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 days ago

Wheelchair-bound Stone bags gator at Eufaula

(Alabama Outdoors/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 weeks ago

Tackling litter with new law, coastal cleanup, Litter Gitter

(ADCNR, David Rainer/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 weeks ago

Regulators: Gulf of Mexico red grouper limits staying low

(Wikicommons)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 weeks ago

New technology changes anglers’ perspectives on fish activity

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(R. Knight/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Calhoun youth dove hunt draws largest crowd yet

(David Rainer/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The youth dove hunt program has provided a continued opportunity for youngsters to enter the ranks of hunters. This hunt highlights only one of the 28 youth dove hunts hosted by the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries across the state. If you’re interested in attending one of them, visit https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/Public/AvailableHunts/6 for a list of youth dove hunts still available. But don’t hesitate because very few hunts remain.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 month ago

Complacency often leads to treestand, firearms accidents

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I write about having a safe and enjoyable hunting season, I always list the 10 commandments of firearms safety:

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

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

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

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

1 month ago

Alabama adding three-day red snapper season in October

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

Detailed red snapper landing information is available here.

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

1 month ago

Auburn University bass fishing team celebrates national championship victory

(Auburn University Bass Fishing Team/Facebook)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Auburn University Bass Fishing Team/Facebook)

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

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

1 month ago

Bait privilege license opens opportunities for deer hunters

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

Now that the 2019-2020 hunting licenses are on sale, many hunters are pondering whether to take advantage of a new opportunity or maintain the status quo. That opportunity is the inaugural bait privilege license that allows hunting for white-tailed deer and feral pigs with the aid of bait.

Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, said hunters need to remember that the bait privilege license was an act of the Alabama Legislature and not a regulation set by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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“The baiting privilege, first and foremost, was something that was legislated,” Sykes said. “It was not something the Department pushed or something that we crafted. This came from the Legislature. Their constituents wanted to hunt over bait. So, good, bad or indifferent, we’ve got it.”

Sykes explained what the Alabama legislators included in the bait privilege legislation.

“Anybody who wishes to hunt over bait must have a bait privilege license,” Sykes said. “A lot of people think that’s just corn. Some people are calling it the corn stamp. That’s not true. It includes a protein feeder, mineral blocks, juices and sprays. All of that is considered bait if you’re going to hunt over it. If you are going to do that, you have to buy a bait privilege license.”

While Alabama requirements for hunting and fishing licenses have age exemptions and landowner exemptions, the bait privilege license does not have exemptions.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 7 or 107 or a private landowner hunting on your own property,” he said. “There are no exemptions provided in the legislation. So, everyone who hunts over bait will have to have that license.”

A conversation that occurred at the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division booth at the Buckmasters Expo in August explained why most deer hunters should consider purchasing a bait privilege license as a form of insurance.

The hunter said one member of his hunting club was adamant that he was not going to hunt with the aid of bait, and he wasn’t going to buy a bait privilege license. However, the other members of the club are going to purchase bait privilege licenses and hunt with the aid of bait.

“Guess what? That one guy who doesn’t have a bait privilege license and is a member of a club that chooses to bait is putting himself at risk to get a ticket,” Sykes said. “Here’s the way I’m looking at it. Whether I like it or not, whether I, Chuck Sykes, personally agree with it, I bought one the first day. Now anybody I choose to go hunting with, I don’t have to worry whether they put feed out and it’s been gone for 10 days. I don’t have to worry if their feeder is 90 or 100 yards away and out of the line of sight according to the ‘area definition’ regulation. Whether I hunt over feed or not is irrelevant. It is a $15 insurance policy, so I don’t have to worry about it. People who are in these big clubs, there’s always one in every crowd. Even if the club decides they’re not going to feed, there’s going to be one guy who does it. Fifteen dollars is a lot cheaper than a $250 ticket.”

For those who insist they are not going to hunt with the aid of bait and are not buying the bait privilege license, Sykes said that’s perfectly fine.

“It’s not mandated that you have to hunt over feed,” he said. “You can hunt oak trees or food plots. Or, if you want to feed, make sure you’re more than 100 yards away and out of line of sight because of natural vegetation or natural terrain. The area definition is still in effect.”

