North Carolina's Best Draw Hunts For Deer

North Carolina's Best Draw Hunts For Deer

If you want to hunt less crowded public land, draw hunts may be for you. Here are some of the best in the state.

Brandon Mosteller of Lincolnton took this 9-point buck on a draw hunt at the Pee Dee NWR.
Photo by Mike Marsh.

One of the most commonly cited concerns among hunters in North Carolina who do not hunt on public land is that public-land hunts are overcrowded. If that's your concern, you might want to consider applying for one of the many draw hunts held on public lands each year in North Carolina. We'll take a look at some of the different kinds of draw hunts for deer run on public lands across the state. It's quite possible that one or more of these hunts will fit what you are looking for in a deer hunt.

Long before sunrise, I drove my pickup through a road bisecting a harvested soybean field. A recent rain had softened the red clay soil of the field, showing the pockmarks of thousands of deer tracks when I had scouted the field the day before.

I was hunting at the 8,443-acre Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge during one of the gun hunts. It was one of the best times for a gun hunt, with dates that overlapped the opening of the muzzleloader deer season on the final Saturday for surrounding private and public property in Anson and Richmond counties. I was able to hunt with a centerfire rifle at Pee Dee NWR in advance of the state's regular firearms season for the region because I was hunting on federal property.

In fact, several national wildlife refuges operate under the same cooperative agreement with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. That agreement opens the wildlife refuges to early regular firearms hunts, because the chance to use firearms early on these hunts helps to attract hunters to them, which in turn helps the refuges achieve the goal of controlling refuge deer populations.

Despite the fact that I thought I had made it to my preferred hunting spot early enough, flashlights winked at me from every trail I tried to enter around the field. Eventually, I settled for one of my backup choices way down the list, which was at the peak of a high ridge overlooking a honeysuckle thicket between two fields. It was well back from the fields, beyond the distance that most hunters are comfortable with hunting from any nearby road.

For many hunters, draw hunts are a big draw, while for others they never top the list of places to go. One reason hunters don't participate is that they must plan ahead for draw hunts, knowing they can take off work if they win the hunt lottery. I had obtained a permit application for the Pee Dee NWR hunt on June 1 and sent it back in with the required fee soon thereafter. I didn't receive my first choice of dates. But I wish I had. I found out from refuge manager J.D. Bricken that hunters had taken 43 deer during the previous hunt, which took place during the pre-rut period.

"We have some excellent quality deer for this area," Bricken said. "We would like to see more does taken, but hunters can harvest whatever they want. Many hunters wait for bucks because they know some nice-antlered deer are here. It's rare to find a property in this area open to public hunting with so many fields planted in crops. We plant 1,100 acres, mostly for waterfowl management. The farmers leave 20 percent of the crop un-harvested as part of their farming agreement. These crops, along with controlled burning and other landscape management practices, benefit the deer along with other wildlife."

Bricken said Pee Dee permit hunts could appear crowded. However, anyone with patience or a loose foot can find a good hunting spot.

"Very few of our hunters use all three of their hunting days," he said. "Some may hunt only on Saturday. Others may hunt only Friday and Saturday. The hunting can get pretty crowded the first two days and that discourages some hunters, who head to other spots on Saturday. But there's room for hunters to spread out if they get away the roads. It's normal to find hunters' vehicles parked at all the gated access trails and turnouts."

Bricken said only 250 hunters are drawn for each hunt and a total of 2,500 applications are sent out. An average of 200 out of each 250 hunters drawn actually pay the hunt fee. Out of those hunters, no more than 150 typically hunt on any day. Thursday and Friday seem to be the peak hunting days. By Saturday, usually only 40 to 50 hunters are still trying to take a deer.

Over the course of my three-day hunt, I had chances at does, but was waiting for one of Pee Dee's legendary refuge bucks. I finally had a chance at one, but he passed into thick cover before I could align my riflescope.

Hunters brought harvested bucks and does to the check-in shed consistently and many said they applied year after year for the Pee Dee River NWR hunt. Several hunters had hunted during the bow season, when unlimited self-policing permits are issued, and their bowhunting experiences had helped them scout for the firearms or muzzleloader hunts, which require lottery permits.

To participate in the firearms hunts, hunters must obtain their permit application in June by calling the refuge headquarters. It must be submitted by the end of July. A pubic drawing is held in early August and successful applicants must pay a $12.50 fee that is due in September. Individuals can apply or parties of up to five hunters can apply. For party hunts, the applications must be stapled together.

