Got a hankering for big-water duck and goose hunts? The Peach State offers several options that can scratch the itch. Try these reservoirs for some wingshooting this month. (December 2007)
Photo by Marc Murrell.
In the pre-dawn darkness I could hear the sweet sound of wood ducks chattering on the surface of the water a few hundred yards away. The familiar sound was reassuring, even though I had no way of telling in which direction they'd go as the sun came up -- but the prospects had me excited!
As the trees along the bank became visible in the early morning light, the ducks became more vocal. One wood duck took to the air; then the rapid beat of wings and ducks squealing set the scene for my fleeting chance to score.
Most of the ducks flew by just out of range, but one strayed just far enough for me to take a shot. Pulling the front sight just past the bird's head, I fired, and my target stumbled in midflight; a quick second shot dropped the beautiful drake wood duck into the clear waters of Lake Juliette. I saw a few other ducks darting by at very high range, but no other shot opportunities developed.
But the goose season was also on, and later a small group winged into a cove not far away. I figured I couldn't get close to them, so I devised an alternate game plan. The wind was blowing strong into the cove, so I decided to let it work for me.
Positioning my camouflaged boat about 200 yards from the geese, I pulled a camo cover over the boat and myself. It took perhaps 20 minutes, but the geese held position as the wind blew me within range. I popped up and claimed one of the geese.
And so went a typical Georgia waterfowl hunt: characterized by limited opportunity, careful planning, some guile and -- hopefully -- some good luck!
As most hunters know, Georgia duck hunting is scattered and sporadic, with plenty of ups and downs. (Cont.) But for the prepared hunter, plenty of opportunity is to be had.
Greg Balkcom, the state waterfowl biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division, reported that the duck harvest in Georgia consists of 50 to 60 percent wood ducks, a ratio that's been fairly constant over the last few years. Although the Peach State has produced a lot of homegrown woodies within the state's borders, recent banding studies have shown that 85 percent of the wood ducks taken have come from the Great Lakes area, the Mid-Atlantic states or the northeastern sections of the country. By the fall hunting season, many of the wood ducks gracing our skies have been long-distance travelers.
In addition to wood ducks, Balkcom noted, ringnecks and mallards comprise another 15 percent each of the total harvest with the balance made up of scaup, teal, mergansers, redheads and buffleheads.
In pursuit of ducks, the biologist said, waterfowlers shouldn't overlook the excellent shotgunning provided by Georgia's resident goose population. Geese were almost nonexistent in Georgia back in the 1960s, as most migratory birds never made it this far south, as food remained available on farms, pastures and nature preserves in the mid-Atlantic states.
But all that changed in the early 1970s, when the Georgia WRD made an agreement with several northern states to remove some of their overabundant Canada geese for transport south. From the initial stocking of a few hundred at Clark Hill Reservoir, the program expanded to other major reservoirs and many large public and private lakes across Georgia.
Today, Balkcom estimates, the resident Georgia goose population stands at 180,000 and growing. Some of the state's best goose hunting can be found around small private ponds on farms on which crop harvesting is in progress.
"Sometimes," said the biologist, "you can see large flocks of geese landing in a peanut field, for example, and that might be a great time to ask permission to hunt. Also, some golf clubs might be agreeable to discreet hunting to remove an overpopulation of geese -- so it never hurts to inquire through the proper channels."
Now let's take a look at the Peach State and identify some of the best locations for setting up your duck blind.
In southwest Georgia, reported WRD biologist Brandon Rutledge, the top waterfowl area is Lake Seminole. The 50-year-old U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment at the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers covers 37,500 acres, with a lot of that water shallow and loaded with hydrilla -- both factors attractive to waterfowl.
"The primary species is wood ducks, but some mallards, canvasbacks, redheads and mergansers also show up in the mix," Rutledge noted. "Hunters should get out and scout the lake and use binoculars to do some long-distance viewing to determine the lake areas, sloughs and creeks the ducks are using."
In that same quadrant of the state, another spot for ducks is Walter F. George Reservoir -- "Lake Eufaula," as it is often known. Another Corps project, it floods 45,180 acres to the south of Columbus and stretches for 85 miles along the Chattahoochee River, with 640 miles of shoreline on the Georgia-Alabama border. It all provides a lot of room for those targeting ducks and geese.
