This fall and winter, Georgia woodlands, farmlands and river bottoms again support a healthy deer population and provide deer hunters at all levels with great chances for harvesting a whitetail.
While data for the 2013-14 Georgia deer hunting season was still being compiled at press time, the 2012-13 Georgia deer data — deer numbers, he hunter harvest and the number of hunters — reveals those numbers have remained stable, with some slight variations. Nothing significant or alarming is seen in the data. In fact, more than 50 percent of Peach State deer hunters take home at least one deer each year, and it appears that trend will continue this season.
"Excellent," is how wildlife biologist Charlie Killmaster of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources rates the state's herd. "Georgia's deer population is well within carrying capacity and we had no population-level disease impacts," Killimaster continued. "The harvest has remained generally stable over the last three years. The increase this season was the result of an increase in hunter numbers and an increase in the harvest rate per hunter."
For the first time in many decades, most of the hunting opportunities in the month of December was changed by the GDNR from taking either-sex deer to taking bucks only. This was designed, the GDNR reported, to reduce the doe harvest and give the herd a chance to increase slightly and rebound from the previous over-harvest of does.
"We are still in the process of analyzing last season's data, but at this point there are no indications of any major change in harvest parameters resulting from the reduction in either-sex days," Killmaster said.
Impacts from EHD (epizootic hemoragic disease) also were insignificant this year, according to Killmaster.
Hunter reaction to, and the results of, the December bucks-only restrictions varied across the state. "In some cases it reduced harvest," reported state wildlife biologist I.B. Parnell. "In others, it only changed the timing of the doe harvest."
State wildlife biologist Will Ricks works with the deer herd in Georgia's coastal zone. He, too, reported the December bucks-only season did not have negative impacts to the wildlife management areas. "The region heard very few complaints on private and leased lands," he said, "about the bucks-only season last year."
During the 2012-13 deer season, the overall deer harvest in Georgia totaled 385,410 deer. This compares to 411,481 deer killed in 2011-12 and 464,003 in 2010-11.
There was a 6.34 percent decrease in overall harvest from 2011-12 to 2012-13.
Of the 385,410 whitetails harvested in 2012-13, bucks accounted for 143,141 of the kills, and 242,268 were does. The bucks totaled 38 percent of the harvest, with does or antlerless deer making up 62 percent of deer killed. There was a very slight increase of 1.1 percent more bucks taken from the previous year, but 10.23 percent fewer does were reported killed than in the previous season.
Modern firearms or rifle hunters are always the most abundant and most successful hunters afield. Last season, 295,018 gun hunters went afield. They bagged 315,670 deer, which is 82 percent of the total harvest. Of those, 123,016 were bucks and 192,653 were does.
Archery hunters numbered 113,566 in 2012-13 and were successful in sticking 60,190 deer, representing 15.6 percent of the overall harvest. Bowhunters took 17,317 bucks and 42,873 does with their broadhead-tipped arrows.
Hunters shooting muzzleloaders, also known as primitive weapons, are a distant third in numbers of hunters and harvest. This is due mainly to the season being only one week long; however, Georgia hunters who are looking for an added challenge are permitted to use a muzzleloader or bows during the regular gun season. There were 45,236 muzzleloader hunters last season that killed 10,857 deer. There were 3,330 antlered bucks and 7,527 does included.
The statistics show that 52 percent of all Georgia deer hunters killed at least one deer. That means 48 percent of hunters failed to bring home any venison. The overall harvest stats further break down to reveal 22 percent of deer hunters took one deer, 13 percent bagged two whitetails, 7.7 percent shot three deer, and 3.7 percent killed four deer. Clearly, your odds of bagging multiple deer drop significantly, but your prospects vary widely, depending on how much time you spend afield, your hunting skill and where you hunt.
