Georgia's 2010 Deer Update, Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas
October 14, 2010
Deer can be found in every corner of Georgia, but some areas produce far more whitetails than others. Here's an in-depth look at the best places in which to bag a deer this fall...
Among the 302,198 Georgia deer hunters last season, 54 percent were successful. For over half of all deer hunters to score is saying a lot about the Peach State deer herd. Those odds have been fairly consistent over the last few years and it appears it will continue for this season.
Georgia's deer herd is estimated to be about 1.3 million animals statewide and hunters harvest about between 25 and 30 percent of the herd each season. That same amount of fawns is born each spring, which maintains a stable herd.
Opportunity abounds across the state for sportsmen to bag some venison and enjoy some time in the great outdoors searching for a whitetail. Those opportunities, however, are not created equal across the land. Some habitat is more productive than others.
Let's examine the deer herd and harvest statistics, the best areas, and information on how and where you can be successful this season.
HOW WE HUNT
Not surprisingly, gun hunters are the most numerous and account for the most deer hitting the ground. About 96 percent of all Georgia deer hunters use guns to hunt deer, and they account for 80.3 percent of the total harvest.
The next most successful hunters are the archers, though far less productive than firearms sportsmen. The stick and string crowd took only 11.2 percent of the total statewide deer harvest.
The smallest group of deer hunters is muzzleloaders and this is likely because their season is only one week long. The smoke pole season is scheduled between archery and modern firearms seasons in late October. However, hunters can choose to use muzzleloaders during regular firearms season also.
In all, muzzleloaders downed 4.5 percent of the deer taken last year.
So how is the overall deer herd? "Depends on who you talk to," said Georgia Wildlife Resources Division Biologist Greg Waters. "Some say its down, some up, and some say its average.
"Those who say its down are used to seeing too may deer," Waters reported. "It could even be a little lower."
In the 2007-08 Georgia deer season there were 350,715 deer harvested compared to 398,917 in 2008-09 for a 13.7 percent increase. There was also an 11.5 percent increase in the buck harvest from 143,092 to 159,567. The does were bagged to a tune of 15.3 percent more in 2008 than in 2007.
There were also more hunters in the woods looking for those whitetails. The number of hunters increased 3.5 percent from 291,911 to 302,198.
State biologists study and analyze the deer herd annually, poring over tables of statistics. They break the state down into five major physiological regions; Ridge and Valley, Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, Upper Coastal Plain, and Lower Coastal Plain. Each region has its distinct characteristics and deer populations.
Ridge And Valley
The Ridge and Valley region is located in northwest Georgia around Rome and Dalton. The topography is as the name implies, composed of series of parallel ridges. There is some agriculture in the valleys with the human development, and with largely wooded ridges.
Biologists estimate that there are 68,211 deer in the region, which correlates to about 24 per square mile. But despite a decent population, the buck and doe harvest went down from 2007 to 2008. The antlered buck harvest dropped 27 percent and the doe kills were down only slightly by 2.2 percent.
The success rates of hunters on the Ridge and Valley wildlife management areas is modest at 3.9 percent at Coosawatee, 12.1 percent at Crockford-Pigeon Mountain, 4.6 percent on Johns Mountain, and 5.8 percent at Pine Log WMA.
The most productive WMA in the Ridge and Valley is Berry College. This 15,585-acre tract centered around Berry College near Rome experienced a 22 percent and 16 percent success rate on its two firearms hunts. Therefore your best chance for public land venison in the Ridge and Valley Region is one of the two gun hunts at Berry College. The first hunt in early November is the better of the two.
Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains are known for their beautiful vistas, waterfalls, and tumbling rivers, but not so much for their deer population. Nevertheless there are deer in those hills and dedicated hunters can find and harvest them.
This region spreads across north Georgia's mountainous areas from Ellijay in the west to Clayton in the east. Steep rolling mountains covered with oaks, spruce, and rhododendrons typify this section. Biologists estimate the mountains hold about 16,878 deer or around 14 whitetails per square mile.
The antlered buck harvest dropped 13 percent from one season to next, but the doe harvest skyrocketed a whopping 224 percent from 924 to 3,022 does.
There are ten WMAs in the north Georgia mountains and none of their success rates were more than 10 percent. But some decent hunting can be found on the mountain WMAs if you know where to look.
Successful mountain hunters find acorn-dropping oaks and look for places the topography funnels deer into their sights.
The top deer-producing Blue Ridge WMAs was Coopers Creek, where 1,426 hunters brought 112 deer to the check station for a success rate of 7.9 percent. Rich Mountain's 34 square miles gave up 54 whitetails to 824 hunters, who tromped over its mountains for a success rate of 6.7 percent. Swallow Creek had a success rate of 6.6 percent, as 518 hunters brought down 34 deer.
If you are looking for a particular WMA hunt with the best individual success rate, go to the mid-November primitive weapons either-sex h
unt at Coopers Creek. The 457 hunters bagged 29 bucks and 18 does for a success rate of 10.3 percent, which is a very good hunt for the mountains. It is a non-quota hunt, meaning anyone can attend.
By far the most productive region in the whole Peach State is the Piedmont section in the central portion of the state. With gently rolling hills and drainages, fertile soils and agriculture, and limited human development, the middle of the state is the top deer producer on a regular basis. To the north of a line from Columbus to Macon to Augusta, the Piedmont has ample hunting opportunities on both public and private land.
Some hunters feel that the deer population in central Georgia is declining and complain of seeing less deer.
"Depends on where you are," said WRD Biologist I.B. Parnell. "I don't think that it is declining. The total harvest numbers are down, but public land hunter success is increasing."
He insisted that the potential is there.
