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Federal rules widen hunting potential

September 19, 2012 at 04:05 PM

The Associated Press

MACON, Ga. (AP) — Every time Ryan Johnson gets a chance, he hunts at Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Under federal rules passed this month, Johnson is likely to do much more hunting over much more of the refuge.

“It’s just a great place to hunt,” said Johnson, a salesman from Cumming who likes hunting miles from the road.

The changes in federal laws allow the refuge to add hunting over an additional 2,400 acres to its hunting grounds and allows hunting seasons for animals as varied as ducks, squirrels and wild turkeys, said Jacob Tuttle, manager of the refuge.

Any changes in hunting won’t take place until after next summer, after biologists and law enforcement officers determine what’s best for the refuge, Tuttle said.

“We’ll implement hunts to stay within our management capabilities, as far as personnel management, but also try to maximize our habitat and resource management,” Tuttle said.

Much of the interest is expected in the refuge’s white-tailed deer, which biologists determined are “approaching nutritional carrying capacity,” Tuttle said a University of Georgia report shows. In short, there are enough deer that food is getting scarce.

Johnson said much of the deer’s problem are the feral pigs in the refuge. Considered an invasive species, the pigs are destroying much of the plant life that animals survive on.

“The whole entire place looks like it’s just been rooted out,” Johnson said. “The pigs are just like vacuum cleaners in the woods.”

Johnson has been going for about six years to Bond Swamp, hunting deer with a bow in the fall and pigs with a rifle in late winter. He said he hasn’t always gotten a deer, but he’s always gotten pigs.

Tuttle said because pigs are an invasive species, hunters have been allowed to kill pigs incidental to their deer hunting. That would continue with other kinds of hunting, such as the small-game hunting. Johnson said he’s had good success elsewhere killing hogs with single shots from small-game rounds such as the .17HMR.

The new federal rules allow, but don’t require, major expansions of hunting, which has been limited to about 5,500 acres with bow hunting of deer and rifle hunting of hogs. That could expand to more than 7,900 acres and include rifle hunting of deer, and hunting of other species including squirrel, rabbits, quail, ducks, geese, dove, woodcock, snipe and wild turkey. The area around Brown’s Mount would remain off-limits to all hunting.

Tuttle said the level of hunting will be determined by federal regulations, state seasons and other regulations, and a staff evaluation of what’s best for the refuge. That likely will vary year-to-year, he said.

Among the challenges: Wild turkeys make nests on the ground, which could get wiped out by flooding.

“If we get a spring flood, it could potentially wipe out the nest for that season, which makes for zero reproduction,” Tuttle said. Turkey hunting could be prohibited the following year to give the population a chance to rebound.

Waterfowl — ducks and geese — are particularly sensitive to hunting, and the migratory birds need time to rest and forage.

“When they have constant disturbance in those areas, it diminishes the health of those populations,” Tuttle said.

Next year’s hunting regulations will likely be announced about June.

Johnson said Bond Swamp has unusual challenges that keep calling him back. He and friends once left the swamp about midnight, hours after they killed a 200-pound wild sow in a remote area. Brambles and flooding can make it harder to move.

“I enjoy the working for it,” Johnson said. “You definitely feel better when you’ve shot one (pig) two miles in the back, and you come back with your arms looking like they were hit with a brush hog. It’s fun.”


Information from: The Macon Telegraph,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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