Warning: It happens again this year: Turkey hunters and squirrel hunters will be in the woods at the same time. Spring turkey season goes through Sunday, May 14 and spring squirrel begins Saturday, May 13; squirrel continues through June 11. Neither discipline requires blaze orange so all those active in the woods for those two days need to be careful (An orange hat or vest for squirrel hunters would be wise).
Squirrels are plentiful again this year. These three species are legal: Gray, red (both pictured) and fox squirrel. The daily bag limit is 10 combined. Squirrels breed early in the spring and their first brood is now weaned and on their own; their second brood will be weaned before the regular squirrel season begins on the fourth Saturday of August, the 26th this year.
Whatever you call it, MSR, AR-15, M4 (carbine), Black Rifle, or just the AR, the Modern Sporting Rifle has been the most popular rifle sold in the United States for more than two decades, and especially the last eight years. It is currently the standard issue for all of the U.S. military units, but usually in the full-auto version.
The MSR has become extremely popular for target shooting, varmint hunting and personal defense, but those shooters without military training often do not know all of the features of their new semi-automatic arms. There is a new book on the market that is the essential AR-15 training guide called “AR-15 Skills and Drills” by renowned firearms instructor Tiger McKee.
McKee covers the parts and basic operation of the rifle, then goes into depth on: basic, combat and long range marksmanship; ammunition; sighting-in; standard manipulations and malfunctions; firing and fighting techniques; and much more. The book has 269 pages and more than three hundred photographs to demonstrate the lessons. It is published by Gun Digest Books, www.gundigeststore.com, and is available there and on Amazon and other booksellers. The retail price is $32.95.
Boaters on Kentucky and Barkley lakes may have noticed recently a large number of fish dying along the shoreline. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is aware of this die-off and is investigating. It is a bittersweet situation. The dead fish are silver carp, an invasive species that can negatively impact native fish and recreational boating. Because of these threats, the TWRA has been working to stem their expansion into new waters.
Silver carp and bighead carp are among a family of invasive “Asian” carp that were imported to the USA in the early 1970s. They escaped into the Mississippi River decades ago and have steadily spread into numerous bodies of waters, including rivers in Tennessee.
Growing numbers of carp are a threat to native species because Asian carp rely primarily on plankton as a food source, which is an also important source of food for native species, especially smaller fish. Silver carp can also pose dangers to boaters as they often respond to motor vibration or noise by leaping as boats approach or pass through schooling fish that can weigh 30 to 40 pounds.
“While we are trying to learn how to slow or stop their expansion, the recent die-off of thousands of fish for whatever reason has occurred naturally,” noted Frank Fiss, Chief of TWRA’s Fisheries Division. “We have collected samples of the dead fish and sent them to a lab to identify the cause of the disease. This type of analysis is not always conclusive, but we are trying to gather as much information as possible. The widespread die off does not seem to be impacting other fish species, which is good news for game fish and anglers. We appreciate all the reports we have received, and we will keep monitoring it.”
Here is a report from the April meeting of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission: The TWRA had figures on the most recent deer season. The total statewide reported deer harvest for 2016-17 was 157,702, consisting of 86,007 bucks and 71,695 does. This was a six percent decrease from the previous year. There is a continued positive trend in an increased age structure of harvested bucks. Bucks age 2.5 – 3.5 years comprised the greatest proportion (57 percent) of those sampled by staff, an all-time high. Additionally, the proportion of fawns in the buck harvest continues to decline over time, and to a lesser extent yearling harvest is declining.
There were few if any changes to the deer, turkey and bear hunting seasons recommended by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; those changes will be reviewed by the TFWC and set at its May meeting, which will be on May 23-24 on the campus of Bryan College in Dayton. The public is invited as usual.
Also at the May meeting the spring turkey bag limit will be discussed. Various changes have been recommended by the TWRA on wildlife management areas, public hunting areas, and national wildlife refuges. A public comment period on the proposals will be open until May 15, and a link to the proposed changes will be available for viewing soon on the TWRA website www.tnwildlife.org.