Contact Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge by mail at Route 1, Box 92, Wadesboro, N.C. 28170, telephone (704) 694-4424, or visit the Web site at

The 12,000-acre Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes NWR in Hyde and Washington counties offers another excellent refuge draw hunt. Like Pee Dee NWR, the Pungo Unit's initial hunt dates for firearms hunts open ahead of the regular gun season in the surrounding terrain, with a firearms hunt in September. Hunts continue through the rest of the season.

The Pungo Unit is mostly swampy terrain. However, like Pee Dee NWR, much of the land is planted for waterfowl. Soybeans, milo and corn planted for waterfowl also attract deer and incidentally grow some very big deer compared with much of the public land available to hunters in the same area.

The result is a high number of applicants for the hunts on initial hunt dates. But interest usually wanes in the later dates, once the regular firearms season opens in surrounding counties.

Hunters must use shotguns or muzzleloaders and the firearm most hunters use is a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with No. 00 buckshot. There is also a self-checking bow season. Bowhunters can hunt Pungo at any time during the

regular deer season when there is not a permit hunt in progress on the refuge.

It can be tough to find a tree to climb at Pungo. Many hunters sit on stools or stepladders or lean ladder stands against trees. Canoes and other small boats are seen atop many vehicles for crossing the many canals, as well as for transporting deer.

Mosquitoes are present, sometimes in nearly unbearable numbers. Pungo hunters apply insect repellent and use insect-repelling devices, wear bug suits and learn to tolerate the insects for success.

Getting away from crowds at Pungo is important for success. Hunters use carts to ferry gear well beyond the many locked gates. However, if a hunter takes a deer well beyond a gate, he can contact the staff at the refuge office, and they will open the gate and help him retrieve his kill.

One reason for fast removal of a harvested deer is the presence of a hunter-conditioned population of black bears. These bears will sometimes come to the sound of a gunshot to claim a deer kill from a hunter. They have eaten seats off bicycles and tree stands, even chewed tires and stolen hunters' deers from their pickup beds.

Some bowhunters have had their deer taken by bears and prefer to hunt other places for that reason. Pungo was once the site of severe wildfires, which led to its reputation as an easy place to kill a deer. The fires consumed cover and the deer were easier to see. But controlled burning now is done on a much smaller scale, making the hunt on par with the difficulty of other coastal managed landscape hunts.

Pungo Unit hunt applications must be mailed by mid-August. To receive an application package, contact Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge at P.O. Box 329, Columbia, N.C. 27925, call (252) 796-3004, or visit Parties of up to five hunters may apply and the hunt fee is $12.50 per person.

Mattamuskeet NWR is a 50,000-acre waterfowl refuge located in Hyde County. It consists mostly of Lake Mattamuskeet. However, the refuge opens approximately 9,000 acres to deer hunting during two two-day hunts held in October. The hunt area consists of all refuge lands west of N.C. Highway 94 except for the 600-acre Entrance Road, MI-4 Impoundment and Headquarters area.

The hunt area is made up of open marshes and dense coastal hardwood swamps. Mattamuskeet hunters should wear hip boots, and they can expect a high tick and mosquito count.

Deer hunters must specify in their applications first and second choice of hunt dates and preference for east or west areas within the designated hunting territory. Applications can be made individually or in parties of up to five hunters. For group applications, cards of all group members must be attached together in one envelope.

Applications must be received around Sept. 1 and a public drawing is held the next week. A fee of $12.50 is required for successful applicants. After the public drawing, any un-issued permits are provided to hunters on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hunters may take one antlered deer and one antlerless deer or two antlerless deer each hunting day. Deer may be taken only with shotgun, muzzleloading rifle or bow and arrow. Possession of modern centerfire rifles, pistols or other weapons is prohibited. Hunters may use boats for access, but may not hunt from boats. Vehicles are restricted to driving on designated roads. Access behind gated roads is allowed by foot travel, bicycle or boat.

All deer taken must be checked in at the check station at the refuge headquarters. Weights and other biological information are collected. But field dressing harvested animals is allowed and encouraged. No facilities are available for dressing deer.

