdoors has chapters in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky. For more information, visit kidzoutdoors.org or see National Kidz Outdoors on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Hooking redeye bass highlights scenic trip down the Tallapoosa

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

The cast was about 2 inches too long, and the topwater fly plopped down gently on a chunk of flat rock underneath the blooming mountain laurels on the Tallapoosa River north of Lake Martin.

One slight twitch of the fly rod tip and the Ol’ Mr. Wiggly fly slid into the current. The fly didn’t have time to float downstream. It was immediately inhaled by one of the Alabama-specific species, the redeye bass.

I lifted the fly rod to set the hook, and the fish went airborne.

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Guides Drew Morgan and Craig Godwin immediately pumped up the volume when they saw the fish.

“That’s a big one,” they both shouted. “Try to keep him out of the current. Keep the rod at about a 45-degree angle.”

After several runs near the three-man inflatable raft, Morgan finally stabbed the net in front of the fish to end its freedom – only momentarily, of course.

The tape measure hit 12 inches, and I was immediately eligible to be entered into the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division angler recognition program as a master angler. It also happened to be the first redeye bass of my long fishing career.

Horseshoe Bend was our origination point, and the river had settled down from recent rains to levels that would make the trip a breeze with no portage involved.

It didn’t take long for these aggressive, beautifully colored bass to make it a float trip that will never be forgotten. Although trips with Morgan, or any of his guides at East Alabama Fly Fishing, often result in hooking a variety of species of fish, including Alabama bass, striped bass, hybrid stripers, carp and numerous sunfish like bluegills and redbreasts, this outing produced a redeye bonanza.

Morgan, a history teacher at Auburn Junior High School, got into the guide business after gaining the necessary tool.

“I fished this river a lot with canoes and kayaks,” Morgan said. “I really enjoyed catching bass on a fly rod, but that’s hard to do out of a kayak or canoe. A guy I knew had this drift boat. He told me, ‘Take this out and start fishing with it.’”

The owner knew Morgan would fall in love with the diversity and comfort the drift boat afforded, and it wasn’t long before ownership of the vessel changed hands.

“I had to have the boat,” Morgan said. “I took the bait – hook, line and sinker. At the same time, I was thinking about starting a guide service. This stretch of river is big enough for guiding. I’m not moving people off their honey holes. It’s beautiful. The fish are predictable, and you can pattern them. I just needed the boat. Once I got the boat that was stable and was comfortable for clients, we opened the guide service.”

The drift boat gives Morgan and his passengers access to the whole river at decent water levels. It can float in 2 inches of water and slides over the slick rocks that crisscross the river in numerous places.

“We can go where other boats can’t,” he said. “And it’s stable so you can make casts to the best spots.”

Five years later, the business has grown to include three other guides – Godwin, John Agricola and Justin Wilson. Agricola and Wilson guide on the nearby Coosa River.

“Justin is really knowledgeable on spotted (Alabama bass), hybrid and striper fishing on a fly,” Morgan said. “And he has a power boat, so he can run all over the lakes. He fishes the tailwaters a lot on the Coosa. John has a flats boat, and his specialty is catching carp on a fly in the backwaters of the Coosa. That’s a really cool experience. You’re sight-fishing for carp. You try to drop that fly right in front of them. It’s kind of like fly fishing for tailing redfish or bonefish.”

Morgan limits his guide time to three days a week when school is out to spend time with his young family. During the school year, he’s limited to Saturdays.

“It was kind of a way to make a little extra income during the summer,” he said. “But I limit it to three trips a week. I want to continue to enjoy coming out here. Craig and I have been fishing together for a while, and he can guide during the week because he owns his own photography business.”

Our trip covered the middle section of the Tallapoosa from Horseshoe Bend National Military Park to Jaybird Creek boat launch at the north end of Lake Martin.

“That stretch is 6 miles and it’s mostly shoals the whole way,” Morgan said. “I find fish in this river like being in the shoals. The area we floated was Irwin Shoals. It’s very scenic. Even if it’s a tough bite, you get to float down the river and get to see things you normally don’t get to see.”

Morgan said the stretches of the smaller rivers are often overlooked by most recreational users.

