Big deer can turn up anywhere in the Peach State, but some areas are in a class by themselves when it comes to big whitetails. Georgia Sportsman has comprehensively surveyed the state and identified those spots for you. (November 2007)
Photo by Ralph Hensley.
Georgia produces a lot of big bucks each year. Your chance of killing a trophy is better in Georgia than in any surrounding state. But not all areas of the state are equal. Pick the right place to hunt, and you'll improve your odds of taking a buck to put on the wall.
The idea of a trophy buck may differ from person to person. When I shot a small-basket 8-point buck with a 12-inch spread in 1968, I thought it was a great trophy and had it mounted. It was the biggest deer I had ever seen, and none of my teenage friends had ever killed one nearly that big. I was very proud of it.
Nowadays, that buck would not even be legal in two Georgia counties. But for an 18-year-old back then, it was a bragging-size buck -- and still might be a nice first deer for a kid. But few would consider that whitetail a trophy deer now.
Two organizations keep track of true record deer. Each list records bucks with antlers measuring over a set minimum size. The Boone and Crockett Club lists deer killed with guns, while the Pope and Young Club lists ones killed with a bow. Each organization keeps records for both typical and non-typical racks.
A score of 170 points is required to make the B&C typical all-time record list, and 195 points to make the non- typical list. For P&Y, it takes 125 points on the typical list and 155 for non-typicals.
Georgia hunters have some of the best trophy-deer hunting in the Southeast based on those records. The Peach State has more B&C deer on the all-time record list than the five adjoining states combined. On the P&Y all-time record list, Georgia has almost twice as many bucks recorded than any of its neighbor states.
Each year, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Sportsman and Georgia Outdoor Writers Association sponsor a Big Deer Contest. There are four categories just like in the record books, for bow-killed typical and non-typical and gun-killed typical and non-typical racks. Bucks killed with a crossbow go into the same category as those killed with a gun.
Deer entered into this contest -- as well as those in the record books of the B&C and P&Y the clubs -- can help you determine where to hunt.
Many factors impact our ability to grow trophy deer, and so some parts of the state grow bigger deer than others. Georgia is a big, diverse state, and some areas have types of soil and terrain that help grow big deer.
The Georgia DNR, Wildlife Resources Division, has practices and procedures that impact the ability to grow big deer. And Georgia hunters are adopting those attitudes to help produce bigger bucks.
It may seem strange, but urban areas also tend to produce trophy deer. Those deer are not hunted as much, since there are some areas where hunting is not allowed. Some counties allow archery hunting only, which also restricts hunting pressure. And, since deer love to eat the plants that homeowners use for landscaping, there's plenty of forage available for the animals in those areas.
Regarding Georgia's deer herd, John Bowers, Assistant Chief of the WRD's Game Management Section, summed it up:
"Counties in the southwestern and upper coastal plain areas of the state, where traditional agriculture is generally the dominant land use, are historically known for quality deer," he said. "However, voluntary adoption and practice of the quality deer-management philosophy by many hunters and hunting clubs is expanding the opportunity for harvesting quality deer across much of the Piedmont.
"With statewide deer estimates centered around 1 million, 97 percent of the forestland base in private ownership and a wide-range of deer harvest philosophies being used, deer densities can be quite dynamic within a single county. However, traditionally, the Piedmont region of the state is considered the deer-production engine and regarded as the area with the highest deer densities."
So the best areas of the state for trophy deer run across the middle of Georgia, from just north of Atlanta to Dublin and somewhat southwest of that area. That section of the state has rich soil, producing quality food for deer, and the region's farmland also offers them a lot of good food for growing antlers.
Two Georgia counties -- Dooly and Macon -- have countywide antler restrictions that help grow bigger deer. In those two counties, you may not take a buck with less than a 15-inch outside antler spread. Seven other counties -- Hancock, Harris, Meriwether, Montgomery, Randolph, Talbot and Troup -- require all bucks taken to have a minimum of four points on one side.
Statewide, a hunter may kill two bucks a year, but one of them must have four points on one side. This allows for the harvesting of some younger deer, but helps protect others until they grow bigger antlers. This antler restriction is not really quality-deer management, but it does help.
Many clubs and landowners try to manage for quality deer, but WRD biologist Jim Simmons said it takes 3,000 to 5,000 acres under management to be effective. He does add that smaller tracts of land can be managed to become trophy-buck sanctuaries during deer season and attract bigger bucks to them. So if you manage your own land for trophy deer, you can have some impact.
If you hunt public lands, you also have some options. There are 12 wildlife management areas with some kind of antler restrictions on their hunts. Some state parks open to hunting provide the possibility of producing a trophy deer.
Last year in the Georgia Big Deer Contest, a deer entered from a state park made the top 20 list. Over the years, at least one buck taken on a WMA has made the Boone and Crockett non-typical list. And last year, an archery buck from Allen Creek WMA was entered in the Big Deer Contest.
Since some WMAs with antler restrictions have quota hunts, you should apply for them. Each year, some of those quota hunts are not filled. And there are some sign-in hunts on those WMAs, too.
If you want the best chance of taking a buck that makes the record books in Georgia, learn to shoot a bow and find a place to hunt in Fulton County. Although it has only one deer on the B&C typical list, the county has an incredible 40 bucks on the P&Y typical list and two more non-typicals! And it produced the biggest
deer in last year's Georgia Big Deer Contest.
