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Budget fight kills traditional bow hunt on Blackbeard Island

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disappointed hundreds of traditional bow hunters Friday when it announced the partial government shutdown would cancel the nation’s oldest managed bow hunt in the National Wildlife Refuge system.

The hunt had been scheduled for October 17-20 on the Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, but FWS declared that a lapse in appropriations to fund the federal government would keep the island closed this year.

The first Blackbeard hunt was in 1947. Since then it has developed a mystique as a challenge of both hunting skills and physical stamina.  Hunters describe it as a Bataan-style slog through deep sand palmetto forest and suffering through jungle-like humidity while facing mosquitoes the size of robins, deadly rattlesnakes and cottonmouths and angry alligators.  There’s one legendary tale of a hunter who lashed himself high in a tree for a bug-filled night to escape one particularly aggressive 'gator.

The administration has been accused of “strangling puppies” to make the partial shutdown seem as horrible as possible.  Geoffrey Wilk of the Georgia Bowhunters and Archery Association sees the Blackbeard cancellation as another example.

“The cancellation of Black Beard Island hunt in my opinion is nothing more than that Obama administration attempting to show the American people how they can force a little discomfort in our lives because of the government slow down,” Wilk told Fox News.

The hunt is conducted twice yearly on the 5,600 acre refuge to cull the island’s deer population, estimated at around 500.  Hunters are allowed to take five deer of either sex.  They can also hunt feral hogs.

Only bow hunters can participate.  There hasn’t been a deer bagged by a firearm since 1946.

The Blackbeard hunt has become known as something of a right-of-passage. As one hunting blog put it, “When you became known as a Blackbeard bow hunter, in-the-know archers took notice. You were no longer a rookie. You were a pro.”   

Wilk says every hunter in Georgia “knows that this hunt is run by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources”.  He insists that despite the partial shutdown, it “could easily go on just like the one on the neighboring island of Sapelo.”

John Roberts joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in January 2011 as a senior national correspondent and is based in the Atlanta bureau.