Fall is around the corner, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has the perfect outdoor activity for you and your family! If you haven’t visited one of DNR’s archery and shooting ranges located all over Georgia, you’re missing out.
I’m Mishay Allen, and I’m the new intern at our Wildlife Resources Division. Last week, I had the opportunity to go out and experience the archery and shotgun ranges at the Clybel Wildlife Management Area, located in the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield. This is DNR’s largest range, and even knowing that, it exceeded my expectations. The range boasts multiple archery and shooting range setups, including an archery trail with 32 3-D targets and an archery tower with tree stand stations where you can practice climbing in and out of a tree stand. There is a Continue reading “Archery and Shooting Ranges: Give ‘Em a Shot!”→
Dove is the number-one small game species and the number-one migratory game bird species in Georgia. There is more public dove hunting opportunity than ever before, including a new dove fields at Big Lazer Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Flat Creek Public Fishing Area (PFA).
There’s more to hunting than the harvests. There are more sights to see and more to take in, so don’t count your harvests as the only measure of success. Hunting is a chance to go out in the wild woods and off the path that’s been set for you. There isn’t a schedule. It’s not about having a goal. It’s about taking opportunities as they are presented to you. And not just opportunities to shoot game. Opportunities to hear everything from true silence to noises you never knew existed. To see wild life, new landscapes and the unexpected.
You’re out there to participate—to interact with nature and enjoy the experience. Have a little fun! It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and to think about what you could have done differently or wish you had known ahead of time. Every hunter, new and seasoned, makes mistakes and learns something new each time they go out in the field.
At the most basic level, hunting takes place on either private land or public land.
Resident hunting licenses are required for all resident hunters 16 years old or older, except when hunting on land owned by them or their immediate family (blood or dependent relationship) residing in the same household.
Many areas have municipal ordinances against discharging a firearm within city limits. Be sure to follow these ordinances.
Do not trespass. If you want to hunt on land that does not belong to you or immediate family (as defined above), you will need written permission from the landowner.
If you do not own land usable for hunting, someone you know might. You can find many great opportunities by reaching out to people you know.
Georgia has nearly 100 WMAs with approximately 1 million acres of public hunting lands. Every Georgia resident has at least one WMA within one hour of home.
Federal lands and some state parks offer hunting opportunities as well.
In the previous post, we hope we got you excited about hunting! It’s still possible to get out there and hunt before small game season is over. In this post, we will talk you through what you will need for hunting squirrel.
License Requirements and Hunter Education
In order to hunt squirrel, you will need a basic Hunting License.
To get up and running before the end of small game season, we recommend that you purchase a three-day Apprentice License and be accompanied by an experienced and/or knowledgeable licensed hunter.
When purchasing a hunting license online, you can pick the date you want the license to become effective, making it possible to purchase a three-day apprentice license in advance of when you intend to hunt.
If you are going to hunt on a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or practice at one of WRD’s shooting ranges, you will need a Wildlife Management Area license in addition to your hunting license. This WMA license is also sometimes referred to as a “WMA stamp.”
Are you interested in hunting, but not sure where to start? In the next few blog posts, we’ll outline some steps to get started and simplify the process. Because it’s such a good starting point, we’re going to explain the requirements of a squirrel hunt that you can do before the end of the season. Squirrels are a manageable size, they have excellent meat and you only need a basic hunting license to hunt them. In later posts, we’ll explain what firearm to use, how to choose where you hunt, how to clean a squirrel, and give you a recipe you can use with your harvested squirrel meat.
Squirrels are small game, and small game season is open until February 29, 2016. Deer season is over, and turkey season doesn’t start until late March, but there’s still time to get out in the field and hunt squirrel!
If you don’t get a chance to go small game hunting before the season is up, that’s okay. We’ll also have posts about what you can do between hunting seasons to hone important skills, as well as information about hunting turkey.
Ask yourself why you want to hunt. Do you want to feel a greater part of the nature that surrounds us? Do you want to provide high-quality food for yourself or your family and feel the joy that comes from living off the land? Do you want to take part in a sport that brings millions of people together all over the country? There are many reasons to start hunting. Take a minute to figure out what you want to get out of the experience.
Learn about your target game animal’s biology. It will help you when you’re in the field.
Gray squirrel are common. They are usually found in hardwood or mixed hardwood and pine forests. They are not usually found in dense pine forests. Stands of hardwoods make for good squirrel habitat in part because many of these trees are good mast producers. Mast refers to the nuts produced by woody plants and consumed by wildlife. An oak tree, for example, is a mast producer because it drops acorns.
