It’s never pleasant to write about hunting accidents, and – fortunately – there have been relatively few this season.
Last week’s bitter cold snap, though, brought forth sad news from Lake Seminole. That’s where three Donalsonville, Ga., teens braved record cold and wind chill to hunt ducks – and their outing ended in tragedy.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, their boat capsized and two of the teens swam to a nearby island. Their companion and classmate, 17-year-old Matthew Jernigan, succumbed to the cold and drowned. The two survivors were being treated for hypothermia.
The incident hit close to home for me.
Our twins, who were home from college, were duck hunting the following morning at Clarks Hill, where advisories had been issued for brisk wind and choppy water.
I reminded them the weather was extreme enough to delay school openings. They promised to wear their life vests with their waders and pledged to cancel the hunt altogether if the winds were too rough for their small boat.
I knew they were careful hunters and sensible boaters, but I felt relieved when they texted me a few hours later to advise they were safely off the water – and had taken just one duck.
SPEAKING OF ACCIDENTS: So far, there has been one shooting fatality during the 2013-14 season.
A 47-year-old Illinois deer hunter was killed Oct. 19 after being shot at Piedmont Wildlife Refuge in Jones County.
According to the DNR incident report filed later, “the victim was handling his rifle in an unsafe manner, causing it to fire, shooting him in the head.”
Although it was the lone shooting fatality of the season, it wasn’t the only shooting, according to a summary of hunting accidents reported statewide.
On Nov. 6, a hunter accidentally shot himself in the foot while exiting a vehicle with a loaded rifle.
The resulting wound required the amputation of his big toe and part of the inside of his right foot, the report said.
Other non-fatal accidents reported this season included 18 serious tree stand mishaps, including a bizarre Nov. 22 incident in Dodge County.
According to the DNR report, the hunter sustained a back injury with a compressed disc after “a doe ran into the base of his ladder stand, causing him to fall to the ground.”
ANGLERS REWARDED: An Augusta angler and others who helped the Department of Natural Resources collect data on saltwater fish populations got a surprise this past Christmas, courtesy of the Georgia Natural Resources Foundation.
Ben Brewton, of Augusta; Skip Russell, of St. Simons Island; and Scott Stroop, of Savannah; received Georgia Lifetime Sportsman’s licenses.
Brewton gifted his to son, Ben Brewton, Jr. and Russell passed his to son-in-law, Camden Helder.
The winners were chosen at random from participants in the Cooperative Sportfish Tagging Project and Marine Sportfish Carcass Recovery Project. Eight others received gift cards.
Coastal Resources Division director Spud Woodward said the willingness of anglers to help gather data is crucial to studies of trout, redfish, tripletail, black drum, and other saltwater fish.
“Their efforts improve management and exemplify the stewardship ethic that is the foundation of effective conservation,” he said.
DAM TRAFFIC CLOSED: One of the lanes along U.S. 221 over Thurmond Dam will be closed Tuesday to allow for yet another repair project at the dam’s spillway gates.
This round of work could take up to two years, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, and will involve 20 of the dam’s 23 gates.
In the interim, traffic lights and warning signs will be in place and the closure will be included in Georgia’s travel advisory notifications.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it should be.
From 2010 to 2012, contractors repaired the lifting arms and applied a new protective coating on the spillway gates as part of an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act contract, which resulted in a similar lane closure.
The earlier project also required keeping the lake’s pool two feet below its usual level, but the new repair work should not affect lake levels, according to Scott Hyatt, operations project manager.
EAGLE CAM GOES LIVE: Live-streamed video of Georgia’s best-known bald eagles can now be seen on the Web site of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.
In a partnership with Berry College, the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division is streaming video provided by the northwest Georgia college of two bald eagles nesting near Berry’s athletic and recreation center.
The public can follow the pair – rain or shine, night or day – at www.georgiawildlife.com/BerryEagleCam, as well as on Berry College’s Web site (www.berry.edu/eaglecam).
The nest was first documented in 2012, and two eaglets took their first flights from the nest that spring. This year, the school added a camera that provides a high-definition view into the nest built high in a pine tree.
Fans are now waiting to see if the pair will produce eggs this year.