• October 2012 - Volume 7, Number 10


    If it’s legal to take more than one deer a day, why not? Here’s how to double your pleasure — and your venison.

    Whitetail deer are elusive animals with highly developed survival skills. It is a great achievement when a hunter takes a deer in a fair-chase hunting situation.

    South Carolinians are fortunate to have very liberal bag limits for deer. Not only is the annual limit generous, but hunters are allowed to take two deer daily in most locations. However, taking advantage of this opportunity is not always an easy task. Taking two deer on any one set-up is sometimes a matter of luck, but in order to do so consistently requires skill and an intimate knowledge of deer habits.

    Because smokepole season dates differ, hunters from across North Carolina must use different tactics to put venison in the freezer and racks on the wall.

    With North Carolina’s deer seasons divided into four regions by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission — along with seasons that cater to three different kinds weapons — hunters find themselves in different weather and deer-activity conditions but relegated to using the same types of weapons. That can cause some problems that can be overcome. For instance, archery hunters have the closest thing to a consistent opening date as the statewide archery season began at approximately the same time. But muzzleloader and gun seasons vary widely by region. Zoned seasons mean hunters must make choices how and where to pursue whitetails, particularly with muzzleloading rifles. Muzzleloader season was expanded from one to two weeks last season, and the length of season is the same for 2012-13.

    Clarks Hill, aka Lake Thurmond, offers great fishing for a number of species in the fall. Here’s where to find them.

    At almost 71,000 acres, Clarks Hill Reservoir, the largest manmade body of water east of the Mississippi River, is still surprisingly undeveloped compared to many of the other impoundments across South Carolina.

    Clarks Hill, or Lake Thurmond if you prefer, was built between 1946 and 1954, just a few years before Lake Hartwell and some 30 years before Lake Russell, the other two impoundments upstream on the Savannah River system.

    As a fishery, Clarks Hill has a reputation as a better-than-average destination for a number of species. Professional bass tours frequently make stops there, and a growing number of crappie and catfish tournament circuits are also becoming regular visitors. One of the more sought-after species, at least as far as recreational anglers are concerned, are striped bass. Stripers and their test-tube cousins, hybrid striped bass, were first introduced into Clarks Hill during the late 1960s. The fishery was to their liking, and the lake produced a state-record striper in 1993 that wasn’t topped for eight years.

    This Shearon Harris guide goes against the grain and targets deep bass with live shad.

    Guide Greg Griffin of Holly Sprints is a live-bait specialist who dangles natural baits in front of fish instead of artificial replicas.

    Griffin’s approach, mainly on display at Shearon Harris Lake, isn’t unique, in that many fishermen use live bait to catch fish: crappie, walleye, stripers, mountain trout, catfish or bream, not to mention saltwater species.

    What sets Griffin apart is that he uses live bait to catch largemouth bass, a tactic that irks many other fishermen just as the use of live bait agitates many trout-fishing purists.

    Flounder are on the move this month, heading toward the ocean. Intercept them and you’ll receive a huge reward.

    There are no caissons, no buglers or regimental flags. No cities have been ransacked along the way, no crops put to the torch. Still, there’s a march to the sea every autumn along South Carolina’s coastline that’s more predictable than Gen. Sherman’s little walkabout almost 150 years ago. When the first cold snap of the fall hits, when the days start to get shorter, when the mercury starts to crawl toward the bottom of the thermometer, flounder that have been living in creeks and ditches and bays and rivers start their own migration; they march to the sea.

    The two rivers that outline Edisto Island like parentheses are full of redfish, but the tactics required to catch them are very different. Here are the basics to put more fish in the boat.

    It’s not exactly a civil war, but if you’re headed to Edisto Island to catch redfish this fall, you need to decide which side you’re on. The North Edisto and South Edisto rivers, they’re similar only by name. They fish as different as night and day.

    A look at the map offers some explanation. The Edisto River rises independently in two forks in Aiken County and flows across the lower third of South Carolina as a freshwater river. Below Willtown Bluff, where the river transitions from brackish to saltwater, the river splits — at least in name — and flows on either side of Edisto Island. The South Edisto retains the bulk of the flow, while the North Edisto splits off into a significantly smaller branch to join with the much-larger Wadmalaw River. Other than a little freshwater drainage from the Toogoodoo and Caw Caw Swamps, the North Edisto, via the Wadmalaw, is almost entirely a saltwater system.

    Pay attention to these factors to fill your buck tag this fall.

    As autumn arrives in North Carolinas, hunters in the Eastern deer section get the first shot at a trophy buck, while the rest of the state’s hunters are still launching razor-tipped arrows. On Oct. 13, deer in the eastern third of the state will no longer be able to skirt just outside of primitive-weapons range to reach their destinations. The opening of gun season will allow hunters to encounter trophy bucks before hunting pressure drives them deep into secluded cover.

