Photo by Mike Marsh.
Many of North Carolina’s public game lands have a reputation for being crowded, especially at the prime times for deer hunting during the opening dates of the season, at holidays, Saturdays and during the peak of the rut.
However, there’s a way to beat the crowd even on those high-use days. It wasn’t the school system that received the benefits of the state’s first lottery. It was North Carolina’s hunters. These savvy outdoorsmen have found out that opening the doorway to great deer hunting is as easy as learning the ins and outs of the state’s special permit hunts for selected game lands.
There are several reasons for the Wildlife Commission to go to the trouble of providing these limited access hunts, which extend not only to deer but also to other species, such as waterfowl, bears, small game, feral pig, doves and turkeys.
Some of the commission’s game lands, such as the Tar River and Brunswick County game lands, are relatively small and located near high population centers, so permit hunts for these lands help to relieve overcrowding.
Others, like the Roanoke River Wetlands, are pristine environments and permit hunts enhance the solitude for hunters who want to have a wilderness-like experience.
Yet, other game lands host the permit hunts at the request of the landowners who lease them to the commission. Permit hunts are also held to relieve the impacts too many hunters may have on sensitive public lands or on adjacent landowners’ properties.
Finally, many game lands also offer special youth hunts and disabled sportsman hunts under the lottery permit system.
The application procedures are just one more level of regulation and therefore too much bother for easy-going hunters. But navigating through procedures and taking the time is worth the trouble for those seeking quality hunting, with the opportunities to see more deer and more trophy bucks under less stressed conditions.
The best thing to remember if someone is not familiar with the procedures is to go to a local sporting goods store where hunting licenses are sold. While there are certainly exceptions, the average discount store counter person is not usually as familiar with the regulations and procedures for permit hunts as someone in a sporting goods store who is likely a hunter, and having an expert to help will help streamline the process. However, once a hunter becomes familiar with the process, he can easily do it on his own by telephone or at least do a better job of assisting a discount store worker and therefore simplify the application process.
Besides applying for special hunt opportunities through a license agent, residents may also apply by using the telephone. Non-residents may apply at a license agent, by telephone or by U.S. mail.
First, the hunter should obtain a Special Hunt Opportunities booklet by writing the NCWRC, 1722 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1722, or calling the N.C. Division of Wildlife Management at (919) 707-0050. The booklet also has an online version at the commission’s Web site, www.ncwildlife.org. The special hunts are listed by region, and then sub-listed for each region under the type of hunt. For deer hunts, archery, muzzleloader, firearms, youth, disabled and either-sex hunts are listed by category.
Each hunt has a unique item number, which in the case of draw hunts includes the specific hunt dates. Some hunts are for general entry, requiring only a $5 application fee for hunting deer any day the game land is open. Other hunts have specific dates of access, but the application fee is the same
The hunter should write down the item number for the hunt selected and for as many backup choices for hunt dates as that particular hunt allows. He may apply only once for each item number, but each number represents a different set of hunt dates.
Then the hunter should take the booklet and item number to a license agent or call (888) 248-6834 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. with the number and booklet in hand. Also, he should be prepared to give the agent his date of birth, WRC Customer ID number or North Carolina driver’s license number, and telephone number.
Party hunts are allowed for most special hunts, with varying numbers in the party allowed. For deer hunts, the maximum party size is five hunters. The party is established by the first person to apply for the hunt. All that is necessary is for the hunter to give the application number to other hunters and they can join the party at that time or at a later time by using the same Party ID Number.
A hunter making a special hunt application will be asked if he wants to “join an existing party.” If he does, he must give the Party ID Number. The odds of being drawn for a party hunt are no different from being drawn as an individual. While fewer than the maximum number of hunters can join a party, more than the maximum cannot apply within the same party: Anytime too many applications for a party hunt are received, all the applications are disqualified.
Those who are selected will be notified before their hunt dates, while those who are unsuccessful will not be notified. A new feature of the commission’s Web site is that hunters can go online to see if they have been drawn for a permit hunt. This eliminates the waiting and wondering if their notification has been lost or delayed in the U.S. mail, perhaps even tossed away inadvertently with junk mail. In addition, the entire special hunts opportunity can be viewed on the Web site, along with a special section showing the species available at each game land. This makes it especially easy for deer hunters to find special hunts for their chosen game in the regions they want to hunt.