The TFWC is again discussing the definition of an antlered deer. Recently the definition of what qualified as an antlered deer was changed to any deer having any antler protruding above the hairline; previously it was antlers three inches or more in length. The commission will continue the discussion at its May meeting.
A sport hunting crises is unfolding. Hundreds of thousands of North American waterfowl hunters have disappeared since 1970. This poses a threat for the future of hunting and conservation. We need more waterfowlers, and so do the ducks. Duck hunters buy federal duck stamps, an important funding source for waterfowl conservation. The spring issue of Delta Waterfowl magazine has a 10-page Special Report that analyzes this problem.
Among the Special Report’s findings: There were 2.03 million active U.S. waterfowlers in 1970, and only 998,600 in 2015. The steepest declines have occurred since 1997, despite high duck populations, longer hunting seasons and liberal bag limits. Canada’s waterfowler numbers have fallen even more drastically, peaking in 1978 at 505,681 and declining to fewer than 170,000 today.
This trend should alarm anyone who cares about waterfowl hunting and wetland conservation. “We tell folks to support conservation – to replace the ducks they shoot every year,” said John Devney, vice president of U.S. Policy for Delta Waterfowl. “We should also be telling them that you must replace yourself as a duck hunter. It’s as important as buying a federal duck stamp.”
The entire Special Report is also posted at www.deltawaterfowl.org/looming-crisis.
Delta Waterfowl Foundation is “The Duck Hunters Organization”, a leading conservation group working to produce ducks and ensure the tradition of duck hunting in North America. Visit deltawaterfowl.org.
Ducks Unlimited has a unique online film series presented in the spring and summer, six films in six months. Each production features exciting hunting footage with a genuine story about waterfowl hunters who are passionate about hunting and giving back to the resource.
The first DU film of the 2017 season visits three generations of duck hunters sharing cherished traditions and valuable life lessons amid the flooded fields and timber of Arkansas. Retriever trainer Mike Stewart and Deke, the DU Dog join the hunt.
Stewart commented, "Wingshooters, especially waterfowlers, take away a lot of different things from the sport. For us it's the retrieve. We live for the retrieve. We're there for the dogs. They're our companions and we want them to have a blast out there as well. And, when we're bringing young people into the sport, that's the future. That's going to be the legacy. That's going to be the heritage."
Watch the film at www.ducks.org/dufilms, as well as the previous timeless films, and check in each month for the next offering. Ducks Unlimited, www.ducks.org, is the world leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation.
The Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area had its second and last spring turkey hunt on April 22-23. In spite of the deluge of rain on both days, 10 birds were taken, six toms and four jakes; the largest tom was 23.7 pounds; the longest beard was 12.1 inches; the longest spur was 1.3 inches. None was retained for internal radiological contamination.
For the 2017 season’s superlatives, the first hunt, as usual, had the higher bird total (21) and the longest spur (1.5 inches). The second hunt had the largest turkey and the longest beard.
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will preview the 2017-2018 hunting and trapping seasons at its next one-day meeting at 9 a.m. on April 26 in Nashville at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Region II Ray Bell Building. The public is invited to attend. The TWRA will give a brief summary of last year’s hunting seasons and an overview of how the seasons are set.
Other topics on the agenda: A preliminary response by the TWRA to the proposal of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation for a statewide strategic whitetail deer management plan, called a “Whitetail Deer Resolution”; a review of the threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD) to the deer and elk in Tennessee; and the current elk management practices on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.
Watch out for this snake. Pygmy rattlesnakes reside in Tennessee, but they are few in number and reclusive, rarely seen. Tennessee lists the species as threatened and, of course, they are protected as all snakes in the state are. Tennessee State University is researching the pygmy rattlesnake and wants to determine its distribution in Tennessee. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is assisting.
