Big Lazer WMA Bucks
Always known for producing good hunter-success rates, Big Lazer Creek WMA in Talbot County also has the potential to yield quality bucks, too.
Georgiaʼs public hunting areas include a mixture of national and state land, including Wildlife Management Areas, Natural Areas, National Forests and a few State Parks that are open for hunting. The choices are scattered all over the state and include a wide variety of habitat and hunting opportunities. So how do you choose one if you are looking for a place to hunt on public land?
A little over two years ago Randy White started planning his move to Dallas, Ga. from Virginia where he had lived and hunted for many years. While looking for a house, he discovered Georgia Outdoor News and started subscribing. Since he didnʼt have a place to hunt in Georgia, he studied the WMA information to chose areas that he thought would meet his requirements, and he applied for a quota hunt for the 2003 season.
The area he picked for his quota-hunt application was Big Lazer Creek WMA in Talbot County.
Randy chose Big Lazer Creek WMA for several reasons. The area is nine square miles — 5,900 acres of land on the Flint River south of Thomaston. The river valley in that area is steep with high hills dropping to the river, so there is not much river bottom. But there are a lot of hardwood ridges, rolling hills, pine woods and thickets.
Randy also likes the idea that Big Lazer Creek and Talbot County have been under Quality Deer Management regulations. Only bucks with at least four (one-inch long) points on one side of their racks are legal here. By studying the WMA Special in GON, Randy saw that Big Lazer had relatively high hunter-success rates. He chose Big Lazer for his WMA quota-hunt application, and he was drawn for a gun hunt on Big Lazer where on November 12 he killed a 10-point buck that scored 116 4/8 points.
Randy wasnʼt the only hunter to kill a nice buck at Big Lazer last season, far from it. Stacey Koonce of Summerville killed a 14-point buck on November 14 that scored 102 1/8 points after having 17 inches in deductions for abnormal points. It was killed two days after Randy got his big buck, and Stacey says the buck was hard on a doe. When it walked up on him, its tongue was hanging out and it was ignoring everything else, Stacey said.
Lee Kennamer is the wildlife biologist in charge of Big Lazer WMA. He says Big Lazer is a beautiful area to hunt with big hardwood groves on ridges around the river and on the hills away from the river. These open, oak woods look like perfect deer habitat, and they produce plenty of acorns for the deer in the fall. The oak ridges are pretty, but they do not produce food for deer year round. There is a lot of other kinds of habitat that produces food for the deer. The deer remain healthy at Big Lazer, even though the body weights are down a bit due to drought conditions the past few years. Antler growth has held up, though.
There are 30 permanent food plots on the area that cover 110 acres. Due to budget restrictions, not many new food plots are being put in, and the current ones are being managed for long-term food production with Bahia grass and some overseeding of wheat. A few also contain some clover. Most are winter and summer plots with few fall food plots in production.
Although there have not been many changes for the past couple of years, DNR personnel are working to keep older food plots from becoming shaded in and theyʼre expanding existing plots when money is available. The wheat that is overseeded is the major effort for the fall, and the plots with clover in them also produce food in the fall. Last year there were about 30 acres planted in wheat for the fall.
Deer at Big Lazer have abundant acorns to feed on most years in the fall, and oak woods are where most folks hunt. But Lee says you are not likely to see a big buck walking in open woods during the day. They may feed on the acorns, and use food plots, too, but they retreat to the thickets during hunting hours.
Lee suggests finding a good thicket near acorns or a food plot where the deer are feeding. Set up near the thicket for the chance to see a buck moving at daylight or dusk. Lee also says that if you walk more than 400 yards from an open road, you are much more likely to have the hunting to yourself.
Moving just a quarter mile away from a road to be able to hunt alone does not seem like too much trouble, but most hunters are not willing to carry a stand that far, much less try to drag or pack out a deer that distance. However, you increase your odds of finding a good buck by hunting away from the roads.
Randy hunted away from the roads and said he did not see another hunter in the woods the three days he was hunting. He camped during the hunt and met a lot of nice folks in the camping area, but he had the woods he hunted to himself.
Linda Guy is the area manager at Big Lazer. She said that WRD keeps 25 percent of the roads closed during hunting season. This allows some hunters the chance to walk away from open roads and find secluded places to hunt. No traffic, including 4-wheelers, is allowed anywhere except on open roads. You can use a wheeled push cart to get your deer out, and Linda says that is a popular method.
