I appreciate the varied species of birds that makes High Rock Lake their home. I marvel at the sheer volume of waterfowl during certain seasons, how they navigate amongst themselves, even in heavy wind, swoop down to grab a fish out of the lake for dinner and stay warm during these cold months. We are lucky to have Eagle Point in prime view with many sightings of great blue heron, blue and white egrets, even American white pelicans, and of course bald eagles, among many other species of ducks and gulls.
The one thing I have not given any thought to was duck hunting, before writing this blog I never thought much about it, except for a few Saturday mornings when I hear LOTS of gun shots. So that got me wanting to learn what the noise was all about so to speak; and why are these folks killing those cute ducks frolicking around my dock?
I met Drew Cornelison, our Rowan County area Ducks Unlimited chairman at the HRLCleanSweep last year and figured he would be the perfect interview for me to learn about the waterfowl of High Rock Lake. My starting point is that I call all flying and/or floating birds – ducks! I certainly do not know the difference between cormorants, coots, wood ducks, and mallards.
I’ve also heard from a few lake residents that coots are taking over the lake, eating the fish. So, I set off with my 20-plus questions for Drew on duck hunting. My research resulted that duck hunting is certainly more than just hunting, its conservation and education, and giving back to the eco-system. By the way, the black ducks with the white bills are coots, the taller, leaner fish eaters are cormorants. “Currently there is an abundance of cormorants, we can’t hunt them and it affects the ecosystem, including a decline in the fish stock here at High Rock,” shared Cornelison.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission grants hunting licenses which are $100 each, plus a required $25 federal duck stamp that supports the federal conservatory. The commission sets the hunting regulations: no Sundays, no hens, and no size limits during the three season splits which is fours days in October, two weeks at the end of November/early December and three weeks at the end of January. “COVID actually increased the hunting activity these past few months with more hunters going out during the week since working remotely has become our new normal. Although there isn’t a set of written rules, knowledgeable hunters stay 300 yards from homes and docks, it’s just common courtesy,” commented Cornelison.
Although the 2020/2021 duck hunting season is over, I wanted to share the dates as they are generally the same each year so we can be prepared for the activity on the lake.
The hunting of all migratory game birds (waterfowl, doves, rails, etc.) is regulated by the federal government under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Each year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services establishes hunting season guidelines or frameworks. These include season length, bag limits, shooting hours, and the range of hunting dates. States may set their seasons within these frameworks. Although the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has ultimate authority for establishing seasons, the process is a collaborative one involving state game and fish agencies as well. For many years, the annual regulations cycle was divided into two components. The early cycle involved the setting of waterfowl seasons that begin prior to late September (September Canada goose and September teal seasons) and seasons for many webless species (doves, rails, woodcock). The late regulations cycle includes the traditional waterfowl seasons occurring after late September. Regulatory decisions for all species will occur on the same schedule and seasons will be set in the spring of each year prior to the upcoming hunting seasons.
Cornelison explained and shared pictures of how the Rowan County Ducks Unlimited chapter www.ncducks.org has been providing wood duck nesting boxes throughout the lake. There are approximately 80 boxes situated on High Rock Lake. Each February members clean out the boxes, refurbish with fresh bedding and check on the boxes every three weeks. Some nests will show up to 12- 18 eggs per box by the end of March/early April. Last season more than 185 eggs were identified.
Cornelison shared that many sportsmen who frequent our lake are Ducks Unlimited members. There mantra is to ‘use the lake, give back, and clean up after yourself,’ while also taking the opportunity to teach the next generation about hunting and boating safety and why it’s important to assist the population growth and management of waterfowl. “We teach our younger hunters that they need to know their waterfowl, buy a book, watch videos, learn the species by their flight. Ask for help from experienced hunters. And be safe! Accidents happen especially when you combine boats and guns. If you are not sure of what you are doing, stay home!”
Two Times the Safety
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission urges waterfowl hunters to practice safety and to share their boat with someone new to hunting. “Mentoring someone is a great way to pass along the rich tradition of waterfowl hunting in North Carolina,” said Chet Clark, the Commission’s recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) manager. “The memories you create while sharing your knowledge with a new waterfowl hunter can last a lifetime.”
While mentoring a new hunter, it’s important to remember the Commission’s Home From The Hunt™ campaign and share basic safety precautions while hunting from a vessel. “Boating accidents can occur in a split second, so it’s important to be prepared,” said Clark. “Hunters should wear clothing made of wool or other synthetic materials instead of cotton to help prevent hypothermia. And, as always, wear a personal floatation device.”
The Commission also reminds hunters:
- Always let someone know your whereabouts and an approximate return time.
- Be aware that small, flat-bottom vessels are prone to capsizing and swamping.
- Store equipment properly and keep it evenly distributed.
- Do not overload the boat, especially with passengers.
- Keep hunting dogs prone in the center of the boat.
- Never move about the boat with a loaded shotgun.
- Stay with the boat and use it as a floatation device in the event of capsizing or swamping.
Youth Waterfowl Days
Each February, young hunters are given the opportunity to try their hand with a mentor to learn best practices on two given Saturdays (February 6 and 13, 2021), to hunt ducks, geese, brant, tundra swans, mergansers, and coots. Youth must have a valid permit if hunting tundra swans and Canada geese. Youth under age 16 are exempt from the requirement of a hunting license provided they comply with the following:
- Youth who have not obtained a Certificate of Competency showing their completion of the hunter safety course must be accompanied by a properly licensed adult when hunting.
- Youth who have obtained a Certificate of Competency, may hunt without being accompanied by an adult, but must carry their certificate while hunting.
- Youth under age 16 are exempt from the requirement of a trapping license.
Did you know Rowan County has an outdoor environmental club? It is taught by Kelli Isenhour, Rowan County Soil and Conservation who gives first-hand experiences to our upper elementary and middle school students on improving water quality through testing and erosion studies, and respecting our natural resources which include soil, water and animals that call our lake and forest home. One major undertaking for the group is building wood duck boxes for Ducks Unlimited to set out in late winter. “We all live in a watershed, we need to respect it for many reasons,” said Isenhour.
Background on Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited is a grassroots, volunteer-based non-profit organization. Its members are conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts who live primarily throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Ducks Unlimited got its start in 1937 during the Dust Bowl when North America’s drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows. Determined not to sit idly by as the continent’s waterfowl dwindled beyond recovery, a small group of sportsmen joined together to form an organization that became known as Ducks Unlimited.
The mission: habitat conservation. Thanks to more than 80 years of abiding by that single mission, Ducks Unlimited is now the world’s largest and most effective private, nonprofit, waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization. Waterfowl are not the only beneficiaries of DU’s habitat work. Wetlands improve the overall health of our environment by recharging and purifying groundwater, moderating floods, and reducing soil erosion. Wetlands are North America’s most productive ecosystems, providing critical habitat to more than 900 wildlife species and invaluable recreation opportunities for people to enjoy.
Enjoy the lake sights and sounds and be safe out there.
I would love to hear from you on what your favorite lake activity is, or someone that you would like me to feature in 2021. Please email me at highrock@YourRowan.com
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