North Carolina's Federal Land Draw Hunts

Often overlooked even by hunters who apply for WMA draw hunts, thousands of acres of topnotch federal lands on refuges and a military post offer great deer hunting in North Carolina. (August 2009)

Tim Mosteller of Lincolnton took this nice buck during a Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge hunt in 2008.
Photo by Mike Marsh.

While many resident hunters participate in permit-draw hunts on North Carolina's game lands, only a fraction of hunters go further and do the homework required to hunt deer at National Wildlife Refuge system and military lands. Each federal property has specific regulations and extra fees beyond those with which state lands hunters must comply. Dealing with added layers of complications sets successful federal lands hunters apart.

Yet the complications are not overwhelming, and the reward is often better hunting: Controlled access and intensive habitat management produce above-average bucks and dense deer populations on many federal lands.

Mattamuskeet, Pee Dee and Pocosin Lakes national wildlife refuges and Fort Bragg Army Post are premier deer-hunting properties that every hunter should visit. But be forewarned, hunting them is addictive -- so applying for a permit and not getting drawn, or at Fort Bragg, finding your favorite hunting area with the quota already filled, is like watching your team lose a ball game by forfeit.

The 50,180-acre Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in Hyde County was established primarily to benefit wintering waterfowl. The attraction for ducks, geese and swans is 40,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet. Except for a small safety zone around the refuge buildings, however, the shoreline is also open for deer hunting on a draw-permit basis.

The refuge's deer hunts are fairly popular among those familiar with coastal hunting because the terrain and cover is typical of coastal swamps in the northeastern part of the state. Most deer habitat is cypress, oak, sweetgum trees with fairly firm footing beneath them.

Refuge manager Bruce Freske said 150 hunters are drawn for each of two, two-day hunts. In 2009, the commission will administer the drawing for the first time.

"The main goal is keeping the deer population from becoming so large it damages the refuges and creates problems with our neighbors," Freske said. "Some hunters get into the most remote places they can find. Others hunt in the 125-acre farming area, half of which is left in standing crops."

Freske said hunters harvest a lot of 8-point bucks and an occasional 10-pointer. Many deer field dress at around 150 pounds. Farms adjoining the refuge have waterfowl impoundments with standing corn, which results in well-fed deer. The deer harvest varies from 50 to 105 deer.

Mosquitoes, cottonmouths, ticks, chiggers and biting flies are hazards. Deer hunters should have high-topped boots, with hip boots an excellent choice.

Outer garments should be insect proof, with mesh jackets and over-pants good choices. Chemical repellents or insect-repellant devices are required for comfort while moving to a hunting area or sitting on a stand. It pays to hunt with at least one partner because drags can be long and arduous for most successful hunters who get as far away from access roads as possible.

Deer are lightly hunted here. The refuge draw hunts here occur long after deer in most other parts of the state have become wary of hunters. It is therefore an excellent place to hunt, and some reasonably well-racked bucks are occasionally taken.

Successful applicants must remit a $12.50 fee before they receive their permit. One antlered and one antlerless (or two antlerless) deer may be taken each day of hunting. Only shotguns, muzzleloading rifles and bow and arrow are legal hunting weapons. Possession of pistols and modern rifles is not allowed. All deer must be checked at the deer check station at the refuge headquarters.

Hunters may use boats to access hunting areas and there is an excellent boat ramp near the refuge office. Small boats launched at canals offer a secondary means of boat access, although hunters are not actually allowed to hunt from boats. Access to the hunting areas behind closed gates is allowed by foot travel, bicycle or boat, and no motor vehicles are allowed except on designated roads. Special arrangements will be made for disabled sportsmen with advance notification to the refuge office.

A minimum of 500 square inches of hunter orange must be worn, which means a cap and vest or other garment above the waist. No permanent blinds or stands are allowed and portable stands must be set up the day of the hunt and removed at the end of each day. No metal objects may be driven into a tree to support a hunter or stand. No dogs are allowed for hunting deer. An adult can supervise one youth hunter only, and the youth must remain within sight and normal voice contact with the adult.

