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First-Time WMA Hunter Gets It Done On West Point WMA

Hunter's Journal: September 2022

Reader Contributed | August 28, 2022

Josh Smallwood, of Temple, with his West Point WMA buck from Oct. 7, 2021.

By Josh Smallwood

Oct. 7, 2021 is a day I’ll likely never forget. I’ve always wanted to harvest a deer from a Georgia WMA, and due to private land being harder to get, that wish became a reality.

Until that day I had never deer hunted on any type of public land. It’s always been intimidating to me. I have hunted dove and turkey on public lands here in Georgia, but I’ve always been fortunate to have great private land that we have leases or obtained permission to hunt. Unfortunately, we lost all properties that were close to home for me to hunt. So, I set out on a mission to kill one deer, buck or doe, on public land last year.

I’m still amazed as to how this hunt even became successful. I had scouted a few areas at West Point WMA a few weeks prior to Oct. 7. I found some small rubs and a few scrapes that I had decided I would try to hunt. I phoned a buddy and told him we should try the upcoming bonus hunt and get an early chance to carry a rifle, as well. He agreed, and we started planning.

That morning was a whirlwind. We arrived early and trucks were filing in behind us. We got to our spot that we’d planned to park and got out, got dressed and got all of our gear ready for the hunt. As we started walking toward the location we had selected to hunt, we noticed a truck parked up the road, and it was a dead-end road. Out of respect for the other hunter, we turned back. We gathered our thoughts, opened some maps on the phones and started looking for another option. We dropped a pin on the map and started walking. We went through a small field maybe 200 yards in the opposite direction from where we had just encountered the other hunter’s truck as we headed to the other spot. We looked up and spotted an orange vest on the edge of the field. Plan B quickly came to an end. 

Slightly frustrated, we headed back to the main road and away from the area where we had encountered the other hunter. We walked up on a foot-traffic only trail about 1,000 yards away from the truck, and in fear of daylight fast approaching, we chose to go a couple hundred yards down and set up.

We were able to get set up a good bit before daylight, myself in a large pine and my buddy only a few hundred yards away. Daylight came and I started looking around from my Summit climber and realized it was thick. Really thick. However, at this point I had no option other than to sit it out. 

The first hour was pretty slow, but around 8 a.m. I heard something running through the thick stuff. When I looked up, I saw a deer that looked to be really white. I thought it must be a piebald deer. You could tell the deer was spooked. It was in a steady trot, but once it hit the foot trail, it started walking. That’s when I saw he was a buck, and he had 4 points on his right side. At that point the deer was 15 yards from my tree. I threw up my rifle and immediately got frazzled because my scope power was on 12. All I could see was bits and pieces of brown hair. I finally got him in the crosshairs, and I tried to bleat to stop him. That on top of him being spooked already made the buck jump straight up and in one bound he ran toward my tree. In one motion, I stood up, pointed the rifle straight down and fired a shot. The deer fell three steps from the base of my tree. 

I could not believe it. I still didn’t realize he was the biggest deer I’d ever taken. I just simply couldn’t believe what had just happened. From the time I saw the deer until the shot had to be 25 seconds. I was so lucky that day. The Lord blessed me that day, and I’d rather have the Lord on my side and a little luck any day! He also blessed me with a good best friend to be there to help celebrate. He even drug the deer to the road for me!

I had recently been talking to some guys on social media who hunt a lot of public land. They encouraged me just to get out there and hunt. Both of the guys who have been helping me out were on the hunt that morning. I immediately messaged one of them a picture from the tree of the buck literally lying 3 feet from my stand. 

The guy from WRD aged the deer at 5 1/2 years old, and his live-weight was 188 pounds. I had been the first person to check in a deer that morning, and the WRD guy immediately recognized the deer. He told me he believed he had trail-cam videos and pictures of the buck in the summer from a food plot they had been running cameras on. We didn’t have time that morning to let him check for the images.

I didn’t know at the time, but when I set up an appointment to have my deer scored it was with the same guy who had checked my deer in. He was able to get me photos and videos of the buck from the summer of him in velvet.  

It was such a cool experience. From taking a mature buck on public land to meeting guys who were so willing to answer questions about public-land hunting to actually getting to see the deer on trail camera. He ended up scoring 119 2/8 inches gross and netted 113 5/8. He is currently No. 13 of all time for West Point WMA on GON’s Georgia Deer Records at https://gon.com/georgia-deer-records.

If you’re on the fence about trying public-land hunting, don’t wait. Just give it a try! There are so many people who are willing to help. And just by asking a few questions on social media I’ve met some really experienced hunters who are willing to help. There are some great properties that Georgia has to offer. And you never know, you may just get lucky just as I did!

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