“You don’t really feel like you’re in Alabama sometimes, but it is Alabama,” he said. “The lakes are really popular, for good reason. But people don’t realize there are beautiful rivers and streams you can float-fish too.”

Morgan mentioned scenic rivers in the Upper Piedmont area of Alabama that run from Fort Payne to the coastal plain, including Little River, Cahaba, upper Tallapoosa and upper Coosa.

“East and northeast Alabama have a lot of great places to fish, especially the redeye bass,” he said. “Redeye bass are endemic to Alabama, which means they don’t live anywhere else. These fish like current in cool Piedmont streams with a lot of flow. They like clean water. This river is so clean, and it has so much oxygen in the water that these fish live in the shoals on this big river. Redeye bass are our own version of trout fishing, but I think it’s cooler than that because the redeyes are native. They are colorful, very aggressive and eager to eat. I think this is something really special for Alabama to have in our waters.”

What fisheries biologists have recently discovered is that each river system may have variations in the black bass population that make them distinct to the rivers they inhabit.

“Presently the redeye bass of the Tallapoosa River are now called Tallapoosa Bass (Micropterus tallapoosae),” said Nick Nichols, Fisheries Chief with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “We are conducting a research project in conjunction with researchers from Auburn University to better determine the status and genetic characteristics of these riverine black bass species in Alabama.”

When Morgan is targeting the Alabama (spotted) bass, he looks for water where the current slows from the upper reaches of the Tallapoosa.

“They can put a big bend on a five-weight rod,” he said. “A 2-pound spot that has lived in this moving water is a good fish on a fly rod. If you mix in bluegills and redbreasted sunfish, they’re a whole lot of fun to catch. It’s a fun day of fishing, especially during the summer when we’re catching everything on top. I don’t guarantee fish, but the fish in the summer are pretty eager to eat. What I do like about river fishing is I think it’s easier to find fish. You’re looking for ambush points and hiding places.”

Morgan and his guides will accommodate anglers of all skill levels.

“I have clients that are all over the board,” he said. “I think more people are getting into fly fishing. I hear this story all the time, ‘Yeah, granddaddy fly-fished all the time, but we started fishing the lakes and didn’t fly-fish as much. Now I want to get back into it again.’ Then we have clients from all over the South who want to come catch a redeye. The word is getting out about this species. Fly anglers, especially, like to notch different species on their belt. And, I’ve got people who see this boat and want to fish in it to let the guide do the work so they can concentrate on fishing. You can’t do that in a kayak or canoe. There’s something for everybody in the Tallapoosa.”

Morgan also has other motivation to put a fishing rod of some kind in people’s hands.

“Mainly, I want to get people into the sport,” he said. “If they want to come with me, that’s fine. But I just want people to get on the water, buy a fishing license to support the state and appreciate what we have.”

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

Bait privilege license provides options for hog, deer hunting

(Jay Gunn/WFF)

A buddy of mine recently returned from vacation to discover what many landowners have been dealing with for the past couple of decades.

“Hogs tore up my place while we were gone,” the message read.

Now my friend has another tool that he can use to help minimize the impact of the scourge known as feral hogs.

The Alabama legislature recently passed legislation that allows hunters on privately owned or leased land to purchase a bait privilege license that makes it legal to hunt feral pigs (year-round during daylight hours only) and white-tailed deer (during the deer-hunting season only) with the aid of bait.

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The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is issuing the new license ($15 for resident individual hunters and $51 for non-residents) through any outlet that sells hunting licenses and online at https://www.outdooralabama.com.

Hunters who want to thin the destructive hog herd right now can purchase the license, but be aware that license will expire on Aug. 31. If you wish to hunt hogs or deer with the aid of bait during the 2019-2020 hunting seasons, you will need to purchase a new bait privilege license when it becomes available in late August.

The bait privilege license applies to everybody who hunts those species with the aid of bait with no exceptions. That means hunters 65 years old and older and hunters under 16 must have a valid bait license when hunting with the aid of bait. That also includes people hunting on their own property and lifetime license holders.

Plus, each hunter must have his/her own bait privilege license to hunt with the aid of bait.

Also understand that baiting any wildlife – including white-tailed deer and feral pigs – on public lands remains illegal.

