December WMA Coastal Deer Hunts
Despite three months of heavy hunting pressure, there’s some venison to be collected along the coast for those willing to work.
December is without doubt one of my favorite times of the year. What’s not to love about Christmas lights, excited children, Santa Claus and most importantly the celebration of Christ’s birth? It truly is a magical time of year.
For deer hunters though, especially those of us on the eastern side of the state, it’s easy to feel like Ebenezer Scrooge this time of year.
With the rut long over, every major food source gobbled up and deer activity seeming to decrease more and more every day, it’s easy just to throw in the towel, kick back in the recliner next to the fireplace and dream about next year.
Before you throw in the towel though, take a look at the coastal Georgia WMAs in this article. They offer up some late-season deer hunting opportunities for those wanting to top the freezer off. Might even have the chance at a good coastal buck for those willing to do their homework.
When GON assigned me to this story, my first phone call was David Mixon, WRD’s Region 7 supervisor, and a hunter himself.
“Late-season hunting is tough, no doubt about it,” said David. “We do have some productive areas, though, and cooler temperatures and no mosquitoes is reason enough to get out and enjoy the coastal woods.”
The first area David recommended was Altama Plantation WMA. At 4,000 acres, it’s a bit on the small side, but it receives a lot less pressure than other larger areas in the region.
It also has a check-in deer hunt scheduled for Dec. 26-28. Check-in hunts mean bonus tags, a real plus for the hunters out there who have already filled their buck tags and would like to try and get another wall hanger.
“The late-season, check-in hunt is something new,” said David. “For the past few years, it has been an adult/child hunt, and we haven’t had much participation. It’s hard for me to predict what kind of success there will be without much data from previous hunts, but it’s definitely a wildcard and worth some scouting.”
The check-in firearms hunt will be either-sex. The area will then be open Dec. 29 to Jan. 12 for sign-in, either-sex archery hunting. On sign-in hunts, you must use your harvest record when you kill a deer.
Another area David recommended is for the more adventurous, but it promises some good hunting for those who want to put in the effort.
Penholoway Swamp WMA is a little more than 10,000 acres, but it’s the 6,000 or so acres of the Boyles Island portion you need to take a long look at on the map.
Boyles Island is open for archery-only hunting during December and is only accessible by boat, so it receives very little hunting pressure in comparison to other WMAs in the region.
You can access the island from numerous launches along the Altamaha River, including the Jaycee and Williamsburg landings that are both a short river ride away.
“Boyles isn’t for everyone,” said David. “It’s going to take some extra effort to get there, but the work should be rewarded with some great bowhunting action.”
Penholoway Swamp and Boyles Island are open Nov. 23 to Jan. 12 for archery only, either-sex deer hunting.
Another great WMA for some late-season action in the region is Paulks Pasture near Brunswick. This area is roughly 16,000 acres and is closed during a good portion of the season, thus reducing hunting pressure.
Layton Anderson, of Hortense, is a regular at Paulks, and he says the key to having success is to get off the beaten path and put some miles on your boots.
“You have to be willing to get as far away from hunting pressure as possible to have success,” said Layton. “Find a block of woods on the map that looks promising, and make the long walk to check it out. Oftentimes on Paulks, I’m a mile or so deep in the woods when I’m hunting.”
Earlier this year on one of those deep hunts, Layton managed to kill a nice coastal buck that should score in excess of 100 inches after the required drying period, which would place it on GON’s Triple-Digit WMA Bucks rankings for Paulks Pasture.
“I killed that buck the very first time I hunted an area about a mile from the truck,” said Layton. “I had discovered the spot earlier in the season doing some scouting, and it paid off for me big time.”
Layton says that he has had success all over the WMA, but as of late, the north end seems most productive. With most food sources gone during late season, he focuses on areas thick with briars, a late-season food source that is a favorite for Paulks deer.
“My dad taught me a long time ago to hunt edges of thick, nasty cover, especially if a point comes out from it,” said Layton. “You can bet that a buck will walk that point of that thick cover nine times out of 10 before stepping into the open.”
Paulks is open Dec. 22 to Jan. 1 for a sign-in, either-sex hunt.
Griffin Ridge is also worth a look this month, especially if you like to bowhunt. The WMA is only open a handful of days for firearms deer hunts during the entire season, but it’s open Nov. 30 to Dec. 29 for stick-and-string hunting.
