Georgia has a generous amount of whitetail deer for hunters to pursue. With a statewide population of nearly one million animals, there are plenty of deer to go around for the 304,327 hunters. Your chances of bagging a deer depend largely on where you hunt and how often you go.
"Overall the deer herd is declining," said Georgia Wildlife Resources Division Biologist Charlie Killmaster. "We have liberalized the bag limits and the reduction is by design. We are now getting the herd down to a reasonable level, which ideally is about one million animals.
"But we're seeing consistent harvest rates. It's just that the recruitment rates have dropped," Killmaster said.
Recruitment in biological terms is the crop of new fawns each year. The state is not certain what is causing it, but they suspect predatation, mainly by coyotes. There is an ongoing study about coyotes and deer and the conclusions could be revealing.
"I'm confident that the deer population is down with the exception of urban areas," observed WRD Biologist Don McGowan. "The deer population has been steady for the last couple of years, but down from about 15 years ago."
We now have a slightly lower overall deer population, and that means more trophy bucks, but less deer sightings and total harvest too. There are hunters who are happy with the real possibility of seeing and tagging a true trophy, while there are also sportsmen who are dissatisfied that they are not seeing as many deer.
So what do the numbers say about 2011 Georgia deer hunting? For the most recent season that statistics are available, in 2009 a total of 304,327 hunters harvested 398,629 deer, which translates to 1.31 deer per hunter. Of the total kill, 313,579 were antler less, which is 79 percent of the harvest. That breaks down to 210,319 adult does, 48,186 female fawns and 55,074 male fawns or button bucks.
Not all hunters were successful, since 53 percent of Georgia hunters harvested at least one deer, while 47 percent got none. That further breaks down to 20 percent taking one deer, 14 percent taking two deer, and 8 percent getting three whitetails.
There were 85,051 antlered bucks bagged last season, which was 21 percent of the total harvest. So count yourself fortunate if you took a buck with antlers, because by far the majority of deer shot did not sport a rack. According to the statistics, 65 percent of hunters did not bag an antlered buck, while 25 percent got one and 9 percent got two antlered bucks.
Not surprisingly, 93 percent of Georgians hunted with a modern firearm at least once during the deer season. Of all Georgia deer harvested last season, 331,173 or 83 percent were taken by bullet. Archery hunters totaled 107,792 and arrowed 54,974 deer for 14 percent of the harvest. Does are most often targeted, totaling 41,334 or 75 percent of all bow kills. Muzzleloader hunters brought up the rear with 51,918 smokepolers shooting 12,460 deer, which was 3 percent of the total harvest.
Whether you were successful or not in bagging a deer in Georgia depends on where you hunt, how much you hunt, your level of skill and luck. Where you hunt is a major factor in the amount of deer you see, the quality of the animals, and your success rate. Some regions produce higher numbers of deer, while certain areas grow larger bucks. Let's take a look at the Georgia deer herd and which areas are better, why they're better, and how you can target the hunting property that suits you best.
Most sportsmen hunt around their homes or wherever they can find access. But if you can find better land or travel to another area, the following breakdown may help you find the type of area that you would like to hunt based on what you're after.
The Peach State has a wide variety of terrain from the mountains to the coast, and there is disparity of deer densities among those habitats. From the steep wooded Appalachian Mountains in the north, the rolling hills of the piedmont, the flat agricultural fields of the upper coastal plain and the sandy soils of the lower coastal plain, Georgia has quite a variance in habitats. Not all habitats are created equal and not only are they visibly different, so is their ability to produce and grow healthy whitetails.
There are five major geophysical regions in the state that we will examine. Each one has unique characteristics and habitat and consequently a varied ability to grow deer. We'll look at the Ridge and Valley area in the northwest, the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northeast, the Piedmont in the central section of the state, the Upper and Lower Coastal Plains of South Georgia.
RIDGE AND VALLEY
Northwest Georgia is known for its long steep parallel ridges and deep valleys between them. This region contains the cities of Rome, Summerville, and Cedartown. This region has an estimated 21 deer per forested square mile of land. Last season there were 29,980 whitetails harvested. Of those, 24,620 were antlerless or 82 percent of the deer killed did not have racks. Antlered bucks harvested totaled 5,360, which was down 18 percent from the year before. With the doe kill being up 7 percent, overall there was a slight increase of 1.56 percent in total harvest from the previous season.
