Lake Russell WMA Big Bucks Fall
Lower deer populations and less hunting pressure likely reasons for mature bucks with super antler growth.
Lake Russell WMA in northeast Georgia produced some big bucks over their annual Thanksgiving buck-only hunt. Both bucks were taken by GON subscriber and are entered in Truck-Buck, and both will end up near the top—if not in the No. 1 and No. 2 positions—on Lake Russell WMA’s official rankings.
GON for years has been compiling big-buck rankings on Georgia WMAs in a list called the Triple-Digit WMA Bucks.
Drew Coker, of Murrayville, took the first Lake Russell WMA buck at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 21, the first morning of the four-day gun hunt. He was hunting on a portion of the WMA in Habersham County.
If there’s a theme in consistently killing mature bucks on mountain WMAs, it’s putting some distance between yourself and the truck.
“We try to get away from everyone, so we got up there early and made the two-mile hike to our spot,” said Drew. “We split up, and about 30 minutes after daylight, I heard my dad shoot and found out he shot an 8-point and had some more small bucks and does around him.”
Persistence and patience is another key to killing bucks in the mountains, as Drew would soon find out.
“About 9:30, I hear something walking up the ridge, so I get ready only to see a pair of orange vests come into sight and right under me. After they leave, I decide to climb down and relocate,” said Drew.
It would have been easy for a frustrated Drew to call it a morning at that point and head back to the truck, but he opted to walk 200 yards and sit on the ground on the edge of a knoll overlooking two hardwood ridges.
“I got my grunt call out and made a few doe bleats along with a couple of grunts, and suddenly I see movement about 100 yards away on the ridge in front of me,” said Drew. “I looked through my binoculars and instantly see it’s a shooter. I get my gun up, but he goes down in a ditch and disappears for what seemed like forever. I make another doe bleat and hear him start walking my way again. He walks up the ridge straight toward me, so I waited and waited and waited until he finally turned and offered a broadside shot.”
Drew’s shot connected, and the 10-pointer ran 50 yards and piled up.
“Shortly after, my dad came over and was almost as speechless as I was and then said with a smile, ‘You just had to out do me didn’t you?’ After a couple hugs and high-fives, we realized we had a long day ahead of us and started the two-mile trek back to the truck, but we weren’t going back empty-handed.”
Buck No. 2 was killed two days later, on Nov. 23, by Abe Loggins, of Gainesville. Abe was hunting on a Stephens County portion of the WMA.
“I was hunting a travel route leading out from a bedding area,” said Abe. “The buck came up a finger in the middle of two valleys following a mature doe. I was situated in the middle of two logs facing the bedding area. He slowly walked into my shooting lane following the doe, and I dropped him in his tracks.”
Back at the Lake Russell WMA check station, WRD personnel said Abe’s 11-pointer was likely in its peak at 6 1/2 years old and 187 pounds. It had an 18 1/2-inch inside spread.
“He is my biggest buck to date and an amazing buck to kill on public land,” said Abe. “I have to give thanks to the good Lord for the opportunity to kill this awesome buck. Also a big thanks to my brother Levi Loggins and Corey Alexzander for helping drag him out and hold lights. Levi has helped me drag many good deer out of some deep and steep terrain. Could not have done it without them!”
Overall, the Nov. 21-24, 2018 buck-only hunt at Lake Russell WMA attracted 550 hunters, and they killed 68 bucks for a hunter-success rate of 12.4 percent. According to GON‘s WMA Special in the August 2018 issue, this lines up with the recent historical average. From 2015-2017, those averages were 12.4 percent, 13.6 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively. However, the average hunter success rates used to be noticeably higher.
“Lake Russell WMA has historically produced lots of deer,” said WRD Biologist Kevin Lowrey. “The management has always been geared toward maximum sustained yield, and that has not changed. What has changed is deer density and hunter pressure. This area from 1980 to the early 2000s maintained a high deer density of 70-plus deer per square mile. Due to lack of significant timber harvest, the habitat has matured, and the area cannot support a deer population that high. So the deer density is noticeably lower now at 30 to 40 deer per square mile, but it’s still much higher than typical mountain WMAs.”
Kevin said hunting pressure has changed, too. On the mid-October Specialty Hunt, which used to be a Ladies-Only hunt, participation has dropped off over the years. In addition, on the November Youth Hunt, participation has dropped by 70 percent. Participation on this year’s Thanksgiving hunt dropped from 704 hunters in 2017 to 550 hunters in last week’s hunt.
“So all of this has changed the harvest at Lake Russell,” said Kevin. “Body weights are up across all age classes, and we have more 1 1/2-year-old bucks surviving into older age classes, which has resulted in more quality bucks being harvested. A big deer at Lake Russell in the late 1990s was a 14-inch-wide 8-point. Now we have several bucks taken each year that are 17-plus-inches wide.”
While the area is producing more big bucks, Kevin said that the Lake Russell WMA Thanksgiving hunt is still a good one for meat hunters, with 1 1/2-year-old bucks still dominating the harvest.
GON is expecting to meet Drew Coker and Abe Loggins at one of GON‘s Truck-Buck scoring events, where we will get an official score on their WMA mountain bucks. After that, the deer will get entered into GON‘s County-by-County and Triple Digit WMA Bucks listings.
The current top-three Lake Russell WMA bucks are:
1. 138 2/8, Michael Abernathy, 1987
2. 128 5/8, Matthew London, 2002
3. 121 7/8, Chris Lewis, 2011
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