Dog Hunters Try Quality Deer Management

They won’t fill their tags every year, and they may not even kill a deer. These dog hunters care more about the future.

Brad Gill | October 7, 1998

Dog hunting and no doe days. What’s your first reaction? Anything with a little bit of bone sticking out of its head is as good as in the fryin’ pan. In most places, probably. But not for the quality-managed dog hunting clubs that lease land from The Langdale Company The clubs are found in Echols County, located on the southeastern tip of Georgia, adjacent to the Okeefeenokee Swamp. Due to low deer populations, Echols County is the only county in the southern deer hunting zone that does not allow the harvesting of a doe. This isn’t stopping these dog hunters from starting a QDM program.

Don’t expect this to be the next Dooly County since the harvest rule for bucks in most dog hunting clubs is four points or better. However, club member and longtime dog hunter Cliff Grant said it’s a step in the right direction. These guys aren’t interested in packing every square inch of their freezer with venison, but instead the thrill that comes from listening to a well-trained pack of Walkers, red bones and blue ticks crash through a stand of planted pines hot on the trail of a quality buck.

The Langdale Co. leases 30,000 acres to dog hunting clubs in Echols County, and a few thousand more in Lanier and Clinch counties. Within this land, there are about 10 clubs that hold 30 to 35 members each. Some of these clubs include Reedi Creek Wildlife Management, The Nayday Hunting Club, Boggy Bay Hunting Club, Banburg Hunting Club, Bear Branch Hunting Club, Old 94, Rock-Alapaha Club, River Island Club, and the Molly Rock Hunting Club.

Cliff and other members initiated the idea to pass up smaller bucks at the beginning of the 1995 deer hunting season. It was just an experiment to see if members would notice an increase in the number of bigger bucks that were shot. At first, some members were skeptical that such a program could work in Echols County. However, in 1996 and 1997 when members began killing bigger-racked deer, it became apparent that being more selective in what you shoot will produce bigger bucks.

Even though a dog hunter may only get a few seconds to actually look at a deer as it sprints across an opening between pine thickets, this new quality-buck rule is accepted by most club members. Being selective makes it harder and some shots are passed up, but it’s apparently worth it to have a chance at killing a big buck.

This program does more than produce bigger bucks. “It is being done in an effort to enhance wildlife down here,” said Cliff.

Not only that, but Cliff is enjoying the chance at self education about wildlife management practices. It also promotes a safer hunting environment. When members are being more selective, it naturally makes it safer, said Cliff. To better ensure the quality buck program and to create this safe hunting environment, there is a fine for shooting a buck smaller than a 4-pointer. The fine is simply there to better enforce the ruling, and nobody gets upset with paying it. All fine payments are kept within the clubs.

Harvesting 4-pointers may sound a bit strange to average trophy hunters who usually only shoot bucks with a minimum 15-inch outside spread, but Larry Corbett, County Extension Agent in Echols County, said their new plan is working. Larry said that 47 percent of the 1 1/2-year-old bucks are spikes. Therefore, Langdale clubs are allowing a large percentage of the bucks to make it to the 2 1/2-year-old age class.

These dog hunters are now seeing the difference. A quality-deer management program for the dog hunting clubs that lease land from The Langdale Company has allowed hunters to produce a better class of bucks like this nice 8-pointer.

The reason for the high percentage of spikes is due to the nutritional stresses put on the deer, which means a majority of the does are not ready to breed during their first estrous cycle. Some deer are not born until July and August, and are not given much time to develop good antler growth. The county has the quantity, but very little quality land that is needed for a healthy deer herd. Five years ago the herd was at six deer per square mile, but pro- grams like Langdale’s have doubled the number of deer.

In 1995, Roger Parrish, a member of the Molly Rock Hunting Club, was completely against a quality-deer program. Molly Rock’s rule was a shooter buck had to be a 6-point or better. He was raised that when you went deer hunting you went to go kill a deer. It didn’t matter if it had 2-inch spikes or not. It was always a competition to see who could kill the most deer, not the best deer.

“The first year was tough,” said Roger.

As expected, not one deer was killed off Molly Rock during the 1995 season. Roger was still against the program. The program seemed impossible to Roger, because seeing a 5 or 6-pointer was pretty rare in Echols County. Now they had to be six or better to shoot. It just didn’t make sense to him.

In 1996, Molly Rock killed their first quality buck on the new program. This started to turn Roger in the other direction. “Once you see a big rack, you get the fever,” said Roger.

The big turning point for Roger was when Molly Rock dropped four big 8-pointers during the 1997 season, and one of them was aged at 5 1/2 years old. Needless to say, Roger is now convinced. You used to never see a big deer, now it’s pretty common to see one, says Roger.