A deer hunter in the Ridge and Valley area wanting to bag some venison on public land should head to Berry College Wildlife Management Area near Rome. The 15,585-acre property holds two archery hunts and three firearms hunts. The overall success rate was an impressive 40 percent. Bowhunters on the first archery hunt from early September to early November had an outstanding 71 percent success rate or 253 deer arrowed by 358 archers. The first firearms hunt saw a 42 percent success rate.
For the best chance to bag a deer on public land in the northwest, Berry College is the place to go. However, Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA is another option, though it had a modest 14 percent success rate
BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS
Across north central and northeast Georgia stretch the Blue Ridge Mountains, taking in the cities of Clayton, Dahlonega, and Hiawassee. They're part of the Appalachian Mountains, with very steep terrain and heavily wooded peaks and valleys. Those hills contain an estimated 16 deer per forested square miles. The main food source in the mountains is acorns. The population and health of the herd rises and falls on the yearly production of acorns.
Prior to last season, there was an estimated 19,353 deer in this mountain region and hunters bagged 6,458 of them. Antlered bucks comprised 1,898 of the total, which was a 2.89 percent increase. However, the antlerless harvest of 4,561 was a 51 percent increase over the previous season.
"There was an up tick in the Blue Ridge Mountains last year due to the mast crop," observed Biologist Killmaster.
With poor soils, little agriculture, and a heavy dependence on a fickle mast crop, the mountains typically do not produce large deer or large numbers of deer. But there still can be some good hunting for the sportsman that works at it and finds the right habitat. There is a good deal of public land available to deer hunters, including the Chattahoochee National Forest and nine large WMAs.
The mountain WMA that had the best success rate last season was Coopers Creek near Blairsville. The 30,000-acre WMA had an overall success rate of 10.4 percent on its four hunts. The most productive hunt was the early archery hunt where 152 bowhunters bagged 42 deer for a success rate of 28 percent. The four-day either-sex muzzleloader hunt in mid-November yielded a success rate of 10.5 percent, when 448 hunters brought 47 deer to the check station.
No other mountain WMA had success of more than 10 percent.
The central Georgia Piedmont portion of the state is the most popular, heavily hunted, and has the highest deer population and harvest. From Columbus to Macon to Augusta, the Piedmont consists of rolling hills and is largely made up of re-forested farmlands and planted pine plantations.
The forested acres in the Piedmont have an estimated 27 deer per square mile on them. Hunters bagged 171,747 deer, which was a drop of 9.3 percent. I. B. Parnell is a WRD biologist for part of the Piedmont.
"Things are fairly steady," Parnell reported. "Last season was average or maybe a little below."
But if you talk to Piedmont hunters, you get varying assessments. Some are satisfied and others are declaring that all the deer are gone.
"Depends on who's saying it," Parnell noted. "If you pick into the conversation a little deeper you can see how much they hunt."
If a casual hunter only goes afield a few times and sees little or no deer, that's hardly an accurate benchmark.
The deer population is down overall and the decrease is by design.
"Hunters want bigger bucks," Parnell said.
In order to accomplish this, the deer numbers have gone down. Some hunters like the increased possibility of a trophy buck while others lament the lack of deer sightings.
"There is some discontent from areas of too few deer," Killmaster acknowledged. "Piedmont hunters may see a sharp decline, but the numbers are still high, and there is also a high hunter density. On a club with 50 acres per hunter or less, and if each member is harvesting one deer that is too much."
The state allows flexibility with the long season, liberal bag limits, and either-sex days, so hunters need to be selective with their harvest.
The Piedmont section had a harvest of 28,571 antlered bucks. The buck harvest was down 37 percent from the previous year. While the figures aren't available, no doubt, many of these bucks, and perhaps more than recent years, were trophy bucks.