For information, visit www.fws. gov/mattamuskeet; call (252) 926-4021 or write Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, 38 Mattamuskeet Rd., Swan Quarter, NC 27885.

Located in Anson and Richmond counties, the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge offers a unique deer-hunting experience. Many hunters apply for the hunt each year and the odds of being drawn run 50 to 60 percent if applications are made for all the hunt dates.

The hunt drawing rules are similar to those for Mattamuskeet NWR. Applicants should call in June or July so they can return their applications by the end of August. Hunters can apply singly or as a group, with the group applications stapled together in one envelope. A successful applicant must submit a $12.50 fee to receive the hunt permit and brochure and the permit must be signed and on the hunter's person while hunting.

The refuge is closed to other uses during hunts. It receives a lot of visitors, with its primary use for the benefit of wintering waterfowl. A system of plantings and flooded areas not only attract waterfowl, but deer and many areas off-limits to visitors during waterfowl wintering season are open to deer hunting during permit hunts, as well as during the open archery season. The permit hunts apply to muzzleloading firearms and modern guns, and any legal weapon in the state of North Carolina is legal for deer hunting at the refuge.

The gun season and muzzleloading season come in earlier than in nearby and surrounding counties, which constitutes a bonus for Pee Dee NWR hunters. Another added bonus this year is that a change in the commission regulations will likely mean that bonus antlerless tags will apply on lands other than t

hose operated as state game lands, meaning federal refuges such as Mattamuskeet, Pocosin Lakes and Pee Dee. Hunters should check with refuge staff before using bonus antlerless tags, however, because it will be up to individual refuges to decide whether to allow their use.

The hunter must wear 500 inches of hunter orange above the waist. The biggest problem is when hunters don't adhere to the prohibition against having a loaded a gun within 30 feet of the centerline of any road. Firearms must also be in cases when inside a vehicle underway.

The fields grow some impressive deer, with well-antlered bucks and healthy does. The refuge encourages harvest of doe deer over antlered bucks, but many hunters simply choose to harvest antlered bucks.

The terrain is typical of the southern Piedmont, with gently rolling terrain and loamy soils that support good agriculture, pine forests, mixed hardwood forests and low, hardwood swamps. The entire refuge is intensively managed with controlled burns, timber harvest and regeneration, mowing of early successional habitat areas and by leaving hardwood drainages in old-growth states. These hardwood areas offer the main attraction for deer -- white oak acorns. Find the acorns and the best hunting will be in that area.

Six modern firearms and muzzleloader hunts, including a youth hunt, typically run through October into mid-November. The hunts last three days, ending on Saturdays. There is also a disabled sportsman's hunt.

Tree stands may be placed no sooner than four days before hunting; no metal can be inserted into a tree, and safety belts or harnesses must be used in conjunction with tree stands. Dogs and man drives are not allowed for deer hunting. All hunters must self-register their deer at the check station. There are other rules pertaining specifically to Pee Dee NWR deer hunts listed in the hunt permit/brochure.

For more information, visit; or call (704) 694-4424 or write Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, 5770 Hwy. 52, Wadesboro, NC 28170.

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is located in Washington, Hyde and Tyrrell counties. While much of the refuge is open for hunting during the standard state seasons, the Pungo Unit is open for archery hunting during those seasons and by permit-only hunts during a special firearms season.

The permit firearms hunts are held beginning in September, which means Pungo hosts the earliest firearms season in the state. This helps increase participation. Participation has lagged in recent years, as other areas of the state have been opened to liberal either-sex seasons.

There are two gun hunts in September and three in October, with 200 permits issued for each two-day hunt. Successful applicants must remit a $12.50 fee to the refuge upon notification that they have been drawn for the hunt.

Fire has always been a help to deer hunters because it decreased the amount of cover while increasing available food. The great fires of 2008 were not as large as the fires of the 1980s, but they likely will improve Pungo deer hunting this season.

