2020 Youth Day draws close to 250 kids to learn about the outdoor lifestyle and enjoy family time, courtesy of the Currahee Chapter of Friends of the NRA.
The relationship of Americans and nature is changing. Adults and children alike spend evermore time indoors, participation in activities like hunting and fishing is stagnant or declining, and shifts in social expectations treat engagement with nature as a mere amenity. These trends pose a nationwide problem, since overwhelming evidence shows the physical, psychological, and social wellbeing of humans depends on contact with nature.”
Dr. Stephen R. Kellert Yale University, 2018
The second week of February brought snow and ice to Stephens and surrounding counties, and icy mornings were common in the days that followed, but Feb. 29 provided sunshine and comfortable temperatures for the 2020 Currahee Friends of the NRA Youth Day.
Held annually at the Wansley farm just over the Stephens County line in Franklin County, the free day-long event offers an opportunity for families to spend time outdoors, attend several educational programs, and get hands-on experience and training in several outdoor skills, including shooting and archery. Free hotdog and hamburger meals were also provided.
More than 450 area residence attended the event, including more than 200 registered youth and another 50 youth who attended without registering for the educational programs. Fishing in the Wansley pond, stocked with trout and catfish, was a popular attraction, as was the archery station and a demonstration of duck-hunting dogs. Three different shooting stations were set up, offering attendees the chance to try out BB guns, 22s, and skeet shooting with shotguns. All stations were staffed and monitored with DNR Law Enforcement Division certified firearms instructors, who worked with each child that visited the station, showing them how to fire the weapon, discussing safety, and giving each child a chance to experience shooting the weapon under in a safe, monitored, professionally-staffed surrounding.
As popular as the shooting stations were, perhaps the largest, and most enthusiastic, crowd gathered for the popular snake demonstration by “Snake Master” Steve Scruggs, who is the executive director for the Hardigree Wildlife Sanctuary and founder of Let’s Get Wild, an outdoor education program for elementary and middle school students.
Scruggs told ConnectLocal.News that the turnout this year was about on par with last year’s high turnout for the event, but said that he was even more impressed with the questions asked by many of the kids attending the snake demonstration. While the children posed good questions, and displayed their interest in the snakes, Scruggs said their questions also shows the ongoing need to educate the public on snakes and their benefits and dangers.
“Snakes are an animal we misunderstand, and the questions I had today verify that and that’s why we are here,” he said, stressing the importance of educating children about both venomous, dangerous snakes, and beneficial snakes. Being able to identify the different
species of snakes is important, he said, recommending “Snakes of Georgia and South Carolina” put out by the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.
The 30-page booklet provides detailed descriptions and photos of dozens of snake breeds as well as identification guides, distribution maps and snake tips and information. Funding for the publication was picked up by Scruggs after UG cut production of the book from their budget. The SREL provides an online, interactive version of the book, and welcomes emailed questions, including snake identification requests.
In Stephens County, a majority of the snake population is non-venomous and beneficial, especially in an agricultural community.
“Snakes like the black snake are non-venomous. Those are our mousetraps,” Scruggs said. “They eat rats and mice.” Killing black snakes in Georgia is illegal, punishable by a fine of $1,000, a year in jail, or both, he said.
The black king snake, which can be found locally, will also eat venomous snakes such as copperheads and rattlesnakes.
As for venomous snakes in Stephens County, Scruggs said copperheads and pygmy rattlers were the main species, but colonies of timber rattlesnakes were also possible.
“When you go outside, don’t put your hands where you cant see, and don’t step where you cant see, “he said.
While non-venomous snakes are a boon, especially on agriculturalal land where they keep rodents away from crops and out of barns and outbuildings, efforts can be undertaken to push venomous snake populations away from inhabited properties using 100 percent powdered sulfur.
He also explained that the sulfur can be used to drive venomous snakes that have already taken up residence in a building or area by starting with a small amount of 100 percent sulfur powder in the middle of the building or area, and slowly widening that circle in the coming days to drive the snakes back.
“If you buy anything called ‘snake-away’ or anything like that, I’m not against that, but its only 25 percent sulfur, and you want to get the 100 percent sulfur powder. It’s effective, it’s easy to use and it’s not expensive,” he added.
“I do want to say this; don’t make a child afraid of snakes,” Scruggs said. “Educate them, teach them respect, don’t make them afraid.”
Ace Hardware carries 100 percent sulfur powder, Scruggs said. Locally, Owens Farm Supply or Toccoa Hardware may carry – or be able to order – 100 percent sulfur powder. Tractor Supply offers a 90 percent sulfur powder product.
Stephens County Snakes
Copperheads are fairly large – 24 - 40 in, heavy-bodied snakes with large, triangular heads and elliptical pupils (cat eyes). The body is tan to brown with darker hourglass-shaped crossbands down the length of the body. The head is solid brown, and there are two tiny dots in the center of the top of the head. Juveniles resemble adults but have a bright yellow tail tip. Copperheads are the only species with hourglass-shaped crossbands (all other species have blotches that are circular, square, or are widest down the center of the back). In the mountains, copperheads are most common on dry rocky hillsides and sometimes den communally with timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) on open, south-facing hillsides. Copperheads can be found during the day or night, but forage primarily after dark during the hotter parts of the season. Copperhead venom is not very potent and deaths from copperhead bites are exceedingly rare. Most snake bites occur when someone tries to kill or harass a snake, so the best way to avoid a bite is to leave any snake you find alone.
This small -- 14–22 in (38-56 cm) -- rattlesnake belongs to the genus Sistrurus and is commonly referred to as a pigmy rattler or ground rattler. Unlike the larger rattlesnakes of the genus Crotalus, this species has nine large scales on top of the head and a tiny rattle that can seldom be heard. There are three subspecies of pigmy rattlesnakes, of which two occur in Georgia (Sistrurus miliarius miliarius – the Carolina pigmy rattler and Sistrurus miliarius barbouri – the dusky pigmy rattler). Both subspecies have a row of mid-dorsal spots and a bar than runs from the eye to the base of the mouth, but the color of this bar can vary from black to brownish red. An orange or reddish brown dorsal stripe is also present on both subspecies. In young snakes, the tip of the tail is sulfur yellow and is used for caudal luring. The Carolina pigmy rattler can be gray, tan, or lavender. Some specimens from northern Georgia and eastern North Carolina are orange or red. The pattern of this subspecies is usually clean and well defined, with one or two rows of lateral spots. The Carolina pigmy rattler is found in the northeastern, northwestern, and central portion of Georgia and throughout South Carolina. Pigmy rattlesnakes spend most of their time well-hidden among leaf litter and can be very hard to spot.
Timber rattlesnakes are large, heavy bodied snakes with the characteristic rattles on the end of the tail. Adults range from 30-60 in with the record being more than 6 feet long. Timber rattlers are typically more brown or yellowish and may even be black. They have solid black tails that appear almost velvet and black chevrons on the back and sides with the point of the (V) pointing forward.
courtesy: University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.