The first opportunity for hunters to pursue deer each year is with a bow, and Georgia has many places for bowhunters. In fact, there are some locations where only bowhunting deer is allowed.
By Craig James
September is a great time for Georgia bowhunters. Months spent scouting, practicing and organizing culminate in the season opener. Hunters with private property are about to head to stands overlooking cultivated food sources, while public-land hunters are narrowing down choices on state and federal properties.
Some hunters head back to locales where they've been successful before, while others are looking for something new. Luckily, the Peach State has more than 1 million acres of public hunting land available to hunters.
There are many Georgia wildlife management areas that offer opportunities for bowhunters, including some that regularly produce big bucks.
"Joe Kurz WMA is probably one of the best producers of big bucks in the state year after year," said Kevin Kramer, Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist. "With very few opportunities to hunt, deer can easily grow massive antlers."
Kurz is a 3,700-acre area in Meriwether County that provides open archery hunting for quality bucks (4 points on one side or 15-inch outside spread) and two quota firearm hunts. It is also open for small game, but hunters must sign in and sign out harvest for all hunts.
Another place to consider is Chattahoochee Fall Line WMA. While the area is only average in regard to trophies, the odds of arrowing a deer are high, as the area has around 100 deer per square mile.
"You just don't see a density like this anywhere, public land or private," Kramer said.
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Chattahoochee Fall Line has three areas totaling almost 8,000 acres. The Almo area offers sign-in archery and quota firearms, while the Fort Perry section only offers quota hunts for both archery and firearms. One section — Blackjack Crossing — is archery only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during its open season. And all harvests must be signed out.
Stick and string hunters looking for potential Pope & Young action also need to check out Rum Creek WMA.
At a modest 5,739 acres, Rum Creek harbors some top-notch deer. Harvest data and trail camera surveys conducted by the GDNR indicate that if a hunter is willing to put in the time, an encounter with a buck of a lifetime is a real possibility.
"Bucks have a good chance to fully mature here due to our intense management," said Kramer. "This area is quota only during gun season, and is only open a portion of bow season."
Deer are sensitive to hunting pressure on the WMA, so scent control and hunting the early season helps odds.
East-central Georgia also has some great public land opportunities in Region 3, with Clarks Hill WMA being a good one to consider.
"Though it's a long ride for me, I've been making the trip to Clarks Hill WMA for a few years now, and it has paid off each season," said Dean Oliver, bow shop owner from south Georgia. "In the past few seasons I have managed to take several impressive deer with very little time on the stand."
Also, with 12,700 acres, it isn't hard to find remote areas to get away from other hunters, especially since most hunters stay fairly close to roads. Hunters willing to put in the effort can find real trophies on Clarks Hill.
Those in search of a unique hunting opportunity need look only to Sapelo Island WMA. Located south of Savannah and only accessible by boat, this island is a true hunter's paradise.
"If you're willing to put in the effort, you will almost certainly have the chance to harvest a deer this bow season on Sapelo," said David Mixon, GDNR biologist.
Sapelo is accessible by boat only, and no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. Sapelo's north end is open for bowhunting throughout most of the season. The south end has two quota archery hunts, a primitive weapon hunt and two firearm hunts, one of which is for adults hunting with kids.
A few things for hunters to consider bringing when heading to Sapelo are a bicycle, a bug suit and lots of repellant, along with any required camping gear.
Most hunters access Sapelo by putting in boats at the Blue N Hall marina, north of Darien, or via the ferry on which information can be obtained by calling the Sapelo Island visitor's center at 912-437-3224.
Nestled in north Georgia about 30 miles north of Daholnega, Blue Ridge WMA is a real gem in the Peach State's final frontier. Stretching across 20,000-plus acres in the north Georgia mountains, there is not a more scenic or isolated location to hunt in the state. Locals and state biologists agree that though the population is not as dense as other areas, there are definitely some monster bucks to be had due to a lack of hunting pressure and plenty of acres in which to hide.
According to Charlie Killmaster, GDNR biologist, hunters must key in on food sources, which can be lacking at times, to be successful. Hunters must also be willing to put miles on boots.
"The really big older bucks are going to be tucked way up in there where other hunters are reluctant to go," Killmaster said. "If you do decide to take the road less traveled, be sure to let others know where you are, bring appropriate gear and have a plan as to how you will drag a buck through mountain terrain and back to your vehicle."
Another area worth scouting is Chattahoochee WMA. Located in northeast Georgia, much of this area, like Blue Ridge, is virtually untamed. Known mostly for its bear hunting potential, Chattahoochee also has great deer-hunting opportunities.
"Scouting is essential on this WMA due to deer being spread out, and some areas having much higher concentrations of deer than others." Killmaster said.
With that in mind, hunters who locate areas with lots of tracks, rubs and other sign should put some hours in the stand. Another great thing about a fall trip to Chattahoochee WMA is that it is practically overrun with hogs. To key on the hogs it's best to stalk them during mid afternoon, which is a great activity to fill the void between a morning and evening deer hunt.
Last and certainly not least, B.F. Grant WMA located in the middle of the state may be the best chance of writing a name into the Pope & Young record book. At 11,400 acres there is ample room for deer to roam, and the management practices are more conservative than any other WMA in the state. Only hosting a handful of hunts each year, usually less than 25 days of hunting total, quality bucks are a regular occurrence on this property. Add in the fact that bucks may only be harvested if they have a minimum of a 15-inch outside spread or a 16-inch main beam, and it is easy to see why trophy bucks are on the property.
"We have seen some excellent bucks come from this property in recent years, but it's only a matter of time until a real bruiser buck is going to hit the dirt," Killmaster said. "With the antler quality restrictions in place, and the intense management the state is applying to this property, the sky's the limit on B.F. Grant."
According to Killmaster, the majority of trophy archery bucks are taken during the first hunt of the season. However, hunters can't expect to show up the morning of the hunt and expert to harvest a trophy deer; hunters must scout the property to be successful.
B.F. Grant is also a great option because does may be harvested on all bowhunts, giving hunters opportunities to fill the freezer.
Without a doubt the 2017 bow season promises to be a good one for Georgia bowhunters. With WMAs spread from the mountains of north Georgia to the coastal islands, and acres and acres of flatlands in between, there is a great hunting opportunity just a short drive away. It just might take a little scouting and work to put deer on the ground.
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