12 Tips For Hunting Georgia’s State Park Quota Deer Hunts

Success rates are good, but the hunting is very different.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | July 2, 2022

Georgia DNR started offering lottery deer hunts on a handful of State Parks in 2014, and they remain among the most attractive hunts in the state’s public hunting system. It will take you at least three years of applying and being rejected to have a chance of being drawn, and as many as five or more for the more in-demand parks. You don’t want to waste one of the hottest tickets in public deer hunting, so here are 12 tips for getting the most success out of a Georgia State Park quota-hunt permit.

I was drawn for Hard Labor Creek State Park in 2021 with four rejection points, so I was one of 11,740 people who tried to draw one of 635 total spots statewide. That’s about 1-in-18 odds of being drawn across all State Park hunts, which is even tougher than trying to draw an alligator permit (1 in 17). Across WMA quota hunts, your odds are about 1 in 4, so that shows you the desirability of the State Park hunts.

The State Park hunts are resource management hunts, not recreational hunts: They occur on parks that have a serious need to keep deer populations under control. So, there are usually plenty of deer, and they are only hunted once per year on these two-day hunts. Thus, the demand.

With my Hard Labor Creek permit in hand, I did my scouting and planning early. But by the end of the Nov. 2-3 hunt, I was empty-handed. I made some key mistakes that I won’t repeat the next time I’m drawn. Here is my advice based on my first experience.

Visit and scout the park early. Most importantly, talk to the Park Staff about hunting access when you go. When I scouted Hard Labor Creek, I made the assumption that closed service roads would remain closed during the hunt. I was wrong. They were all open to give hunters greater access. Areas I thought would be “remote” and tough to access were actually very easy to reach by vehicle when dawn broke on the first day. Know all the access routes, and don’t wait until a couple days before the hunt to scout. Go multiple times, in several seasons, to become familiar with the area.

Establish and mark as many stand options and back-up areas as you can. If I’d asked Park Staff about road access, I would have targeted different areas than I did. My only fall-back was to enter areas I’d never seen before. Two days is not much time to scout and find completely new areas, and people are hunting, some of them all day. If you go wandering into unfamiliar areas during the hunt, you’ll be disturbing a lot of folks.

Download maps before you scout or hunt. Most of the hunted State Parks are in rural or remote areas and may have poor cell signal. I use the onX Hunt app on my phone, and I downloaded satellite maps of the park while I was at home on WiFi. The “offline” map was crystal clear when I was on site, and my phone did not struggle to draw the map every time I opened it. I was able to easily drop a pin on potential stand sites and navigate to them again in the dark during the hunt—yet I had barely enough signal to send a text.

Have realistic expectations. Like I said, this is a resource management hunt. State Park managers need to take deer to maintain healthy density levels and prevent habitat damage. They need to do it in a short time period to avoid lengthy closures that affect normal Park users. Thus, hunter density will not be light, and access roads will be open. Your recreational enjoyment is low priority. This is a working hunt, and your help is needed to get the job done without complaining that someone else was sitting in your marked stand area.

Avoid the scenic areas. One of the downsides of State Parks is they tend to be dominated by mature forests of mixed hardwoods and pines, because unfortunately the forests are not managed for diversity or wildlife. There’s very little edge or openings, but there can be a little variation in forest density. I noticed that hunters tended to gravitate toward more open hardwoods where visibility was better, but I found more deer trails and sign in the thicker cover. Don’t be afraid to mark stand sites in thicker cover with less visibility, especially if you can find acorn-producing trees in such cover. There may be fewer hunters and more deer in areas like this.

This 13-point buck was killed at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County. Edmond Brown, of Trion, was drawn for the November 2018 quota hunt at Hard Labor and killed the buck from a ground blind about a mile from any road.

