Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games - Behind the Location

The Hunger Games jumped out of the gates with a big box office opening.  Based on a young adult novel about a girl who must fight to the death for the amusement of the government, the novel series picked up a large teen following prior to the film’s arrival.

Several of the outdoors and hunting blogs and forums have discussed the movie as well.  First of all, the main character, Katniss, uses her skills in the to-the-death competition that she learned in Appalachia while hunting and living in the wilderness.  Second, many have commented on her (the actress) ability and technique with archery equipment.  Neither disappointed the real life critics.

One of the stories not mentioned very much is the location of the shoot.  Much of the movie was shot in the mountains of North Carolina, DuPont State Recreational Forest to be more specific.

Why should this be of any additional interest?

DuPont State Forest began as a 3 stage purchase of land by North Carolina from DuPont as it sold off its industrial and surrounding land holdings.  This amassed over 10000 acres of land for the State Forest.  This was a deal involving many environment groups.  To put it short, the Conservation Fund purchased the land from DuPont as an intermediate owner until the state of North Carolina could come up with the funds to finish the purchase.  North Carolina used $2.2 million from the North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust Fund to fund the project.

DuPont State Forest is a haven for all outdoors activities.  Everything from hiking, fishing, mountain biking and hunting is enjoyed there with some of the most picturesque landscapes and waterfalls in North Carolina as well as the Eastern United States.  Due to a proposed management shift for DuPont State Forest, many of these activities were to be prohibited.

As a result, many enthusiasts from different aspects of the outdoors would lose a valuable public area to enjoy their activities.  Several of these people, who enjoyed the DuPont State Forest for different reasons, saw a need to band together and find a solution to keeping the land accessible and available to all.  In the process hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and environmentalists all would fight for the same cause.

The different groups picked up a few backers in the North Carolina legislature, and in 2011, DuPont State Forest was classified as DuPont State Recreational Forest.  This became the first state recreational forest and a model for future areas.  By gaining the recreational forest nomenclature, it ensured the biking, hiking, and riding trails would remain, and hunters would not lose valuable gamelands located within the boundaries.  Best of all, it was done without in-fighting from the different groups as things like this can tend to breed.  The different groups saw the value in working together, and were convincing in their arguments.

The now DuPont State Recreational Forest boasts not only of the beautiful lands and waterfalls, but nearly 175000 visitors annually.  2012 may see a much larger increase in that number.  With the success of The Hunger Games, it seems the area is welcoming many more tourists who wish to visit the location of the movie’s setting.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Night Hunting

Spring is here.  You can tell by the yellow/green haze that is fogging the air.  It also means the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is readying for very active period as well.

Come April 7th, the hatchery supported waters will fill once again with trout, and hunting mentors will take out youth hunters for the first shots at unwary toms strutting in front of their harems of hens.

Prior to all this, the NCWRC is holding meetings throughout the state searching for input on the growing problems with feral swine and coyotes.  Last year, North Carolina dropped the classification of ‘wild boar’ from swine located in six mountain counties, essentially meaning that wild boar do not exist in North Carolina.  The ruling left feral swine and the once classified wild boar under the NCWRC’s control.  Whereas feral swine could be hunted during night hours prior to this change, the law immediately caused confusion and a change that meant feral swine would only be hunted during daylight hours.

To counteract the changes that occurred, the NCWRC offered a temporary permit that could be printed from a home computer simply by submitting your Wildlife Commission license number that would allow night time hunting of feral swine on private property until March 31, 2012.  The permit is no cost and required no review.

This still left things in a ‘gray’ area.  From the update the NCWRC sent out earlier this week; “The proposed seasons would be year-round, seven days a week.  All hunting on Sundays is allowed on private lands and only with archery equipment.  Night hunting is one means of controlling the population of coyotes and feral swine, both of which are non-native to North Carolina.  Currently, there is no closed season on either species, but hunting them at night is not allowed.  If approved, the new regulations would take effect August.”

