Coosawatee WMA: Home Of The Mountain Giants

This jewel in northwest Georgia is home to some impressive bucks, but the question remains how long the WMA will be open.

Mitch Yeargin | November 19, 2015

Coosawattee, Talking Rock and Ogeechee. What do these WMAs have in common? Two of the three are no longer WMAs, and unfortunately, it appears that Coosawattee WMA could be the next in line to disappear from our WMA system.

If you are not familiar with Coosawattee WMA in Murray County, just outside of Chatsworth, it’s not too late to make a trip. However, I’d recommend you come quickly because who knows how much longer this public hunting opportunity will be yours to enjoy.

It’s no secret that privately owned lands leased to the state as part of the WMA system are subject to annual renewals. With what feels like a local economy on the road to recovery and with a booming commercial agriculture industry in northwest Georgia (poultry, timber, farming), it seems the future of this WMA, which has already shrunk in half from more than 10,000 acres a decade ago to just more than 5,000 acres today, is in serious jeopardy.

So what’s so special about Coosawattee? Ask Jacob Castleberry. Four years ago, at the ripe old age of just 17, he skipped school and showed up on a cool November morning for a check-in hunt on the WMA. A few hours later, he was back at the check station with his very own 170-class, 4 1/2-year-old whitetail buck in tow. Jacob was truly surprised that morning to find out what many local folks have known for some time—they grow ’em big in Ballground—the name applied to much of this area but not to be confused with Ball Ground, Ga. near Canton.

Others refer to this property as “Bowater,” the name of the timber company that was once the previous landowner.

You may have heard tales of nearby Dalton Utilities and the public hunting opportunities there that have yielded high hunter-success rates and several nice bucks over the years.

If that doesn’t ring a bell, maybe step back to olden days and discover what Duncan Dobie wrote about in his book, “Georgia’s Greatest Whitetails,” where he highlights one of the largest bucks ever taken in north Georgia. Bud Griffin’s 200-plus Boone & Crockett buck was taken on nearby Coosawattee-Carter’s Lake WMA.

If all of that isn’t convincing enough, take a look at some recent photos from DNR trail-camera surveys conducted on Coosawattee after the 2014 hunting season ended. And yes, these bucks are still alive! Are you starting to see a trend?

Maybe big bucks don’t do so much for you. Maybe you prefer small game hunting, turkey hunting or even duck hunting? Coosawattee has something special for all of Georgia’s sportsmen and women. Small game hunters have grown to love Coosawattee over the years, a place where beagles can roam and rabbits are a plenty. For northwest Georgia, it’s surprising how many bobwhite quail you can still find there.

Whether you are a deer hunter, a rabbit hunter, a duck hunter, a turkey hunter, or one of the few remaining die-hard quail hunters, Coosawattee has something for everyone, at least it does today.

Unlike most other public hunting areas in the mountains, Coosawattee is some of the most manageable land in the WMA system. With much of the piney woods having been thinned during the last decade, some thinned heavily—a “real estate cut”—it seemed like the perfect place to reintroduce prescribed fire, and that’s just what the DNR has done there gradually since 2007.

In 2010, DNR burned more than 1,000 acres of the WMA, and in the winter/spring of 2013, that number approached nearly 3,000 acres burned. The results have been impressive to watch, and the open, piney woods of Coosawattee in some places have come to resemble a southwest Georgia quail plantation.

If you are still not convinced of the uniqueness and extremely high wildlife management potential that exists on Coosawattee WMA, ask biologist Nate Thomas, formerly of The Nature Conservancy and part-time employee for DNR for both the WRD Game Management and Nongame Conservation sections. Nate will likely begin talking about the open pine savannas that exist there today and the fact that there are numerous rare plants that depend upon an open, fire-maintained ecosystem to exist. Several of these rare plants are state-monitored species, and a few are listed as threatened or endangered by the state or the feds. Given the history of active timber management that has taken place at Coosawattee over the last 30-plus years, it seems that this land and the unique rare plant community it supports are more resilient than anyone could have imagined.

It all sounds like paradise doesn’t it? Did I mention that for the last five hunting seasons, Coosawattee has consistently yielded high hunter success rates, averaging just more than 15 percent annually, with some years exceeding 20 percent? Stats like that are almost unheard of for a WMA in the north Georgia mountains.

With a shrinking land base and growing interest from hunters statewide, DNR had no choice a few years back but to change what once were check-in hunting opportunities (open to anyone that showed up) to quota-only hunting opportunities for deer and bear.

The bear hunting opportunity on Coosawattee is nothing like nearby Cohutta WMA—not yet anyway—but it is not unheard of to see or take a bear in this area. The same is true for feral hogs. There aren’t just a ton of them thankfully, but it’s still not unheard of to see or harvest a pig.

You have a great chance to enjoy a deer hunt at Coosawattee WMA this season, but you’ll need a kid in tow with you. This non-quota opportunity is available Nov. 6-8. See page 49 for info.

There’s still a chance to save this WMA from extinction. Contact your local, regional and state officials, but don’t delay. If the lands of Coosawattee continue being purchased by private landowners, the WMA will be gone. I’m sure you’ll agree that this unique property is a great fit for a state-owned WMA that hunters can enjoy for generations to come.

For more info on Coosawattee WMA, call the WRD Game Management office in Armuchee at (706) 295-6041.


Help Save Coosawattee Before It’s Too Late

For folks who would like to see Coosawattee WMA considered for purchase by the state to ensure that it is available for future generations, have a conversation with your local, regional and state elected officials to be sure that your views are known and well represented.

Coosawattee WMA is certainly not the only leased WMA in the state that is subject to these pressures. In fact, a few years ago Oaky Woods WMA faced similar threats, and with quick action by DNR, the state legislature and the governor, it is now protected land owned by the state and home—for the foreseeable future—to a number of middle Georgia black bears.

A similar action needs to be taken today to ensure that Coosawattee remains and is available for future generations of public-land hunters.

Finding a contiguous block of forested land of this size in north Georgia is tough these days, and it’s only going to become increasingly difficult in the future. Given Coosawattee’s proximity to Atlanta and Chattanooga and the number of hunters who call these metropolitan areas home, it seems that the more folks who know about it, the more who will recognize the tragedy in watching it disappear.


Adult/Child Youth Hunt Coming Nov. 6-8 at Coosawattee WMA

The one firearms deer hunting opportunity on Coosawattee that is still open to anyone who checks in is the adult/child hunt. This year’s hunt is Nov. 6-8 and is open to youth hunters ages 17 years and younger. All youth hunters must be accompanied by a responsible adult; however, only the child may hunt (shoot a deer).

Given the well-documented supply of better-than-average bucks on the property and the overall healthy population of deer that call Coosawattee WMA home, this hunt represents a great opportunity for a young person to find success and enjoy an awesome hunt. Guaranteed a trophy? Nah, but good memories and a good time are free to all who will claim them.

This year’s youth hunt will be held in conjunction with a wheelchair hunt on Coosawattee-Carter’s Lake WMA. There is one check station for both areas, so youth hunters may have an opportunity to interact with some of the hunters who will be participating in the Carter’s Lake hunting opportunity and vice versa. All in all, it should be a great hunt, and DNR welcomes your participation in the hunt.

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