    The ball is certainly in the hunter’s court in October. For starters, early season hunters just have a statistical advantage. With the exception of the relatively few deer taking during the primitive-weapons seasons, the overwhelming majority of surviving bucks from previous seasons will be available. Every deer responsible for creating fresh rubs and scrapes is out there, not to mention all of the mature bucks uncovered during pre-season trail-camera surveys.

    When it comes to big bucks, before you start to dream, you may want to start with a field of beans.

    The images on the trail camera didn’t lie. Silhouetted against the waning moonlight were three definite shooter bucks, two of which may be destined for record-book status, based on the expansive antlers encased in velvet.

    For most deer hunters, the eye is automatically drawn to the headgear. But the secret is what you can’t see in the photo, three mature bucks, standing in a freshly planted field of beans.

    The next photo tells the rest of the story — the photo of Heath Rayfield, posing with three mounted deer heads. At the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ scoring session held at last year’s Palmetto Sportsman Classic, two of them did make the record books.

    Structure is rare, so find some and cash in on this river’s best fishing.

    George Beckwith had barely closed the bail on his spinning reel when his rod tip bounced, not the solid thump of a redfish or flounder, but the peck of one of many bait thieves in the lower Neuse River. In just a few seconds, the peck came back again in the rat-a-tat-tat style of a pinfish.

    Beckwith didn’t relax, knowing that if the chunk of cut mullet lasted long enough, a puppy drum or flounder would come investigate what the smaller fish was biting and shaking.

    “Don’t try to set the hook on the little taps,” Beckwith said. “When it’s a drum, it will be a solid thump, and a flounder will be a much lighter bite that just seems to get heavier. On the lighter bite, give it a few seconds to get the bait in its mouth before setting the hook.”

    The fall run of this tasty saltwater panfish brings fishermen from across North Carolina to coastal piers.

    A crisp wind out of the northeast forced dozens of anglers standing along the wooden rails to cinch down the hoods of their jackets, raincoats and sweatshirts. Peeking out from beneath the cap bills were the happy faces of anglers of all ages and genders.

    They had come from across the state, but standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the rails at Kure Beach Fishing Pier, there were no strangers among them. Everyone was slinging rigs and bait into the water and hauling up spots.

    John Watts and his father, Bobby Watts, were among the spot seekers. The ubiquitous fish show up around nearly every North Carolina ocean pier in the fall, and fortunately, they anghad arrived at the right time for the best action of the year.

    Gator trout love the fall weather, and this is why anglers do too

    Among the distinguished chains of islands of the Cape Fear coast lies the radiant coastal community of Wrightsville Beach. Popular among locals and tourists for its gin-clear waters, high surf and dazzling shorelines, the fishing can also be exceptional. At times, these waters can produce pure angling pleasures, and fall conditions along the rock jetties that line Masonboro Inlet on the south end of town spawn an unbelievable fishery of jumbo speckled trout fully eligible for a chapter of its own in North Carolina’s angler almanac. Even though speckled trout frequent the waters around Wrightsville Beach almost year-round, it’s not until fall conditions arrives that the huge, gator trout become plentiful. It is not uncommon to catch a limit of 3- to 4-pound fish, with a few exceeding 5 pounds at times. The huge rock wall and jetties double as a major feeding center for these snaggle-toothed beasts, but very few trout can be caught at the jetties before the waters start to cool.

    Angola Bay and Holly Shelter game lands offer hunters a little bit of everything on tracts of land that are anything but little.

    Along a sandy road winding through a wiregrass ridge shaded by longleaf pines, a pickup truck parked. Tied atop a kennel built into the pickup bed was a buck with a pair of long, sickle-shaped antlers. The “cowhorn” was the first deer of the season taken by Richard “Junior” Grubb of Topsail Beach.

    “We’ve been hunting this area for 30 years,” Grubb said. “There don’t seem to be as many hunters as there were, and they are scattered out more.”

    Grubb was hunting on Lodge Road in Holly Shelter Game Land on Opening Day of the 2011 deer season, along with seven other hunters, including his brother, Ricky.

    South Carolina hunters won’t find a better time to tangle with a trophy buck than during the transition between summer patterns and the rut. Here’s how...

    One of the most-confusing and least-understood segments of the season for many deer hunters is the transition from the pre-rut to the peak of the rut. Between predictable summer patterns and the peak of the rut, deer behavior undergoes major changes. Deer behavior undergoes major changes from the predictable summer patterns to peak-rut patterns, but it doesn’t happen overnight; it occurs over a period of several weeks, and these changes and increased buck activity actually creates some of the best hunting of the season — if hunters make the commitment to stay with the deer movements. Consider the change from a biological standpoint. Charles Ruth, deer-project supervisor for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said that most hunters across the state will have deer in this transition period late September through approximately Oct. 20.

    Opening day in the Lowcountry was a good one for hunter Jason Hart, who took this beautiful buck in Colleton County.