Paulding Forest WMA In 2006: Past And Present

This WMA has a long hunting tradition but an unclear future.

David Gregory | October 19, 2006

Here’s a great Paulding Forest WMA buck from the 2006 season. On November 18 Andy Baginski of Douglasville shot this 9-pointer that netted 122 5/8.

Traditions abound within the many facets of our lives. From traditional vacation sites to traditional Christmas cookies, or even the traditional spot under the white oak from which you traditionally see that big buck. Paulding Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located in Paulding County, is one of many WMAs engrained in tradition. To discover this tradition, let’s go back and explore the foundation of the Paulding Forest WMA as described in the February, 1952 issue of Outdoor Life magazine in an article by Charlie Elliot.

It was a cold night back in the early 1940s when several hunters were sitting around the campfire after a long day of deer hunting in the Blue Ridge mountains.

“Fellas,” he said, “I did some thinking out on that ridgetop today. Every year we come up here in the Blue Ridge for deer hunting. We could do the same thing a lot nearer home.”

“We could sure do as well,” one of the hunters snorted. “We ain’t got deer at home an’ we can’t find none here worth shooting.”

“What I’m figuring,” Corley said, “is stocking deer in the hills behind home.”

The Corley mentioned in the article was E.F. Corley, who had visions of deer returning to his native Paulding County.

That 1942 conversation around a mountain campfire also sowed the first seeds for what would eventually develop into one of the state’s most important public hunting areas — Paulding Forest WMA.

To bring deer back to Paulding County, E.F. Corley began the process of garnering support from other locals that included a major landowner named Bennie Jones, who was the patriarch of Jones Company LLC, a land and development company from which much of the current Paulding Forest WMA is leased. With the help of the county agent, the men accomplished the first step in supporting conservation efforts by garnering support for wildlife management over about 150,000 acres.

The Paulding County Conservation Club (PCCC) was formed. They raised money and then went to Georgia’s Game and Fish Commission to get permission to stock deer. Soon, 20 deer bought in South Carolina were released into the hills of northwest Paulding County. The cost of $1,000 was funded entirely by local sportsmen. In subsequent years, additional deer were bought in from Wisconsin and Texas. In total, the Pauldling County sportsmen bought and stocked 107 over a six-year period.

From that point forward, the Paulding County Conservation Club (PCCC) continued efforts of conservation and wise-use of the wildlife resources. Of course, times were beginning to change, and land was becoming less available for hunting and management. In 1971, Bennie Jones sold 10,000 acres of land to the City of Atlanta for the construction of an airport — a use probably not even considered in the days sitting around the campfire dreaming of having deer to hunt in Paulding County. Airport planners were still decades out from development but realized that acquisition of land in 1971 was critical to having an airport later.

The City of Atlanta entered into an agreement with the Georgia Forestry Commission to help manage the timber on the property to benefit both the city and the natural resources. To the benefit of wildlife, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed to manage the wildlife portion of the property, and hence the creation of Paulding Forest WMA.

Here’s a buck from Paulding Forest WMA’s past. It was more than 15 years ago when Earl Cochran of Dallas shot this big 9-pointer at Paulding Forest. The property’s hunting history goes back to the 1940s when a local sportsman’s group began conservation efforts and brought deer back to the area.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Paulding Forest WMA was largely neglected from a management point of view, as it did not even have an area manager to enforce game and fish laws and regulations. For the most part, the area was viewed as a public hunting area where anybody could go to hunt and fish. Unfortunately, these liberal attitudes bred much lawlessness about the WMA and the entire area.

In 1992, the Paulding County Sportsman’s Club (the former Paulding County Conservation Club) realized the rampant problems of the area and their detrimental impact to wildlife and other natural resources, and they asked the state to step up and help. This request facilitated a lease agreement between the Jones Company LLC to lease an additional 15,000 acres and increase the total acreage of Paulding Forest WMA to roughly 25,000. This increase justified the dedication of an area manager for Paulding Forest WMA.

One of the first orders of business for David Jackson, the first area manager, was to control rampant illegal ATV and off-road vehicle use on the WMA. During its state of disregard, the WMA was the site of Ben Brown’s mudhole that was used for local mudbogging competitions, as well as home of an annual Christmas Eve ATV ride along what is now the Silver Comet Trail.

In December of 1992, ATV ride participants were asked politely to disband the event and leave. However, following rumors that organizers were trying to host the event the following year, Jackson coordinated 10 DNR units, three Georgia State Patrol units, and the DNR helicopter unit to deal with the upcoming event. On Christmas Eve 1993, more than 40 cases were made regarding the illegal ATV use, and I guess you could say that “the wild west was won.”

