Muzzleloading Hunts on Georgia’s Ossabaw and Cumberland Islands, Jan. 7, 2013
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In November and a month later in early December, I participated in two primitive weapons hunts on Georgia’s Ossabaw and Cumberland islands. These hunts are respectively managed by the Fish and Game Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service. The hunts are similar in habitat, methods and game sought, but differ in administrative details because of the different management agencies. In both, residents and non-residents may apply, water transportation is needed to get to the islands, they are three-day hunts, one camps on the islands, showers are provided, indoor toilets are available and walk-in coolers are furnished to keep the game. I have two sets of photos on these hunts on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/hoveysmith/ .
These hunts are also similar in that their purpose is to help keep the islands’ populations of deer, and particularly wild hogs, in check. Hogs are difficult to control because they breed rapidly, and both islands have designated hunters who shoot hogs year-around to help protect the habitat and also the nests of endangered sea turtles. Deer hunter success rates on Ossabaw were often 100 percent or more in previous decades, but dropped once hunters could also take hogs because of the additional time needed to transport and process them. On both islands, an unlimited number of hogs may be taken.
On Ossabaw the hunters are transported to their pre-selected hunting areas on a “cotton wagon” before dawn. These areas may vary from about 20 acres to over 200 acres in size. Most areas are assigned to individual hunters, although some are so large that multiple hunters are permitted. There is also a walk-in area near camp which is open to any hunter. In late morning, there is a pick up, and hunters with game go back to camp with their animals. They return in early afternoon and hunt until full dark.
After some misadventures with blunderbuss, I took a CVA Optima .50 caliber pistol and spine shot a 60-pound doe (average size for a 1 1/2-year-old doe on the island) knocked it down and then made a save when it got up with five shots from a .44-caliber Traditions Sheriff’s model 5 1/2-inch revolver made by Pietta. Three of the five shots struck the moving deer at ranges of out to about 50 yards. The fatal shot penetrated both lungs, and the bullet was recovered from under the skin after passing through the off-side shoulder. The revolver was loaded with 30 grains of FFFg black powder, an over powder felt wad, ball and a wax wad over the ball. I had intended to use this gun for point-blank shots to finish game, but having this revolver kept me from possibly losing this deer in the heavy cover, as spine shots leave very poor blood trails. The load used in the Optima was two Hodgdon White Hot pellets and a 295 gr. PowerBelt bullet. This load would have had a better effect, if I had made a better shot. I was using a red-dot sight on this gun, and now believe that a pistol scope would have allowed better shot placement. A link to a YouTube video of this hunt follows: http://youtu.be/O7pyDBUkhK8 .
On Cumberland hunters walk out to designated hunting areas which are large enough that they share them with others. The average hunter walks about two miles to his area and leaves camp about 4:00 AM in order to make it to his stand location before daylight. If he is fortunate enough to score on an animal early, he drags it to one of the principal roads and uses his smart phone to text the Ranger for a pick up. He must accompany his animal back to camp. If his phone does not have texting ability, like mine, he drags his animal/s back to camp. In an administrative change to previous practice, he may now use one of the camp’s wheeled game carriers or carts to get his game back to camp.
The first morning of the hunt I shot two hogs which had a combined dressed weight of 150 pounds. I had the foresight to use a Cabela’s game carrier to take my stand in that morning and bring my game out. These hogs were taken with single shots from a .44-caliber Cabela’s stainless steel Buffalo Revolver with a matt black nitride finish applied by H&M Metal Processing of Akron, Ohio. The load used in this gun was 40 grains of Hodgdon’s TripleSeven powder, a felt over-powder wad, round ball and an over-ball wax wad. Shooting precision is considerably enhanced by this gun’s adjustable sights and 12-inch barrel. I have two videos of this hunt. The shorter version provides the hunt-load information and the longer one more about the trip in, cultural features, etc. A link to the shorter video follows: http://youtu.be/tG17grGxmyI .
Each year there is a designated archery hunt (bows and crossbows), primitive weapon hunt (bows, crossbows and muzzleloaders), gun hunt (cartridge firearms, muzzleloaders, bows and crossbows), parent-child hunt and late season hog-only hunts. On Cumberland Island, cartridge pistols may also be used on their primitive weapon hunts.
It is bad when you are an old guy, have one ball and lose it. It is worse if you also have a loose screw. It is terrible if you are a young blunderbuss trying to make its first kill on big game and both maladies befall you. On Ossabaw, blunderbuss had its .54-caliber ball fall from the barrel and a deer at 20 yards was shot at with only a cardboard wad. Although the bare-ball load shot 2-inch groups on the range at that distance, it does take a projectile to kill deer. This situation was corrected by making up a load of 80 grains of Hodgdon’s TripleSeven, a card wad, 25 grains of Cream of Wheat, over-filler wad, bare ball, and now an over-ball wad. On Cumberland I had a 200 pound hog below the stand at about 15-yards. I shot at it and the ball did not touch the animal. In this case the barrel-retaining screw had fallen from the gun on the trip in and the free-moving barrel discharged its ball in an unknown direction. Now, with a ball-retaining wad and the barrel secured to the stock with several wraps of electrical tape, I continue my quest to take a deer or hog with the blunderbuss, now known as Wonderbuss, as it is apparently a wonder if it kills something.
On the cooking segment of the show I discuss cooking wild-hog meat over oak coals in the hunt camp and making up stews, soups and chilies which are taken frozen to the camp, ready to quickly thaw and feed hungry hunters. This section is sponsored by SIN, Inc. (Synthetic Industrial Non-nutritives, Inc.) who makes eatable products from the best of coal tar, petroleum and agricultural waste by-products. In this episode SIN announces its new glow-in-the-dark popcorn and synthetic hogs with the experiencing-enhancing packets of hog hair and wood dirt to add the feeling of having an outdoor experience to the meal.
Applications for Georgia’s quota hunts may be made by going to www.gohuntgeorgia.com. These hunts include not only hunts on Ossabaw Island but also over 100 wildlife management areas, special waterfowl hunts and alligator hunting. There are also hunts for the handicapped, seniors and lady hunters. Licenses, which include a three-day big game non-resident license for $90 and a WMA license for $73.00 would be required. All hunters older than 16-years old must also show that they have completed a Hunter Safety course in their home state, or elsewhere.
Hunters younger than 16 may participate on these hunts, but must be accompanied by an adult and hunt within arm’s reach. They need not have passed their hunter safety requirement. Georgia offers a 3-day Apprentice Hunting License for $3.50 for residents and $20 for non-residents to encourage young hunters to participate. Young hunters may use cartridge rifles during primitive weapon hunts. One gun that is commonly seen is the Youth Model H&R single-shot in .243 Winchester, which has a short stock, comparatively little recoil, is easy to load and can mount a scope. Cumberland Island hunts are applied for by going to www.pay.gov and using the site’s search function to find the Cumberland Island Hunt Application. Dates may be reserved starting June 1 with the payment of a $35.00 fee. In addition, the ferry trip from St. Marys will cost an additional $30, paid at the time of the trip. A Georgia hunting license will be needed, but no WMA license is required.