"But you can't just sit in a tree 20 yards from the road," he noted. "You have to scout hard".
The Piedmont has an estimated deer herd of 422,713 animals and a deer per square mile ratio of 38.8, which leads all the other regions in both categories. There were 45,095 bucks and 144,271 does harvested in this region in 2008-09.
Mike Bowman of Loganville downed his first deer during the 2009 season. He took the doe in Wilcox County. Photo by Eric Bruce.
There are 21 WMAs in the Piedmont section of the state and fourteen of them had hunter success rates greater than 10 percent, with five of those tracts posting rates of more than 20 percent.
It would be hard to pick the one best hunt with so many having good success rates. The late October quality buck/antlerless hunt with a quota of 400 at Big Lazer had a success rate of 30 percent. The two firearms quota hunts for 150 hunters at Clybel experienced 40 and 31percent success rates.
Only 62 hunters out of a quota of 100 showed up at Joe Kurz WMA for the late October gun hunt and 30 of them got a deer for an impressive 48.4 percent success rate.
Rum Creek WMA is situated around Lake Juliette near Forsyth and hosted two highly productive hunts. The ladies-only hunt produced a success rate of 34.8 percent. The first quota hunt for 200 participants in early November saw 40.7 percent of the hunters taking home venison.
Keep in mind that many of these more productive hunts have quotas and must be applied for in the summer before the season. But there are still many general non-quota hunts in the Piedmont that give up impressive deer numbers. Cedar Creek WMA has a mid-October hunt that had a 21.1 percent success rate. Redlands has a generous month-long hunt that yielded a 24.4 percent success rate. Similarly, Oconee WMA produced an 18.6 percent rate on its month long hunt.
But overall, five WMAs lead the Piedmont list of top deer producers with outstanding success. Joe Kurz (30.5 percent), Rum Creek (33.0 percent), Clybel (27.1 percent), Redlands (22.6 percent), and Big Lazer (16.7 percent) are at the head of this class.
Upper Coastal Plain
The Upper Coastal Plain is located just south of the Columbus to Macon line. Then veers south to include the Albany to Dublin area. The terrain is more level than the Piedmont, with prevalent low-lying marshy areas and plenty of agriculture.
"The deer herd overall is stable", reported WRD Biologist Julie Robbins.
She oversees a 29-county area situated around Albany.
"Some counties are on the decline due to heavier hunting pressure, changes in landscape, and grown up land that was cutover in the 1980s", Robbins reported.
The deer population in the Upper Coastal Plain is pegged at 278,769, which works out to about 23 deer per square mile. There was a 20.5 percent increase in the number of bucks harvested from 2007 to 2008 and the doe harvest increased also by 18.7 percent.
There are 12 WMAs in this region.
"Horse Creek, Bullard Creek, and Beaverdam are usually pretty good for getting a deer," said Biologist Greg Waters. "They have around 20 to 30 deer per square mile on those areas."
Five WMAs sported success rates of more than 10 percent. Di-Lane led the way with 492 hunters bagging 111 deer on its three gun hunts. That equates to a success rate of 22.6 percent.
River Bend's 273 hunters delivered 43 deer to the check station for a 15.8 percent success rate.
On Oaky Woods' 29.5 square miles, 156 deer fell to 1260 hunters earning a 12.1 percent rate.
Beaverdam at 11.0 percent and Ocmulgee with a 10.6 percent success rate rounded out the list of top WMAs in this region.
One of the best individual hunts was at Chickasawhatchee WMA where the mid-October primitive weapons session presented a 20 percent success rate. The first two Di-Lane hunts with quotas of 400 each turned in success rates of 24 and 26 percent.
The early December non-quota hunt at Oaky Woods generated a 21.3 percent success rate.
Tucker Bruce got his first buck last season in Gwinnett County. Photo by Eric Bruce.
Lower Coastal Plain
The southeastern section of the state includes the coastal marsh topography, barrier islands, and sandy soils. From Savannah to Waycross, the lower coastal plain is estimated to have 170,157 deer roaming the flat plains. That's a deer per square mile average of 18, which places it just ahead of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
There are numerous public hunting lands in the lower coastal plain. The WMAs total sixteen and their hunter success rates ranges from a tepid 1.5 percent to an amazing 85.6 percent. Ossabaw Island WMA hosted 167 hunters that bagged 143 deer to post that outstanding success rate. Close behind was nearby Sapelo Island with an 81.2 percent success rate.
These two islands are the exception however. Though they commonly do yield high harvests, they share a unique situation. As a result all the hunts have quotas, permits are highly desired and one must apply for the quota hunts multiple years to get selected.
Of the remaining 14 WMAs, five boast success rates above 10 percent, which is significant in an area of sandy soils that is not known for producing a lot of deer. Tuckahoe is a known perennial deer factory with an average success rate of 17.3 percent. On down the list are Griffin Ridge at 13.9 percent, Sansavilla with 12.7 percent and Paulk's Pasture at 10.8 percent.
By far your best bet for scoring on a whitetail is on one of the island WMAs at Ossabaw or Sapelo. All their hunts enjoyed success rates of more than 50 percent, and the early October either-sex firearms hunt on Ossabaw had a success rate of 124 percent!
Aside from the island WMAs, two of the Tuckahoe hunts were outstanding with 30.7 and 24.7 percent successful hunters.
The first Griffin Ridge hunt produced a 27.8 percent rate
The first Dixon Memorial hunt was successful for 23.9 percent of hunters.
Finally, the middle hunt at Sansavilla yielded an 18.1 percent success rate.
It's apparent that there is good hunting to be found Throughout the Peach State, if you know where to look. As in any case, scouting and patient hunting go a long way towards making any outing a success.