Sen. Jack Williams (R-Wilmer) who has been dealing with the destructive feral hogs for years, sponsored the Senate bill. This was the fourth year Williams had submitted similar legislation.

“The biggest thing in my area is the hogs are tearing your property up,” said Williams, who farms and operates a plant nursery in Mobile County. “I’m overrun with them in my area. I killed one Easter morning off my porch, in my back yard. They were rooting my driveway up. We’re doing everything we can to kill them. We have more opportunities to kill them during deer season than any other time.”

Williams drew a parallel with how some natural wildlife forage can also congregate animals in tight spaces.

“In my viewpoint, there is not any difference between a group of deer eating the corn spread out or in a trough and white-oak acorns with all the deer up under that tree,” he said. “We’ve fed for years, and I think most people who are trying to grow any deer have too. We haven’t had any problems with it at all.”

Included in the law is a provision that ADCNR can suspend the use of the bait privilege license on a county, regional or statewide basis to prevent the spread of diseases, like chronic wasting disease (CWD), among wildlife.

Williams said he’s received significant feedback on his Facebook page about the bill, and the majority of responses have been positive.

“The polling we had before it was passed was about 84% in favor,” he said. “And it’s a choice. If you don’t want to bait, you don’t have to. If you own property, you can put in your lease that hunters can’t use bait. This is not being forced on you. It’s up to you if you do it or not.”

Williams thinks the use of bait illegally has been a common occurrence in Alabama in the past.

“People have been feeding anyway,” he said. “This is just making a lot of people legal. That’s the way I see it. I don’t see it helping the people who grow corn. I know every feed store around here that sells it, and they can’t get it in fast enough during hunting season. It’s not going to make the price of corn go up. That will be market price.”

Williams also mentioned, for those who choose not to hunt with the aid of bait, the Area Definition Regulation remains in effect. The Area Definition Regulation allows for supplemental feeding as long as the feed is more than 100 yards away and out of the line of sight of the hunter because of natural vegetation or naturally occurring terrain features.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said this was not a Department-sponsored bill, but the Department did work with Senator Williams to include the provisions that help prevent the spread of disease.

“We wanted it to be clear in the bill that the Conservation Commissioner had the authority to suspend the baiting privilege if CWD or some other disease was detected,” Blankenship said. “It also says the Commissioner can suspend the feeding of wild game in areas where CWD or other disease might be present. This gives us some abilities to ensure that we can protect the deer herd in the case of a disease outbreak in our state.”

Blankenship said there has been much discussion regarding the bill.

“People like that this bill makes it clear that if they want to hunt with aid of bait, they can, like they do in Georgia and other states,” he said. “I’ve also got some calls from people who are unhappy, who don’t think it’s a way that you should hunt.”

Blankenship reiterated what Senator Williams said about choice to participate or not.

“This is not a requirement that people hunt over bait,” he said. “It’s a tool that people can use if that is what they prefer. Somebody who is totally opposed to that type of hunting can hunt the way they always have. This is just an option.”

Like Williams and my friend, Blankenship expects significant participation from people who are dealing with feral pigs.

“This may help us throughout the whole year to better help control the population of feral hogs,” the commissioner said.

Blankenship said the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division will continue to closely monitor the white-tailed deer herd and any harvest rate trends that might be associated with the use of bait.

“The Department will make sure this is not a detriment to the wildlife and that we have a healthy deer population in our state,” he said. “This is just another factor we will examine as we look at the health of the deer population. With the three-buck limit and other seasons and bag limits, we think our deer population will be fine.”

Revenue from sale of the new bait privilege license will be eligible for federal matching funds to support conservation efforts in the state. That revenue is determined, in part, by the number of licenses sold. Exempt hunters who buy a bait privilege license but don’t buy a hunting license will be eligible to be counted for federal matching funds.

Blankenship said he does not have a projection about the amount of revenue the bait privilege licenses will produce.

“We really don’t know right now,” he said. “After the first season, we’ll have a lot better idea.”

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 offers new license for bait hunting of deer and pigs

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

A new license allowing bait to be used in the hunting of white-tailed deer and feral pigs in Alabama is now on sale.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is issuing the annual bait privilege license after a new law was passed, AL.com reported .

