Oaky Woods WMA Adds Hunting Land

A new 657-acre tract gives hunters new access to 2 1/2 miles of the Ocmuglee River bottom.

John Trussell | February 20, 2023

DNR just added 656.75 acres to Oaky Woods WMA, which has about 2 1/2 miles along the Ocmulgee River. Don’t be confused by all the orange outlines on the map. The new property sits west of the Ocmulgee River and has the name “Paul James L” on it, which was the previous owner.

In a very fortunate turn of events, Oaky Woods, one of the most popular WMAs in middle Georgia, recently grew by 656.75 acres. The new land is open for hunting and fishing, says WRD’s Lee Taylor. As a huge bonus, the new tract borders the Ocmulgee River for 2 1/2 miles, according to Jimmy Paul, who bought the property in 1996 and just recently sold it to the state.

Jimmy, who is an avid sportsman and an Atlanta attorney, enjoyed hog hunting and riding his horses on the land. He says he liked to visit the land and just enjoy the peace and quiet of the outdoors. The land was clearcut back in 1996 and now has an excellent stand of 27-year-old pine trees and abundant oaks and hardwoods along the creek drainages and along the river.

About three years ago, Bobby Tuggle, a good friend of mine from Perry and his grandson Tom Tuggle, a real estate agent for SVN Saunders, Ralston and Dantzler, walked over the tract and discussed how great it would be if the state could buy the land and have it added to Oaky Woods. With some good luck and the cooperation of the Georgia DNR and a large donation from an anonymous benefactor fund, the deal came together under Tom’s stewardship. With this addition, Oaky Woods now totals 13,350 acres. Most of that land is owned by the state, but a small portion around the Houston County landfill is county-owned and leased to WRD as part of the WMA.

The state purchased the new land for $1,806,049, according to Steve Friedman, the DNR’s Real Estate Manager. The price worked out to $2,750 per acre. Generally, the state will only pay fair market value for land and compare recent land sales in the general location to arrive at the fair market value. Steve says the new property, which is all contiguous and west of the Ocmulgee River, is a great addition to Oaky Woods, and the new tract has already been added to the WMA map, available at the check station or online at the DNR website.

Josh Holmes, of Hawkinsville, is the new Oaky Woods Area Manager, and he is eager to get the WMA in good shape for visitors. Josh has a farming background, which will come in handy as he deals with the many roads and landscape issues of running a WMA.

The land is hilly with rolling ridges that drop into the Ocmulgee River bottom. One ridge, known as Buzzard’s Roost, boasts one of the most scenic locations in Houston County. From the ridge you can look down a hundred feet into the Ocmulgee River as it runs into the ridge, then diverts around the ridge to the right, heading south. It’s a beautiful spot and was cleared out many years ago by Jimmy Paul to provide a scenic overlook for the rustic cabin he was going to put on the ridge. The cabin never happened, but the view is still there to be enjoyed by anyone who walks down the quarter mile road that is closed to vehicles but open to foot traffic.

This high overlook from Buzzards Roost down to the Ocmulgee River on the new tract is one of the most scenic in Houston County. The river is in flood stage when this picture was taken. Left is John Trussell, doing a long-arm iPhone photo, along with Josh Holmes, the new Oaky Woods Manager, Bobby Tuggle, David Davidson and Danny Wilson.

To locate the spot, go around the north side of Loop Road until you reach Bear Skull Trail, then turn left and go about 3/4 mile to the wood fence entrance to the new land tract. You will see that the North Road is to the left, just for reference. As you enter the wood fence entrance, the new tract is on your left, and there is private property on the right, marked with no trespassing signs. Go about one quarter mile to the top of the hill at the old Harvey Rackley home site, and look for the crepe myrtle bushes where the road splits into three directions. The walking road to the ridge is to the left, and the main road loops around to the right and down to the river. As you proceed down the walking road to the river overlook, the road will split, and you take the road to the right to reach Buzzard’s Roost.

When you are at the old Harvey Rackley home site, try to visualize that all the area that is now pine trees was once planted in corn and cotton. Harvey was born in Oaky Woods in 1925 and lived at this location from 1929 until 1938. Because of the tough depression years, closely followed by the onset of World War II and the coming of electricity to the cities, most people left the back woods and joined the war effort and never came back. The land for the most part is fuller’s earth or thick gumbo clay soil with abundant limestone rocks and is difficult to farm. Soon after the war, all the land was sold to timber companies. Deer were killed out until restocked back in the 1960s, and Oaky Woods became a leased WMA in 1969.

Just below the hilltop, heading east along the foot trail, you will notice the homemade concrete foundation, made of limestone rock and concrete mix. In an interview with this writer, Danny Wilson and Brett Speth, Harvey said the old concrete foundation was there when he was a little boy, so the original building was long gone by the mid-1920s. Please remember that it is illegal to dig or remove any archaeological artifacts from state lands.

Harvey Rackley, who was born in Oaky Woods in 1927, found this Indian smoking pipe, thousands of years old, with an alligator carved into the bottom. He was plowing in 1939 when discovered the pipe.

