WINTER COLUMN: Down-time? Not quite
Deer season's long over, duck season just wrapped up, and fishing for grouper and black seabass is forbidden until later this year.
Seems like the guns will stay in the safe, the boat under cover. Time to take a breather. … Who are we kidding? Those of us with a passion for the woods and water will always find a reason to indulge.
Here are a few options to keep you rolling through these winter doldrums:
This little piggy …
The whitetail deer season ended Jan. 1, but that doesn't mean you can't keep hunting. In fact, wildlife officials hope that you do.
Populations of feral hogs continue to grow here and other areas of the country. These destructive, invasive animals can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage to crops, wipe out native plants and drive away other desirable game species.
Though trapping is a more effective means of controlling wild pig populations, a shoot-on-sight philosophy helps. “Pig patrol” also provides a great excuse to head up to the hunt club and wander around.
It's a nice change of pace from still-hunting deer. Pigs aren't as easily spooked as whitetails, so instead of sitting for hours in a tree stand, a stealthy hunter can stalk through the woods and zero-in on a group of pigs.
Also, since there are no weapons restrictions or closed seasons for hunting hogs on private land during the day, many hunters jump at the chance to field-test their .223-caliber, semiautomatic rifles. These lower-caliber “sporting arms” can't be used for deer, but in the hands of a crack shot, they can be very effective with feral pigs. (Though I'd recommend an old-fashioned 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot).
A relatively new law also allows hogs to be hunted at night, with artificial light and iron-sight handguns. The state also offers plenty of opportunities to hunt hogs on public land. The rules governing both night and public-land hunting are a bit tricky, so hunters should spend some time learning the rules at dnr.sc.gov.
Cold fish, hot fishing
Fishing in the cold requires a sharp eye toward safety and plenty of layered clothing.
But if you're willing to brave the elements, you can crush it this time of year.
Anglers dropping fiddler crabs and pieces of clams along dock pilings and rock jetties can rake in the sheepshead throughout the winter. Just remember that a state law enacted last year sets a limit of 10 fish per person per day (up to 30 per boat) with a 14-inch total length minimum size limit. The new law also nixed the circle hook requirement: Yes, you can go back to using J-hooks for sheepshead.
The fact that redfish congregate in shallow-water flats this time of year must be the Lowcountry's worst-kept angling secret.
Luckily, the cold keeps many anglers at home. So if you've got access to a shallow-drafting boat and know how to get into (and out of) one of the Lowcountry's many bays and sounds, you can tear it up.
Some captains I've talked to in the past few weeks have reported 50-fish days up in the flats.
Many hunters started out walking through the woods with their fathers, learning safe firearms handling while stalking squirrels and other small game.
If you're hoping to introduce a young one to the woods or simply relive those memories, this is the time of year to do it. Seasons are open for quail, squirrels, rabbits, foxes, bobcats and an assortment of other smaller critters.
Get out there and enjoy a crisp Lowcounty morning.
Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.