Public hunting opportunities abound in central Georgia, with several productive WMAs. Parnell recommended Clarks Hill WMA as having a population that is increasing. With proper timber management by the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers that owns the tract, the habitat and deer herd are improving. By the numbers, Clarks Hill saw an overall success rate of = percent.
"Oconee WMA produces consistently with a good harvest and good bucks," said WRD Biologist Don McGowan. "They do decent timber management, prescribed burning, and have clover plots with good soil. Oconee has two archery hunts and a primitive weapons hunt, with an overall success rate of 12 percent."
There are several WMAs with impressive success rates. Clybel WMA's rate was 18.5 percent, Blanton Creek had 20.1 percent, Big Lazer Creek posted a 17.8 percent, Joe Kurz 23.1 percent, and Rum Creek 22.6.
If you wanted to single out a particular WMA hunt with a high track record of giving hunters a better-than-average chance at some venison, you should consider the B.F. Grant November hunt that produced a 28.4-percent success rate, the Big Lazer archery hunt with 26.4 percent rate, or the early November hunt at Blanton Creek that yielded a 55.6 percent rate, Clybel's late October firearms hunt produced a success rate of 70.2 percent, and the two firearms hunts at Joe Kurz produced 55.9 and 50 percent rates.
Be aware that some of these are quota hunts that must be applied for in advance.
UPPER COASTAL PLAIN
The upper coastal plain is basically southwest Georgia and covers the region from Columbus down to Bainbridge and east to Dublin. It includes the Flint River Corridor, which is known as the best area in Georgia for trophy animals. Ample agricultural, good soils, and plentiful woodlands make this portion of the state a top producer of healthy whitetails.
There were an estimated 273,481 deer prior to the season and spread out to average 22 per forested square mile. Hunters reduced the herd by 127,055, of which 98,872 were antlerless. There were 28,183 antlered bucks taken. The herd and the harvest were fairly stable, with the harvest being only 1.99 percent higher than the previous year.
"I would say the deer herd was stable, maybe a slight decline," said WRD biologist Julie Robbins, who covers southwest Georgia. "There was a decrease in numbers, mainly because of land use changes and hunting pressure. There was a slight increase in forested acres as more farms were converted to forests and the use of the Conservation Reserve Program."
She recommended Marion and Stewart counties as best bets for killing a deer, because they have more forests and a higher deer population. Robbins noted an increase in corn plantings and a continued use of peanuts, cotton, and soybeans in the region.
Several WMAs had excellent success rates last season, with Horse Creek with a 23.2 percent success rate, Di-Lane at 21.7 percent, and Chickasawhatchee with 21.3 percent leading the list. Individual hunts of note would be the early archery hunt at Bullard Creek for its 57 percent rate, the Chickasawhatchee adult/child hunt at 70 percent success, and all of Di-Lane firearms hunts, which experienced success rates of 27.9, 26.2 percent, and 24.3 percent.
LOWER COASTAL PLAIN
The terrain in southeast Georgia is described as the Lower Coastal Plain. It covers from the Atlantic coast to Valdosta to McRae to Swainsboro. It is characterized by flat lowland terrain and sandy soils. Despite poor soils, it boasts 26 deer per square mile, which is the second densest region in the state. Last year there were and estimated 153,724 deer prior to the season, and hunters bagged 63,389 deer. That was an increase of 20 percent. The buck harvest was 85,051, which was an increase of 28 percent.
The perennial deer-producing WMAs of Ossabaw and Sapelo Islands were again tops in the region with success rates of 66.8 and 50.9 percent respectively. Other impressive success rates were seen at Grand Bay at 15 percent, Paulk's Pasture with 18.5 percent, Sansavilla with 18.8 percent, and Tuckahoe at 15.9 percent.
If you wanted to pick a particular hunt with a good chance to score, try Tuckahoe's early November firearms hunt that earned a 31.5 percent success rate, the archery hunt at Penholoway Swamp that had an 87.5-percent success rate, or a 78 percent success rate at the adult/child hunt at Grand Bay.
Georgia has ample hunting opportunities from the mountains to the coast. If you do your homework, find the right property and scout hard, you too can be one of the many successful deer hunters this season.