August 30, 2023
College football season is underway, a hurricane is menacing the Southeast and dove-load shotgun shells are disappearing from the shelves at your favorite outdoors retailer.
That must mean that it’s almost September, and with it, there’s not only a transition of temperatures about to take place, but also a switch from a lot of fishing talk to a whole lot of hunting discussion in the weeks ahead.
State-Record Gator Bagged in Mississippi
Alligators have been in the news a good bit lately with several states beginning to open their annual seasons. That includes Mississippi, where the state's Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks posted a story about a real swamp monster on Sunday:
"A new state record for the longest alligator harvested was broken today," the agency said on Facebook on Aug. 27, 2023. "Congratulations to these Mississippi hunters!"
The four hunters were Tanner White of Flora, Don Woods of Oxford, Will Thomas of Madison and Joey Clark of Jackson. "They harvested this male alligator in the West Central Alligator Hunting Zone," continued the MWFP's viral social-media post that had more than 750 comments and had been shared more than 4,300 shares at the time of this writing. "He measured 14 feet and 3 inches long, with a belly girth of 66 inches and tail girth of 46.5 inches. He weighed 802.5 pounds."
As big as that gator is in Mississippi, other giants have been taken by gator hunters in recent years. And they can get even bigger. That includes Doug Borries' 13-foot whopper taken early in 2022 that weighed more than 900 pounds. In September 2022, news sites told the tale of hunters from Florida tagging a 14-foot gator at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's James Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area near Cotulla, Texas. According to TPWD, that big male gator measured out at 14 feet, 2.5 inches and weighed 781 pounds.
And in August 2014, Mandy Stokes—with some assistance from husband John Stokes, and brother-in-law Kevin Jenkins and his children Savannah and Parker—tagged the largest alligator ever legally killed in Alabama. It was so massive that the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reportedly had trouble measuring it, the huge alligator taped out at 15 feet even and had to be weighed with the assistance of a backhoe at Roland Cooper State Park. It weighed 1,011.5 pounds, making it one of the biggest gators ever killed by a hunter anywhere in the world. The largest alligator ever verified was reportedly taken in 1890 in Louisiana that measured 19 feet, 2 inches and weighed approximately 2,000 pounds.)
Iowa Pheasant Survey Shows Good Numbers
It won't be long until fall upland bird wingshooting seasons arrive on the calendar and if you're getting ready to turn a bird dog loose in Iowa, you should have plenty of reason to smile this year. That's because the 2023 August pheasant population survey in the Hawkeye State had the highest statewide counts recorded by Iowa Department of Natural Resources since 2015.
According to the Iowa DNR, the biggest increases in the state have come from the southwest, northwest and northeast regions. Overall, the DNR report found that the statewide average was nearly 23 birds per route, which marks a 15-percent increase over 2022.
“The bird counts were better than we thought in northwest and northeastern Iowa,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa DNR. "The population in northeast is the highest that region has seen in 24 years."
Iowa wildlife officials note that their annual August roadside survey has been collecting data on Iowa’s upland game populations since 1962, being conducted statewide by Iowa DNR staff between Aug. 1-15 each year. Those biologists drive 218 routes that are 30 miles in length, on gravel roads at dawn on mornings with heavy dew. As they do so, hen pheasants will move their broods to the edge of the gravel road to dry off before they begin feeding, making the popular upland game birds easier to count.
Biologists indicate that based on roadside counts, if pheasant hunters turn out like they have in recent seasons, Bogenschutz said hunters can expect to see a harvest somewhere around 400,000 roosters this year.
The Iowa youth pheasant season runs Oct. 21-22 this year, while the regular pheasant season will run Oct. 28-Jan. 10. “We haven’t had too many years since 2012 that areas were considered excellent, but there are some swaths of counties listed as excellent in northwest and north central Iowa – and over half of the state is considered fair to excellent,” said Bogenschutz.
State-Record Rockfish Hauled Up in Alaska
In late July, a state-record rockfish was hauled up from the Pacific Ocean deep in Alaska's Prince William Sound. Former fishing guide Keith Degraff was fishing with his fiancé and friends when the giant fish bit and was pulled up from a depth about 1,000 feet, according to the Alaska News Source website.
At first, Degraff wasn't sure that it was a rockfish he was pulling up. "When I hooked it, it was so big it made me think it was a halibut,” Degraff said to the news site. “I couldn’t get this fish’s head over the side of the boat — it was massive.”
As it turned out, it was the biggest rockfish ever caught in Alaskan fishing history, a 42-inch long specimen that reportedly weighed 42.4 pounds when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game put it on the scales. At that weight it breaks the previous record rockfish mark of 39.1 pounds set in 2013.
Record-Class Green Sunfish Caught in Mississippi
While bluegills and redear sunfish (aka shellcrackers) get a lot of attention on the fly rod these days, green sunfish often fly under the radar, even though the species is prolific in many spots.
That's not the case, however, for Mississippi State University student and Natchez, Miss., resident Mason Wells, who recently caught what could be a state-record green sunfish, according to The Natchez Democrat and other media reports.
It was reportedly caught on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2023, at a Mississippi pond as Wells fished with a fly rod. It’s unknown if the fish was a sunfish hybrid or if Wells submitted the green sunfish catch to Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks officials for record consideration. The current official Mississippi fly-rod record for the panfish species is a 0.43-pound fish caught by Ken McGill on April 11, 2006 as he fly-fished at Crawford's Lake near Madison, Miss., while a 1.26-pound fish pulled from Waltman’s Lake on May 21, 1986 by Craig Jones is the overall state record.
The current all-tackle world record green sunfish listed by the International Game Fish Association is a 2-pound, 2-ounce specimen caught by Paul Dilley at Missouri's Stockton Lake on June 18, 1971.
Game & Fish Short Casts
Montana Public Radio reports that two Whitefish, Mont., men killed a grizzly bear this past weekend in the Whitefish Range of the Flathead National Forest as they scouted for hunting season. According to an investigation by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the shooting—which was reportedly ruled self-defense and occurred with one of the men accidentally being shot in the shoulder as both men fired—came when the pair surprised a grizzly sow and her cub. The 25-year-old sow had apparently been previously tagged in 2009 for research and population monitoring purposes and had no previous history of human/bear conflict. … The Pittsburgh City Council has legislation before it right now that could allow for some limited hunting for white-tailed deer in city parks this fall as the Pennsylvania city looks to curb some of its deer population according to the Pittsburgh Tribune. … With dove season opening in Oklahoma this Friday, Sept. 1, the Sooner State will host its annual free hunting days this weekend from Sept. 2-3. On these two days, Oklahoma residents may participate in open hunting seasons without the requirement to have a state hunting license according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.