Harvey was told that the foundation probably dates to an old stagecoach stop, horse barn and trading post. Houston County was Indian country until land was ceded to the USA government in 1821 in the Treaty of Indian Springs. On the south end of the tract, there was a mule drawn river ferry, long gone, but the Perry Historical Society hopes to find its location soon. 

The ferry was probably located across from the present Dykes Landing in Bleckley County. The road out of Dykes Landing led east to the old river road that went from Hartford (1809), now a dead town, and to the colonial State Capitol town of Milledgeville (1803). Harvey is now 96 years old and lives with his son in Alabama. 

On a personal level, I’ve come full circle on this tract of land. Back in 1972, when the land was actually part part of Oaky Woods WMA, I shot a very nice 10-point buck about 200 yards south of the old Rackley home site. I vividly remember a very cold morning when the wind was swirling around and thought I would never shoot a deer this day.

But I was just leaning against a tree and looking down a trail, I heard a deer snorting and blowing hard, but he probably couldn’t tell exactly my location. I didn’t move and a few minutes later, he walked across the trail, and I could see the hot moisture shooting out his nose on that very cold morning!  What a wonderful sight! I quickly took careful aim and drilled him with a 30-30 slug from my lever action rifle. However, I could not find a drop of blood, just a few white hairs, leading me to think I had just grazed him. But I thought my aim looked good and just didn’t believe I’d missed a big buck. So, I kept looking.

I knew he had run down a slope and kept looking in that general direction and started doing loops through the area, looking for just a drop of blood or some fresh tracks, but nothing. After an hour of looking, I was about to give up when I decided just to go a little farther down the hill. I got to about 300 yards from where I had shot the buck when I saw it lying dead on the pine straw, a beautiful sight that I could hardly believe. There was no blood trail behind the buck or it was so faint that I could not find it. Upon dressing the buck, I discovered that the bullet had entered the upper leg, ricocheted 90 degrees and gone into his chest cavity.

The buck was a nice 10-pointer, and back at the Oaky Woods check station, I discovered the buck dressed out at 160 pounds. The buck later scored 121 B&C points, which is a pretty decent WMA buck. A few years later, I sadly learned that that section of Oaky Woods was sold to a private buyer, but it took almost 50 years for the fickle finger of fate to return that section back to the WMA as a permanent addition to Oaky Woods. 

As some readers may recall, I started “Save Oaky Woods” back in 2007 to try to save this valuable WMA from development  and preserve its small bear population and rare plants and Black Prairie areas. After a few years of drama and political suspense, we were finally able to convince the state to purchase a large section of the woodlands in 2010. Now, this new tract is a wonderful addition that will be enjoyed by outdoorsmen and the public for as long as the sun shines and the wind blows.

Hunting on this new tract should be very good for deer, wild hogs, turkey and small game. No bear hunting is allowed on Oaky Woods or Ocmulgee WMAs. I have taken several wild hogs close to the new tract in recent years, both with bow and firearms. When I scouted the new tract a few days ago, I found lots of wild pig rooting and tracks along Beaver Dam Creek and near the riverbanks, which acts as a funneling area for wild hogs and deer. 

During the upcoming turkey season, a good strategy is to carry a shotgun for turkey and a blackpowder rifle (legal for turkey) for wild pigs and longer-range turkeys. I readily admit that carrying two guns is a chore but can be worth the effort if you run across some pigs. I found numerous old deer scrapes and tree rubs along game trails, thus I’m already anxious to hang a stand there this coming fall.

The small-game season closes Feb. 28, and the gates will be closed. The gates will be back open for the turkey season. There’s a quota-only turkey hunt on Oaky Woods WMA from April 8-14, and then the season will be open to all turkey hunters from April 15 to May 15. Oaky Woods is also open for a special coyote hunt from May 16-31.

If you get to hunt or scout around in Oaky Woods, make sure you mark your parked truck on a GPS or similar device or app. I have found onX maps to be a very helpful smart-phone app and well worth the $30 yearly cost. It lines up very well with the WMA map and provides exact spot-on hunter locations. If the gates are closed, you can still access the WMA on foot, but make sure you have a hunting or fishing license or WMA Lands pass. Camping is also available at the Larry Ross Campground.

In addition to hunting, the new tract has many great locations for fishing along the river and a couple of sloughs, including one called Spring Lake. Several areas have good riverbank access that would be great to stake out some rods for the nice catfish that run the river.  This tract is a great addition to Oaky Woods WMA, and I hope you get a chance to hunt, fish and explore it soon!

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  1. Phillipky1 on February 24, 2023 at 12:29 pm

    I’m so glad Georgia was able to buy and preserve Oaky Woods, a few years ago it looked like we would lose that awesome property when it was put up for sale. Georgia needs to buy Pine Log WMA that is for sale now and at risk of being developed… no more hunting and outdoor recreation there if that happens. I just emailed my US Congressperson, my State House representative and State senator, and called the Georgia governor’s office at 404-656-1776 to ask them to take action.

  2. garyh on February 21, 2023 at 8:13 am

    Great to see WMA’s expanding. Hopefully the state can keep this momentum going. Raise the license fees another $25/year and BUY BUY BUY while there is still ground to be bought.

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