Good time for gobblers

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How was your gobbler season last year?

Video: Augusta Outdoors
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According to state turkey biologist Kevin Lowrey, Georgia's 2009 season, which opens Saturday, will be at least as good, if not better.

"Last year's reproduction data suggests that turkey production was good in many parts of Georgia in 2008," he said. "In fact, last year's hatch was the best since 2002."

Until last year, turkey reproduction had been poor in four of the previous five years.

"While it likely will take some time for the population to rebound, last year's increase in reproduction is a positive reminder that when habitat conditions are right and weather is favorable, the turkey population is quick to respond."

According to the state Wildlife Resources Division, an estimated 49,237 resident Georgia hunters bagged 24,297 turkeys last year.

The bird to hunter ratio was .49 birds per hunter -- the same as in 2007. The state's current turkey population is estimated at about 300,000.

Georgia turkey hunters are privileged with one of the long- est turkey seasons nationwide. With a bag limit of three gobblers per season, hunters have from March 21-May 15 to harvest their birds.

In South Carolina, gobbler season opens today only in Game Zone 6, which includes 12 counties from Allendale south. The season in the rest of the state is from April 1-May 1.

DEER SMUGGLERS: A three-year investigation has yielded criminal charges and more than $250,000 in fines in a case involving 54 deer that were illegally imported into South Carolina and released at a hunting club in Bamberg County.

According to U.S. District Court records, James Schaffer, of Charleston, conspired with Danny L. Parrott, of Kimbolton, Ohio, and other unnamed individuals, to transport deer to South Carolina on several occasions in late 2005.

A S.C. Department of Natural Resources news release said $70,000 was paid for the deer, which went to Graham's Turnout Hunt Co., a deer hunting service in Bamberg County that is owned by Schaffer and caters to hunters from South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

The smuggled deer originated from at least one state known to harbor Chronic Wasting Disease, said Charles Ruth, Deer/Turkey Project supervisor with DNR. "Fortunately, the deer were not released into the wild, but rather, they were released into several enclosures including one in excess of 500 acres."

Schaffer pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $50,000 to the S.C. Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund and $50,000 to the National Wildlife Trust Fund and up to $150,000 in fines.

The enclosures in which the deer were released must be torn down or modified to comply with South Carolina law related to hunting deer inside enclosures.

Ruth said the enclosures contained more than the 54 deer that were imported because the case spanned two reproductive cycles and there were some native South Carolina deer present as well.

More than 200 deer were removed and tested. Results were negative for CWD and the overall health of the deer was good. Carcasses were processed and donated to three food banks, which resulted in the distribution of about 6,000 pounds of venison to needy South Carolinians.

The cost to remove, test, and process the deer was about $95,000, which was paid by Schaffer as part of the agreement reached with the United States Attorney's office in southern Ohio.

ARCHERY HONORS: Two local archers who won spots on the 12-person 2009 Junior U.S. Archery Team did their nation proud during the world competition that concluded last week in Poland.

The Americans, including Harlem High School senior Samantha Pruitte and South Aiken High School sophomore Garrett Abernethy, brought home 13 medals.

Abernethy earned a bronze and his team took silver. More than 400 archers from more than 30 countries competed.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

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