Like many game animals, their major activity time is in the morning and the late afternoon. Though they will be out and about during the day, too, they will not be as active and prevalent.
Look for big leafy squirrel nests in trees. These are a good indicator that squirrels are in the area. Note that it is illegal to shoot into a nest.
Most people get involved in the sport of hunting through family and friends who guide them through the process.
If you’re going to hunt small game before the end of the season, the guidance of a hunting mentor will be invaluable. If you can, reach out to an experienced hunter and see if they can mentor you. Depending on the hunter, they may also be able to let you use some of their equipment. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Hunters are generally passionate about hunting, and many would love the opportunity to share this experience with someone else.
You may also consider joining a hunting club. Joining a non-governmental organization (NGO) that relates to game (such as the National Wild Turkey Federation) is another way to get involved in the hunting community.
At WRD, we have Hunter Education Field Days that help supplement the teaching provided by Hunter Education courses, and Hunt and Learn programs that provide hands-on learning for young novice hunters (ages 10-17).
If you’re ready to learn how to hunt, you will need to commit time to it. You’ll need to, hopefully, find an experienced hunter who can help you through the process and start searching in your area for ways to get involved in the hunting community. You’ll need to set aside the time, energy and money over the next couple of weeks to take Hunter Education (can be done online), get a hunting license (can be done online/by phone), get equipment, practice, and learn the land you can hunt on.
We’ll guide you through these steps, starting tomorrow with the license and materials you will need to get started.
Wildlife biologists with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division recently completed breeding bird counts on several wildlife management areas (WMAs) and private properties that are part of Georgia’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) focal landscapes. Biologists listen for male bobwhites and other species that use the same habitat as quail. These birds include Bachman’s sparrow, painted and indigo buntings, loggerhead shrike, prairie warbler and field sparrows.
Male birds call during the spring and summer in order to attract mates and announce their territories. Calling males are counted from designated locations and these numbers are used to generate a population index which allows biologists to track long term population trends.
In the video below, from the Albany Nursery WMA, you can hear two field sparrows and a male bobwhite quail. These birds were located along a fallow field border (comprised of native grasses/weeds/briars/shrubs) intentionally established along the edge of a crop field that’s managed for mourning doves. Management for bobwhites and many other game and nongame species can be successfully integrated into working farms and forests through planned management. Landowners can receive technical guidance and detailed management plans through BQI which is solely funded through the Bobwhite Quail license plate. For more information on Georgia’s quail focal areas, monitoring or how to manage for quail and other species on your property, go to www.georgiawildlife.com/bobwhite-quail or contact a WRD BQI biologist within BQI’s East Region (706-554-3745), Central Region (478-296-6176), or Southwest Region (229-420-1212).
By: Elliot Ambrose, Georgia DNR Public Affairs Intern
The war on Georgia’s invasive species: Part I
There are invaders among us. Large and small, they have infiltrated and spread, displacing native inhabitants and upsetting the natural balance. The culprits are known as invasive species, and they pose a real and significant danger to environmental, economic and human health.
Some have been here for years; others have only recently made an appearance. Even more have the potential to become problems in the near future. Whatever the case, invasive species can have wide-ranging and long-lasting impacts if not addressed.
One invasive that exemplifies this problem is the feral hog.
A prolific and destructive species, feral hogs have been in Georgia for centuries. In the last several decades, however, pig populations – and the cost of damages they cause – have skyrocketed.
The pig problem
Introduced by Spanish settlers in the 1500s, feral hogs have increased their range, and their impact, significantly in Georgia over the last 50 years. Spread in large part by people illegally moving them to other areas, the species now occupies more of the state than ever and is having a devastating effect on native plants and animals and their habitats.
According to Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist with the DNR Game Management Section, feral hogs threaten some native species by excluding them from valuable food sources.
“It’s another big animal out on the landscape that’s requiring a lot of resources to keep going,” Killmaster said. “The fact that they can out-compete a lot of our native species is causing a problem.”
On Ossabaw Island, where feral hogs have flourished in near isolation for hundreds of years, the threat to native species is even more direct. In the early 2000s, hogs destroyed nearly 70 percent of loggerhead sea turtle nests laid on Ossabaw beaches. In a DNR effort started in 2006 with State Wildlife Grant funding, systematic shooting and trapping has shrunk the predation rate to 10 percent. But keeping it there requires relentless work.
“If we stopped hunting them, it would get out of control quick,” said Cody Elrod, a DNR wildlife technician in his sixth summer on Ossabaw.
Wild hogs can begin breeding at 6 months old and give birth to eight to 26 piglets a year.
Feral pigs will also eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds, including shorebirds, turkey and quail. As they search for food, wild hogs use their snouts and tusks to root through the soil, a destructive behavior that can severely impact native plant communities and reduce the total number of plant species in an area. Declines caused by extensive rooting can also lead to infestations by invasive plants such as Chinese tallow, particularly in wetlands and other sensitive habitats.
In addition to environmental impacts, feral hogs also wreak economic havoc, particularly for farmers. Hogs destroy acres of farmland by rooting up crops and recently planted seeds. Their foraging creates uneven, dug out areas that can damage large farm equipment. Feral hogs are also carriers of diseases, such as swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, which can be transmitted to domestic pigs.
The cost of the damage is uncertain, but a University of Georgia survey of landowners in 2011 estimated the total at more than $81 million.
Georgia’s least wanted
The voracious feral hog is just one invasive species causing concern in Georgia.
Known as “the seventh worst weed in the world,” cogongrass was documented at fewer than 10 sites in Georgia in 2004. By 2012, this Asian grass variety had spread to more than 600. Now covering 1.25 million acres of the southeastern U.S., cogongrass is more widespread than kudzu, the region and state’s most infamous invasive. Fortunately, all known cogongrass sites in Georgia have been mapped and treated.
A more recent arrival in Georgia, the emerald ash borerfirst appeared near Atlanta in 2013. The small green beetle native to Asia and east Russia is widespread throughout much of the Northeast, and has killed tens of millions of ash trees. The emerald ash borer is viewed as one of the most destructive forest pests ever seen in North America, making it a top priority for state and federal agencies.
Control efforts in Georgia are focused on containing the infestation, including through raising public awareness about how the insect is spread, typically through transporting contaminated firewood.
As is evident with the efforts to control feral hogs on Ossabaw, managing invasive species requires persistent effort. And because many exotic invasives spread rapidly and are difficult to eliminate once established, the focus is usually on management and control, rather than eradication.
There are a number of ways the public can help in the war on invasives. Learn to identify the invasive species found in your area to keep tabs on potential problems in your neighborhood. Take care to clean your gear and equipment before leaving outdoor areas and never release pets into the wild. When landscaping or gardening, consider choosing native plants instead of exotic varieties that may spread beyond your yard and put pressure on native species.
(Editor’s note: This is the first post in a multi-part series on invasive species in Georgia. Up next: Watch what you plant! Explore the benefits of “growing native” and how to avoid exotic invasive plants.)
Hunters Helping Farmers, a private lands initiative by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and DNR, connects farmers and landowners with a pig problem to hog hunters in their area.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service offers the Feral Swine Damage Management Program, a national initiative to reduce wild pig populations and their impacts. The program is the first federally authorized feral hog management effort and involves coordination between federal, state and local agencies.
Key offenders, plus some lesser knowns
Hemlock wooly adelgid: Native to Asia, this small, aphid-like insect feeds on the sap and inner bark of hemlock trees. First reported in Virginia in the early 1950s, it is now established in several eastern states and has affected more than 50 percent of the geographic range of the eastern hemlock.
Chinese wisteria: Brought to the U.S. from China as a garden ornamental in the early 1800s, the woody vine is capable of reaching a height of 40 feet. This invasive displaces native vegetation and kills trees and shrubs by girdling them.
Kudzu bug: This stink bug family member was discovered in the U.S. in October 2009 and has since spread through the Southeast. A native of India and China, it has become a nuisance pest in Georgia, damaging soybean crops and overwintering in houses.
Cuban treefrog: With a wide diet and the ability to deter predators with noxious mucus, this large treefrog is highly adaptable and believed to have a detrimental impact on native species. First recorded near Savannah in 2009, Cuban treefrogs have established large colonies in Florida and are widely available for purchase as pets.
The Statewide Invasive Strategy
The focus of Georgia’s invasive species strategy is preventing the introduction of new invasive species and minimizing the spread of existing populations and their impact on native species, the economy and environmental and human health.
This goal is achieved through early detection and rapid response programs, cooperative management activities, and public outreach and education. The strategy also includes monitoring and research of invasive species to determine key management priorities, as well as designing and proposing legislative or regulatory measures.
The invasive strategy was called for in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy guiding DNR and partner efforts to conserve Georgia’s native wildlife and natural habitats. That plan is being revised, yet will continue to emphasize controlling exotics.