Georgia's Top Turkey WMAs

During the last three spring turkey seasons several wildlife management areas have yielded far more birds than the rest. Here's a look at these gobbler factories!

The restoration of wild turkeys across Georgia is a true success story, and hunters today enjoy the best turkey hunting in generations. The wild turkey has found nearly all of the Peach State to its liking, and hunting opportunity abounds on both private and public lands.

Some of the best public land turkey hunting is found on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' wildlife management areas around the state. Most WMAs offer good opportunity, but there are a few tracts that stand out as the best places to go to harvest a public land gobbler. Let's take a look at these five WMAs and what they have to offer turkey hunters this spring.

CEDAR CREEK

At the top of the list based on a harvest of 150 birds over the combined 2007-2009 seasons is Cedar Creek WMA near Monticello. This WMA offers great hunting opportunity according to Region IV Senior Wildlife Biologist Bobby Bond.

"Cedar Creek WMA offers good overall access for turkey hunting in the Piedmont of Georgia," he noted. "The WMA is very popular with hunters, especially the first three weeks of the season and on the weekends. Part of the reason the area is a good turkey producer is because of its large size, with 37,820 acres of woods to hunt."

The WMA is known as a producer, so it receives plenty of attention from hunters. Bond offers the following tips for success.

"I would not just rely on hunting weekends when it's very popular to hunt," Bond said. "I would plan to hunt throughout the season too, and not just the first three weeks."

Location is another factor.

"I wouldn't hunt where a vehicle is parked," Bond continued, "and it would be best if hunters did some scouting of the area before they went out and hunted it."

Cedar Creek is open to hunting on a sign-in basis. To reach the area, from Monticello take State Route 16 for 3/4 of a mile and fork right onto SR 212. Follow this road for 12 miles until you see the arrow for the WMA Check Station, which is a 1/2 mile down the access road.

OCMULGEE

Another top five producer is Ocmulgee WMA, also in Region IV.

"Ocmulgee is another very popular area in the Upper Coastal Plain of Georgia that has a variety of habitats including swamps, pine ridges, bottomland hardwoods, fallow areas, openings, and roadsides," Bond said. "Like Cedar Creek, this is a WMA that is very popular on weekends and early in the season, so many of the same hunting tips apply in terms of trying to schedule your hunts when most other hunters don't."

Ocmulgee WMA covers 22,343 acres and hunting is on a sign-in basis.

There are some other things to keep in mind here.

"There are a couple of safety zones and the Georgia Forestry Commission has a seed orchard on the WMA. These areas are off limits to hunting," Bond said. "Hunters can download maps that show these areas from the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division Web site."

To reach the area, from Cochran take U.S. Highway 23 north and turn left on Red Dog Farm Road. Travel four miles to Magnolia Road, turn right and follow the signs to the WMA Check Station.

DI-LANE

Second on the top five list of public turkey lands is Di-Lane WMA's 8,100 acres. During the combined 2007-2009 seasons, this tract produced a total of 115 birds.

I.B. Parnell is a senior wildlife biologist in Region III.

"Di-Lane is great for turkeys because of the diversity of the habitat," Parnell said. "Creek bottoms run through the middle of the area and along the southern boundary. The habitat was already good, and now it's excellent for turkeys since our quail management efforts also appear to be benefiting the turkey population quite well.

"You can find turkeys just about anywhere on the area," Parnell continued, "but the creek bottoms and wet drains seem to be the best hunting early in the season. Later on, as the hens start to disperse and go on the nest, gobblers can be found just about anywhere."

That doesn't mean the hunting is easy.

"Di-Lane is very, very open," Parnell cautioned, "so it's not a place to park the truck the closest spot you can to where you plan to hunt. If you do, that bird roosting in a tree may be able to watch you get out of your truck from 300 or 400 yards away. Of course, this is turkey hunting, so he may end up seeing you anyway, but no sense in making it easy for him."

On Di-Lane, the first two weeks of the season are quota hunts with 30 hunters per week. The quota of 30 is for the entire week, so some days may be busier that others. After the quota period, hunting is on a sign-in basis.

Parnell added that Di-Lane is a fairly popular area, so remember to be courteous.

"Just treat people the same way you would like to be treated," Parnell suggested. "If someone walks up on you by accident, they aren't trying to intentionally ruin your hunt."

Parnell also offered this tip.

"Yuchi and Tuckahoe WMAs are fairly close by, have plenty of birds, and don't get as much hunting pressure," the biologist said. "Tuckahoe is twice as big too, so there is plenty of room. Both of those WMAs would be a great choice if you want to try an alternative to Di-Lane."

To reach the area from Waynesboro take U.S. 25 south to 4th Street. Turn right on 4th Street/Herndon Road and travel nine miles until you see the signs for the WMA Check Station.