The Pungo Unit is also a waterfowl refuge, with plantings of small grains, soybeans and other crops to attract waterfowl. The low relief and pocosin terrain and vegetation mean that many areas are extremely wet. Ladders and small canoes are used to cross canals, and most hunters use tree stands. No metal associated with stands may be inserted in trees. Stands may be installed the day before a hunt and left until the end of the second day of the two-day hunt. Stands left overnight must be tagged with the hunter's name, address and telephone number. Legal weapons include bow and arrow, muzzleloader or shotgun. Most hunters use a shotgun loaded with buckshot or slugs.

The use of dogs for hunting deer is prohibited. Man drives may be effective where fires have reduced cover. Wearing of 500 square inches of hunter orange is required. Hunters may enter the hunting area no sooner than one hour before legal shooting time and must be off the area by one hour following legal shooting time. Because of the many locked gates, refuge personnel will open them to retrieve deer when asked. Hunters must therefore not block gates with vehicles.

Pungo has a reputation for bears. Bears have chewed the tires and wheels off bicycles and deer carriers, as well as the seats off tree stands. They may come to the kill site at the sound of a gunshot and steal a hunter's deer. But they are fully protected and may not be harmed.

Bears have even taken deer from ice chests in hunters' pickups, so refuge personnel advise anyone taking a deer to leave the area immediately. There are no formal facilities for cleaning deer, but all deer must be registered at the refuge headquarters.

The habitat breeds swarms of mosquitoes, and walks can be long and sweaty. Hunters typically use carts to ferry gear and deer when they travel far from gates. The farther from a road a hunter travels, the better the hunting.

Many hunters, however, have good luck along the field edges. Fields are part of the attraction because Pungo probably has more agricultural area in production than any other public hunting area in the Coastal Plain. As a result, some very well antlered deer are taken at occasionally at Pungo, with the odds for taking a decent buck likely better than at any other public hunting area of the Coastal Plain.

Refuge staff once administered the hunt. However, last year, the refuge requested the permit drawing be held through the commission. Details for the hunt drawing are available in the commission's Permit Hunt Opportunities booklet or online at

For more information visit; write to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 329, Columbia, NC 27925 or call (252) 796-3004.

Located near Fayetteville in Cumberland County, in Hoke, Cumberland and Harnett counties, the sprawling Fort Bragg U.S. Army Post and Camp Mackall offers some of the best deer hunting in the eastern region. Some very nice bucks and lots of antlerless deer come from these military properties every season. Fort Bragg produced a Boone and Crockett Club entry, a 14-pointer taken by Lucas Hinerman in 2001.

While the post doesn't offer a permit-style deer-hunting opportunity, hunters who wish to visit the post must cross several hurdles beyond the usual state requirements.

Hunters must first pass a base hunting orientation, which takes place on at the hunting and fishing center on each Friday and the second and fourth Sunday of each month. The base orientation details regulations for hunting, including hunt dates and the sign-in, sign-out process at the center.

Certain areas may be closed for military maneuvers at times. Hunters can check the Web site for these closures. Once an area has been filled with the allocated number of hunters, no one else may enter the area. Hu

nters can sign into an open area the evening before a hunt following checkout time. There is a complete facility for cleaning deer at the hunting and fishing center, and sportsmanship is emphasized strongly.

Hunting days are typically Wednesday through Sundays. Only military personnel may hunt on Sunday. Civilians are prohibited from hunting on Sunday.

Hunters entering the post must realize they are subject to delays and searches at entrance gates. Some hunters visit the hunting and fishing center, check out for one of the remote hunting areas where they do not have to pass manned gates, then hunt those areas the following day before checking out that evening.

North Carolina's bonus antlerless deer harvest report cards do not apply at Fort Bragg. A Fort Bragg hunting license must be purchased in addition to the appropriate North Carolina hunting license and big-game permit. A hunter safety card issued by any state is required for obtaining a Fort Bragg hunting license, regardless of age exemptions issued by a hunter's state. The post also holds hunter safety training for those who need to obtain certificates.

For detailed information, including maps of hunting areas, hunting area quotas, hunt dates, license information, times and dates of hunter safety training and orientation courses, visit or call (910) 396-7506.

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