As a citizen scientist, you are asked to watch for this tiny venomous rattler and report its whereabouts. But do not harass or attempt to capture it. Photograph it with a smart phone with the GPS locator enabled (the GPS locator is in the settings/privacy section of most phones). Previous sightings, with or without photos, can be reported with date and exact location.
Report sightings to Shawn Snyder via email at email@example.com or phone 717-683-4226; or contact Dr. Bill Sutton, firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-963-7787. For more on the pygmy rattlesnake project, including photographs, go to www.tn.gov/assets/entities/twra/attachments/Pygmy_Rattlesnake_Flyer.pdf, and the Watchable Wildlife site at www.tnwildlife.org.
Congratulations are in order for gun owners all over the United States. The National Safety Council has just released its “Injury Facts – 2017 Edition” and accidental firearm deaths have continued to decrease – plummet, in this case. The report shows a 17 percent decrease in accidents involving firearms from 2014 to 2015, a year in which firearms sales soared.
Unintentional firearms-related fatalities declined to 489, the lowest total since record-keeping began in 1903; this figure accounts for less than one percent (three-tenths of one percent) of the 146,571 accident deaths from all listed causes, which were up 8 percent from 2014 to 2015. This decrease in firearms incidents, which was the largest percentage decline of any category, came in a year that saw record high firearms sales to many millions of Americans.
In 2015 approximately 23 million guns changed hands through federally licensed dealers (in 2016 annual sales rose to 27 million). If the anti-gun narrative held true, it would stand to reason that accidental gun deaths would climb accordingly.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation President and CEO Steve Sanetti remarked, "This latest release from the National Safety Council shows that the vast majority of the 100 million American firearms owners meet the serious responsibilities which come with firearms ownership. They store their firearms safely and securely when not in use, and follow the basic rules of firearms safety when handling them." And I say keep up the good work.
Does your boat need a fire extinguisher? No? Yes? More than one? Here are some misconceptions on the subject. Not just any fire extinguisher is suitable for your boat; it must be marine rated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Modern extinguishers do not have to be shaken periodically to stir the chemicals inside. They do not have to be replaced every few years; they do not expire, unless the gauge registers below the green zone.
Legally, in Tennessee a boat under 26 feet must have a fire extinguisher if it has any of these features: Inboard engine, built-in fuel tank, enclosed storage area for portable fuel tanks, enclosed living space, or a double bottom not sealed to the hull. The extinguisher must be in serviceable condition and stored in an accessible place, not necessarily on a wall bracket but not buried at the bottom of a storage locker.
Logically speaking, ANY vessel that has gasoline on board should have a fire extinguisher in an accessible place. For more on marine safety equipment, go to tnwildlife.org/article/boating-equipment or BoatUS.org/equipment.
For those wishing to hunt elk close to home, consider this: Tennessee has about 300-plus animals; but Kentucky has the largest elk herd in the eastern United States, estimated at 11,000 head. A chance in their hunt lottery costs only $10, same as ours. Why not increase your elk hunting odds by also applying for Kentucky’s elk hunt.
Tennessee had a mere six rifle and five archery elk licenses issued last year. [The Tennessee elk drawing will occur in July; more on that later.]. Kentucky will issue 710 elk licenses in 2017, 200 fewer than the last two years; in 2016 they harvested 526 for a success rate of 58 percent. The whole Kentucky process is done online at fw.ky.gov/Hunt/Pages/Elk-Info.aspx, or call the Kentucky Elk Information Center at 800-858-1549 for assistance. The deadline to apply is April 30.
Hunters may apply for all of the four permit types: Bull firearms, bull archery or crossbow, cow firearms, and cow archery or crossbow. If successful in the lottery a non-resident may buy a cow license for $400 or a bull for $550. The various archery seasons begin on Sept.16 and end on Jan. 15; the various rifle seasons begin on Oct. 7 and end on Jan. 12.
