Late-season hunt still worth effort

  • Follow Rob Pavey

Late-season deer hunting can be a new experience, even for folks who spend every weekend in the woods.

Video: Augusta Outdoors
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The forests are quiet. Fewer people are in the field. My theory is that most hunters have tagged out, or perhaps lost interest since the long season opened months ago.

With leaves off the trees and most of the acorns eaten, the deer are also confined to thicker cover. In some ways, they are easier to pattern, although the bucks still seem wary enough to stay hidden until shooting light fades.

But what about those bucks? Are only the smartest ones left? Were all the nice ones taken during the rut? Of course not.

Although the season ended New Year's Day in many areas, much of the state's lower zone remains open through Jan. 15.

FLOODED SWAMPS: Speaking of late-season deer hunting, I was astonished to see how much water has flooded its way into the coastal plain counties.

With 16 inches of rain in barely five weeks, and water spewing out of Thurmond Dam like a Texas oil gusher, virtually all the real estate along the lower Savannah River is under water -- and in some cases, under lots of water.

Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area, for example, posted a notice on the state DNR Web site that flooding has left only 4,000 to 5,000 of the area's 15,000 acres easily accessible.

Why so much water?

According to spokesman Billy Birdwell, of the Army Corps of Engineers, releases from Thurmond Dam have been full blast for weeks.

"Right now the outflows are 25,000 cubic feet per second," he said. "We've been doing that for a while."

At the river's Clyo gauge in Screven County, the flow was surging at 35,000 cubic feet per second. The normal flow in an "average" year, by comparison, is just shy of 9,000 cubic feet per second.

Although the flooding is an aggravation to some, the influx of water is also part of nature. The rising waters recharge oxbow lakes and sloughs with fish and also reshuffle soils that are critical to riverine forests. It is just another cycle that we should enjoy.

PHEASANTS: While driving down Georgia Hwy. 23 in Burke County last weekend, my son and I noticed something odd.

It was a big bird running down the side of the road. It was too plump to be a buzzard and too small to be a turkey.

When we slowed to look, it stopped to look at us.

It was a ringneck pheasant, complete with ornate tail feathers. It glanced at us briefly and darted across a ditch and into a pine thicket.

Where did he come from? I doubt he was vacationing from North Dakota. My best guess is that he was an escapee from someone's shooting preserve.

Still, it was nice to see something out of the ordinary.

LOCK AND DAM: The river's resident white elephant is out of commission again.

Last week, the New Savannah Bluff locks were shuttered "until further notice" because the hydraulic system that opens and closes the ancient gates broke down again.

Augusta Recreation & Parks Director Tom Beck said the city is responsible for the repairs under the term of its lease with the Army Corps of Engineers. The repair cost is estimated at $18,000.

The corps wanted to demolish the dam back in 1999, but local governments wanted it repaired and kept open. So far, though, Congress has yet to appropriate the $22 million needed to complete such a project. Until then, it will be repaired on an as-needed basis.

RIVERFRONT RE-DO: The Augusta Port Authority is working on a plan to make better use of a portion of Augusta's riverfront.

Frank Carl, the group's chairman, said studies are under way to beautify the segment of city-owned land between the Boathouse and the city marina's warehouse a quarter-mile downstream.

"What we want to do is to upgrade that space -- not to the extent that it excludes any of the events," he said.

"We have a number of events in that space; dragboat races, Day in the Country, regattas, the Ironman contest, Paddlefest, lots of things.

"We want to make a better, more defined parking area near the Port Authority office and Savannah Riverkeeper building and then maybe grass in the area beyond the covered picnic pavilion."

Such a plan, he said, would make the area more attractive and would separate parking from other uses.

During selected events, however, the grassed in areas could be opened for parking and other uses.

"The grassy area would be for recreation, but it would also serve trucks or vehicles for the bigger events," Carl said.

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

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