In terms of quantity, some of Georgia’s best deer-producing counties barely make the cut. In 2017, the combined total of deer taken from Dooly, Crisp and Worth counties — set in a north-south line along the Flint River — didn’t even come close to matching the state’s top single county, but the deer taken were big.
“There’s fewer deer there because there’s not as much forest cover,” said Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist Charlie Killmaster, “but generally there’s an excess of food and so that’s one of the reasons why that area tends to produce really good deer.”
For quality, these three counties can’t be beat. Some of the state’s most recent Booners — two non-typicals topping 192 and 195, respectively, and a 166 5/8 typical — have come from this wallhanger hotbed.
“Genetics certainly plays a role,” said GDNR biologist Brent Howze. “Worth County did get some deer during restocking efforts from Wisconsin. And my guess is that they are a little more able to express those gene because of the food sources and the large land holdings.”
The region is considered an agricultural hub with the best soil in the state, and there tend to be more plantation-style hunting arrangements; large wooded tracts interspersed with agricultural fields.
“A lower hunter density is more typical of those type of places,” Killmaster said. “The larger the parcel is, the more people can do toward protecting bigger deer.”
HUNTING DEER LAND
Finding a deer lease in Dooly, Crisp and Worth counties often becomes a hunt in and of itself; there is a lot of privately owned land here but locals are reluctant to share it with outsiders. It’s not impossible to break into the scene, but it takes effort, dedication and patience.
Your best bet may be to find an established hunting club that’s looking for a new member, but this can obviously be very hit and miss. Keep an eye on the public forums on sites like GeorgiaHunting.org. There is also a public Facebook group — Georgia Hunting Club and Land Lease — that lists opportunities around the state. Some clubs, such as the Twin Beams Trophy Club in Dooly County, have their own websites.
Leasing some land of your own is also a possibility, but again there are slim pickings. The big timber companies like Rayonier, Westervelt and Weyerhaeuser have thousands of acres across the state, but literally none in this three-county area. Most leases are private, so keep an eye on leasing websites like FoggyTrail.com and the Hunting Lease Network, in case something should become available. You can also try talking to local real estate agents or forest managers. F&W Forestry Leases has at least one property in Dooly and two in Worth, and Roger D. Smith at GaLands.com has several small listings in Crisp and Worth counties.
“They’re just small tracts, maybe 15 or 20 acres,” Smith said. “Real hunters don’t normally contact me, they want something more like 100 acres.”
Websites such as WhitetailProperties.com, Landwatch.com, Lands of America, Mossy Oak Properties, and Southwest Georgia Farm Credit all have multiple listings and there are dozens more sites just like them. Most of these listings require deep pockets, but they’re not all unreachable for a group pooling their money.
A well-maintained deer club can provide years, even decades of great hunting, and remains valuable as a lease for other hunters. The GDNR also offers another way to make a little bit back on your investment, through the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Voluntary Public Access program, which essentially leases your land for temporary public access.
Check out this video to learn how to manage your small track of land to bag your trophy buck.
TAKE YOUR CHANCES AT FLINT RIVER
As of now, there is really only one option when it comes to hunting public land in these three counties, but it’s one of the premier spots for taking big bucks on public land.
Flint River WMA is 2,300 acres of prime deer habitat, nestled in the bottomlands along the western border of Dooly County. The area’s two archery hunts are open to the public, and the property hosts an open hunt for youth and disabled hunters as well. But for firearms Flint River is part of the GDNR’s quota system, and it’s one of the most difficult hunts for which to be drawn.
“Some hunts just everybody applies for them; everybody wants to be there,” said Howze. “We have a lot of repeat hunters that go to Flint River every year. Part of that is the quality deer management strategy, that has protected that 1.5-year age class.”
Georgia’s system works like a lottery, with applications due in early September for deer. Those who aren’t drawn earn a “priority point,” which can build up over time, providing a higher chance of being selected. For popular and low-quota hunts, hunters may need many years’ worth of points to be selected.
Flint River virtually requires a hunter to have accumulated at least two priority points, and then it’s not a sure thing. In 2017, hunters who spent two points had just a 57 and 36 percent chance for the first and second Flint River hunts, respectively. Hunters who spent three or more points had a 100 percent acceptance rate.
Last year less than 150 hunters hunted the property, no more than 32 on a single day, and just over a third of those harvested a deer, does included. Those low numbers give bucks more chances to grow old, plus antler restrictions are in place allowing only quality bucks with a 15-inch outside spread or 16-inch main beams to be harvested.
All this together makes hunting Flint River feel more like a private club than a large chunk of public land.
“There are a good many locals from around that area that hunt Flint River,” said Howze. There are several families in that area who are actually really good ‘customers’ of Flint River because they love it and they bring their families in to hunt it as well.”
Show Me The Money
For most of us, $11 million a day is an unbelievable, unreachable figure. But that’s what hunters and anglers spent on outdoor recreation in the Peach State last year, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
No doubt more than a few of those are homegrown, but Georgia has a lot to offer those coming in from out of state; tourism is a force to be reckoned with when considering the state economy.
The entire Georgia tourism industry generated more than $63.1 billion in 2017, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, up 3.8 percent from the year before.
“The outdoors is a vitally important part of our strategy to draw visitors to Georgia,” said Kevin Langston, Deputy Commissioner for the GDEcD Tourism Division. “Georgia has much to offer both the thrill-seeker, and also those who just enjoy soaking up the beauty of nature.”
To get that message out, the agency works with partners like O’Neill Williams, a Georgia-born outdoorsman who’s been promoting Peach State hunting and fishing on TV and radio for more than 35 years.
New to the GDEcD’s efforts to promote outdoor tourism in 2018, was a print ad enticing readers to get out and explore Georgia’s potential as a fishing destination that ran in Southern Living magazine, among other publications.
The agency also hosted a workshop on “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Georgia’s Small Towns,” helping small communities across the state access tools to help leverage their outdoor assets to draw visitors.