What everyone needs to look at is what can of worms we will open whether approved or disapproved.  First, if approved, it can possibly open the door for poachers and illegal hunting of deer and bear.  Second, if not approved, it could eventually cause harm to crops and other wildlife if the feral swine and coyotes are allowed to flourish.

Hunting feral swine and coyotes at night is a common practice in many states.  Night hunting is more efficient as both species tend to be more active at night.  However, we must also deal with current spotlighting laws.  Now the issue with poaching.  If you spot a deer at night in May, it would be similar to seeing a dime on the other side of the street.  You notice, but really have no temptation whatsoever to cross the highway to pick it up.  But, if you are night hunting hogs come October, and a massive 10 pointer is staring you down, it is more akin to spotting a $100 bill.  There is much more temptation involved.  Even a ethical hunter who is shining a light looking for hogs or yotes, will likely at least stop the rotation of the beam if a large deer or bear happens to fall in the line of light.  Without any thoughts of shooting the deer, the act of stopping the light on the deer then falls into the spotlighting laws.
I have personally seen damage hogs can cause to crops.  They will tear up a large acreage easily.  They also can have litters several times each year meaning exponential growth in a short amount of time.  Even coyotes wreck havoc if uncontrolled.  Through diseases passed by tangling with domestic pets, or even killing of domestic pets and livestock, as well as wild turkey and other small game predation, coyotes cause harm to our natural inhabitants.  Trying to limit and control each species without hunting at night will likely prove unsuccessful.

My opinion is to have an open season throughout the year, with a limited season for night hunting only.  This season should likely be in the early spring through mid-summer.  This would lesson the urge of hunting antlered deer illegally at night as the antler growth will not be developed to a ‘trophy’ status yet.  This is MY opinion.  The NCWRC needs your opinion.  If you are not/were not able to attend one of the meetings, you can still email the NCWRC at and voice your opinion and concerns.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Suckers are a Sign

It is a sign of spring.  Sure, the dogwoods and Bradford pears begin to bloom.  The grass begins to grow.  And certainly, it is just a matter of days, not weeks, before everything begins to collect a hazy yellow film from the pollinating pines and other plants.  But to me, at least as of the last few years, the true sign of spring is when the sucker fish begin their spawn.
In a manner not unlike the great salmon of Alaska, the sucker fish will make their way upstream to an ancient spot that many, many generations have congregated throughout the centuries.  They flap on top of the water as they squirm over shallow runs, depositing their eggs and secretions along the way.  Often, if you are lucky enough to time the event, it usually lasts only a week or so, you can catch dozens upon dozens rolling amongst each other in their annual dance.
Of course, being one fond of the outdoors and bowfishing, this ignites the inner spirit within me.  No longer must I brave the cold, the biting wind, and the other wintery elements nature has to offer.  While I do enjoy it, the seasons remain in motion for a reason.  They keep us from the having a passion that grows too monotonous to continue.  The seasons pass so that we have something to look forward to as new challenges and adventures await.
Yes, as the sucker fish work their way over distances, I envision myself as hunters of days passed.  Much like the Native Americans hundreds of years ago must have done, I ready the draw on my bow, though it is much more technologically advanced than the ones used then, and release an arrow toward the golden fish.  My arrow contains a string and barbed point.  Theirs were likely longer arrows without a tether.  Many used sharpened sticks to gig the fish instead.  The suckers provided nourishment and an easy catch during the spawn.  The suckers do the same now as well.
Last year my daughter was fortunate in taking a sucker fish as her first animal with the use of a bow.  She did it on the last day we were able to attend the spawning affair.  In the process, she held the North Carolina State bowfishing record for youth female.
This year, she was anxious and willing, and we were able to get out the creekside once again.  I also held the overall North Carolina bowfishing record at 5 pounds 14 ounces.  On the first night, I was able to bring in a nice 6 pounder.  Officially measured, it came up to 5.99 pounds.  Since the weights are not measured in hundredths but rather ounces, it temporarily breaks my old record by 2 ounces.  After a busy day of birthday parties and dancing recitals, I was able to take Julianne back out.  I would guide her, hoping it would not take the hundreds of shots it took the previous year before the hit was made.
Using a LED Lenser headlamp, I searched the shallows and the running waters.  She had taken a couple of shots, just missing each time.  Then, about 10 yards away, there was a flurry of motion as several fish climbed, wallowed, and rubbed over each other.  She pulled back the bow, and before I could finish the statement ‘shoot when you are ready’, she released the biting arrow.
Yes, she hit her mark and the arrow’s barbed point held the fish tight.  We were able to pull it to the shore moments later.  Official weight: 6.01 pounds.  Luckily for me, it gets rounded off to 6 pounds and 0 ounces.
Now, at least for the time being, Julianne and I will share the state record.  That is until someone else is able to find the ancient spawning runs and share an experience with the spirits of old.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Little Hardware from the Dixie Deer Classic

