WINTER COLUMN: A great year, now what lies ahead?

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Itís been a great year in the woods and on the water.

True, I never did catch my first tarpon, and my first marlin is still swimming around somewhere.

I didnít bag a wall-hanger buck, either. But I did shoot one that beat my record for heaviest deer ó a fat 196-pounder taken after I snagged an invitation to an intensely-managed plantation. The big management buck sported a gnarly 6-point rack that swung up and around on both sides and nearly touched in the middle.

I also scored a nice turkey this season, on opening day no less. He and a few other gobblers were henned up in a hardwood bottom, so I had to belly-crawl within range. It was an unforgettable experience.

On the water, we had a pretty good year offshore, loading up on dolphin in May and bottom fish through the summer. The black seabass were huge, the vermilion snapper plentiful.

We caught a few kings in late summer, and even managed to win most of our entry fees back in the Fishing for Miracles king mackerel tournament. We caught our one decent king in the final 10 minutes of fishing, dragging a fresh-caught Spanish mackerel through the shipping channel on the way back to the dock.

The shrimp-baiting season? After hearing so many spotty reports I never even dropped the first bait ball.

But I did catch my first redfish on a fly this year!

So how did you do in 2012? Any personal bests? Great hunting adventures? Send an email with your story to mwinter@postandcourier.com. Iíll compile the best responses and post them on our Charleston Hunting and Fishing blog. (Go to postandcourier.com and scroll down to the blog section.)

Looking ahead

With plenty of issues already percolating, 2013 promises to be an interesting one for those of us who love the outdoors.

Hereís a quick rundown of topics you might be hearing about in the months to come:

Gun Control: Anyone who has kept a healthy supply of sporting goods catalogues and circulars around ó Cabelaís, Bass Pro Shops, Dickís, etc. ó has undoubtedly noticed a trend developing.

For years, the firearms production and marketing industries seem to have been shifting focus away from traditional hunting rifles and toward so-called ďsporting rifles,Ē which are military-style semiautomatic rifles chambered to carry hunting cartridges such as .30-06, .270 and .308.

Clearly, things have changed. New gun control measures surely will follow the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Debate over the use of military-style firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines will most likely overshadow almost any other issue facing the outdoors community in 2013.

Itís time for some soul-searching in the outdoors community, and for honest and reasoned discussion of gun control.

Bottom fishing: Both commercial and recreational offshore bottom-fishermen can expect more changes to federal regulations in 2013.

There most likely will be some bad news, perhaps another shortened black sea bass fishery. But there might be some bright spots, too, such as more opportunities to fish for vermilion and red snapper and favorable adjustments to commercial shallow-water grouper rules.

Stay tuned to safmc.net, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Councilís website, for the latest in regulation changes.

Vessel Monitoring System: If you havenít yet heard the acronym ďVMS,Ē you soon will.

As currently being debated by federal regulators, the required use of VMS would apply only to commercial snapper-grouper boats; the measures being debated would not extend to recreational vessels.

GPS-based VMS allow fisheries managers to make sure commercial boats arenít fishing inside Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where bottom fishing for snapper-grouper is prohibited. VMS also would allow officers to intercept commercial boats for inspection.

Marine Protected Areas: These safe havens for bottom fish arenít new. But how many should we have? Should existing MPAs be bigger, or reshaped to cover more live bottom?

Federal regulators will be looking at the issue this spring.

Flounder limits: Some conservation-minded anglers argue that the current limits ó 20 per person per day, not to exceed 40 per boat per day ó are too liberal.

Those in favor of smaller bag limits point out that tighter limits would primarily affect flounder giggers rather than hook-and-line anglers.

State officials recently addressed limits on sheepshead and other popular catches. Will flounder be next in 2013?

Free hunting day

The Department of Natural Resources recently announced new ďfree hunting days,Ē held Jan. 4-5.

State residents can hunt without a state hunting license or other required permits, including Wildlife Management Area (WMA) permit, or Migratory Waterfowl Permit (formerly State Duck Stamp).

All existing seasons, bag limits and methods of take still apply, and the designation does not open WMAís that are not previously open for hunting.

Federal requirements for a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp are still needed to hunt waterfowl. For more details, go to dnr.sc.gov.

Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or matt@tidelinemagazine.com

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