Float For Squirrels

Floating in a river or creek for squirrels can be a good way to take home a limit, plus it’ll give you the chance to see some of the best scenery in the state.

Brad Gill | August 7, 2002

Imagine a slow drift in a camouflaged canoe two months from now. The leaves are just starting to turn gold and auburn. There’s a slight and somewhat chilly breeze across the back of your neck. Your trusty 12-gauge is strategically laid in the bottom of the canoe, along with a box of high-brass No. 6s. You make gentle strokes in the stained river water with an old wooden oar and very quietly place it in the boat’s bottom. You drift another 30 yards before just about stopping on a sandbar when you hear the nearby barking of a gray squirrel. Stretching your neck, you see the flash of a tail buried in a cluster of hickory-tree leaves. Carefully you grab your gun and quietly slide a red shotgun shell inside the chamber. As you bring the gun to your shoulder, the squirrel pops his head out of the bushel of leaves. Safety off, Bang!

With a swift plunge of the paddle you pull your canoe over to the bank, get out and go retrieve your seventh WMA bushytail of the morning. Getting back in your canoe, you throw the squirrel on some ice and continue. There’s still two miles of public-land river bottom ahead, surely enough river to finish out that limit.

Georgia’s squirrel season opens Thursday, August 15, and won’t go out until February 28, 2003. Squirrels are plentiful in most places, and Georgia has WMAs scattered statewide that offer you the chance at killing a few. Many of these WMAs have a major creek or river either running through it or along a boundary line. Why not try something different this fall? Float in a canoe or boat and try shooting for squirrels.

Legally, you are allowed to float and hunt a body of navigable water. However, if there’s private property on both sides of that river or creek, you’re left essentially with a vertical boundary line. If you do shoot a squirrel, it must fall in the water in order for you to legally recover that game.

“You cannot get out of your boat and go onto property you do not have permission to go on,” said Dan Forster, assistant chief of Game Management. “Most of the squirrels you see are probably not going to be directly above the water. So with that being said, you’re really flirting with a problem if you’re not floating in an area where there’s public access or you’ve got permission to be.”

Float trips through WMAs can be a productive way to bag a mess of squirrels. Here’s GON writer Daryl Gay with a mess of float trip squirrels.

Unless you have permission on private land, your safe bet is to be floating WMA or National Forest land. A public body of water where squirrel hunting is allowed does not have to be defined as navigable for you to float and hunt it.

On WMAs, you’ll actually be allowed to shoot a squirrel from your canoe or boat and go retrieve it on the bank. Your boat is also a useful tool in accessing more remote areas. Just pull it up on the bank and walk in 100 yards. However, if you’re shooting from the boat, there’s still rules you must follow.

“The boat cannot be under power by some type of motor, (when firing a weapon) ” said Dan. “It could be shut off and still be under power. Let’s say you’re running toward something and then you shut it off but glide another 30 feet, that’s under power.”

The City of Atlanta Tract on Dawson Forest WMA is a good choice for mountain squirrels. “Put in on the Etowah River at Hwy 9, and you can float east until you cross the powerline and then you’re on the WMA,” said Kent Kammermeyer, WRD senior wildlife biologist. “You can make a three-mile float, hunting both sides, and take out at the old iron bridge in the middle of the WMA.”

If you’re up to it, you can float three more miles and take out at Kelly Bridge Road. Once you come to the confluence with the Amicalola River, you’ve got about a quarter of a mile to go before you’ll only be able to hunt the left-hand side of the river.

Watch the signs because when you get a quarter  of a mile above Kelly Bridge, both sides will turn to private.

“There’s a lot of riverbirch, elm and maple, but you can find some oaks and hickories mixed in,” said Kent.

Kent also mentioned the Middle Broad River through Lake Russell WMA. Put in at Browns Bottoms, which is almost centrally located inside the WMA, and float downstream to Farmer Bottom. This float trip is about three miles long, and you’ll find  more oaks on the area than on Dawson Forest WMA.

Tuckahoe WMA, along the Savannah River and Brier Creek in Screven County, has miles of water where you can float and shoot squirrels.

“Miller Lake in the lower quarter of the WMA has a very good developed boat ramp,” said senior wildlife biologist Haven Barnhill. “Dick’s Lookout sits above Miller Lake on the Savannah and also has a good ramp. There are several other smaller lakes that have more primitive boat ramps.”

From Miller Lake, you can access the Savannah River under normal water conditions. If it gets extremely low, it’s tough for a bigger boat.

To access Brier Creek, you can either put in at Miller Lake and go down the Savannah to the mouth or put in at the primitive boat ramp at Canon Lake, which on is Brier Creek. In this area, expect to drag your boat through some areas because of blowdowns.

