Into the wild

EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - From the hustle and bustle of Savannah, to the quickly developing area of Pooler, and the visitors that flock to Tybee and Hilton Head, the Coastal Empire boasts some very popular urban areas.

However, there are parts of the Southeast that are popular for a very different reason, and that's because there is no development for miles. Hunters come to parts of our rural counties in huge numbers.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is a group of people who are working to keep that land as healthy and as special as possible.

DNR Ranger Jordan Crawford starts his day a little earlier than most, but that's because the hunters he has to watch are already up.

"That is the good thing about this job. We never know what we are getting into," said Ranger Crawford.

"For a lot of us, it is more than a hobby; it is a passion. You put a lot of money into it, a lot of time, you spend a lot of time away from your family," said Ashley Kessler, hunter.

According to DNR, there are a little less than 500,000 people that hunt in this state. Some parts of Effingham, Bulloch, and Jenkins counties are a small piece of heaven for many.

"Just large amounts of undisturbed forest land. We have thousands and thousands of acres of hunting leases," said Crawford. "This resource is not an endless resource. It takes protecting and looking after."

That is why Crawford and other rangers do what they do.

"We are out here making sure people are following the rules while they are enjoying the sport, which we want them to," said Crawford.

Whether hunters are in the woods looking for deer, or coming off the water from duck hunting, Ranger Crawford checks them often.

"We will check their licenses at that point to make sure they have all the administrative things they need," said Crawford.

Things like boat registration, type of ammo, gun safety, life jackets, permission to hunt, and bag limits. These are all things these hunters better have up-to-date.

"I love the fact that they check, because there are those people out there that ruin it for other people. Without these guys doing their job, more of that will happen," said Dave Spencer, hunter.

"Most folks that we are interacting within the field, I think most of them are appreciative for what we are doing. I don't think we are a hindrance to a lot of folks," said Crawford.

It's the presence of rangers that prevent people from taking advantage of these lands - something that continues to be a battle.

"We have a lot of problems with poachers around here," said Josh Moody, hunter.

"Poaching - we see quite a bit of that, and people hunting illegally; people hunting deer at night and hunting without permission," said Crawford.

That's one of Crawford's main jobs, trying to catch those poachers, whether it's responding to complaints or riding around at night watching and listening on the ground or on the water. Also, making sure to come down hard on those folks when they are caught. Many of these violations are misdemeanors, but in some cases, they can be felonies.

"There is a lot of land, but the problem is people not managing it properly as far as killing little deer and things like that. There is a lot of good hunting land, but if people would manage it better, it would be great hunting land," said Moody.

Not only does poaching put the land in jeopardy, but also, in a sense, it puts some peoples' very livelihood in jeopardy. Hunting is a nearly billion-dollar industry a year in Georgia.

"Just about everyone I know is affected, whether they hunt or they have land that they lease to hunters. I mean, we deal with several hundred people every year," said Michael Zoller, Zoller's Deer Processing.

It is a way of life for many, and no better place to do it than right here in the Coastal Empire.

"People think hunters just go out to kill stuff. For me, if I go out 100 times and kill one duck, I am okay with that. It is about being outside," said Dave Spencer.

The Georgia DNR is a law enforcement division that has all the powers of other agencies. They often respond to crashes, shootings, and drug busts.

If you would like more information on getting legal to hunt, or more information about what the DNR does, click here.

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