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Hamilton's deer management group earns major honor

It's not often I go into depths on the hunting scene. However, when and where the environment is concerned, things get moved to the head of the class.

Recently things came a bit close to home when the Quality Deer Management Association was given the Career Achievement Award from the Southeast Deer Study Group.

Although the honor was awarded at the Southeast Deer Study Group's annual meeting in Oklahoma, the focus and cause originated in Colleton County in 1988 and is now an international organization.

The founder, Joe Hamilton, has lived and worked in the Lowcountry since the late 1970s. With nearly 50,000 members in 50 states and several foreign countries, as well as some provinces in Canada. QDMA members also own and manage more than 13 million acres in the United States.

This non-profit organization is a group with a mission. That mission is, as Hamilton tells it, "to ensure the future of white-tailed deer, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage."

"In a word," Hamilton said, "the organization is all about education."

By teaming with wildlife professionals and developing partnerships with various outdoor agencies, as well as enforcement officers, wildlife management teams, hunting groups and product manufacturers, the QDMA is rapidly becoming one of the most respected and influential white-tailed deer organizations in the United States. Not the least of which is its highly successful program of promoting safe and ethical hunting practices through field and classroom instruction, hunter involvement in education and management and respect for property and landowners.

The QDMA's stewardship toward the education of hunters and non-hunters shows a well-developed and understood respect and appreciation for all wildlife. Their dedication to ensuring a high-quality and sustainable future for white-tailed deer and the heritage of white-tailed deer hunting has increased awareness and responsibility to the environment, as well as a renewed dedication to the philosophy of responsible management.

And South Carolina is among QDMA's top five states in the southeast region for successful deer management.

Hamilton is a certified wildlife biologist and has a long and distinguished career in the field. A native of Elizabethtown, N.C., he joined the S.C. Department of Natural Resources in 1979 as a deer research biologist and became assistant regional wildlife biologist in 1985, a position he held until 1997.

Hamilton joined Ducks Unlimited in 1997 as manager of the group's Lowcountry Initiative in South Carolina. From February 2001 until joining QDMA full-time, Hamilton served as the ACE Basin and South Lowcountry project director for the Nature Conservancy's South Carolina chapter. In this role, Hamilton focused on land conservation through acquisition of critical natural areas and the protection of private property through perpetual conservation easements.

The Deer Committee of the Southeastern Section of the Wildlife Society honored Hamilton in 2000 with its Deer Management Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to deer management in the southeastern United States. He was the fifth of only seven all-time honorees.

One aspect of Hamilton's professionalism resulted in his leading a research project from 1979 to 1983 that ultimately developed the fetal-aging criteria and scale that deer managers throughout North America still use today.

Both Hamilton and QDMA have been recognized with Career Achievement Awards. While the award can go to individuals or associations, QDMA is the first group to receive the award since it was created in 1996.

"Realizing that all the previous awards have gone to individuals, it's a real testament to what QDMA has accomplished to be recognized by this professional society," Hamilton said. "I can think of no better endorsement than one from our professional peers."

COBIA REPORT

The following comes from Captain Tom Thomas:

"After watching the water temperatures for three weeks, I determined that the cobia would be in this last weekend, due to finding 68-degree water. On March 27, I told Lee Stokes that the cobia would be in early this year and that we would catch one in early April.

"This past Sunday we went to 68-degree water and I handed the freshly rigged rod to my son Taylor to catch the first cobia of the year. We saw five nice cobia, and two were 50- to 60-pounders. They were not hungry. So a guest and I started trying to catch one, too. I went to the back of the boat and the five cobia came up behind the engines.

"My jig was already in the water, and I brought it up from below them. That did the trick, and I hooked up with one just out of sight. She made a huge 120-yard run on the surface. She fought hard for her size. She had immature roe, which confirms the spawn is approaching in a few weeks.

"Catching cobia on a spinning rod is tons of fun. After Taylor gaffed my cobia, we tried for a good 30 minutes to catch a few more, but they were not interested.

"My wife wanted fresh cobia sashimi for her birthday dinner. It was awesome. Try cobia sashimi with wasabi and soy sauce; I like it better than blackfin tuna. I am lighting up the grill for fresh grilled cobia this week.

"I was on the Beaufort River for a dolphin and siteseeing tour Monday, and the water temperature again was 68 degrees. The cobia are here and will begin coming into the Broad River this week. I am sure they will ride the full-moon tides in on the 18th. This should be a good year for cobia on the river."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Tom also said he caught his first nice mahi of the year on March 27, and he hopes to catch his first big wahoo this week. Speaking of which, look out for the results of the seventh annual Hilton Head Harbor Wahoo Shootout soon.

Till then, good fishin' and keep the slack out.

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