Don’t hunt the trails. Many of the roadless areas on State Parks feature hiking, biking or horse trails that are closed to the public during the hunt. These are great for accessing deeper woods, and everyone will be walking and dragging deer out on these trails during off-stand hours. Several times while using trails to walk in or out of the woods at midday, I walked right under hunters sitting in climbing stands. If you hunt like this, don’t get upset when other hunters walk by. (By the way, nobody got upset at me for this. Even the trail-hunters exchanged a “Good luck” as I walked by them. But if you don’t want to be disturbed like this, don’t hunt within sight of a trail).

Be flexible. In addition to pre-planning multiple stand sites and back-up areas, be prepared to hunt in different ways. Bring a climbing stand or saddle stand, but also bring a dove stool or ground blind for lighter travel and hunting an area without great climbing trees. 

Extra orange. Public-land hunting is extremely safe, no matter what you’ve heard. But that’s because we all have a good record of looking out for ourselves and each other. When I’m hiking in or out during daylight hours, I’m carrying a stand on my back that hides my orange vest on that side. So, I bring an extra orange vest and hang it on my stand. I also bring a solid orange cap to wear when walking in and out. Flashlights and headlamps should be on when it’s dim or dark.

Shoot does. Again, you are on this hunt to help keep deer numbers in balance with available food, and there’s not a lot of deer food because State Parks are dominated by unmanaged mature forests. Don’t let a doe walk by in hopes you’ll see a big buck. Fill your doe tags if you can (they are bonus permits that do not count against your state limit). If you can’t fit them in your freezer, donate them or give them to a non-hunting neighbor who would appreciate the venison.

Deer killed on State Park quota hunts get a “bonus tag” and don’t go against a hunter’s season limit.

Plan for remote venison extraction. To see the fewest hunters and the most deer, you need to find corners and areas of the Park that are farthest from an open road or trail system. That means being able to get your deer out of there. Be prepared to field-dress your deer back in the woods by carrying a sharp knife and disposable gloves in your pack. Have a wheeled buggy, sled, drag system or help from a buddy to get your deer to your vehicle and the check station.

Learn the special rules. State Parks come with unique rules that you won’t hear on regular WMA or federal land hunts. Where else but here will you be told not to leave gut piles on the golf fairway? And at Hard Labor Creek, anyone who killed a feral hog was rewarded with a free round of golf. There are also many off-limits “Safe Zones” around buildings, roads and property borders that you need to know about. Pay attention to the emails and other notices you will receive about your hunt, and be sure to attend the required pre-hunt safety meeting.

Stay on-site. You won’t get to hunt a State Park every year, so make the best of it. Book a nice State Park cottage or reserve a site for your tent or RV (This lodging is closed to the public during the hunt and available only to permitted deer hunters). 

Staying on-site is convenient, and you’ll get to know your fellow hunters from other areas. I meet some of the nicest people and best deer hunters on public-land hunts, so take advantage of your time by staying local.

Be safe. Don’t forget your tree-climbing harness if you plan to climb, pack plenty of orange, and remember to identify your target in your binoculars before you pick up a rifle and look through the scope. All of this goes no matter where you are hunting.

Georgia’s State Park hunts are a unique opportunity to hunt rarely pressured deer in scenic public lands. In fact, I wish more parks were open to deer hunting. Start applying this year and every year until you have enough rejection points to hunt, and coordinate friends in the process so you can apply as a group for extra enjoyment.

Apply online at Quota application deadline is Sept. 1

Editor’s Note: Lindsay Thomas Jr. is a hunter and freelance outdoor writer from Georgia and the Chief Communications Officer for the non-profit National Deer Association. Follow him on Twitter @lindsaythomasjr or Instagram @lindsay_thomas_jr

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  1. garyh on June 1, 2023 at 2:12 pm

    They were released today. Doesn’t look like they added anything worthwhile to the list.

  2. garyh on December 5, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Does anyone know of any State Park hunts that will be added for the 2023-2024 season? I would like to see some of the State Parks that offer some bigger bucks become available for Archery Only hunts, so people have a chance at some of those bigger bucks. These state hunt parks may offer opportunity to shoot a deer, but they don’t offer opportunity for any kind of trophy potential.

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