Like the Pee Dee and Pungo Unit hunts, firearms and muzzleloader hunters must wear a minimum of 500 square inches of hunter orange above the waistline visible from all directions. While the other refuge hunts allow setting up stands in advance, Mattamuskeet NWR rules say portable tree stands may not be put up before the hunt day and must be removed each day. The use of nails, wire, screws, lag bolt steps or bolts to attach a stand to a tree and the act of hunting from a tree into which a metal object is driven to support a hunter are prohibited.

To obtain an application for deer hunting at Mattamuskeet NWR, write to Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, 38 Mattamuskeet Road, Swan Quarter, N.C. 27885, telephone (252) 926-4021, or visit www.fws. gov/mattamuskeet.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission jointly manage Roanoke River NWR and Roanoke River Game Land. The combined public hunting area consists of several tracts located in Bertie, Halifax, Martin and Northampton counties totaling 51,547 acres, which increased from 29,606 acres with the purchase and posting of several new tracts in 2006-07. The tracts are Askew (1,300 acres), Beach House (600 acres), Boone (1,925 acres), Broadneck (5,900 acres), Company Swamp (2,100 acres), Conine Island (3,700 acres), Conoho Farms (3,400 acres), Cypress Swamp (1,425 acres), Deveraux (5,300 acres), Great and Goodman islands (4,500 acres), Hampton Swamp (1,300 acres), Odom (890 acres), Pollocks Ferry (2,000 acres), Urquhart (1,200 acres) and Town Swamp (2,250 acres).

The commission administers permit draw hunts, which are outlined in the Special Hunt Opportunities Digest issued by the commission. To apply, hunters must complete an application and pay a $5 fee. Applications can be completed via computer at any authorized license dealer. The application deadline is Sept. 15 and the maximum party size is five hunters.

Hunters may apply for 11 different three-day, any-weapon hunts on any of the 12 tracts. Hunts take place during October through mid-November on all tracts. But hunts in late November through December occur only on the Beach House, Conoho Farms, Cypress Swamp, Deveraux Swamp, Odom, Pollacks Ferry and Urquart-Boone tracts.

Hunters can buy a $5 permit to bowhunt any of the tracts during the regular eastern region bow season in mid-September through the first week in October. Hunters can also buy a $5 permit to hunt any of the tracts with a muzzleloader during the regular eastern region muzzleloader season. Primitive weapons permits are unlimited in number.

Hunters are requested to scout only once before hunting to minimize disturbance. Camping is allowed within 100 yards of the Roanoke River and many hunters use boats for access. Flooding can hurt hunters' chances at some tracts during their hunt dates because much of the territory is hardwood floodplain. However, there are upland areas offering good hunting even during floods. The Roanoke River drainage includes some of the best natural habitat in the Coastal Plain and some big bucks are taken from the hunting area.

Hip boots, maps and GPS or compasses are extra gear hunters should have when hunting at Roanoke River NWR. For more information, call the NCWRC at (919) 707-0050, write to NCWRC, 1703 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699

-1703, or visit

While many commission deer draw hunts are offered across the state, some of the mountain game lands offer truly unique hunting opportunities. John's River is a new game land opening in Burke County this fall. It will be a permit-only hunting area. During permit deer hunts, deer of either sex may be taken. It is also a waterfowl hunting area, with a prohibition against entry except by permit-holders for waterfowl hunts after Oct. 1.

An either-sex deer youth hunt is held at the 850-acre Warrior Creek Recreation Area in Wilkes County. Warrior Creek is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is located at W. Kerr Scott Reservoir. An all-day orientation/scouting day is held the first week of November and the hunt is held the next week.

An either-sex youth deer hunt is held at an 880-acre peninsula of Duke Energy's Belews Creek Reservoir in Stoke County. An all-day orientation/scouting day is held the last week in September, with the hunt the following week.

A disabled sportsman permit hunt is held at the 10,256-acre Dupont State Forest each year. The hunt is held the second weekend of September. Limited disabled access behind closed gates can be arranged by calling (828) 877-6527.

Another disabled sportsman permit hunt is held at 11,650-acre Toxaway Game Land on the same date. Hunters must obtain keys for access to the game land at Gorges State Park at Sapphire. For information, telephone (828) 966-9099.

Information for these and other commission permit deer hunts is available online at Information is also available in the Special Hunt Opportunities booklet available at license dealers or by calling the NCWRC Division of Game Management at (919) 707-0050.

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