DeKalb, another urban county with a lot of big deer, has produced 20 P&Y typicals and one non-typical trophy. It holds the record for the second biggest P&Y deer taken in Georgia.
Both counties are restricted to bow-hunting only, but you may use a crossbow. Areas to hunt are restricted in those two counties, but if you can locate a small patch of private land and get permission to hunt, your odds of making the record book go way up.
Georgia is divided into nine deer management units, with each of those regions based on soil and terrain types. Most Georgia counties have the potential to produce a record-book buck, but some of the DMUs have much better odds.
Thirty counties in the state have produced at least four record-book deer, including at least one that made the B&C typical list or one of the top three P&Y bucks on either the typical or non-typical lists.
In the North Georgia mountains, the high altitude and steep valleys make poor deer habitat. There's not a wide variety of food available, and winters are tough. When the mast crop fails, it can devastate the herd.
No counties in the mountain region have produced four or more record book deer.
Two counties in Deer Management Unit 1, however, have produced record-book bucks. Murray County has three P&Y records, and Lumpkin has two. Each county has some isolated habitat where bucks get a chance to grow old.
Deer Management Unit 2 runs in a band across the state just south of the mountains and has slightly better deer-producing soils and terrain. The hills are not as steep, and there is more bottomland in the valleys.
Even so, no counties here have four or more record-book bucks, but one has an entry near the top of one list. Only two counties have produced any P&Y record book deer. None have produced B&C bucks.
Hall and Bartow counties each have four P&Y record-book deer, but they don't make the top 10 for either typical or non-typical. Both counties have high human populations and lower hunting pressure, so the deer there can grow bigger. There's also more farming than further north, even though those farms tend to be fairly small.
There are only nine counties in DMU 3, and they make up metro Atlanta. Even so, four of those nine counties have produced more than four record-book deer, and among those four are Fulton and DeKalb.
Five of the top 20 deer in the Big Deer Contest last year also came from this region, with two taken in Fulton and one each in Cobb, Walton and Barrow.
Deer Management Unit 4 includes counties in the middle of the state, from Newton, Butts, Monroe and Bibb west to the Alabama border. It also offers some of the best trophy hunting in the state.
Eight of the counties here have more than four record-book deer; and four more of the Big Deer Contest top 20 from last season came from counties in the area. Four of Georgia's Quality Deer Management counties are located in this region, along with four WMAs with antler restrictions.
In DMU 4, Newton County had two of the top eight B&C bucks, and Monroe County produced the biggest B&C all-time typical rack for Georgia. This region has the capability of producing many big deer.
The counties of DMU 5 run from north of Athens to Milledgeville and from the middle of the state to the South Carolina line. This is also a good area for trophy bucks, with eight counties listing more than four record-book deer.
There's only one QDM county in this region and also only one WMA with restricted antler harvest. This region produces large numbers of deer, which often means fewer quality deer. They are simply shot before they reach their maximum potential.
In this region, Jones County holds the record for the biggest non-typical buck killed in Georgia with a bow and arrow. Its 13 deer in the record book places it No. 7 among the counties in the state.
Neighboring Jasper has produced nine record-book deer and one of the top 20 Big Deer Contest entries last year. Finally, Madison County on the northern edge holds the record for the biggest P&Y qualified typical buck killed in Georgia. Unfortunately, Michael Long's 173 1/8 buck was never officially entered in the Pope and Young Club records.
Running from just south of Columbus to the Florida line and across to Tifton, DMU 6 has three counties and three WMAs managed under QDM rules. Seven counties here have four or more all-time record-book deer, and three counties produced top 20 Big Deer Contest deer last year.
Macon County has five of the top 25 typical B&C deer ever killed in the Peach State and a total of 17 book bucks. Nearby Dooly County yielded two of the top seven B&C typicals.
By themselves, those two counties show what an outstanding area this is for big deer. The big farms cut by river and creek bottoms offer excellent habitat for deer, with plenty of quality browse and good cover.
A narrow band of counties from the South Carolina line just south of Augusta across to Warner Robbins makes up DMU 7. It's an area of fairly poor soil types, but some big farms. Wilkinson is the only county here that has produced more than four record-book deer and it has five. Also, one Big Deer Contest entry came from Washington County last year. There are no QDM counties or WMAs in this region.
In the southeast part of the state toward the center lies DMU 8. Some counties in the northwestern portion of this area have produced big deer, but the eastern counties are not as good for trophy hunting.
Dodge, Pulaski and Wilcox have each yielded four or more book deer every year. Last year, they also had deer in the top 20 entered in the Big Deer Contest.
Dodge County had two of those. Nearby Ben Hill and Laurens counties had top 20 deer in the Big Deer Contest last year. Montgomery is the only QDM county in the area, and there is one QDM WMA as well.
Georgia's coastal counties make up DMU 9. Due to swamplands and poor sandy soil, they produce very few big deer. Here, your best bets are probably Wayne and Camden Counties -- boasting one Pope and Young record-book deer each.
Trophy deer management, with intensive work on food plots, might produce a record deer if you have enough land to manage effectively.
If you want a trophy deer, concentrate on the counties where soil and terrain favor bigger deer. Manage any land you have for quality whitetails, and you just might get your name in the record books!
Find more about Georgia fishing and hunting at: GeorgiaSportsmanMag.com