While wildlife-management plans were being prepared, the area remained open to sportsmen for statewide hunting seasons. In 1994, more intense wildlife management commenced. That first season, more than 2,000 people hunted deer during the first-ever managed archery and firearms deer season on Paulding Forest WMA. A total of 423 hunters killed eight deer during the first archery season, and 1,655 hunters killed 39 deer during the first firearms season. The numbers were not very impressive, but they would soon improve.

The following year, the numbers of deer hunters increased by about 1,000. Archery hunter success went from 1.9 percent to 2.3 percent, while firearms hunter success went from 2 percent to 6 percent. In the years to follow, both archery and firearms deer hunter success would continue to improve to today’s high of 6 percent success for archery and 11 percent for firearms deer hunting. Statistics considered fair to good from a public-land standpoint. Today, hunters are harvesting more deer than in the past and harvesting older deer, meaning both density and abundance are improving, creating a desirable formula for deer hunting now and in the future.

In addition to deer, Paulding Forest WMA remains a favorite for small game and turkey hunters alike. This past spring, 566 hunters harvested 33 turkeys yielding almost 6 percent hunter success — average for northwest Georgia WMAs this past spring. Although rabbit and quail hunting opportunities exist, small-game abundance is limited due to habitat restraints. For the squirrel hunter, an ordinary hunt can turn exciting if an elusive fox squirrel is harvested in addition to the common gray.

In the summer of 2004, a 2.3-mile road was constructed to allow trout-stocking access to Raccoon Creek at the Silver Comet Trail crossing. This stream receives a liberal stocking of rainbow trout during the late spring and early summer that provides a unique opportunity for a bicycle fishing trip.

Conservation success of the past decade and a half is primarily attributable to the hard work of former and current area managers David Jackson, Fred Schroeder, and now Lee Burns. Their hard work in managing use, habitat work, and maintenance of wildlife openings has provided a strong foundation to support healthy and abundant wildlife populations now and in the future.

Hunting and abundant wildlife are just two of the many jewels in the crown of Paulding Forest WMA. Its proximity to metro Atlanta makes it not only a convenient place to hunt for millions of Georgians, but its scenic beauty attracts thousands annually to hike, bike, camp, fish, and numerous other outdoor recreation activities. Untold thousands of bikers ride through Paulding Forest annually on the Silver Comet Trail. All of this use, in conjunction with its values for water quality protection and the presence of state, federally, and globally threatened or endangered species and ecosystems, makes conservation of this area imperative.

Today, hunters on Paulding Forest WMA still sit around wondering what to do about deer, but not for the reasons the founders of the PCCC did. Now, they wonder what is going to happen to the WMA when the state can no longer afford to lease it as a WMA. Located in one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, Paulding Forest WMA is on a short-term annual lease, making its future extremely vulnerable.

Adrian Teal from Douglasville hunted on Paulding Forest back when it was still managed by the Paulding County Sportsman’s Club.

“My dad first took me to Paulding Forest when I was six years old. Today, I am 33. As I understand more about issues facing hunting and public lands, each year I worry more about what will become of the WMA, the place my dad taught me how to hunt,” Adrian said.

Now, just as the PCCC and the local community stepped up the 1940s to restore deer, it is now time for the state of Georgia, the hunting community, local residents of Paulding and surrounding counties, and the people of Georgia to follow the lead of E.F. Corley and Bennie Jones. Support is needed for the paramount task of securing Paulding Forest WMA for current and future generations.

At this time federal and state public monies are being secured to purchase a small portion of the WMA, while other private sources are committing to the land-acquisition effort as well. Recognizing the impetus of the task and the potential value economically, socially, and for the well-being of its citizens, the Paulding County Commission voted to place a $15 million bond referendum on the November ballot to contribute toward acquisition of the WMA.

Paulding County residents will have the chance to pass a small property-tax increase with the money dedicated to purchasing and preserving part of Paulding Forest WMA. If Paulding voters approve the bond referendum, property taxes would increase approximately 2/10ths of a mil, which equates to about $23.40 a year for a $200,000 home.

The effort by Paulding County, DNR, The Nature Conservency, and others is to to buy approximately 7,200 acres of Paulding Forest WMA. Currently, the state leases about 25,000 acres for Paulding Forest WMA, but all of that leased land could be lost at any time.

Just as E.F. Corley partnered with neighbors to accomplish his goals, DNR is partnering with the The Nature Conservancy on a large-scale effort to establish a means for anyone wishing to contribute toward the purchase. Additional groups such as Citizens for Preserving Paulding and the Northwest Georgia Chapter of Buckmasters American Deer Foundation are working locally to secure support as well.

As you can see, Paulding Forest WMA is abounding in tradition from its roots. Hopefully, hunters several decades from now will be referring to a GON article written in 2006 about how the community banded together once again to secure Paulding Forest WMA, so that the tradition of hunting healthy, diverse, and abundant wildlife populations will continue forward for generations.

For more information, contact Region I Game Management office at (706) 295-6041, or click here.

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