It is late in Georgia's deer season, and most hunters probably think all the biggest bucks have been taken - or gone completely nocturnal.
They haven't, according to my friend Bubba. And he has evidence.
His tall-tined trophy was photographed at 8:30 a.m. with a motion-activated trail camera on land just 15 minutes from downtown Augusta. The curious buck is staring into the lens, framed by the rising sun.
Bubba wishes he'd been there - instead of his camera.
"We decided not to let the other fellows in the club know this guy was still out there," he said. "At least, not till I get him, or deer season ends."
The clock is ticking. Georgia's season ends New Year's Day.
Bubba, by the way, didn't want me to use his last name - or identify his hunting club.
We in the newspaper business use anonymous sources sparingly, and only when keeping a confidence is most necessary. But Like Deep Throat and Watergate, there are times when security is essential.
LEAN WILDLIFE BUDGET: Tough economic times are ahead for Georgia's state government, and the Department of Natural Resources and its Wildlife Resources Division are being asked to reduce spending next year.
In October, the division was ordered to cut its current fiscal budget by 2.5 percent, and trim an additional 5 percent from the 2002 budget.
Noel Holcomb, the division's assistant director, said most state agencies are in the same boat. He predicts employees might have more work to do, but forecasts little in the way of lost outdoor opportunities.
"Basically, we have the capacity to handle most of these cuts through freezing positions, and no law-enforcement positions would be affected," he said.
Those positions include fisheries slots in Waycross, a biologist in Fort Valley and two game management jobs in remote areas. Two positions on Sapelo Island are being held vacant.
But there are some consequences in things that were planned but have been delayed.
For example, Georgia's Bobwhite Quail Initiative was to be expanded this year, and a new outdoor education program on Ossabaw Island is now on hold.
In the east Georgia region surrounding Augusta, the public will see little change, Holcomb said.
"Any impacts on Wildlife Management Areas would be only on leased lands," he said. "We may consolidate or stop management on federal properties, but that hasn't been identified yet as a priority."
So far, there are no discussions about raising hunting or fishing license fees, although a $2 per day increase at state park campsites has been proposed.
NATURE CONSERVANCY AUCTION: The 14th annual Savannah River Ecology Lab auction generated $7,500 for the South Carolina chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
This year's proceeds from items ranging from donated outdoor gear to artwork bring the total raised by SREL through the years to more than $46,000.
The Conservancy uses the money to acquire and preserve ecologically significant land in South Carolina.
RARE CRANES CROSS GEORGIA: Six endangered whooping cranes touched down in Citrus County, Fla., after a 1,224-mile journey behind ultralight aircraft that led them through portions of Georgia this fall.
The 50-day journey through seven states was part of an experiment to reintroduce the migratory cranes into eastern North America.
"The whooping crane had not been sighted in Georgia in over a century," said Terry Johnson, Georgia DNR's Non-game Endangered Wildlife Program Manager. "This effort will help bring back an animal that was teetering on the brink of extinction."
Whooping crane populations dwindled to 21 birds in 1941 before climbing to about 400 birds today. They are considered the rarest and most endangered crane on earth, with the single existing flock migrating between Canada and Texas.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.