Hunting,  Lifestyle

North Carolina Fossil Hunting

By Tonya & Ron Locklear

There are so many free spirits roaming the earth today; it is utterly impossible to cage them all. That’s a fact I learned about myself during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. It all started during the restrictions set in place for the greater good of the people. I am a southern housewife, a homemaker to be more modern. My work is at home, and I don’t go to a 9-to-5 job every day. I purposely navigate into town some days to keep my sanity. During the restrictions, the one place I could always count on to assist me in my grand escape was Walmart. With nothing to lose during this time, my husband and I joined forces in a quest to fill the void caused by the restrictions during COVID-19. We spent a lot of time and money in Walmart on outdoor gear. We had become avid fishermen, hunters, and campers. We tried our hand at rockhounding a few times, hiking, and we even bought an ATV. We are always looking for our next thrill-filled adventure. When we thought we had tried it all, there was one thing missing from our long list of completed missions: shark tooth hunting.

I never really took an interest in shark teeth. My husband was the initiator. When he gets his mind set on something, nothing else in the free world matters. I definitely couldn’t beat him on this one, so there was no other option than to join him. We started doing research on public creeks and rivers we could dig or surface search. We contacted Game Wardens, Sheriff’s Departments, and several Departments of Natural Resources, all in an attempt to stay legal. Legality is very important to us, as trespassing is a tacky offense in the South. We found a few public sites and took to our newfound adventure.

Our first trip was to the Aurora Fossil Museum in Aurora, North Carolina. Driving through Aurora reminded me of the 90’s movie The Flintstones. As far as my eye could see, there was nothing but sand, dirt piles, and heavy machinery. I was instantly in love with the mine because I knew the treasures that lay beneath the dust just waiting to be exhumed. The only problem was, we had no idea what we were doing. We arrived at the museum and met a wonderful, very helpful, and informative guy named Charles. He told us everything we needed to know, sold us a T-shirt, a sifter, and sent us on our way. In front of the museum is a man-made concrete block pit. The excavators haul in dirt from the phosphate mine and dump it into the pit for enthusiasts to sift and dig through to find their prized possessions. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience there, but Aurora is three hours away. There had to be fossils closer to home.

Our next attempt would be Green’s Mill Run in Greenville, North Carolina, just two hours away from our home. We watched video after video on YouTube of hunters finding the most exquisite shark teeth and fossils in this creek. Still new and unsure of ourselves, we set out with our sifter and shovels in tow. We had been to Green’s Mill Run a total of three times before we realized luck was not on our side. We always came up short. We found many teeth, but the song “Baby Shark” rang loudly in our minds as we unearthed so many tiny teeth. It was becoming comical and a running joke between my husband and me every time we took this trip to the creek. Honestly, I believe we both felt defeated. We were putting in the work only to leave basically empty-handed. We never left with what we went for.

We have spent much of our free time fishing on our home turf, The Lumber River. We always heard there were sharks’ teeth and fossils in The Lumber River, but like many Robesonians, we were skeptics. Here we were, driving two and three hours away from our home because we were ignorant of the fact that our community, now known as Robeson County, was once underwater. I often try to imagine what the world looked like before we humans set up camp with all our steel and metal and concrete. How beautiful it must have been. Our inquiries of the Lumber River led us to a friend who told us an exact location to hit first. Still skeptical, with a smidgen of envy in our eyes, we set out on yet another excursion in search of the magnificent relics we were working so hard to acquire. As soon as we stepped out on the sandbar, sharks’ teeth were literally lying on the surface. Now that we knew what we were looking for, it didn’t seem like hard labor anymore. One after another, the motivation to accumulate more started to take over us. The quality of the teeth we were finding was astonishing. We had no idea at the time what species the teeth belonged to. We were just excited to be finding bigger and better teeth than we had previously found all that distance away from home. After a couple of digs and sifts in the Lumber River, we got curious and wanted to know everything there was to know about our craft. With more and more research, we discovered we had found Great White, Tiger, Sand Tiger, Sawfish, Mako, Cow, Hemipristis, and a few more species of sharks’ teeth right out of The Lumber River. We were most pleased with all our finds, but there was still one species we had our sights on: the cream of the crop, the mightiest of the mighty, the Grand Marshall of all the species, the Megalodon.

Model of megalodon shark jaws at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York

The Megalodon lived approximately 23 to 3.6 million years ago and, of course, is extinct today. They were one of the biggest, baddest, and strongest predators to ever exist in the great deep. We had become just two of the thousands of amateurs with a burning fire of desire to find one of these teeth. Unfortunately, we were discouraged as a few people told us, “You’ll never find a Megalodon tooth in the Lumber River.” With this news, we kept searching. We kept digging and sifting as usual. We put the desire for the Meg in our pocket for safekeeping. We now simply hunted out of pure pleasure. We found ourselves at the Lumber River every weekend. It is our way of winding down, relaxing. It is therapy. We have found many fossils, shards of pottery, and artifacts. The sheer joy of just being close to home and spending time together as a couple is worth everything to us. Just being surrounded by nature, and the sounds and sights of the river is enough for us. Wrapped in our blanket of euphoria, we never forgot that desire for the Meg, tucked away, patiently waiting for the right place and the right time. We reluctantly made the decision we would have to leave our beloved river to find the desire of our hearts, but something kept drawing us back to The Lumber. Every plan we made to hunt elsewhere always fell apart. One ordinary Friday evening, we packed up and went down to the river. We have been to this one spot so many times, I’ve lost count. We began to dig and sift as we ordinarily would. Digging, lifting, and sifting continuously is hard on the body. I was starting to tire, but no matter how tired we get, we keep going. 

That’s the addiction. You’re afraid if you stop, you’ll leave something wonderful behind, so I kept grinding. I’m not sure how many sifts I had made at this point. Gracefully moving my sifter back and forth to release the dirt and debris, I lifted it out of the dark waters of the Lumber River and there it was. I was so overwhelmed, I just sat the sifter back down in the water for a second. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had done exactly what some folks said I would never do. I had brought forth the fossilized black beauty, Megalodon Tooth. My husband was just as excited as I was. We always encourage each other and we congratulate each other no matter how big or how small. That was a day and a feeling I will not soon forget.

We have poured our heart and soul into this. My youngest son has become an enthusiast as well and has also found some really nice pieces. The quality time and passion we share through hunting as a family has rekindled a bond we forgot was supposed to be there. I encourage everyone to get out into nature. I believe with my whole heart a lot of our mental, physical, and spiritual issues could be solved if we as natural beings would just give nature a chance. I have learned through this journey that some of the most magical places are right here in my own backyard. We tend to venture outside of our communities looking for greener pastures, when all the while, uncovered treasure is sitting right beside us, just waiting to be discovered. But most importantly, I have learned that my Southern roots are a gift from God and there’s no place like home.

Picture of Tonya & Ron Locklear

Tonya & Ron Locklear

Tonya and Ron are natives of Robeson County. They currently live in Lumberton North Carolina and have been married for fifteen years. They have three adult sons. Gunar, Jordan and Tecomsah. They also have one granddaughter, Laila. Ron is a lead driver for a local sanitation company and Tonya is a homemaker. In their spare time they enjoy traveling, four-wheeling, hunting, rock hounding and camping but their first passion is fishing and fossil hunting close to their home on the Lumber River.