‘Great outdoors’ a great local tradition

  • Panther Top Shooting Range, which opened in 2005, is maintained by the Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club and U.S. Forest Service. Photo by Noah Shatzer
    Panther Top Shooting Range, which opened in 2005, is maintained by the Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club and U.S. Forest Service. Photo by Noah Shatzer
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The Celebrate Cherokee County information guide is included in this week's edition.
  • This is the kind of story you can read in Celebrate Cherokee County magazine, which is included at no extra charge inside this edition.

    Whether it be snagging a large rainbow trout after wading through a creek for hours, or scouting and tracking signs of a big buck over the course of months and finally seeing him come into your crosshairs on a bitterly cold morning, Cherokee County is home to opportunities that allow hunters and anglers of all ages and experiences to connect with that feeling of exhilaration and 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.
    Translated from the Cherokee language as “where the water dogs laughed,” the Tusquitee offers the largest samples of hunting and fishing areas for the avid outdoorist. The Hiwassee and Valley rivers in Murphy are a prime spot for fishing and other water activities such as kayaking and canoeing, 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 with plenty of trout to test your angling skills on.
    If landing and tracking down a trophy deer 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.

    From chasing bass and striper along the shores of local lakes to wading through chilly streams while attempting to tempt in a trophy trout, Cherokee County has an array of fishing opportunities for any angler.
    The Hiwassee and Valley rivers offer opportunities for anglers to get out and fishing from kayaks or pitch in their lures from the shore, seeking bites from the variety of fish that call the area their home.
    Smaller streams, such as the Davis, Dockery, Hyatt, Junaluska and Shuler creeks offer trout fishermen plenty of water to search for honey holes and chase trout.
    Larger bodies of water, such as the Cherokee and Hiwassee lakes offer acres of water that anglers can fish on for species ranging from monster striped-bass that veteran fisherman seek, to smaller bluegills for the amateur anglers to hook.
    Delayed-harvest trout waters are the only exception to year-long fishing availability on the counties waters, as the delayed-harvest areas this year are open through Oct. 1. What to catch, limits and details can be found at ncwildlife.org.

    The mountainous terrain of Cherokee County also provides hunters with a variety of different hunting options and plenty of land to explore. For those looking to learn the art of the turkey call, the National Wild Turkey Federation, which has a local chapter, Smoky Mountain Chapter, is a great place to get started.
    The national federation, which was founded in 1973 with the intent of increasing the wild turkey population of North America, has seen the numbers 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 in Brasstown. The day allows youth to learn safety and hunting techniques for when it’s their turn in the wild. The organization also awards a yearly $500 scholarship to local youth. For details, call 800-843-6983 or visit nwtf.org.
    The 2021 statewide turkey season lasts from April 10 through May 11, with the youth-only weeks of the season running from April 3-9. Only male or bearded turkeys can be targeted.
    If stalking big bucks through the wood is more your cup of tea, the Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club may be the spot for you. 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 and cleanup efforts at Lake Hiwassee. The club even got Shuler Creek back into a stocking schedule, something that had fallen to the wayside due to developments in the area.
    Nearly 400 members are enrolled with the club, with ages ranging from 58-85. The Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club can be reached at 837-2240 or by visiting mountaincountryrodandgunclub.com.
    Youth deer hunting day is Saturday, Sept. 26, and open to any legal weapon. Other deer hunting dates for the 2020-21 season are:

  •     Archery: Sept. 12-27; Oct. 11 through Nov. 22; Dec. 13 through Jan. 1 (antlered deer only).
  •     Black powder: Sept. 28 though Oct. 10.
  •     Gun: Nov. 23 through Dec. 12.

    Shortened from “raccoon,” coon hunting involves high-powered flashlights, tracking systems, $1,000 dogs and a thrill that can’t be replicated.
    The Mountain Coon Hunters Association was founded in the early 1980s, with headquarters off Mission Road in Peachtree. The association has more than 100 members, spread across the tri-state area and 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 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.
    For details on the Mountain Coon Hunters Association, call 321-4678. Cherokee County is the perfect place to chase the thrill of the hunt.
    Panther Top Shooting Range is one of three ranges for people to go to both improve their aim and sharpen safety skills in the Nantahala National Forest, and the only one in Cherokee County. The range, which has pistol and rifle stations, is maintained by the Mountain Country Rod & Gun Club and U.S. Forest Service.
    The range opened in 2005 and can be used by all ages. Those 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Fees are $5 a day (paid on-site), or an annual pass can be obtained for $30. Purchase of the annual pass, which can be obtained at the Tusquitee Ranger District Office, allows shooters to use all three ranges in the Nantahala National Forest.
    The site is open year-round, but during daylight hours only.
    For details on the Panther Top Shooting Range, call 837-5152.
Buy your license
    If you are interested in taking up hunting or fishing, there are five local locations to obtain a 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 $25, while a combination of the two will cost $35. For out-of-state residents, the yearly rate for a hunting license is $100, while fishing costs $45.
    For details on obtaining a license, visit ncwildlife.org or call 1-888-248-6834.