Around this time every year, as we approach the ceremonial turning of our

calendars, I hear folks comment, “If I had known I’d live this long, I would have

taken better care of myself.” I’m not sure I agree with that sentiment. Certainly, if I

had shown a little more moderation and good sense in my younger years, I might

have fewer aches and pains now. But then, think of all the fun I would have

missed.

It’s a fact that getting older isn’t for sissies. But it does have some benefits. One

is you eventually reach the point where you’ve probably already made most of the

mistakes you ever will, some more than once. Another is, after a certain age, you

realize the scene in your rear-view mirror is broader, and maybe clearer, than what

lies ahead.

At my age I enjoy looking back once in awhile, and the approaching New Year

is a good time to do that. As we reflect on A.D. 2018, it seems the past twelve

months had a good number of positives and at least a few negatives. This was

particularly true for those of us who enjoy the outdoors and all it has to offer.

One negative that continued to frustrate sportsmen and other nature lovers in the

past annum was the continued decline of bobwhite quail here as well as over the

rest of the Southeast. Despite the efforts of researchers and wildlife managers, that

iconic little game bird seems to be getting progressively scarcer. It’s amazing to

those of us who grew up hearing “partridges” making their plaintive call in

woodlots and along fencerows in the half-light of dawn, but that’s a sound that has

become so uncommon as to be almost shocking nowadays.

Some other game animals have never been doing better. According to

biologists, as well as observant hunters, there are probably more black bears, wild

turkeys and whitetail deer in North Carolina than there has ever been in modern

history. Bears are now found in approximately 60% of the state’s total land mass

and have one of the healthiest populations in the country. Their status is a far cry

from the mid-1900s when bruins were found only in remote mountain forests and

coastal plain swamps.

The same is true for deer. Almost 150,000 harvested whitetails were registered

with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission during the 2017 season. Even with

some severe weather earlier on, this year is on track to get close to those same

 

numbers. And, with a new state-wide limit of two antlered deer per hunter, there is

promise for even larger and more numerous bucks.

Wild turkeys continue their dramatic comeback from the 1960s when they

appeared headed for extinction in most parts of the state. Over 17,000 toms were

bagged during the spring 2018 season and, with favorable weather, this year could

be as good or better. Now is the “good old days” for turkey hunters.

North Carolina’s most popular game bird, the mourning dove, was mysteriously

absent from many areas of the state during the early fall. No one has offered a

feasible explanation but some people point to an exceptionally hot summer

preceding the traditional September opening day. For example, June was the 14 th

warmest it has been since 1895. Regardless of the cause, something occurred

shortly afterward that compounded the problem.

In mid-September, the biggest “minus” of the year, maybe of most of our

lifetimes, arrived in the form of Hurricane Florence. The toll on humans was

horrendous – an estimated $100 million in damage in New Bern alone; 4,300

homes and 300 businesses damaged or destroyed. The effect on wildlife was harder

to quantify but there was no question that many species, especially fish, were hit

hard. Massive influxes of freshwater, much of it contaminated with industrial,

residential and agricultural waste as well as huge amounts of vegetative debris

resulted in sudden and drastic reductions in dissolved oxygen and large fish kills in

some areas.

Some anglers were affected in a more direct way as well. Over three months

later there are fishing boats still sitting way up in marshes, half-sunk at damaged

marinas or unseen at the bottom. Many of those boats were not insured. Other

sportsmen had fishing or hunting camps severely damaged or completely

destroyed.

One very positive aspect of 2018 was the survival of spotted seatrout (speckled

trout) after the severe freeze that the area experienced in early-January. Such

events typically cause large-scale mortality for species like specs that are trapped

in shallow creeks with nowhere to go. When the potential severity of last winter’s

freeze became apparent, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries issued a

proclamation, closing the harvest of speckled trout by commercial and recreational

anglers until June by which time it was expected that most of the fish would have

spawned. The DMF’s action proved to be the right move. Fishing for speckled

trout over the past two months has been as good as or better than it has in years.

On a personal basis, there is no doubt in my mind that The Almighty blessed

me, my family and friends in 2018. We faced some hurdles but were given the

means to deal with them and carry on, and are thankful for that. We look forward

to 2019 and wish our friends, family and wildlife brethren a wonderful new year.

Ed Wall can be contacted at edwall@embarqmail.com or 252-671-3207. His web

site is www.edwalloutdoors.com