The impoundment is adjacent to the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge. According to Greg Balkcom, the backwaters of Pataula, Drag Nasty, Soapstone and Bushahatchee creeks are best for ducks, while geese can sometimes be intercepted around the main-lake islands as they move up and down the reservoir. It's always a good idea to keep a good pair of binoculars in the boat to observe the waterfowl travel patterns and see where they are flying from in the mornings.
The Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is known as a premier duck-hunting location in this region of Georgia. It has an active waterfowl management program, which involves drawing down ponds for planting small grains for ducks.
In the Georgia portion of the refuge, on the Bradley impoundment, duck hunts are held on Saturdays until noon during the state season. All other areas within Eufaula Refuge are closed to waterfowl hunting.
Overall, hunters visiting Eufaula NWR can expect good duck hunting. During the 2006-07 season hunters in 15 blind locations -- each with up to three hunters -- harvested 1,020 ducks in the Georgia section of the refuge.
Hunting blinds are available on the NWR through a quota system. Hunters may apply for the quota hunts from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15. Standby hunters may fill unclaimed blinds by random draw the m
orning of each hunt. Those drawn must pony up a $15 fee per hunter; this is payable only by check or money order -- no cash payments accepted.
Check out all available hunts online at www.fws.gov/eufaula, or call (334) 687-4065 for more information.
Greg Balkcom pointed to lakes Juliette, Oconee and Sinclair as the best bets for ducks and geese in the mid-state region.
Lake Oconee's 19,050 acres stretch across portions of Greene, Hancock, Morgan and Putnam counties. The upper end of the lake on the Oconee River arm is situated within the Oconee National Forest, while a portion of shore near the Wallace Dam on the lower lake is in the Oconee Wildlife Management Area.
For the best waterfowl action, try the upper end of the lake, north of Interstate 20. Concentrate your efforts in the shallow water bordered by lands of the Oconee NF. You may have to use a flat-bottomed johnboat with a push poles and paddle to access the better areas.
One of the best opportunities for duck hunting at Lake Oconee is on the Dan Denton Waterfowl Area, in the Oconee WMA just downstream of Wallace Dam. This impoundment attracts ducks, but also strong demand for the available quota slots. The chance of being drawn for a hunt slot is about 25 percent, but with a reject slip, your chances increase each year you apply. Complete information on these hunts can be found at www.gohuntgeorgia.com.
A Georgia Power Company reservoir lying just north of Milledgeville, Lake Sinclair spans 14,750 acres along the Oconee River, just downstream of Lake Oconee. Both ducks and geese congregate on the north end of the lake just downstream of Lake Oconee's Wallace Dam. In the early-morning hours, waterfowl can be intercepted as they both depart from and return to the lake.
Setting up a blind on main-lake points or around the few islands can pay off. But make sure to stay back 300 yards from boat docks, marinas and houses.
Lake Juliette is another Georgia Power impoundment situated in Monroe County, just northwest of Macon and due east of Forsyth. Built in 1980, it spans 3,600 acres.
At Juliette, ducks move in from the ash ponds of Georgia Power Company's Plant Scherer on the north side of the impoundment or from the nearby Ocmulgee River. The birds usually fly to the upper end of the lake, near the Holly Grove Public Use Area boat ramp.
Canada geese can often be found grazing in the nearby grass fields around the lake or lounging in the backs of coves.
In northwest Georgia, hunters may find a few ducks and geese on 3,220-acre Carters Lake between Calhoun and Ellijay. Another option is the Tennessee Valley Authority's Lake Nottely. The impoundment in Union County covers 4,180 acres. According to WRD biologist Scott Frazier, the ducks are found at both of these lakes primarily in backwater coves.
Another good opportunity exists at Rocky Mountain PFA near Rome. Both Antioch and Heath lakes host duck hunts on the area. Antioch is open for shooting during Monday to Saturday in January, while Heath is open for the entire statewide duck season. You must sign in before hunting either impoundment.
According to WRD biologist Alex Coley, who works out of the Thomson Office, hunters can find a few ducks along the Georgia-South Carolina border. Check out the backwater coves and creeks of 71,535-acre Clarks Hill Lake or 26,655-acre Lake Richard B. Russell, but it is hit or miss most of the time on these reservoirs.
"A lack of food is the main problem on big lakes," he offered, "and much of the better duck hunting in the area is to be found in lowland creek and beaver ponds when ducks -- primarily wood ducks -- have access to acorns, edible plants and seeds."
The area has many wood duck nesting boxes that were monitored in the spring of 2007, with 300 young woodies banded in the process.