Pavey: Burke County leads way in deer harvest

A young bull elk grazes in a yard near Sunset in northern Pickens County. The elk, one of a herd of about 150 in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, was first seen in South Carolina Oct. 21. Biologists expect the elk to eventually return to the North Carolina herd.

Georgia's whitetail season is off to a strong start, with Burke County near Augusta leading the state in the number of deer checked in so far.

 

As of Friday, according to Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division, about 36,000 deer had been checked in statewide, including 16,498 bucks and 19,406 does. The majority of those deer, 18,025, were taken with firearms, with the remainder harvested by archers and black powder hunters.

Burke County accounted for 945 deer, ranking No. 1 so far among the state's 159 counties. It included 538 bucks and 407 does.

Hancock, with 853 deer, ranked second, followed by Washington, 824; Laurens, 752; and Emanuel County, with 715 deer.

Hunters in Columbia and Richmond counties had checked in 410 and 237 deer, respectively.

The county-by-county figures are available on the Georgia DNR web site and updated daily under the state's new Game Check program, which requires online check-in within 72 hours each time a hunter kills a deer.

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DROUGHT WORSENING: The last time Thurmond Lake was officially full was May 12, when the reservoir's surface elevation hovered at 330 feet above sea level.

After more than five months of sparse rainfall and hot temperatures, it had fallen to 321.6 on Friday and is expected to decline even more in the coming weeks. Even at 8 to 9 feet low, some docks and structures are high and dry, and previously submerged obstacles are presenting more of a danger to boaters.

Farther downstream, Augusta is still largely unaffected, having benefited from rains from Hurricane Matthew. Those rains, however, did little to help regions above the Fall Line.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor database maintained by the Western Regional Climate Center, much of Columbia County was added recently to counties in "moderate drought status, while Lincoln and other counties to the north are already classified as experiencing "severe" and even "extreme" drought conditions.

South Carolina's Drought Response Committee, meanwhile, has assigned drought conditions to many Savannah River border counties, with Aiken, Edgefield and McCormick now experiencing moderate drought impacts.

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SOUTH CAROLINA ELK: The first official sighting of an elk in South Carolina was made on Oct. 21 when a young bull that had wandered down from a North Carolina herd was seen grazing near a post office in northern Pickens County.

The animal attracted plenty of attention, but wildlife authorities were concerned with social media postings showed people apparently trying to feed it - which could prove dangerous.

"People get a false sense of security, because elk don't mind being approached," said Justin McVey, a wildlife biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. "But they are still wild animals and can be very dangerous."

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian mountains but were eliminated by over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700s. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting and conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction.

Reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001. The population around the Great Smoky Mountains is estimated at 150 elk, and there have been numerous unconfirmed sightings in the Upstate of South Carolina in recent years.

Tammy Wactor, a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said the young bull elk, which may weigh upwards of 700 pounds, was likely pushed out of its territory in Heywood County, N.C., by bigger bulls.

Once it realizes there are no female elk in South Carolina, it will likely return to North Carolina. In the meantime, Wactor advised motorists to use caution when driving on Upstate roads where the elk might be roaming.

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TROUT STREAMS OPENING: The north Georgia mountains make a great fall destination, especially with five delayed harvest trout streams that open Nov. 1."The advantage of the five designated delayed harvest streams, open November 1 through May 14, is that they have special catch-and-release regulations and are stocked monthly by Wildlife Resources Division and our partner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," said John Lee Thomson, Wildlife Resources Division trout stocking coordinator. "This combination of stocking and catch/release allows for good trout catch rates and high angler satisfaction."

The five trout streams managed under delayed harvest regulations are;

• Toccoa River on U.S. Forest Service land upstream of Lake Blue Ridge in Fannin County.

• Amicalola Creek on the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.

• Smith Creek downstream of Unicoi Lake (Unicoi State Park).

• Chattahoochee River in Atlanta (Sope Creek, downstream of Johnson Ferry Road, downstream to the Hwy 41 bridge).

• A portion of the Chattooga River (from Ga. Hwy. 28 upstream to the mouth of Reed Creek).

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