Do not pick up hitchhikers. Here we are talking about aquatic nuisance species. There is a real invasion occurring all over the United States and it is primarily spread by people, especially fishers, boaters, hikers, and anyone recreating from one body of water to another. All equipment that has touched the water or shore should be cleaned before leaving that water area; then it is vitally important to thoroughly scrub that equipment at home with disinfectant before using it again elsewhere.
Here is a list of possible aquatic diseases or invasive species: Didymo (rock snot), gill lice, whirling disease in trout, New Zealand mud snail, quagga mussels, zebra mussels, hydrilla, and purple loosestrife. Many of these are already in some Tennessee waters and all are nearby.
This is the recommended cleaning procedure for footwear, waders, lures, tackle, and anything that will touch the water, preferably done before leaving your home: Pressure wash or scrub every speck of mud, plants and debris from the items; soak them in a hot, five-percent solution of chlorine bleach for 10 minutes; thoroughly dry the items. Exposure to sunlight for eight hours is a bonus. For some species another bonus is to freeze the items for at least six hours.
An alternative to the chlorine bleach is a DuPont viricide disinfectant called “Virkon”. Freezing temperatures will kill the New Zealand mud snail, but I am not sure what else it kills. For much more on preventing the spread of invasive species, go to www.nature.nps.gov/biology/invasivespecies/.
The eighth annual Tennessee Outdoors Youth Summit (TOYS) is set for July 16-21 for students in high schools across Tennessee, conducted by the TWRA. Students will spend a week in hands-on classes that will teach outdoor skills and the importance of the natural resources and their management. Instructors will be wildlife and fisheries biologists, wildlife officers, college professors, professional shooting coaches, and other experts.
TOYS students will be introduced to many different outdoor activities including: Boating, hunting, trapping, archery, photography, marksmanship, plant identification, forestry, camping, water quality, trap shooting, skeet shooting, wildlife identification, and several classes with wildlife and fishery biology as the topic.
Activities will take place at the TWRA’s Montgomery County Shooting Complex and lodging will be at a hotel in Clarksville. The fee for the weeklong experience is $350, lodging and meals included.
TOYS enrollment deadline is May 26, but apply early; space is limited to 120 students and it fills up quickly. Applications can be downloaded from www.tnwildlife.org, select Upcoming Events, or go to www.twrf.net. For more information contact Lacey Lane at telephone 615-831-9311 or email LLane@twrf.net.
The big payoff from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Funds for 2017 is $780 million, an increase of 12.2 percent over 2016. Hunters and anglers contribute this money for wildlife through the 11 percent excise tax on sporting goods (Pittman-Robertson Act), plus approximately 10 percent on fishing and boating equipment (Dingell-Johnson Act). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annually distributes the revenues to all the states proportionally by their land mass and their license sales. Tennessee’s share of the 2017 Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Funds should be well above $22 million. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is in charge of apportioning it.
Don’t forget to speak up. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is accepting public comments on the 2018 fishing regulations until Sunday, April 23. The fisheries managers will consider your ideas, which should be presented as proposals and should include the expected results if enacted.
Email your suggestions to FishingReg.Comments@tn.gov; include “Sport Fish Comments” in the subject line. Or use postal mail: TWRA Sport Fish Comments, Fisheries Management Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204. No phone calls. The TWRA will submit their proposed regulations at the August meeting of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission; another public comment period will follow; and the TFWC will decide at its September meeting.
The first spring turkey hunt of 2017 on the Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area was on April 8-9. A total of 21 birds was taken, 19 adults and two juveniles. The largest tom weighed 23.7 pounds, the longest beard was 10.6 inches, and the longest spur was 1.5 inches. None was retained due to internal radiological contamination. This year’s harvest of 21 turkeys is fairly typical and right at the average for the last 10 years: 21.1; the lowest take was 8 in 2008 and the highest was 36 in 2011.
To many people our non-migrating Canada geese are “the house guests that stayed too long”. We are talking about aggression toward pets and passers-by, and massive defecation on lawns, playgrounds, golf courses, boat docks, and picnic areas.
