Buckridge: Our New 18,000-Acre Game Land

The Buckridge Game Land will be open to the public this deer-hunting season. Here's what hunters can expect from this vast coastal public land.

By Mike Marsh

At 17,994 acres, the Emily Richardson Preyer Buckridge Coastal Reserve was an important addition to the state's Estuarine Reserve system when it was dedicated in 2000.

Now, it is also important to deer hunters because this season it will be open to the general public for hunting under the North Carolina Wildlife Commission's Game Lands Program.

The Buckridge Tract was bought by the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management in phases. The money came from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which is appropriated from the General Fund by the state legislature. The purchase was significant from the standpoint that the western bank of the Alligator River from south of Highway 64 to Gum Neck will be protected from human development because all of the land is owned and controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or by the state of North Carolina. Even to the north of Highway 64, the North Carolina Department of Transportation owns a large tract that was purchased for endangered species mitigation purposes. The Wildlife Commission is also interested in obtaining hunting rights on this tract at some point in the future.

Buckridge Game Land was a missing piece of the puzzle, sandwiched between the USFWS Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Another section that was recently added to the game lands program was formerly called the Circle D Tract and is now called the Little Alligator Game Land. Deer hunting is allowed on all of these lands.

Buckridge Game Land is part of the East Dismal Swamp, a 320,000-acre wetlands ecosystem that is important habitat for many threatened or endangered species. The main purpose of the Estuarine Reserve System is protecting threatened ecosystems.

Photo by Tim Black

The first several seasons after the Buckridge property was purchased by the Division of Coastal Management, it was leased to a private hunting club that had been using the property for some time.

Wib Owen, who oversees game lands acquisition for the Wildlife Commission, said that Buckridge will be leased to the Wildlife Commission this year. The addition of the property in the game lands program will have to go through the public hearing process in July, however.

"What got it started was the purchase of the property with Clean Water Management Trust Fund money," Owen said. "Since it was bought with public money, we felt it should be open to the public for hunting."

Still, the property will only be open for deer hunting under the commission's three-day-per-week option, including Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and holidays as with other high-use game lands. There will also be one bear season that runs three consecutive days in November and another in December.

"The Division of Coastal Management has some research programs and educational programs that it needs to conduct without conflict from hunters," Owen said. "That is why we reached an agreement with them to open Buckridge on a three-day-per-week basis."

As for hunters who try this area, Owen has a tip.

"Buckridge runs from The Frying Pan to Gum Neck," Owen said. "That creates 26 miles of shoreline. There are boating access areas that give boaters access to the tract at The Frying Pan and at Gum Neck. Using a boat to access the property for deer hunting may be a good idea."

The most important priority in developing Buckridge as a game land is to make it accessible to hunters by improving the road and trail system. Although there are roads in place, the sand and peat soils do not remain stable during high rainfall conditions.

"We will have to buy a lot of gravel," Owen said.

Tommy Hughes is the Wildlife Commission's management biologist for the coastal region. Stationed in New Bern, Hughes is in charge of management crews across the coastal plain and is the biologist most familiar with Buckridge.

"We are leasing the Buckridge Game Land from the Division of Coastal Management," Hughes said. "We are going to try to negotiate a funding situation where a portion of the lease money goes toward improving the roads.

"We will also have to work out a way to close some roads when flooding occurs."

Hughes added that the deer habitat consists of pocosin, gum swamp and loblolly pine.

"Some of the upland sites have a few oaks and pines," Hughes said. But there is a lot of gum swamp."

Hughes said that if a hunter is looking for big racks, he should probably try somewhere else. However, the deer density is very high.

Because of the density of the herd, the deer-hunting season will be the maximum length - open throughout the season, from the September bow season through the end of the firearms season on Jan. 1.

"The quality of the deer is typical of eastern North Carolina," Hughes said. "There are a few big ones there, but they are few and far between. A good buck would be a 12- to 16-inch-wide 8-pointer. They have been hunted pretty hard and there will be a lot of small-racked deer and spikes."

Hughes said that the use of dogs to course deer would be allowed. However, access to the large expanses of inaccessible terrain will make heading off a pack of dogs to get a shot at a deer and collecting the dogs after a chase difficult.

"We may try some habitat enhancement at some point," Hughes said. "But right now the emphasis will be on access improvement. There are a lot of trails that are of poor quality and a lot of roads to maintain."

Cottonmouth snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, deer flies and chiggers represent some of the aggravations typical of the peskier coastal plains fauna during hot weather, according to Hughes. Hunters should bring insect nets and repellent for starters. They should also have along a map, GPS, compass and hip boots.

"It is big country and you can get lost in there," Hughes said.

Woody Webster is the Buckridge site manager for the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management. He helps coordinate research and assists in obtaining grants for education programs.

"The site was ditched for timber harvesting and we are going

to restore a lot of it," Webster said. "The trails and roads were built by digging ditches and we will be filling some of the ones that are unusable. We will also be installing water control structures to hold some water to try to restore the property to its natural condition."

Still, the major roadways will have to stay in place and be maintained so the tract can be easily accessed by researchers and by hunters.

Webster said that a 20-year-old stand of Atlantic white cedar on the property covers about 4,000 acres and is the biggest stand of the endangered tree in the state. The tree was to build the fabled Carolina-style boats for which the coastal region is known.

"The tree grows in such a narrow margin, it has become very rare," Weston said. "Deer hide in the cedar thickets, but come out to feed in grain fields that are planted on farms that adjoin the Buckridge property. They are not the biggest deer in the state, but they look healthy."

Webster said that hunters who leased the property used dogs to pursue deer on the northern half of the property because there are more roads in that area. Access to the southern half of the property consists of only one large loop road.

"There is one ridge, called Buck's Ridge on the southern half of the property," Webster said. "It is two or three feet higher than the surrounding swamps and still-hunters should be able to get in there. The vegetation is mostly pond pine, gum, cypress, cedar, and there are a few oaks scattered along the bottoms."

The Buckridge Game Land is located about 10 miles south of Columbia in Tyrrell County. Traveling south of Columbia on N.C. 94, there are three routes that will give a hunter access to different portions of the game land, each ending in a boat landing. Approximately 10 miles down N.C. 94, is the intersection with Frying Pan Road that leads to Frying Pan Landing. Five miles farther on N.C. 94, the intersection with Gum Neck Road leads to a series of local roads. The westernmost end of this network is Grapevine Landing, while at the southern end is Gum Neck Landing. There is no formal facility at Grapevine Landing.

For a map showing the location of the Buckridge property, hunters can visit the Wildlife Commission's Web site at www.ncwildlife.org. By the beginning of hunting season, there will be a Buckridge map added to the North Carolina Game Lands map booklet.

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