By Don Mallicoat- On July 1st the NC WRC announced their permit hunt opportunities for the 2016 – 2017 hunting season. The most important one here in the mountains is opening week dove permits for Sandy Mush Game Lands. Like last year, only 95 permits will be issued each day. If you go to a local license agent to apply here is what you need to know. Sandy Mush permits will be issued for September 3, 5, 7, and 10th. It is permit number 8610. You can set up a party of 5 and apply for all four hunts. In my experience if you apply for all four you might get two based on availability. Because of the limited number the Commission is probably spreading the wealth. Cost of the application is $5. When all permits are not drawn the Commission makes them available for sale after the draw date on August 15th. That said, in the past couple of years all permits are issued at drawing for Sandy Mush.
Dove hunting brings a couple of other things to mind. I haven’t been in touch with WRC field personnel, but if we don’t get some rain soon I’m not sure if the fields at Sandy Mush will be at their prime when opening day arrives. Hay fields are turning brown and corn is not growing in the local area. I’ve hunted Sandy Mush for dove nearly every year and in my experience it is either boom or bust. If conditions are right like last year you will be out of the field with a limit in a couple of hours. Conversely, if the planting doesn’t succeed or an early cold front moves through you can sit there most of the day and only hear an occasional shot being fired. Let’s hope it’s the former.
Another thing to think about to improve your success is shooting practice. I’d venture to guess that most people in a dove field on opening day haven’t fired their gun since the last hunting season ended. Go out and shooting some sporting clays or skeet. Why those? Trap is designed to simulate flushing game like quail or pheasant. At skeet you can at least stand on Station 4 and practice your swing on direct crossing shots. Even better is sporting clays where you can practice a variety of target angles. Depending on the course you can get direct crossers, high incoming or come from behind over your head shots. Just get out and shoot. Believe me, it will show in the field with your shell to bird ratio.
With hunting season approaching the WRC is starting up their schedule of Hunter Safety Education classes. If you or a family member hasn’t completed Hunter Safety training to get a license there are several classes in the month of August. Remember, all hunters 16 and over must be licensed and as a License Agent I can tell you the “system” doesn’t grandfather anyone due to age. The only exception is to hunt on an Apprentice permit with a licensed hunter. Get it done. The first class is August 3 – 4 at Skyland Fire Department in Arden. The next will be in Clyde at Haywood Community College August 8 – 9. The last opportunity will be here in Madison County August 24 – 25 at the Extension Services Office. All classes are six hours meeting 6 – 9 p.m. each of the two days. You can register at the Commission website, www.ncwildlife.org/Hunting, click on Hunter Education in the middle of the page.
There is still some fishing available, although I suspect stream and river levels are low because of drought conditions. According to folks at WNC Fly Fishing Trail (flyfishingtrail.com) stream conditions in most locations are good in most locations and excellent in Great Smoky Mountains NP. Light Cahill and Caddis hatches are active so those are probably you best dry fly patterns. When fish are deep you may want to try a pheasant tail nymph. I talked to a guide with Curtis Wright Outfitters last week and he said there is still some smallmouth action on the French Broad River even though levels are low. He did say you have to get started early in the morning, being on the water by 6:30 a.m. while water is still cool. Once it warms up the smallmouth go deep and reduce feeding activity.
Don Mallicoat owns Wings & Clays Guns and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.633.1806