• Noah Guerra pulled in “a nice smallmouth” bass and “a couple of largemouth” bass at the confluence of the Valley and Hiwassee rivers. Photo by BEN KATZ
    Noah Guerra pulled in “a nice smallmouth” bass and “a couple of largemouth” bass at the confluence of the Valley and Hiwassee rivers. Photo by BEN KATZ

CELEBRATE CHEROKEE COUNTY: 'Great outdoors' a local tradition

   52 Things to Celebrate About Cherokee County: No. 31 – Hunting & Fishing

    Unless you have experienced it, you cannot describe it.
    Whether it be snagging a large rainbow trout after wading through a creek for hours on end, or scouting and tracking signs of a big buck over the course of three months and finally seeing him come into your crosshairs on a bitterly cold morning, there is simply no way to fully appreciate the luster of hunting and fishing until you do it yourself.
    Fortunately, Cherokee County offers a cornucopia of ways to fulfill the heritage and generational gaps of hunting and fishing, a local tradition.

Where to go
    The Tusquitee Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest encompasses 158,900 acres of both Cherokee and neighboring Clay counties, making it the second-largest portion of the forest.
    Translated from the Cherokee language as “where the water dogs laughed,” the Tusquitee offers the largest samples of hunting and fishing. The Hiwassee and Valley rivers in Murphy are a prime spot for fishing and canoing, while Hiwassee and Appalachia lakes provide the same options, with the additional fun of water skiing.
    Lake and pond fishing also are available at the Cherokee Lake and Hanging Dog recreation areas. If stream fishing is your preference, Davis, Dockery, Hyatt, Junaluska and Shuler creeks are at your disposal.
    If landing a “big one” is more your style, Nelson Ridge, Tuni Gap, Beech Creek, Panther Top, Copper Creek and Davis Creek roads each have U.S. Forest Service land to hunt on.

Turkey hunting
    Each year, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission opens turkey season with a week-long youth-only segment. The 2018 season gave Chris Adams, vice president of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Smoky Mountain Chapter, the chance to make a lasting memory with his son.
    “From a very young age, I was introduced into hunting,” Adams said. “It became a part of life for me, and once I had a family I realized that hunting provides a meal for your family.
    “My son took his first turkey this year. After that experience with him, he was all excited, but I believe I was more excited than he was. I can’t explain the emotion that I felt when I was able to pass that along to him.”
    The National Wild Turkey Federation was founded in 1973 with the intent of increasing the wild turkey population of North America. The work of the federation has seen the numbers of turkeys jump from 1.5 million in 1973 to about 7 million. The federation has spent more than $47,000 improving habitats in the Nantahala National Forest over the last three years.
    The Smoky Mountain Chapter works heavily with Scott Hogsed Youth Conservation Day, which is held annually on Caddyshack Road in Brasstown. The day allows youth to learn proper safety and hunting techniques for when it’s their turn to tame the wildlife. The organization also awards a yearly $500 scholarship to local youth. For details, call 800-843-6983 or visit nwtf.org.
    The 2019 statewide turkey season lasts from April 6-12, with the adult season from April 13 to May 11. Only male or bearded turkeys can be targeted.

Deer hunting
    As Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club President Jeff Gustason explains, there is something bonding about getting up at 5 a.m. in November to sit in the freezing cold and await a trophy buck.
    “For those that don’t hunt, it’s probably hard to understand why someone would do that,” Gustason said. “Hunting in this area is more of a heritage and tradition. It’s something that a lot of young men might’ve done with their fathers and want to pass on.
    “For me, personally, it’s almost a spiritual experience. It’s a quiet time, where I can get off by myself, away from work and the rigors of everyday schedules, and enjoy nature around me and get a little closer to the Lord.”
    The club, based in Murphy, was founded in 2003. It helped to build and still maintains the Panther Top shooting range. According to its website, the club “promotes both safe shooting and fishing activities,” which lends heavily to its involvement with the Scott Hogsed Youth Day.
    The club also holds an annual Kids Fishing Derby at Konehete Park in Murphy and helps with the handicap fishing derby at Cherokee Lake, cleanup efforts at Lake Hiwassee and alongside the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition in Murphy. The club even got Shuler Creek back into a stocking schedule, something that had fallen to the wayside due to developments in the area.
    “We’re really viewed as more of a civic organization in the community,” Gustason said. “The bulk of my members have a desire to want to give back to the community.”
    Nearly 400 members are enrolled with the club, with ages ranging from 58-85. Enrollment is $30 a year. The Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club can be reached at 837-2240 or by visiting mountaincountryrodandgunclub.com.
    Youth deer hunting day is Saturday, Sept. 22, and open to any legal weapon. Other deer hunting dates for the 2018-19 season are as follows:
    * Archery: Sept. 8-30; Oct. 14 through Nov. 18; Dec. 9 through Jan. 1.
    * Black powder: Oct. 1-13.
    * Gun: Nov. 19 through Dec. 8.
    If hunting at daylight or dusk upsets your schedule, fret not, as coon hunting is an option.