The QDM regulations that require a buck to have at least four points on one side are popular, but Linda says each year she finds four or five bucks killed illegally and left when they donʼt meet the requirement. Itʼs obvious and shouldnʼt even need mentioning, but Linda urges hunters to be sure the buck they see meets requirements. Trying to “ground check” your deer after shooting it will likely get you in some serious hot water.
There are several hunts this year on Big Lazer, starting with sign-in archery hunting September 11-October 7. It is open for quality bucks and antlerless deer. On October 9 and 10 there is a sign-in adult/child hunt on the area.
For gun hunters, there will be two quota hunts of 400 hunters each held this year at Big Lazer. The first is October 27-30 and the second is November 10-13. Both are check-in hunts and are quality-buck with antlerless deer allowed the last two days of each hunt. There is a hunt for honorary-license holders that is sign-in on November 23-24 that allows quality bucks or antlerless deer.
This year there is also a third gun hunt that is sign-in without a quota. It is scheduled for December 3-4 and allows quality bucks and antlerless deer to be taken. Although the rut will be over by then, you might have a chance to find a big buck if you are willing to work at it.
Linda reminds hunters that the campground is primitive at Big Lazer and quiet hours are from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. That means no generators, no radios and no loud noises. You will get a ticket if you violate quiet hours.
The way Randy scouted for deer at Big Lazer is an excellent way to find your deer there — or on any other hunting land. He had never seen the area before, so he got in the woods before the hunt and walked with a hand-held GPS, marking every scrape and rub he found. By studying the GPS, he located a good scrape line and set up his portable stand near the middle of it the afternoon before the hunt.
The next morning at about 10:45, Randy used his rattling horns a little and spotted movement through the trees. He then used a grunt call to lure the buck in. It came toward him, circling to get downwind or uphill of him. When it got within about 60 yards, Randy saw it was a good buck that had at least four points on a side, and he grunted with his voice to make it stop. Randy hunts with a shotgun and slugs, something most Georgia hunters have abandoned for rifles. But at 60 yards the slug from his shotgun did the job, and Randy got a buck that any hunter would be proud of on any hunting land, public or private.
Stacey also scouted for his deer, but he had an advantage. Last fall was his third hunt on Big Lazer. He had hunted several other public hunting areas and liked Big Lazer best because of the habitat and QDM regulations. The rolling hills away from the river are his favorite places to hunt. He says you can find ridge after ridge with hardwoods on the sides and pines on the tops, then down the other side through hardwoods to a creek or ditch.
He found one a little different, with thick pines running all the way down to the bottom of a hill. The buck he killed was near a scrape line and was in the thickest part of the area. He and his partner had scouted the area and both set up there, and Stacey says working together they felt one had a good chance of getting the buck they were after.
Another thing Stacey likes about Big Lazer is the distance between open roads. He says you can get away from the roads and away from other hunters by walking a little while.
Lee says what Randy and Stacey did to find their deer is the key. Hunters must scout out the area and find signs of a good buck if that is what they want. Walking a short distance from a road and putting up a stand in open woods or near a food plot probably wonʼt get you a shot at a quality buck. You need to put in some time in the woods to find one.
Some of the areas at Big Lazer are difficult to get to. The ridges and ditches running down to the river valley make hunting right on the river tough, and there is one section of the area where you must wade a creek to get to it. Hunting areas that are difficult to reach are more likely to produce a good deer for you.
Stacey killed his deer at about 11 a.m., close to the same time Randy killed his — after many hunters have left their stands. That is another factor to keep in mind, stay in your stand as late as you can stand it, then wait longer. Many big deer are killed in the middle of the day on public hunting areas.
That those two big bucks were both killed in mid-November should give you an idea of the best time to hunt Big Lazer if youʼre interested in a rutting buck. Although all the hunts can be good, the mid-November hunt is going to be during the height of the rut. History shows that if you just want some venison and a doe will suit you, the first quoto hunt typically has a better hunter-success rate and does make up more the harvest than bucks.
Randy plans on hunting Big Lazer during archery season this year and use that time to scout the area better for another big buck. Lee suggests coming down and hunting for squirrels and scouting at the same time. You can squirrel hunt there starting August 15, and trying to bag a few bushytails adds to the fun of a scouting trip.
Use Randy and Staceyʼs ideas to hunt Big Lazer. Apply for the hunt that best suits your needs, and be prepared to do some scouting before hunting. Locate a thick area near food and try to find rubs and scrapes if it is during the rut. Set up and stay in the tree all day if possible.
You just might have a Truck-Buck entry before the hunt is over.
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