Ceylon WMA An Added Bonus For Coastal Hunters

Lots of partners and multiple minds form this WMA’s vision, but it does offer deer, turkey, hog and small-game hunting.

Mike Bolton | May 30, 2023

James Potts has the best-scoring Ceylon WMA buck, according to GON’s Georgia Deer Records. He took it in 2021 with a gun, and it scored 114 2/8 inches.

Georgia has plenty of WMAs spread across the state that boast diversity in their habitats. There are numerous WMAs in the state that have abundant game and non-game wildlife species. There are several that boast endangered and threatened non-game species. Many WMAs in the state are made possible by a combination of partners.

The state’s youngest WMA, the 3-year-old, 27,000-acre Ceylon WMA on Georgia’s coast, has every one of those things in its makeup. It does have one thing that makes it unique among Georgia WMAs: its importance to national security.

When a timber company decided to sell the property several years ago, it put many groups, including the U.S. Navy, DNR and environmental groups, scrambling to secure the property.

It made sense that DNR would be interested from both a hunting, fishing and a non-game wildlife perspective, but why would the U.S. Navy be interested in a WMA?

The U.S. has two nuclear submarine bases, one on the west coast, one on the east coast. The 16,000-acre Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay is the home port of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet’s ballistic missile submarines. It sits on the Satilla River, an inlet to the Atlantic. The base property is adjacent to the Ceylon WMA property.

The Navy’s unencumbered path to the Atlantic for its submarines was threatened by the prospect of residential development. One builder planned to create residential neighborhoods and two marinas.

When the deal was finalized, a jigsaw puzzle of partners as diverse as the habitat had joined forces. The adjoining 3,000-acre Cabin Bluff site, owned by the Nature Conservancy, joined the WMA to make it 27,000 contiguous acres. Other partners included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Conservation Fund and the Open Space Institute, the Woodruff Foundation, the Bobolink Foundation, the Knobloch Foundation and the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship, among others.

DNR’s Jim Ozier holds an Eastern indigo snake, a snake you could see at Ceylon WMA. The snake is listed as “threatened” in Georgia.

Capt. Chester Parks, commanding officer of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, said “These successful projects protect the mission of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay from incompatible development, while also preserving vital habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species.”

The WMA is made up of longleaf pine uplands, freshwater wetlands, tidal salt marsh wetlands and maritime forests. Maritime forests are located on shoreline estuaries that grow along coastal barrier islands. They support a great diversity of plants and animals.

The WMA is managed as a multi-use area and is attractive to hunters, fishermen, campers (primitive camping), canoeists and kayakers, hikers, bird watchers, nature photographers and mountain bikers.

With all these hands in the pie, it’s pretty safe to say that hunters and fishermen don’t have carte blanche on the property. The WMA has quota gun hunts for deer and quota hunts for turkeys, so that access is pretty limited. However, there is no quota for archery deer hunting on the area, so that does provide some good opportunity, along with hunting for rabbit, squirrel, woodcock, quail and snipe. Duck and goose hunting is allowed within the confines of the state’s regular duck season.

Like most swampy tracts of land in this part of the state, the WMA does have wild hogs, and there is no limit. Hunters must use weapons that are legal for hunting on the WMA at that time and when game seasons are in. In other words, no hog hunting this summer. Y’all will have to wait until small-game season kicks off on Aug. 15.

The three quota hunts for deer each draw 100 hunters, although at best only half those hunters show up. The hunts are either-sex, and only one of the two deer may be a buck. For bucks, it is quality bucks only. Bucks must have 4 points on one side or a 15-inch outside spread. Last year’s deer season was the best yet in terms of hunter success, with an overall success rate of 51.3% for the season.

For more information on dates and to apply for a deer quota hunt, go to a little later this summer. When looking at the proposed regulations, Ceylon’s quota deer hunts will run the same weekends as they did last year.

There are also three quota hunts for turkey hunting each season. A total of 40 hunters are chosen for each of those hunts. Those turkey hunts should run the same for the next two seasons. According to the 2023 Game Check results, five gobblers were taken during the three quota hunts this season.

Fishing is allowed on the WMA in various places. A pond next to the check-in station has freshwater fish, including bass. Fishing in brackish water is allowed in both the Satilla River and the Pickle River. The Pickle River is on the north end of the WMA. Access to these places require a long walk in, but some anglers make the trek and find good fishing.

There are a good number of roads, trails and firebreaks located throughout the WMA, and hunters are allowed to use motorized ATVs if they are used during a hunt. Joyriding with ATVs is not permitted

Not all of these areas are driveable by vehicle, but they provide a way to move around on the property. Many wildlife openings around 2 acres in size are scattered throughout the property. A good place to view these roads, openings, etc. is on the Ceylon WMA interactive map at WRD’s website.

On a deer or turkey hunt at Ceylon WMA, you might see some hooded pitcher plants. Seven species of pitcher plants live in Georgia, mainly on the coastal plain. All are protected and some are listed as threatened or endangered.

Looking at the property’s history, David Mixon, WRD Game Management Region Supervisor, said the property was not conducive to wholesale logging like the timber company’s other properties. As a result, it was used primarily as a recreational spot for the timber company’s employees. It saw only limited logging and there were limited efforts made at wildlife management, including some controlled burning.

Jason Lee of the Wildlife Conservation Section, which operates the WMA, said acquiring the property allowed for the expansion of a fire-managed longleaf pine ecosystem, which is beneficial to both game and non-game wildlife.

He says acquiring the property was a home run for many non-game species of concern. At least 10 federally listed, candidate and petitioned species can be found there, as can 24 state-protected, rare, or species of concern. Those include the large gopher tortoise, wood storks, Florida manatees, bald eagles, indigo snakes, coral snakes, painted buntings and hooded pitcher plants.

While it’s true that Ceylon WMA has a diversity of stakeholder focus, at least hunters and anglers have another 27,000 acres in the WMA sandbox. It’s an awesome tract of land in a beautiful, unique part of the state, and it is an area sportsmen should consider for that outdoor bucket-list trip.

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