“There are some creeks and sloughs on Tuckahoe that during normal winters, when we have higher water, fill up and you do get much more access,” said Haven. “With the lower water, you’re going to be more limited.”

Yuchi WMA in Burke County borders the Savannah River. There’s a ramp on the south end of the area. There are several stretches where the WMA comes to the river.

Try floating the Little River between Hwy 80 down to Hwy 78 on Clark Hill WMA. It’s about a four- or five-hour float trip. Expect blowdowns, so use a canoe.

Another popular float trip, this one down the Oconee River, is through Redlands WMA. You can put a boat or canoe in at the Hwy 15 bridge. You’ll find Redlands property above that ramp and all the way down to Dyar’s Pasture. Redlands will be on the east side of the river. There’s some University of Georgia property below the bridge that is NOT open for hunting.

Maybe the most scenic float trips of them all are in deep southeast Georgia along portions of the Altamaha River.

“You can put in at Jaycees Landing right at the Hwy 301 bridge in Wayne County,” said WRD senior wildlife biologist John Bowers. “This is on the south side of the Altamaha River.”

From here, straight across the river is private land. Just go up the river several hundred yards until you see WMA signs — now you’re legally hunting Griffin Ridge WMA in Long County. From here, there’s several miles of WMA, along with little feeder creeks and drainages that run up into the WMA.

The next WMA down is Sansavilla WMA, located in Wayne County. You can put in at Williamsburg Landing, which is actually on the WMA. Most of the WMA is located downriver from the landing. Again, you’ve got sloughs and fingers to hunt. However, with the drought some of these areas are not going to be evident.

Also in this same stretch of the river is the Altamaha Corridor Lands.

“This is a 100-yard buffer of non-contiguous property including both sides of the Altamaha River,” said John. “It extends from River Mile 61 (Doe Eddy),  to one mile east of the Sansavilla powerline crossing which is right on the WMA. That’s also River Mile 36. This 1,330 acres is about 25 miles long.”

John said to watch closely for boundary signs, because you may be floating along and have three miles of this border and then there will be a 500-yard break where there’s private property.

“When you find WMA signs, you can get out and only go in 100 yards, and then you’ll be off the property,” said John. “There should be boundary markers and boundary signs. It is WMA land and is basically state seasons for everything. So even though deer season is in, you can go squirrel hunting there.”

We can’t talk about the Altamaha River without mentioning the 29,278-acre Altamaha WMA itself. This WMA is located downstream from the Corridor Lands and is best accessed from Altamaha Park in the community of Everett off Hwy 341.

“From Altamaha Park, you can go upriver and hunt Sansavilla WMA and the Corridor Land and you can go downriver and hunt Altamaha WMA,” said John. “The next boat ramp below Altamaha Park is Champney, and from there you can go up to the WMA. From the park to Champney is about 16 river miles.

“From the park, you’d want to motor downstream and head into Lewis Creek, Buzzard Creek, and all these little creeks and sloughs that run into the WMA,” said John. “You’d want to get in those and drift. That whole section of the river is tidal, so folks need to keep that in mind.”

Another southeast Georgia option is to hunt the portion of the Little Satilla that runs through Little Satilla WMA.

“There are several places you can go on the WMA and put in a canoe,” said John. “The WMA borders Hwy 84, and you may be able to find a place there to park and run someone else’s vehicle around to Hwy 32 and float all the way across the WMA. This float is roughly six or eight miles.”

John’s advice to anybody that’s going to try one of these squirrel-hunting float trips on a WMA is to get a map. If you’re going to be hunting some of these river WMAs, you’ll need a river map.

The Coastal Resources Division puts out a free map that shows where boat ramps are located. You can get this map by calling CRD at (912) 264-7218.

A more specific map of the river itself can be purchased at local hardware and marine-supply stores. These maps come in sections and have river miles marked on them. It has a good bit of the floodplain on either side of the river, so it’s a good tool to have if you’re going to hunt the Corridor Lands.

You can also call the local WRD regional office and ask them to mail you a map of a particular WMA.

John also recommends spending $17 and getting a book called the Georgia Atlas and Gazetteer that is published by DeLorme.

“About any place that sells maps should have it. I know you can get a CD of it too. It’s an 11X17 book, and it includes maps of the entire state including back roads and recreation areas. It’s the best $17 investment you can make if you’re a hunter. It’s even done in GPS grids. They have our WMAs marked, along with boat ramps. I use it a lot.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of WMAs across the state that offer float trips for squirrels. Look at the new regulation booklet and make sure that small-game season is open — many WMAs host deer hunts and close small-game season.

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