Sykes offered an example of his father, Willie, who lives and farms cattle in Choctaw County.

“This is Chuck talking. My daddy has not killed a deer in over 40 years,” he said. “But he loves to feed them. I only get to hunt two or three days a year on my family farm. There have been more times than not that I have been denied that opportunity because when I get home on a Friday afternoon, I’ll ask Daddy, ‘When was the last time you put feed out?’ He’ll say, ‘Oh, I just put a 5-gallon bucket out the other day. I’m sure it’s already gone.’ Now that I have a bait privilege license, I don’t have to worry about it. Does that mean I’m going to have a feeder stuck out in the middle of the food plot? No. But, if I have the opportunity to come home and see Daddy, I don’t have to worry about it. I know a bunch of people who are looking at it that way. I bought Daddy a bait privilege license the other day on one of the inaugural hard cards for the first year of the license. He turned 77 on August 3.”

Sykes said one of the most common questions that comes up about the bait privilege license is, “What do you mean my grandson has to have a bait privilege license?”

“If the 7-year-old grandson is sitting in a shooting house with Granddaddy, and there’s a 30-06 and a .223 in that box, and there’s a feeder in the middle of the field, Granddaddy and his grandson both need to have a bait privilege license,” he said.

When the Alabama legislators asked for Sykes’ input on the proposed legislation, he said a provision that allows the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to manage the feeding of wildlife in the event of a disease outbreak made the bill much more palatable.

“That the Commissioner can manage the feeding, to me, that makes us a stronger agency now that we have the statutory authority to manage not only baiting but also feeding of wildlife in the event of a disease,” Sykes said. “I think, as an agency, we are better off now than before it passed. And that has nothing to do with hunting over bait. When I explain that to the naysayers, they still don’t like hunting over bait, but they understand that, as an agency, we were not going to oppose that bill because it gave us the statutory authority to manage feeding.”

Sykes said quite a few bait privilege licenses have been sold, and he expects a rush right before deer season opens.

“We’re doing everything we can to get the word out about the bait privilege license,” he said. “We’ve had it on radio, newspapers and magazines, and it’s in the Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest. One of the problems with this is the resident landowners have done the same thing for so long that many of them don’t pay attention to any changes. Their deer season has been basically the same for 40 or more years. I’m sure it’s going to take a little while to the get the word out to everybody.”

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

Registration for historic Alabama sandhill crane season opens Wednesday

(Outdoor Alabama/Twitter)

Registration for Alabama’s first sandhill crane hunting season in more than 100 years will open on Wednesday, September 4, and run until September 25.

Only 400 sandhill crane hunting permits will be issued statewide. The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) will conduct a computer-controlled random draw on October 2 to pick the permit holders from the registration list.

Registration is limited to Yellowhammer State residents ages 16 and older or Alabama lifetime hunting license holders. Applicants must have their regular hunting license and a state waterfowl stamp to apply. A $10 registration fee will be assessed.

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If drawn, hunters must then complete an online test that includes species identification and regulations. After passing the test, WFF will issue the permit and tags. In addition to a hunting license and state duck stamp, hunters must also acquire a federal duck stamp and Harvest Information Program license, and if hunting on a Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a WMA license.

The season will be split into two segments with the first running 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.

The sandhill crane hunt zone is restricted to North Alabama. Additionally, both state and federal wildlife refuges are closed to sandhill crane and waterfowl hunting.

Sandhill cranes stand 4 to 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 4 to 6 feet. The subspecies found in the eastern U.S. is called the giant sandhill crane. Sandhills prefer wetland habitat with emergent vegetation and often feed in harvested grain fields. The majority of migratory sandhill cranes in Alabama are found in the Tennessee River Valley with some birds wintering in Weiss Reservoir on the Coosa River.

For more information about Alabama’s sandhill crane hunting season and to register, click here.

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

2 months ago

Alabama wildlife art hard licenses now on sale

(ADCNR/Contributed)

Want a beautiful piece of wildlife or nature art that you can carry with you wherever you go? Plus, you get a heck of a deal. You can get that piece of art for just $5 when you take advantage of Alabama’s new hard-card licenses that went on sale this week for the 2019-2020 hunting and fishing seasons.