Roger has finally realized the importance of planning for the future. “That’s the name of the game,” said Roger.

He can’t wait until the club changes the shooting rules to 8-points or better, and there are plans for this in the future.

Even with no doe days and 47 percent of 1 1/2-year-old bucks being spikes, some hunters agree on this point: It’s worth the wait to get a shot on an Echols County monster 8-pointer like this one.

Patrick Dupree, an Echols County Law Enforcement Officer for the Department of Natural Resources, agrees with everything that Cliff and the dog hunting clubs are trying to do. It’s pretty exciting what the results may be, said Patrick. When you’re sitting in the heart of dog hunting country, you sometimes have a problem with trigger-happy hunters. Patrick admits that deer hunting in Echols County used to follow this exact pattern, but he has seen a complete turn around in most of the hunters over-all attitude toward the sport. It’s not just the hunters on Langdale, but a good number of hunters in the county seem to be passing on these smaller bucks.

Langdale leases out another 30,000 acres that is only for still-hunting. Some of these members aren’ t pulling the trigger unless they see a rack outside the ears.

In all quality deer management programs, it’s important for surrounding clubs to practice the same general program. It used to be when dog hunters would shoot small bucks, the still- hunters that would try to pass on these spikes and 3-pointers would get upset. Now that the Langdale dog clubs have started the quality deer program, it has created a harmony between the dog and still-hunting clubs, said Cliff. The respect that both types of hunters have for each other has made headway in the overall future of deer hunting in Echols County.

One thing Cliff and other club members know is that children are vital to the future of deer hunting. Without them, there will be no deer hunting. Cliff makes it a point to take a kid deer hunting every chance he gets. Kids enjoy hunting deer with dogs much better because it is rarely boring, said Cliff. The dogs are usually always running a deer. In addition to that, it gives the young hunters a chance to grow up and experience the fellowship and create friendships and memories.

Since dog hunting doesn’t usually start until about 9:30, members have a chance to get in a morning on the stand. Once everybody has congregated, members will jump in their trucks and look for where a big deer has crossed a private dirt road within the club. Once a big enough track is found, members will gather before opening the dog box. This way everybody can be together to talk about what they’re going to do. Patrick said dog hunters are definitely more of a social bunch. They love to share in the camaraderie of turning out the dogs and just listening to the chase, while conversing with their hunting buddies.

“If the tracks were made right at dark the day before, you’re going to need some expert trailing dogs,” said Cliff. Whether the scent is old or fresh, the dogs follow until they reach the buck’s bedroom, and the race is on.

Because these hunters are being selective in what they shoot, sometimes four or five hunters see the deer before the first shot is fired. Cliff said if they see a smaller buck or doe cross the road, they immediately pull the dogs off the trail.

It’s not all about who’s going to get to the deer first, said Cliff, but the thrill of the dog race. Cliff enjoys carrying on the same Southern tradition of dog hunting that he grew up doing.

“It creates memories and friendships that last forever,” said Cliff. He spoke of a special memory when his son, Caleb, killed his first nice buck.

Caleb worked after school and had saved up enough money to buy a 1976 Datsun pickup. He put in a CB radio and built himself a dog box. One particular morning, Caleb and Cliff found a good set of tracks. They put down their two best trailing dogs, Red Man, a red bone, and Tiny, a blue tick. They immediately hit the trail. Caleb knew the lay of the land and more importantly, he knew his dogs. This allowed Caleb to know the general area that Red Man and Tiny would funnel the deer. They hopped in the truck and drove about a mile to where Caleb expected the deer to run. The barking grew closer, as Caleb positioned himself in an opening and moments later a 6-pointer lay at his feet.

“He had his own truck, his own dogs, his own money and he did it all by himself,” said Cliff. “It was like watching my son become a man.”

He even occasionally allowed Caleb to take a day off from school to go hunting. The time was spent educating Caleb about wildlife and spending time with elders while creating memories that would last a lifetime.

The question is; What remains for the dog hunters? There has been an increase in the support for the program, and only good things lie ahead. If things continue on the same good path, then most clubs will start being even more selective.

Echols County spent many years with a bad hunting reputation for hunting violations. Many hunters from the past cared nothing about management and a few didn’t care what they shot or if there was even a season. We all know it’s hard to reverse the way people feel about something when a certain reputation has been branded as the truth. Well, what once was the truth is now far from it.

The management practices that have been formed by Langdale’s dog hunting clubs are working in more ways than one. Not only are they killing bigger bucks but are improving the quality of the overall deer herd. They are creating harmony with other hunters in the county to help ensure a future in the sport. They are introducing kids to the sport while creating a safer hunting environment.

Most importantly, these dog hunters are helping to erase a reputation that has haunted them for years, and preparing Echols County for the future.

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