Mark Williams, of Waycross, makes the trip over to Griffin Ridge as often as he can, and when I interviewed him for this story, he had just skinned out a deer he had harvested on a November hunt to the area.
“Griffin is definitely on my list of late-season areas, and I look at the archery-only hunting as more of a blessing than a curse,” said Mark. “It will keep the hunting pressure minimal and give those willing to do some walking a good chance to harvest a late-season deer.”
Mark only hunts public land, and at press time, he had already killed seven deer off south Georgia WMAs, and he has passed up a dozen more. He contributes his success to lots of scouting from home and plenty of boot leather on the ground.
“I probably spend 100 hours or more a year on OnX maps scouting WMAs for promising areas,” said Mark. “I’m looking deep in the woods, far away from roads, for thick, nasty cover. Once I find it on the map, I get out and do some scouting. If an area looks promising, I wait on the wind to get right, and I hunt it.”
Mark says the entire Griffin Ridge WMA holds a decent population of deer, but he focuses on areas where tall mature pines meet thick hardwood cover.
“Deer will walk those edges of dense cover, and a map and some leg work are the fastest way to find them,” said Mark.
Last and certainly not least, Sansavilla WMA makes our list for late-season coastal deer hunting. The area receives a good amount of hunting pressure throughout the year, but at 17,000 acres, there is plenty of room for the deer to escape that pressure. Local hunter Van Troxell says that’s where you want to be.
“From the very beginning of the season, those deer get hunted hard on Sansavilla, and they move back into the thick stuff pretty quickly,” said Van. “If you’re going to kill a deer on Sansavilla, especially in December, you’re going to have to get off the road and make sure you wear your rubber boots.”
Van looks for deer sign around swamps far from access points on the roads and says that though it’s a job to get back into these types of spots, it can sure be worth it for those who make the trip.
“Those deer feel safe back there, and they will still move around during the daytime late in the season, since they haven’t been hunted as hard,” said Van. “Don’t focus as much looking for buck sign, such as rubs or scrapes. Look for areas that are beat down with tracks and littered with deer scat. When you find that type of sign, you have found the deer.”
Sansavilla is open for either-sex rifle hunting Nov. 23 to Dec. 29 and from Jan. 1-12.
Now the choice is yours. Lay in the La-Z-Boy and dream of next season’s buck, or pull up a map of one of the WMAs mentioned, grab your boots and get down to business.
With a month left of deer season and some great coastal deer hunting options, you’d have to be Ebenezer Scrooge to not get into the spirit. God bless and Merry Christmas.
December’s Coastal WMA Deer Tactics
By Mark Williams
By December, the smartest animal in the woods is even smarter. It can be tough to kill a buck on public land following three months of relentless pursuit. But the dedicated hunter can still find success. These are some of the tactics I employ during the late season:
• Focus on food. Deer continue to eat and do so even more so during cold weather to build up fat and calories. In the coastal Georgia WMAs, I’ve found that you can often find hot spots around stands of greenbriar, privet and honeysuckle. You may also find some water oaks dropping acorns. Also, in many of our WMAs, DNR has planted rye grass in food plots and “wildlife openings.” Rye grass isn’t a real exciting food source, until it’s one of the few around. Then it can be a strong attractant. I also look for surrounding ag crops on the borders of the public land. If any still have standing corn or beans, deer will be pulled by them.
• Winter means dead grass and other ground cover. This can really help in identifying trails that may have been difficult to find while there was plenty of green ground cover.
• Cold fronts are always something to watch for when deer hunting, especially in the winter. The great temperature change that often is produced by these fronts can really get the deer on their feet. If I can be in the woods the hours surrounding a cold front, then I’m going to be there.
• Winter is a great time to be in the stand late in the morning and early in the afternoon. Deer seem to move better as the sun starts to warm the woods up. Also, there still is post-rut activity or what some call a second rut that comes in December. Bucks are still out roaming, looking for those unbred does. It’s a good time to be out there between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You’ll also probably have the woods to yourself during these times.
• My No. 1 tactic is to get away from the people. Deer do not like pressure, and by this time of the year, they have really figured out where it’s coming from. If it looks good to you from the road, don’t go there. If it looks good to you down an access path a 100 yards from the road, don’t stay. You may find fresh sign in these areas, but more than likely it is night sign. Get away from everyone else, and find where the deer have found their sanctuary during the previous several months.
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