For an additional $5 fee, purchasers can select from eight different cards that depict a variety of outdoors scenes. The art scenes include deer, turkey, freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, wildlife heritage with an indigo bunting, sandhill crane and shooting sports. A deer and feral hog adorn the inaugural bait privilege license.

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A total of 32 license privileges are eligible for purchase as a hard card, including annual hunting and fishing licenses for residents and non-residents, state duck stamp, Wildlife Heritage and bait privilege licenses. Trip licenses, lifetime licenses and no-cost privileges are not included in this feature.

“We worked so hard for years to get away from a paper license to something electronically so people could have it on their phones,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “That’s been really good for a lot of people, but we get a lot of requests for a hard-card license that people can put in their tackle boxes or keep in their wallets, so they can have that with them if they don’t have their phones or whatever reason.”

Blankenship said other states have seen collectors’ markets develop for similar hard licenses with a variety of outdoors scenes.

“We had seen in Florida and some other states where the hard cards have become collectible,” he said. “We wanted to create hard cards with multiple wildlife and nature scenes that people could choose from. If they love saltwater fishing, they can pick a saltwater species. If they love freshwater fishing, they could choose a freshwater fish. If they hunt deer or turkey, they can get those. Particularly for our Wildlife Heritage licenses, we wanted to create a card for bird watchers or people who may not hunt or fish but enjoy using Forever Wild lands or State Parks. They can support the Department by purchasing the Wildlife Heritage license and the hard card that goes with that. So, we have a hard card that fits just about everybody.”

Blankenship hopes people will embrace the hard cards here as they have elsewhere.

“From what we’ve seen in other states, a lot of people like to buy the whole set that is available for that year,” he said. “They might have their license privileges added to one card and then buy the others so they can have a hard card without a license privilege attached to it. While that option is not available this year, we’ll see after this year what the demand is for that.”

With all the distractions of the modern world, from computer games to smartphones, license sales for outdoors activities have been struggling to maintain status quo. Blankenship said the general public doesn’t really understand the importance of license sales to conservation and wildlife and fisheries management through the ADCNR.

“We are a self-funded agency, so license sales and Parks revenue fund all the work that we do at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” he said. “That’s why we think the Wildlife Heritage license and the hard card that goes with it might be a good way for people to support the Department. We can match those license sales with federal funds and do good work for the resources of our state.”

ADCNR receives three-to-one federal matching funds for licenses sold through the Sport Fish Restoration Act and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.

The Sport Fish Restoration Act levies an excise tax on manufacturers, producers, and importers of sport-fishing equipment as well as small engine and motor boat fuel taxes paid by recreational anglers and boaters. A 10% tax is levied on sport-fishing equipment, while a 3% tax is paid on electric (trolling) motors. Tax is also levied on motor boat and small engine fuel, and other import duties are levied on boats and a variety of fishing equipment.

Those funds are distributed according to the number of licenses sold and land mass. The number of licenses sold determines a 60% share of the funding, and 40% percent is based on the land and water area in a particular state.

The Sport Fish Restoration Act requires that 15% of all restoration money be spent on public boating access. It also requires Alabama and other coastal states to fund marine recreational fisheries projects at a ratio determined by the number of resident freshwater to saltwater anglers.

Pittman-Robertson funds are derived from an 11% federal excise tax on the manufacturers of sporting arms, ammunition, and archery equipment. Handgun manufacturers are taxed at a 10% rate. One-half of the excise tax on handguns and archery equipment must be used for hunter education and shooting ranges.

For hard-card collectors, Alabama’s wildlife and nature images will change annually. After this inaugural roll-out of the hard cards, Blankenship said there is a possibility that the photos of the winners of the annual ADCNR Photo Contest could be used to adorn each year’s edition of hard cards.

“We have a lot of ideas about what we can do with the hard cards,” he said. “Really, we decided to do the hard cards for two reasons. One was to meet the demand for people who wanted a hard card to put their license privileges on, and the other was to find ways for other people to support the work of the Department.”

The easiest way to obtain a hard license with the wildlife and nature scenes is to purchase a license online and click on the link to purchase a hard license. Buyers can choose one or all eight of the cards at $5 per card. License purchasers who use retail outlets can also obtain a hard license. For those who want to get a hard card after a license has already been purchased, go online and use the “Replacement/Additional Hard Card” link to purchase any or all of the eight cards.