CHICKASAWHATCHEE

Another Top five turkey destination in recent years has been Chickasawhatchee WMA in Region V. The WMA offers plenty of hunting opportunity on its 19,700 acres.

"Of that nearly 20,000 acres, about 14,000 of it is swamp," cautioned Senior Wildlife Biologist Brandon Rutledge. "The reminder is planted pines and mixed pine/hardwood stands.

"The WMA has a very good turkey population since there is some really good

turkey habitat out there," Rutledge continued. "To improve the habitat, we try to do prescribed burns on 1/2 to 1/3 of the uplands each year, so that averages about 2,000 to 3,000 acres of burning a year."

According to Rutledge, the WMA is a favorite with hunters.

"We generally have a pretty high success rate," he confirmed, "particularly during the first quota hunt. In the spring of 2010, we had 59 turkeys harvested, including 58 gobblers and one jake. Out of the 357 hunters signed in, the success was 16.5 percent."

"We're in a regulation change cycle right now, so the regs could change before the season arrives, but will likely stay the same as they have been in previous years," Rutledge relayed.

"On Chickasawhatchee, the first two weeks of the season are made up of one-week quota hunts with 50 hunters per week. The remainder of the season hunting is on a sign-in basis."

Rutledge provided a few tips for visiting hunters.

"Most birds generally roost in hardwood areas, usually close to water," Rutledge pointed out, "and hunter success rate is usually higher during the early part of the season."

Based on those comments, a good game plan would be to apply for one of the early season quota hunts and then do your scouting to find some good roosting areas.

Rutledge also commented the Chickasawhatchee is not the only WMA with improved habitat.

"We are doing a lot of habitat work on Chickasawhatchee, but also other WMAs in our region," Rutledge said. "Other good WMAs to try would be Silver Lake, Hannahatchee, and River Creek. Hannahatchee is the closest and has open hunting on a sign-in basis.

"River Creek and Silver Lake are quota hunting, including quota adult-child turkey hunts. The adult-child hunts are very successful hunts and a great opportunity for an adult to take a child out hunting."

To reach Chickasawhatchee WMA, from Albany take Newton Road (SR 62/91 south for 15 miles and then follow the signs to the WMA Check Station.

DAWSON FOREST

The last stop on our Top Five turkey tour is Dawson Forest WMA in northeast Georgia's Region II. The WMA covers 25,000 acres in several tracts and according to Senior Wildlife Biologist Kevin Lowrey, the WMA offers a wide variety of habitat for hunters.

"Dawson Forest ranges from Piedmont-like rolling hills on the southern side on the City of Atlanta tract to more mountainous terrain on the northern side on the Burnt Mountain Tract," Lowrey said. "Two major drainages, the Etowah River and Amicalola Creek, cut through the area. There are plenty of open hardwood stands to hunt."

He went on the note that the WMA stays busy in the spring, especially the area on Amicalola Creek upstream of SR 53. However, the entire WMA offers good turkey hunting.

The tract also has good turkey habitat.

"Dawson Forest has a good mix of hardwood mast areas turkeys need in winter, along with open areas that are good nesting and brood-rearing habitat in the spring," Lowrey continued. "Basically, everything a turkey needs is there. If the weather cooperates, we can pull off a really good turkey hatch on Dawson Forest."

When it comes to hunting a popular multi-use WMA like Dawson Forest, Lowrey had some suggestions.

"On a WMA like Dawson Forest, the best thing is to have several backup plans," he emphasized. "You are going to run into people. It is very popular area and close to major population centers, so just expect to run into people.

"Don't be afraid to hunt midday or late in the day. The birds get the most pressure in the morning and sometimes seem to get call shy. Put together a plan that takes all of that into account, stick with it, and you should enjoy some success."

The future for Dawson County WMA continues to look bright.

"We are doing a lot of timber work on state-owned portion of the WMA," Lowrey described. "It should be great turkey habitat in general and especially brood habitat. The last few years have been rough all across the state for turkey reproduction, but the spring of 2010 was a really good hatch statewide, after 2007 and 2009 being some of our lowest years on record. So, things are looking up. The spring of 2011 will be too early to tell how all of this translates into mature gobblers in the woods, but 2012 should tell the story and I'm expecting great hunting on Dawson Forest in the next few years."

Dawson Forest WMA is open to turkey hunting on a sign-in basis. To reach the area, from Dawsonville take SR 53 west for six miles. Turn right onto the driveway at the WMA kiosk and the Check Station is at the top of the hill.

Put these tips from the biologists who manage the areas to work this year on one of these top five public land turkey WMAs. And you'll be in position to match wits against a boss gobbler who's king of the public-land turkey woods.

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