Here’s the rundown on commission permit hunts by region.
Brunswick County Game Land covers 1,139 acres of upland and swamp along Town Creek near Southport. Vehicle access is restricted. To minimize disturbance, hunters are asked to scout only once before their hunt. Hip boots may be necessary and much of the game land is accessible by boat. Most of the cover is very thick, with young mixed pine and hardwood forests.
Rhodes Pond is a 455-acre cypress-studded millpond with some adjoining uplands locat
ed in Cumberland County. There is a small amount of hardwood forest and farm fields adjoining the property. It is near Dunn and accessed by U.S. 301. The best access is by small boat, with a canoe an excellent choice.
Suggs Millpond in Bladen County includes 7,970 acres of upland pine ridges and heavy pocosin surrounding Horseshoe Lake. There is good access on the sandy roads. Hound hunts are common at this game land, but tree stands are also popular.
Eubanks Farms has 1,753 acres of restored wetlands located in Jones County. It is a working farm with many acres of agricultural crops.
Roanoke River Refuge and Roanoke River Wetlands game lands include several tracts totaling 31,100 acres owned by the National Wildlife Refuge System and the Wildlife Commission, with all permit hunts administered by the commission. These tracts are located in Bertie, Halifax, Northampton and Martin counties. Game lands are located along the Roanoke River near Scotland Neck, Hamilton, Williamston and Plymouth. Habitat is bottomland hardwoods, cypress-tupelo swamps and some uplands with agricultural fields.
A stable boat is required for access to many of the tracts. Some of the areas are flooded intermittently, so familiarity with local conditions is necessary. Sometimes, especially following hurricane strikes, much of the properties become inaccessible.
Primitive camping is allowed within 100 yards of the Roanoke River or at specially designated areas on some of the more inland tracts. Hunters are asked to limit scouting to one day before their hunt dates to minimize disturbance. Hip boots, GPS, map and compass are recommended.
Askew is a 1,300-acre NWR tract with road access from U.S. 17 north of Williamston near Conine Creek.
Beach House is a 600-acre WRC tract located across the river from the Broadneck tract north of Hamilton. Access is by water only.
Boone is a 600-acre WRC tract south of Rich Square east of U.S. 258 in Northampton County. Public assess is by boat with launching at the U.S. 258 ramp.
Broadneck is a 5,900-acre NWR tract located near the Hamilton boat ramp and is accessible only by boat. Hunters may not use the Tow Swamp unit for access. The bottomland hardwood tract is a series of ridges and swamps paralleling the Roanoke River. It has high ground for camping only when the river is not at flood.
Company Swamp is a 2,100-acre NWR tract with wooded swamps and some high ground on the north end, along with a high berm along the river. It is accessed by boat only, from the Williamston ramp. It begins at the confluence of the Roanoke River and Coniott Creek and extends 5.6 miles upstream.
Conine Island is a 3,700-acre NWR tract situated along both sides of U.S. 17 north of the river, consisting of a large swamp with many beaver ponds. The island is formed by Conine Creek and the river and can be accessed where U.S. 17 crosses it or by boat. Two parking areas are located along U.S. 17 and are accessed from the northbound lane. There is a disabled access trail beginning at one of the parking areas.
Conoho Farms is a 3,400-acre WRC tract with farm fields, impoundments and wooded swamps. It is accessible by road and some roads have disabled access.
Deveraux is a 5,300-acre tract between Conoho Creek and the Roanoke River along with several smaller separate tracts north of Conoho Creek. The main tract is accessible only by boat and extends upriver along Conoho Creek for 9.4 miles. The two smaller tracts have road access from S.R. 1417 and there are camping and parking areas.
Great and Goodman Islands tract totals 4,500 acres, and Hampton Swamp tract has 1,300 acres. These NWR tracts are located near the mouth of the Roanoke River and are low-elevation, wet bottomland swamps with access by boat from the N.C. 45 ramp north of Plymouth.
Urquhart is a 1,200-acre tract west of Lewiston-Woodville with boating access only. It is 14.1 miles upriver from the U.S. 258 boat ramp and 19.7 miles north of the Hamilton access area. The tract is a bit higher than most of the other tracts, with 4.3 miles of river frontage.
