There were lots of trucks parked outside Julian Smith Casino Thursday night. Inside, there were lots of turkey hunters.
It was banquet night for the National Wild Turkey Federation's Augusta Chapter. There was music, excellent barbecue from Mott's and the usual assortment of artwork and firepower up for auction.
Ricky Peek, NWTF's Georgia regional director, reminded the crowd how important it is to promote hunting in an ethical and sportsmanlike way to everyone - including women and youngsters.
That's one of the things I like about the federation, whose membership of 325,000 has nearly doubled during the past four years. The group raises lots of money - and they spend it in the right places.
Based in Edgefield, S.C., the organization agreed this year to donate $1 million to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which works to safeguard hunters' rights and helps promote youth shooting and safety programs.
NWTF also gave $100,000 to the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, which keeps tabs on - and often does battle with - anti-hunting forces all over the country.
Since 1985, NWTF has funneled $135 million into many programs, mostly aimed at restoring the wild turkey to our forests and fields.
A flock that once exceeded 7 million in Colonial times had eroded to 30,000 by 1900. There are now almost 5 million wild turkeys in the U.S., compared with 1.3 million in 1973.
In my book, that is money well spent - by hunters, sportsmen and conservationists.
GATOR GAWKING Some of Georgia's biggest alligators live in the old Merry Brickyard ponds, just a stone's throw from downtown Augusta.
"There was a mining crew out here the other day, and a big one crawled across the road in front of them," said Bill Gibson, who operates a pay fishing concession on the property.
Last week, several anglers reported to Brad Gibson - Bill's son - that a large gator in the Warren Pond died or was killed. Wildlife authorities were unable to locate the carcass a few days later.
Brad, however, spotted three very live - and very large - gators when he launched a boat to search for the dead one. "Two were about eight feet and one was about 14 feet," he said.
The elder Gibson said the best ponds to spot gators in are the Warren Pond and the Ditch Pond. "But they roam all over, so it's hard to say."
Fishing at the Merry Ponds is $5 per day for anglers 13 and up.
Bill Baab, my fiend predecessor as editor of this page, tells me gators were introduced to the Merry Ponds in the late 1940s - on purpose.
"The guy's name was Redfern, and he got the alligators from South Carolina, down near Yemassee," Baab said.
The purpose was to control the huge turtle population in the ponds.
GRILLED PIRANHA, ANYONE? I've often wondered what it would be like to fish the Amazon River, but never had the chance.
So I dropped in at the Sierra Club's local meeting Tuesday to enjoy a fascinating program by Bill Stenstrom of Augusta, whose trip to South America included a visit to the famous river.
To start with, everything on the Amazon is big - really big. Trees like the kapok grow as tall as 15-story buildings. The river's mouth, which funnels a fifth of the earth's river water into the ocean, is 200 miles wide.
During the trip, the tourists fished. "We all caught piranha," Stenstrom said. The guides unhooked them, though, so the tourists wouldn't be chewed upon. How were they? "About like trout."
The Amazon has more fish species than any river on earth. One of the largest, the arapaima, grows to nine feet long. Stenstrom also showed slides of the Amazon's amazing lily pads - which are almost six feet across!
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.