The Georgia geography varies widely in its terrain — the Appalachian Mountains in north Georgia, the rolling piedmont in middle Georgia and the flat sandy plains across a wide swath of south Georgia. The GDNR further divides the state into five geophysically oriented management sections, and reports annually on the deer population, harvest figures and prospects for the upcoming season.
Blue Ridge Mountains
The northern portion of the state, from the cities of Chatsworth to Clayton, is the Blue Ridge Mountain region. The terrain is steep, wooded hills and mountains up to more than 4,000 feet in elevation. The habitat can be rugged and remote, and the deer depend heavily on the acorn crop each fall. There is also ample public land in the form of wildlife management areas (WMAs) and the Chattahoochee National Forest.
But with relatively little agriculture, the deer density is low; consequently the overall harvest is lower than in much of the state. In 2012-13, Georgia deer hunters accounted for 6,122 deer taken from the mountains, with 3,132 bucks and 2,990 does.
"Based on cooler-locker surveys, hunters killed less deer, and that should help with recruitment," said state wildlife biologist Kevin Lowery of the Blue Ridge mountain region. "However, the poor mast crop will likely hurt recruitment, so it will be hard to tease that out in one year."
Last year's harvest was "poor" according to Lowery, adding that the deer herd is decreasing in the mountains.
In regards the upcoming season, Lowery reported, "The season will depend on the mast crop (acorns), and I suspect with these late frosts and spring rains that may not be too good this fall either," he added, referring to the unusually cold and wet weather of early spring. "Most hunters I talked to were disappointed with the season, but generally understood that without a mast crop, it was going to be tough."
Lowery rates Hall, Dawson, Barrow and Banks counties as the best bets for harvesting a deer in the north Georgia mountains. These counties are a bit farther south than the mountains proper, located in the northern reach of the piedmont where the terrain is less mountainous. Lowery rates Lake Russell WMA and Dawson Forest WMA as the best public deer-hunting lands in the mountains.
Ridge And Valley
The northwest portion of the state is characterized by long steep parallel ridges with deep valleys between them. From Dalton to Summerville to Rome, this area holds agriculture in the valleys, while rugged ridges rise beside them.
In 2012, deer hunters killed 26,818 deer in this region. There were 10,413 bucks and 16,405 does in that total.
With an even mix of planted fertile valleys and hardwood forested ridges, the region provides decent habitat for whitetails. According to the statistics, the best counties in which to bag a deer among the northwest ridge-and-valley terrain rare Floyd and Gordon counties. And the stats bear out the best public lands are Berry College WMA and Crockford-Pigeon WMA.
The Piedmont portion of Georgia is basically the center swath of the state from west to east — from Columbus to Augusta. The terrain features rolling hills and drainages with numerous mature farms and planted pine plantations. It has historically been some of the most productive deer lands in the state and traditionally sees high deer harvests to boast. It also holds generous public lands but heavy hunter pressure due partly to its close proximity to Atlanta.
Last season the Piedmont region gave up 154,851 deer to Georgia deer hunters, the most of any region in the state. There were 54,461 bucks and 100,390 does harvested here. State wildlife biologist I.B. Parnell rated last year's harvest as fair to moderate.
"For quality deer management, or trophy deer management, the herd is good and prospects are high," Parnell said. "For maximum harvest, the herd is a little low and prospects fair, particularly depending on good summer weather. Average or above-average rainfall increases browse for adult deer and cover for fawns."
Parnell said he perceives the region's deer population as being a mixture of individually stable, increasing and decreasing herds depending on the area.
"It depends on which part of the area you are looking at," he reported. "Most of Region 3 (east-central) is stable, and I do not believe that many counties are still declining. And a few might be increasing, such as Columbia, Lincoln, Clarke and parts of McDuffie counties."
In addition to mixed herd stability, Parnell saw varied hunter satisfaction.
"I saw mixed satisfaction. Some hunters said that they had a fair hunting season, and others complained about how poor it was and has been for several years. As in many years, hunters who took a nice buck said they had a 'good' or 'excellent' season."