After purchase, the hard licenses will be mailed to buyers within 10 days. If you plan to hunt or fish before you receive your hard card, be sure to keep a paper copy of your license or have it available on your smartphone.

For deer and turkey hunters as well as red snapper anglers, don’t forget that when you purchase a hard card, you still must comply with harvest reporting requirements. Hunters who hunt deer and turkey should report through Game Check, while red snapper anglers should comply through Snapper Check. The easiest way to comply is to use the Outdoor Alabama app. Otherwise, hunters must retain a paper record of their harvests.

The new Reef Fish Endorsement is now available for purchase and will be required beginning September 1 to possess any reef fish species in Alabama waters. Marine Resources Division (MRD) Director Scott Bannon said enforcement will be out educating the public regarding the endorsement.

“Anytime we have a rule change we generally try and make efforts to inform the public about the change and allow some time for adjustment to the rule,” said Bannon.

Another option for those who purchase licenses for the 2019-2020 seasons is the ability to round up their purchase to the next nearest dollar. If they choose, that extra money can be designated for research in wildlife, freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing. Also new this year is the ability to opt-in for annual auto-renewal of licenses.

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/license-information for more information on available licenses.

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

Import ban vital to prevent the spread of CWD

(Alabama Outdoors/Contributed, YHN)

As deer season approaches, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) remind hunters that it is illegal to import whole carcasses and certain body parts of any species of deer into either state.

The import ban on deer in Alabama and Tennessee is part of a larger effort throughout the country to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) – a fatal neurological disease of white-tailed deer and other deer species, including mule deer, elk and moose.

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“Working closely with our counterparts in neighboring states is one of the best ways we can prevent the spread of CWD,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “It is vital to the health of our deer herd that out-of-state hunters know and follow the hunting regulations in both the state in which they live and the state in which they plan to hunt.”

Under the import bans no person may import, transport, or possess a carcass or body part from any species of deer harvested anywhere outside of either state without properly processing it before bringing it home.

Importation of the following is allowed in both Alabama and Tennessee: deer meat that has been completely deboned; cleaned skull plates with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; raw capes, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy products or tanned hides. Velvet antlers are illegal to import into Alabama unless they are part of a finished taxidermy product.

Similar laws addressing the import of deer carcasses and body parts are on the books in other southern states as well.

“Our greatest allies in the fight against CWD are hunters,” said Chuck Yoest, CWD coordinator for TWRA. “With hunters’ assistance, we can help keep CWD from spreading, keep the number of diseased deer to a minimum, and reduce disease rates where possible.”

CWD is caused by a mutated protein called a prion. The disease is infectious, communicable, and always fatal for white-tailed deer. To date, no deer has tested positive for CWD in Alabama. CWD was discovered in parts of Mississippi and Tennessee in 2018. Since then, both states have implemented response plans in order to determine the prevalence of the disease and minimize its spread.

Once CWD arrives, infected deer serve as a reservoir for prions which will shed into the environment through saliva, urine, blood, soft-antler material and feces. There are no known management strategies to lessen the risk of indirect transmission of CWD once an environment has been contaminated. This makes eradication of CWD very difficult, if not impossible.

“Alabama has had a CWD surveillance program in place for white-tailed deer since 2001,” Blankenship said. “We have been fortunate so far, but we need the help of hunters to maintain our CWD-free status. To do so, it is very important for those who hunt out-of-state to know the laws before traveling.”

The public can assist the ADCNR Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division with its CWD monitoring program by reporting any illegal transport of deer or elk on Alabama’s roads and highways. Call the Operation Game Watch line immediately at (800) 272-4263 if you see deer or elk being transported in Alabama. In Tennessee, contact the TWRA Law Enforcement Division at (615) 781-6580.

For more information about how Alabama and Tennessee are working to prevent the spread of CWD, visit www.outdooralabama.com and www.CWDinTennessee.com.

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.

(Courtesy of Outdoor Alabama)

2 months 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.

2 months 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.

2 months 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 months 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 months 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 months 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 months 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.

2 months 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.

3 months 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.

3 months 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)