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The Alabama legislature approved the baited hunting measure last month.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 83-12.

The new law could provide limited help with crop destruction and other problems caused by feral hogs, said State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens), who sponsored the bill in the House.

“I don’t know if you could ever kill enough feral hogs with a rifle to ever make a dent in it but it will help,” Crawford said.

Alabama Department Conservation Commissioner Christopher Blankenship said the department did not initiate the bill but was not opposed to it.

There are several stipulations on the new baiting law.

The license applies only to white-tailed deer in season and feral pigs on privately owned or leased lands, for instance.

Baiting any wildlife remains illegal on public lands.

The license costs $15 for Alabama residents and $51 for non-residents.

Revenue generated by the sale of the licenses will be matched by the federal government to help support conservation efforts, officials said.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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3 months ago

Exceptional Anglers makes fishing dreams come true for students

(Alabama Newscenter)

Hundreds of special-needs children are casting a line this week – many for the first time in their lives – at Oak Mountain State Park’s Exceptional Anglers event.

The annual Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ program is celebrating its 24th year of teaching basic fishing skills to students from Jefferson and Shelby county school systems.

Assistant Park Superintendent David Johnson said Exceptional Anglers is his favorite event at Oak Mountain all year long.

“This event gives students the opportunity to not only fish but also to socialize, connect with one another and just get outside and enjoy the great outdoors,” Johnson said.

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In addition to fishing, Exceptional Anglers offers students a day of arts and crafts, storytelling, face painting, inflatables, games and more.

However, it’s the fishing at Oak Mountain’s lake Wednesday through Friday that is the highlight for students and volunteers alike.

“To be honest with you, for most of these children, this is their first opportunity ever to get out and fish. They will catch the first fish of their life and have their picture made with it,” said Mike Clelland, an environmental affairs specialist with Alabama Power. “It’s going to be a memory that will last a lifetime. The volunteers are going to have a memory that lasts a lifetime, too.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries organize the three-day event, with support from sponsors. Alabama Power helped start the program and has been a sponsor since its inception.

“Alabama Power has been involved with this great event now for 24 years. It’s grown each year, and students are just as excited to participate in this now as they were in the very beginning,” Clelland said.

In addition to helping students fish, volunteers staffed different stations around the lake. Students fished in 30-minute rotations that included arts and crafts, playtime, music and lunch.

“Without the hard work of our volunteers and the support of the sponsors, this event would not be possible. We are very grateful for their help in enriching the lives of these students,” said Doug Darr, aquatic education coordinator for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and Energizers retirees were among the groups providing volunteers all three days.

“These students and volunteers are as excited and uplifted as ever. The fish don’t always bite, but the effort and energy are definitely there. As always, Alabama Power is thrilled to support this great event,” said Kaylon Mikula, president of the Magic City chapter of APSO. “We truly enjoyed the opportunity to serve.”

Johnson likes to tell one story about a student who participated in Exceptional Anglers more than a decade ago.

Johnson saw the student, now a young man, and his father fishing at the marina one summer day and couldn’t help but notice the stringer full of fish they had caught.

“The young man told me he was part of this program with Jefferson County Schools 10 years prior and he had caught his first fish at that event,” Johnson said. “I feel like he was truly inspired by this event to become a great fisherman.”

Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter

3 months ago

Plant Gaston APSO members cheer special-needs children with fishing days

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

Most anglers head to the lake for relaxation and sport: Even on a bad day of fishing, one leaves in a better mood. Catching some fish – big or small – gives a feeling of accomplishment.

Multiply that feeling by 100. That’s the joy felt by special-needs children from six elementary, intermediate and high schools, including Jemison, Vestavia Hills, Thorsby and Wilsonville.

The past two weeks, school systems have bused special-needs classes to Wilsonville, where Plant Gaston members of the Alabama Power Service Organization hosted children and school staff. Across the highway from the plant, a bucolic scene awaits. A 3-acre pond holds bream and bass up to 2 pounds and more, perfect for holding by small hands.

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Gaston APSO hosts Jemison kids in fishing from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

More than 60 APSO members, including several employees from Local 2077 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), helped during the six fishing events. Gaston folks helped youngsters bait their fishing poles with bits of hot dogs and helped them reel in the catch.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)