WHITE LAKE, NC (WECT) – The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission will hold a series of meetings in January to discuss new rules and regulations for hunting and fishing in North Carolina - and they will include new rules about hunting bears.
Some may find it hard to believe, but there is no shortage of bears in North Carolina, but when a Bladen County man was on a bear hunting trip he came across something very unusual to this area.
A look around John Womble's home at White Lake shows his family likes to hunt. In his den are numerous reminders of successful deer and wild turkey hunts.
Womble is also a big bear hunter, having killed a 525 giant in Pender County four years ago.
But while bear hunting around Bay Tree Lakes earlier this month, Womble discovered the remains of a snowy owl.
"Yea, I was shocked, I mean, you know the odds of finding one dead are astronomical, plus one being here in the first place, I mean they are just not supposed to be here, so it was pretty high odds of finding one," said Womble.
Children are familiar to snowy owls, as Harry Potter's pet. The species is usually found above the Arctic Circle and sometimes ventures lower into the far northern states.
But this year, reports of sightings are coming from a number of states along the Eastern Seaboard, with North Carolina being the most southern.
Thanksgiving week, there were several sightings of the snowy owls on Hatteras Island. More recently they have been spotted in Wake County and also in western North Carolina.
"When I found it, I did a little research on it, and it appears they had a really high hatch last year, which was a large number of them being born," explained Womble. "This year, it appears the weather has been very bad and the lemmings population is down considerably, which is their main food source, so it is probably a combination of those moving out, looking for food, and the weather being bad."
But like other owls or birds of prey, it is illegal to capture or kill one of them. That's why Womble had to get special permission from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission just to gather the owl's remains, which he has been keeping in a freezer - but it won't be there very much longer.
"The NC State Museum has notified me that they are very excited about this fine, said it is probably one of the last one in a hundred years that they have collected in North Carolina, and they are going to mount it for the documentation of the fine," said Womble.
Womble says this could have been a once in a lifetime experience, but with the rate of sightings of Snowy Owls on the increase in North Carolina, and his love of hunting, chances are it is not the last one he will ever see.
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