Town Swamp is a 2,250-acre NWR tract with vehicle access only. Access is not allowed through the Broadneck tract. The tract has low ridges and swamps parallel to the river.
The Roanoke River permit hunts have special rules beyond WRC rules because they are part of the NWR system. A few of these rules include: All hunters less than age 16 must have passed a hunter safety course and be supervised by a licensed hunter at least age 21; no motorized equipment other than boats are allowed; portable stands must be removed after each hunt; no metal objects, including screw-in steps, may be placed in any tree; dogs and organized man drives are not allowed for deer hunting; camping is only allowed the day before and during the permit hunt dates; alcohol is prohibited. More details of these special regulations are included in the Special Hunt Opportunities booklet.
J. Morgan Futch is a 600-acre game land in Tyrrell County consisting of waterfowl impoundments and dikes, with low-growing pocosin vegetation. Walking access is good throughout the game land.
Tar River Game Land is 134 acres of hardwood swamp bordering the Tar River in Edgecombe County near Princeville. Access is by boat along the Tar River.
Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge at 668 acres and McDowell Nature Preserve at 1,002 acres are located in Mecklenburg County adjacent to Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie. These refuge lands are owned by the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department.
Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge is north of Charlotte and west of Huntersville, along Beatties Ford Road and Neck Road. McDowell Nature Preserve is south of Charlotte on York Road. Mountain Island State Forest is 1,050 acres in Gaston and Lincoln counties. The area has permit hunts, with especially good opportunities for youth hunts. Youth hunters must be between the ages of 12 and 15. Orientation is required with the orientation event taking an entire day.
Special rules apply to these refuge hunts: Hunters must be age 16 or older except for youth hunts; a safety orientation the Sunday before the hunt is mandatory; only shotguns with slugs are allowed during shotgun special hunts; only portable tree stands are allowed; scouting at Cowan’s Ford is restricted to the Sunday orientation day; DMAP tags are used so antlerless deer harvested do not count in the regular season bag limit; only one buck is allowed; and finally, hunters must check in and check out and register all deer killed. Facilities are closed to other uses during the hunts.
Caswell Game Land encompasses 16,704 acres in Caswell County. Traditionally a three-day-per-week game land, with hunting restricted to Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, the special hunt opportunities allow hunters who come from long distances to hunt the other days of the week. It is among the most
popular deer-hunting public lands in the state.
Sandhills Game Land has 59,498 acres in 32 tracts in Hoke, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties. It has plenty of longleaf pine forest. The area is bounded on the northeast by Aberdeen and on the southwest by Hamlet and Rockingham. There are mixed pine and hardwood stands, along with 9,000 acres of evergreen shrubs in the drainages. Food plots are planted and 2,000 acres are kept in early plant succession stages for food and cover. The area has some nice trophy deer, and vehicular access is excellent. All gun either-sex deer hunting is by permit only and hound hunting is popular on the game land.
Dupont State Forest is located in Henderson and Transylvania counties, with 10,256 acres of mountain terrain near Brevard and Hendersonville. Approximately 700 acres are intensively managed white pine plantations. Prescribed burns are used to promote wildlife, including deer.
Access is from several state roads along the border or through the property. There are several safety zones on the property. There are also several disabled access roads and there are special disabled sportsman hunts available. Hunters may obtain maps by calling the Dupont State Forest Office at (828) 877-6527. Other outdoor recreational land users use this game land, including horseback riders, bikers and hikers. Hunters are therefore asked to avoid high-use areas for these activities, such as trails and roads.
Belews Creek is an 800-acre game land located in Stokes County. It has upland pine and hardwoods and forms a peninsula extending into Belews Creek Lake. Restricted access is provided through the Belews Creek Steam Station for the orientation day and a hunt day one week later. No other hunting is allowed at Belews Creek. Warrior Creek Recreational Area is an 850-acre tract west of Wilkesboro in Wilkes County at W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir. It has hardwoods, pines and open habitats and good road access and an orientation day and hunt day that are the only days the tract is open for deer hunting. The orientation is an all-day event.
That’s a fairly long list of public land with draw-hunt opportunities, but that’s partly a reflection of the fact that there’s likely a draw hunt near you. If you’ve been ignoring them, you might want to check out the possibilities. For many hunters, they provide extra days in the field without many of the traditional drawbacks of public-land hunting.
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