Coon hunting
    Obviously shortened from “raccoon,” coon hunting involves high-powered flashlights, tracking systems, $1,000 dogs and a thrill that cannot be replicated.
    “If you start it when you’re a boy, it gets in you and never leaves,” said George Postell, president of the Mountain Coon Hunters Association. “There’s nothing sounds better to me than a good coon dog running a track, locates and starts treeing.”
    The Mountain Coon Hunters Association was founded in the early 1980s, with headquarters off Mission Road in Peachtree. The association has monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of every month at the clubhouse and has 100 members on the books, spread throughout the tri-state area. Lifetime memberships can be purchased for $50, or the fee is $5 if paid yearly.
    The association hosts several “fun days” throughout the year, where anyone can stop by with their hunting dog and participate in drag and swim races, plus a “treeing” contest. The next fun day is Saturday, Sept. 15.
    The act of “treeing” a coon comes when a dog tracks down the animal and chases it into a tree, at which point hunters can either shoot the coon or the animal comes out and the dogs take care of the rest. It all takes place in the beauty of the moonlight.
    The association is a proud member of the United Kennel Club, a nationwide organization that was founded in 1898 and hosts United Kennel Club hunts throughout the year. Two United Kennel Club-sanctioned events will take place in Peachtree on Saturdays, Oct. 13 and Oct. 27.
    For details on the Mountain Coon Hunters Association, call 321-4678.

Shooting
    Murphy, Andrews and Hiwassee Dam each have shooting teams affiliated with their respective middle and high schools. Andrews and Murphy took members to the state tournament in Ellerbe this year, with Murphy’s Johnathan Blevins taking home the individual All-Around state championship.
    The Panther Top Shooting Range is a place for people to go to both improve their aim and sharpen safety skills. The range offers both pistol and rifle stations, and is maintained by the Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club and U.S. Forest Service.
    “It’s a safe, fun activity,” said Steverson Moffat, environmental law compliance coordinator for the Forest Service. “Shooting pistols and rifles is something people can do at all ages, to test your patience and your skill.
    “You also get a lot of hunters that take a lot of pride in their marksmanship and having a well-sighted, well-maintained rifle that they know how to use, plus people that are interested in self-defense have a place to use their handgun. The range provides a safe, secure, sustainable location for people to practice their skills, enjoy their hobbies and enjoy the freedom the Second Amendment provides; you’re tying all that up in one package.”
    The range opened in 2005 and can be used by all ages. Those ages 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Fees are $3 a day (paid on-site), or an annual pass can be obtained for $25.
    For details on the Panther Top Shooting Range, call 837-5152.
    
Safety first
    The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission hosts yearly hunter education courses in each county of the state.
    Registration for a two-day course at Tri-County Community College in Peachtree, which will take place from 6-9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 27-28, is open and can be completed online at ncwildlife.org. Students must attend both days to receive their hunter education certificate.
    Alternatively, an online hunter education course can be completed at ncwildlife.org.

Fishing
    Away from using a gun, there is no better feeling than casting a line and reeling in a new addition to the wall mounts.
    Murphy resident Greg Charles is a fly-fishing enthusiast, although he admits to still keeping the basic rod and reel on standby.
    “I fish 12 months out of the year,” Charles said. “My favorite is trout fishing. It’s where you go to trout fish … those places are some of the most beautiful places on Earth.
    “I like the challenge. I make my own flies; I’ve never bought a fly. I’m always trying to tweak and watch before tying something to the end of the line. If you want to understand it, you have to get into it, at least at some basic level.”
    Delayed-harvest trout waters are the only exception to year-long fishing availability, as the waters this year are open through Sept. 30. What to catch, limits and details can be found at ncwildlife.org.

Buy your license
    If you are interested in taking up hunting or fishing, the steps to purchase a license are simple. In Cherokee County, there are five different locations to obtain your pass to wildlife:
    * Hanging Dog General Store (2345 Hanging Dog Road in Murphy, 837-3707).
    * The N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (1176 Andrews Road in Murphy, 837-2023).
    * Ennis Home Center (535 W. Main St. in Andrews, 321-4220).
   * Mason’s Sporting Goods (22939 U.S. 19 in Topton, 321-4107).
    * Walmart (2330 U.S. 19 in Murphy, 837-9184).
    An annual statewide hunting or fishing license for residents of North Carolina is only $20, while a combination of the two will cost $25. For out-of-state residents, the yearly rate for a hunting license is $80, while fishing costs $36.
    If you want to buy a lifetime license, state resident fees are $250 for either hunting or fishing, or $500 for a combo pack. Nonresidents can have the same pass at a cost of $1,200. Senior and disabled rates also are available.
    For details on obtaining a license, visit ncwildlife.org or call 1-888-248-6834 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.