This will not be my normal post, that will come Thursday.  But I did want to share a little hardware I recieved from the Dixie Deer Classic and North Carolina Bowhunters Association banquet.

Largest Beaver taken by bow 2011

Second Place Best Photo
Yes, I am in the photo and I took the photo.  Amazing how those timers work! (It did take a few tries to get the shot I wanted...)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trophy vs Experience

Is it the experience, or the trophy? 

This weekend I spent the better part of the days waiting on huge antlers to cross the curtain at the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh.  Saturday kicked in with, now this is hear-say, a record attendance for one day.  Friday and Sunday were not bad, but Saturday forced show goers to walk shoulder to shoulder at times.

While the number of heads to be scored seemed slower than past years, the quality was certainly there.  A scorer at a trophy show such as the Dixie Deer Classic is given some basic training, and usually paired with another experienced scorer during his first event.  Typical racks rarely present a problem.  Cut and dry measurements are taken in which the main issues are usually mistakes in adding fractions or judgments on whether something is a point or not and whether the measurement on the ruler should be rounded up or down an 8th of an inch.
Steven Patterson, Bill Howard, Cole Carr, and Amanda Carr
scoring at the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh, NC.
Photo by Ryan Miller
For non-typical racks, things can be a little trickier.  Often, the ones with a lot of ‘junk’ are left to the brave souls willing to attempt what amounts to a tedious, and time consuming ordeal.  Properly trained scorers usually make the right calls on these interesting and challenging antlers.  Then, there are some that require judgment calls that can affect the overall scores greatly.  Without getting to deep in the science, maybe even art, of scoring tough antlers, scorers take it very seriously and often recruit help from other trained scorers for their opinions as well.  Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young trained scorers take on the difficult, and potential record book mounts with passion that is often equal to the same passion the hunter exudes on his trophy quest.  Accuracy is first and foremost the top priority in order to properly honor the game animal.

Now to answer the question from the beginning of this column.  Sunday, a hunter was dissatisfied with the score received on his deer.  In order to assure proper measurements were taken, not only did another scorer volunteer to re-score the trophy, but a panel of scorers worked together on the deer.  The deer was mounted in a beautiful half body pose.  The rack, still in velvet as the deer was taken early in the season, had what appeared to be a split in the main beam of the right antler.  This is where the judgment call came into play.  If one part of the split was taken as the main beam over the other, it could sway the official score by a rather large sum.  My opinion was also the opinion of other more experienced scorers, and resulted in a lower score.  The hunter was visibly disappointed.

But my response was it was a beautiful deer, an outstanding example of taxidermy, and a trophy that could and should be valued for a lifetime.  Couple that with the actual experience of not only seeing such a wonderful animal in the wild, but successful in the harvesting of that animal, and there should be no disappointment what so ever.  If we only hunt for the trophy, the experience means less.  However, if we hunt for the experience, then the trophy means much more.