By Jodi Killen
Founded in 1988, the Devil’s Backbone Hunting Club consists of 4,700 contiguous acres in Meriwether and Talbot counties. Our property borders the west side of the Pigeon Creek Tract of Sprewell Bluff Wildlife Management Area. With abundant wildlife of all sorts and convenient recreational access to the Flint River and Sprewell Bluff, this club is a true sportsman’s paradise.
While managing this property, I’ve consulted with wildlife biologists from the public and private sector for advice, including how to improve habitat, food plot, deer herd and turkey management, as well as predator control and managing club recommendations. All of this was part of an effort to have one of the best hunting clubs in the state.
One person I worked with was Nathan Klaus, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. After several conversations, I think Nathan realized we were truly interested in conservation. And last November, he offered us the opportunity of a lifetime: He asked if our club would be interested partnering with the DNR in hosting a site for trapping a golden eagle. We had no hesitation in answering yes!
Nathan said the golden eagle project would start in January and he outlined what the DNR needed done. A site would have to be selected for baiting and capturing an eagle. Volunteers were needed, because this would entail a tremendous amount of work. The volunteers would seek out fresh road-killed deer within their local communities for baiting the eagles. Trail cams also needed to be staged and monitored around the bait site in the event the eagles showed up.
Early in January, Nathan, DNR Nongame Program Manager Jim Ozier and I picked a site they felt had the best potential. The site was in a small food plot fairly close to the Flint River and on top of a ridge. The site was baited and trail cameras staged around the bait pile on Jan. 10.
And would you believe it: Our first golden eagle showed up only two days after we started baiting the site!
This was unbelievable to us because we’ve never seen golden eagles in this area! I then tasked one of my volunteers, Jim Faulkner, to monitor and pattern the golden eagles for Nathan and Jim. Initially, Mr. Faulkner discovered that a single eagle was feeding every morning right after sunrise. After only a couple of days, he started to see the eagle feeding multiple times per day. And after approximately a week, we started seeing multiple eagles feeding several times per day!
We continued to supply the bait pile with fresh meat every few days until the eagle trappers were scheduled to arrive. They were scheduled to trap on Feb. 7-9.
Everything was going great, with multiple eagles feeding several times each day. Then, on the morning of Feb. 7, the day the trappers were scheduled to arrive, Jim Faulkner checked the trail cams one last time. He discovered there were no pictures or videos of the golden eagles for the past four days.
This was not good news! The trappers were already on the road to Georgia. I immediately called them, Nathan and Jim Ozier to tell them the terrible news. We were so close but yet so far. The trappers, Dr. Tricia Miller and her husband, Michael Lanzone, decided to travel to another state for a few days in an attempt to capture golden eagles at a trap site there. Mr. Faulkner continued to check the trail cams in hopes the eagles would show up again. As luck would have it, they did!
We advised Tricia and Michael on Feb. 14 that we had eagles again. They analyzed the photos and videos we sent and determined they would try to trap the eagles the next morning.
I met them at 5 a.m. to direct them to the site and help in some last-minute set-up. An hour later, I left them at the bait site, praying that all the hard work from so many people would pay off.
Jim Ozier, several of the volunteers, and I staged a few miles away, waiting in hope of some good news. At 7:14 a.m., Michael texted me: “Success, Come on up!” The Georgia eagle project 2015 was a success!
The culmination of so much work and involving so many people made that possible. I can’t thank my volunteers enough. I also give a special thank you to Post 34 of the Georgia State Patrol, in Manchester. They helped us find fresh deer carcasses for the bait piles. A special thanks, too, to Nathan Klaus for asking our club to partner with the DNR on such an incredible project!
Thanks also to Michael Lanzone and Dr. Tricia Miller for their enthusiastic and selfless efforts, which will help ensure that these majestic birds will be here for many future generations.
Jodi Killen, of Peachtree City, is president of Devil’s Backbone Hunting Club. Learn more about the golden eagle project.