Parnell puts Screven, Greene, Clarke, Oconee and Washington counties as top deer producers in his region. Oconee, Di-Lane and Clarks Hill WMAs give hunters the best chances to score on public-land hunts in east-central Georgia.
Also included in the Piedmont section is the metro-Atlanta area. With extremely high human population, limited forested lands and no public hunting lands, the area still holds a high deer population in the wooded strips, green spaces and drainages scattered around the big city. The right combination of food sources and cover can be a hot spot, but it also can be very difficult to obtain hunting permission. Bowhunting is the norm in and around the city and suburban landscapes.
Upper Coastal Plain
Georgia's upper coastal plain stretches from Albany in the southwest to Dublin in the center of the state, dominating the GDNR's Region 5. It features primarily flat terrain, with ample agriculture and forests of water-oak trees. Peanut farms and cotton fields dominate the landscape, and the region holds a healthy stable deer population. In 2012, Georgia deer hunters bagged 132,035 whitetails, 49,763 bucks and 82,272 does.
State wildlife biologist Brent Howze reported a stable deer herd and a promising outlook for this season.
"The 2012-13 deer harvest (in the upper coastal plain) was similar to last year," he said. "Everything is shaping up for this year to be a very good hunting season."
The upper coastal plain typically holds lower deer numbers per square mile than does the Piedmont, but it also produces some of the biggest deer in the state. With plentiful agriculture and water sources, the upper coastal plain remains a top deer region in Georgia.
Howze says Chickasawhatchee WMA is the most consistent deer producer for public-land hunters, followed by Flint River WMA in Dooly County. The top deer-hunting counties in the region, according to the 2012 stats, are Lee, Dougherty and Macon counties.
Lower Coastal Plain
Southeast Georgia is the lower coastal plain, which includes the coastal islands and marshes of the Atlantic coast. The region features flat topography with sandy soils and abundant marshes and palmettos. Despite the poor fertility of the sandy soil, the region holds a good deer population. In 2012-13, 65,591 deer were bagged by hunters. That included 25,383 bucks and 40,208 does.
"The overall deer harvest in Region VII (Coastal Region) was excellent this past season," reported state wildlife biologist Will Ricks. "The managed hunts on the wildlife management areas saw high numbers and many satisfied hunters. The coast is not well known for large bucks, but plenty of great coastal deer were harvested this season."
Ricks said the overall deer herd within the region is healthy and within sustainable population parameters. At the same time, some urban areas, subdivisions and other human occupied areas, he added, hold localized deer populations that exceed the region's average deer density.
Wayne County tops the list of best areas for hunting, but all the coastal counties offer great opportunities.
The best wildlife management areas in the region for deer hunting include Ossabaw Island WMA and Sapelo Island WMA. Both units feature controlled quota hunts, and the wild-hog hunting is very productive, as well.
"Whether on public or private land, deer hunters on the coast were satisfied with the season," Ricks said.
Riverways are a key feature in the northern portion of the lower coastal plain region. Among the largest are the Altamaha River, the Oconee River and the Ocmulgee River. These and more are the settings for other wildlife management areas open to deer hunting. Deer numbers along the riverways are typically best in the bottomland and nearby pine ridges.
Wildlife biologist Greg Waters of the GDNR reported area deer hunters in 2012-13 enjoyed an average overall harvest among average herd prospects. The deer herd in his area is stable, he assured, and he says Horse Creek WMA in Telfair County and Beaverdam WMA in Laurens County likely to be the best public-hunting areas in the northern part of Region 5 in 2014.
Overall the Peach State deer herd is stable or possibly slightly declining in some areas. Local deer herds vary widely in number, depending on food sources, habitat changes and hunting pressure. State wildlife officials say the trend toward lowering doe harvests will help stabilize the population.
Hunters will need to put in sufficient time and effort to expect a good deer-hunting experience. Of course, a little luck can help sometimes, too.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '