• December 2012 - Volume 19, Number 12


    The rut is over, but North Carolina hunters still have several weeks of the season left to line up that big buck using these experts’ tips.

    The last month of the year brings brisk morning air to the hills and valleys of the Tarheel State, and while many deer hunters have put their boots and rifles into semi-retirement, December can be extremely productive in terms of encountering a trophy buck on any of the public-hunting areas distributed across North Carolina, between the Blue Ridge mountains and the coastal maritime forests.

    Tactics typically used on private land are often eliminated on public properties, forcing hunters to revert to the basics of ancestral strategies for tagging a big buck, and no doubt about it, this immense acreage has everything needed to grow and harbor bucks suitable for a trip to the taxidermist.

    Wild hog populations are exploding across the country, and South Carolina is no exception. Here are a few tips to help you bag your boar.

    With hog-hunting regulations growing less stringent and the animals becoming more widespread, you’d think hunting them would be getting easier, but that’s not the case. In fact, the highly intelligent wild porkers seem to be staying one hoof ahead of us.

    Cowden Plantation, home of Jarrett Custom Rifles, covers 10,000 acres along the Savannah River, a stone’s throw from the “bomb plant.” It’s a Shangri-la for deer and turkey, but it also provides the ideal setting for wild hogs.

    Fifteen years ago, Kenny Jarrett and his son, Jay, had a bag limit on wild hogs and discouraged the killing of sows in order to encourage population growth.

    The latest innovations and relaxed hunting regulations are putting more crossbows in the hands of eastern North Carolina deer hunters. Here’s why.

    Jerry Simmons of Castle Hayne made his rounds, checking out the ground blinds and elevated stands he and his son Jerry Simmons Jr. were planning to hunt later that afternoon. Instead of avoiding the areas, he was spilling corn from the tailgate of his pickup as it rolled through his Pender County hunting club, Shelter Creek Plantation and Hunting Preserve.

    “The deer are used to the traffic and the routine with which I feed my hunting areas,” he said. “We have roads going through the Carolina bays where we hunt, and the stands and blinds are on the roadsides. A deer only has to walk out of the road, and he is hidden in thick cover. He will watch you put down the corn, then come right back out to eat after you leave.”

    Scissors-rig hunting is exciting approach to Pamlico ducks. Learn the details here.

    Camouflage is a key element of successful hunting, especially for waterfowl.

    But the art of hiding from wild game has changed over time. Native Americans once concealed themselves inside animal skins or attached leaves and grasses to their clothing to hunt buffalo, deer and wild turkeys.

    During the modern era, manufactured camouflage items have ruled the shooting sports, and the camo industry has grown into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

    Lakes with warm-water discharges from power plants keep fish feeding actively throughout the winter. Learn from these experts how to find and fish them.

    North Carolina usually doesn’t get its coldest winter weather until about the third week of January, but some years – 2010 and 2011 being fine examples — the freeze arrives in time for the Christmas holidays.

    While cold, cold weather might drive a lot of fishermen off lakes and to the comforts of cozy dens with roaring fires in the fireplaces, some just can’t put their tackle down — and might not all winter.

    In many cases, their salvation — especially on days when the mercury hovers around freezing — is a narrow sliver of water whose headwaters are the belly of a power plant. On a handful of North Carolina reservoirs managed by Duke Energy, those creeks or canals — some of them man-made — carry hot water that is returned to the main body of the lake as part of the plant’s power-production process.

    December offers fishing opportunities for catfish, stripers and crappie on this huge South Carolina reservoir.

    Several years ago, Bill Plumley of Greer, had a decision to make. He planned to retire and start a fishing guide service, and the question was, “ Where?”

    Plumley loved deer-hunting and fishing for catfish and had spent a lot of time in the Lowcountry, fishing the Santee Cooper lakes. That’s where he was headed when he made a discovery.

    “Well, it was actually two things,” Plumley said. “The first was that I stumbled upon a fishery in Lake Hartwell that was relatively untouched. Hartwell has got a huge population of channel cats, and the average size of its blue catfish has been increasing every year, along with a pretty decent supply of flatheads.

    Great grouper fishing is available out of Morehead City this month, before the season closes. Learn the details here.

    Diehard grouper fishermen once headed for the ledges in spring before a January-to-April season closure changed their habits. Now, many fishermen are experiencing their best action in the final month they can these fish.

    Capt. Mike Webb of Morehead City’s Pelagic Sport Fishing and Jodie Gay, owner of Blue Water Candy Lures, did just that one day last December, taking advantage of one of the idiosyncrasies of North Carolina’s weather patterns. When winter arrives, there are always some warm, calm days that leave the ocean’s surface as slick as motor oil, and these are perfect days for bottom fishing.

    “We catch just about anything out on the ledges in December,” Webb said, “but with the season closed for sea bass and red snapper, it makes grouper your best option for bottom-fishing. You are going to have to sort through a lot of fish you can’t keep, but you are going to catch some nice grouper. There are plenty of big gags out here.”

    Big blue catfish are no match for in-the-know fishermen as the late fall and winter bite kicks off.

    It was still dark when Ed Robinson and guide Chris Simpson met for a catfishing trip to Lake Monticello.

    It was a cold, crisp morning, with the frost shining in the grass like little diamonds and a predicted high temperature in the low 40s — a typical South Carolina day, as winter starts to creep up on autumn.

    Robinson, who runs Ed’s Curb Appeal in Belton, met Simpson when he called him for advice; he’d fished Monticello several times but had caught only small blue cats.

    Some of South Carolina’s best inshore fishing is during the holidays. Here are the details.

    The five-week period beginning at Thanksgiving and stretching through the New Year is a non-stop hustle of family visits, neighborhood parties, football tailgates and Christmas shopping — and that’s just the social side.

    On the outdoor sporting side, hunters are chasing everything that can be legally pursued in South Carolina, while fishermen in the know reap the bonanza of some of the best fishing of the year.

    Spot-tail bass — aka redfish, red drum or puppy drum — are the premiere shallow-water game fish in South Carolina’s Lowcountry; they’re hearty creatures that remain active in December and beyond.

    Give late-season bucks some space and you’ll get more opportunities as the season draws to a close.

    There’s a lot of ways to kill a deer in South Carolina, from up close and personal with a bow to in front of dogs that scatter deer from almost impenetrable cover. Then, in some sections of the state, there’s the tried and true method of hunting from a stand over bait, usually at a respectable distance for a hunter.

    While all of these will work late in the season, another strategy is overlooked by many hunters: long-range hunting. According to several expert hunters, long-range hunting is ideal for taking big deer anytime, but perhaps especially late-season.

    As is the case with any tactic, some hunters take it to the extreme and shoot from extremely long distances — the opposite of hunters who set up at 100 yards or less and limit their late-season opportunities. These experts give advice that will enable many to feel comfortable at distances of 150 to 300 yards — sometimes longer.

    Winter striped bass fishing can be action packed at the Pamlico River and its feeder creeks. Read on to learn how to get in on the fishing madness.

    Most North Carolina anglers know about the striped bass migration in the Roanoke River. The “rockfish run” draws thousands of fishermen each March, April and May. These “linesiders” spawn each spring, moving out of the Pamlico Sound and Atlantic Ocean, traveling 130 miles up the river to the Weldon area. But most people don’t know winter also offers one of the best times to find stripers in the state’s inland coastal streams and other eastern rivers. Striped bass also live in the Pamlico River and Pamlico Sound. They spawn in the river’s upper reaches each spring, but after their mating season ends, many remain in the river and feeder streams the rest of the year.

    Onslow County’s river is top spot for spotted seatrout as fall gives way to winter. Learn the hows and whys here.

    While Ricky Kellum is an accomplished inshore fisherman for several species, he is considered “The Man” for specks in the New River and in the Intracoastal Waterway around Camp Lejeune and Sneads Ferry. A guide based in Jacksonville, Kellum spends the great deal of time on those waters and knows where the trout are, what they are eating and if they are feeding on a certain stage of the tide.

    Kellum, the “Speckled Specialist,” catches trout in the New River and its tributaries year-round, but the fishing is usually best in the fall and early winter when the water begins to cool. He said the cooling water triggers trout to feed and makes them easier to catch, and they’re usually larger in the fall.

    South Carolina waterfowlers need to take advantage of public hunting opportunities to bag the first migratory ducks of the season.

    On Dec. 8, more than 20,000 South Carolina hunters will finally get a shot at millions of waterfowl retreating from the famous northern breeding grounds in Canada and the United States.

    Flooding the coastal marshes, river swamps and grain fields, new arrivals will pour into the Palmetto State this month along their migratory itinerary, looking to rest and refuel. Hunters who don’t get in on the action early will miss out on some of the best wing shooting of the year, especially on the hundreds of thousands of acres of South Carolina’s publicly accessible waters.

    Hilton Head's Bryan Hughes killed this massive 14-pointer during a Beaufort County hunt in mid-October.