March is mating time, and April through May is the nesting time for Canada geese. After hatching, goslings cannot fly for about 70 days, so the young birds and their parents will graze near the hatching area for that time. Damage to landscaping can be significant, and large amounts of excrement can render areas unfit for human use.
Those with a Canada goose problem have a window of opportunity right now to control these nuisance birds. Perhaps you have tried –and failed – to keep them off your property with harassment techniques such as chemical repellents, mylar balloons, wire/string barriers, and noise makers.
Canadas are a protected species under state and federal law but a permit is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows the destruction of nests, as well as egg addling and egg oiling, which prevents hatching. Permits are available online at epermits.fws.gov/ercgr/gesi.aspx.
One proactive plan is to plant native wildflowers and prairie grasses around your body of water, but any nearby groomed lawn could still be targeted. More information on how to reduce Canada geese conflicts is at wildlife.IN.gov/2996.htm. And do not forget, Tennessee has a resident Canada goose hunting season in September.
The spring turkey opening weekend this year again had nice weather. The two-day statewide harvest was an excellent 7,312, comprised of 7,273 males (including 1,050 juveniles) and 39 hens. Dickson County was the top area in the state with 195 birds, followed by Hickman with 193, our region’s Greene with 182, and Maury with 168.
Weather really makes the harvest. Here is a comparison of some recent opening weekends’ weather versus corresponding harvest. Nice and pleasant last year produced 7,055 turkeys. Weather 2015 was cold but not freezing and the harvest was 6,101. Weather 2014 and 2013 saw lots of rain and subsequently poor harvests in the low five thousands. Ideal weather in 2012 produced a take of 9,850.
For the turkey hunter that is looking for an edge, check out the new improved “Gobble Map” app from the National Wild Turkey Federation. It is available free for all smart phones. Hunters will find many features to improve their chances in the field, including reports of turkey activity in their area, public land maps, harvest reports, scoring details, and more.
Tens of thousands of hunters throughout the country already are contributing to the Gobble Map’s interactive heat map of activity, which can reveal local harvest trends in time to change your day’s luck. Find it at www.nwtf.org. It may be time to get some camouflage for your smart phone (Otter Box is now offering it).
There is another hunting season besides spring turkey that is opening right now: Tick season. Millions of the suckers are hatching now. By the end of May most will have been eaten by birds, but plenty of ticks stay around until the first frost.
Since they can’t fly or jump, ticks brush onto victims from grass, bushes or trees. For protection when outdoors use insect repellents and wear long pants and shirtsleeves. After being outdoors, inspect your whole body well, especially major crevices. It takes several hours for a tick to attach.
If bitten don’t try smothering or burning the sucker. Those techniques don’t work and they risk added injury to your skin. Firmly grasp the tick (tweezers are best) and pull very, very carefully for a long time (two or three minutes) until it has a chance to let go. Afterwards clean the bite with an antiseptic. Finally, save the corpus delicti in a plastic baggy for future reference in case a serious infection ensues (The Lyme disease’s “red bulls-eye” can take more than two weeks to appear).
Here is another tick removal that I can’t wait to try. Moisten a cotton ball and rub in some hand soap until it is very soapy. Place it over the attached tick and rub it gently in a counterclockwise direction (It won’t work clockwise). In a few minutes the tick will release and back out. And for you wiseacres out there that dare to challenge the counterclockwise tenet, it’s your tick.
Chicks, calves, cubs, kittens, and kits. Pups, poults, shoats, goslings, and fawns. Nature's renewal process is giving birth to all kinds of wildlife and there is something important you can do to help: Nothing.
Don't get involved. Wild babies that are found alone are rarely abandoned, but human scent on them can endanger them. A parent is usually nearby, perhaps resting or eating, and watching. Remove yourself and enjoy watching from afar.
One exception to the don't-touch rule is with baby birds that have fallen from their nests. Use a paper towel to handle them when returning them to the nests, and they might not be rejected by the parents.