Reports From The Georgia Deer Woods
GON's team of Hunting Advisors is spread out across the state. Use their timely reports on food sources and deer activity to make your hunts more productive.
Deer season is under way, and some incredible bucks have showed up in GON’s Truck-Buck contest. One buck that didn’t make the Truck-Buck coverage was a deer killed by Garrett Jones of Albany. He arrowed a 145-inch buck opening morning.
“I forgot to renew my subscription,” Garrett said.
Garrett’s buck, pictured to the right, has a characteristic that showed up in a number of bucks last month — its antlers were covered with velvet.
This season there have been far more bucks in velvet than we’ve ever seen.
GON asked one of the nation’s premier white-tailed deer researchers, Dr. Karl Miller of UGA, about the velvet craze this season.
“It’s testosterone that makes a buck shed its velvet. If they’re doing it later than normal, it’s possible some type of nutritional stress could affect that,” Karl said.
The velvet bucks we’re seeing are giants, and they look like they’re in good shape. Could the drought and extreme heat of August have stressed the bucks?
Another interesting and possibly related factor is that a general, statewide sense that early buck sign is less than normal so far. Generally, we’re hearing about fewer rubs and fewer early scrapes than normal. This is something we’ll be tracking as we get closer to pre-rut and then the rut across Georgia to see if that may also be delayed this season.
Here are the reports from GON’s Hunting Advisors on the deer activity and the condition of food sources across Georgia.
Northeast Georgia Mountains: At presstime, WRD’s annual mast-crop survey was complete for northeast Georgia.
“In the mountains, if you are looking for acorns both red and white, go to the tops,” said Scott Frazier, WRD biologist. “Not all the high trees are loaded, but virtually none of the lower elevations had much production.”
Those WMAs at higher elevations did better than those down lower.
“Lake Burton had the highest ranking, and the others that were decent were Swallow Creek, Chattahoochee and Chestatee,” said Scott. “All of these areas are next to one another and are roughly situated around the county line for northern White County, from Burton at the lower corner of Rabun County to Chestatee at the edge of Lumpkin County.”
DeKalb County: Ryan Yeoman reports that acorns are coming down already.
“The pin oaks have really covered the ground quickly in the past three weeks, and some big white oaks have been spotted on the ground, but not like in years past,” Ryan said. “As for what the deer are feeding on — what deer? Deer movement has been at a minimum. The one doe taken opening day revealed that the choice of food source is nothing but green grass over the acorns or muscadines.”
Ryan said that buck sign has been puzzling.
“An early scrape line was present on Sept. 9 along a woodline with four to five scrapes. In the past five years, there has been a scrape line in this very spot, but never this early. They usually show up mid October. But very unusual for this area, there has not been a single rub spotted. Maybe some cooler weather that’s moving in will get ’em jump started.”
Gilmer County: Estle Clayton said there are plenty of acorns at high elevations.
“The white oaks up pretty high are loaded,” he said. “A few of them are falling, but not enough to amount to anything.”
Estle’s report and the WRD mast survey agree. The mast survey reports a very good hard-mast crop above 2,500 feet in the mountains, and that the white oaks are loaded down.
Until those acorns fall, the bears, deer and hogs will be feeding well on fox grapes.
“It looks like there’s going to be plenty of fox grapes,” Estle said. “The mountains are covered up with those vines. The bear, the deer and the hogs love to eat those fox grapes. They should be falling right about now.”
Estle doesn’t hunt with a bow, but he said his son-in-law killed a mature doe Sept. 17. He hasn’t heard of anyone taking any good bucks yet, but he said most hunters are waiting for some cooler weather to go into the woods.
As for bears, Estle said they’re all over the place.
“Anybody who wants a bear needs to come up here and kill one,” he said. “You won’t hardly go out in the woods without seeing one.”
Gwinnett County: Eric Bruce said he has hunted six times so far.
“On opening-day morning I killed a doe, and the following Saturday I killed another doe,” said Eric. “Both were in Gwinnett County, but at different properties. Both deer were traveling and browsing and had younger deer with them. I was hunting a bottom area along a creek, where deer typically travel along the creek as they feed and move. I cannot pinpoint a particular food source that they were targeting. They just seemed to be browsing. There was a lot of privet in the area.”
Eric said most of the deer movement has been between 8 and 9 a.m.
“I could not find my ‘can call’ from last season, so opening morning I was periodically bleating with my mouth,” said Eric. “On one occasion, I heard what sounded like a deer running, but it stopped out of sight. I stood up and got ready for a shot, and nothing happened for several minutes, so I sat back down. Several minutes later, the deer came walking my way from the same direction. I’m not positive that my mouth bleats brought the doe in, but it seems that way. The deer seem to still be feeding on kudzu and probably will until the first frost or the acorns start dropping, though they may be getting more cautious about being in the open during daylight. A friend who hunts Walton County reported that he saw 16 deer in a 6-acre kudzu field last week.”
Madison/Oglethorpe County: John Seginak of Comer said persimmons should start dropping good the first of October.
“The grapes are about gone,” he said. “Deer are wearing out our alfalfa plot and aschynomene plots.”
The deer movement was good opening weekend of bow season, with four hunters seeing 19. Interestingly almost all of the deer were seen between 10 a.m. and noon. However, John said by the middle of the second week of archery season they were seeing deer every afternoon about 15 minutes after sunset.
Rockdale County: John Stanley has killed some good bucks with his bow, and we get the sense he’s being patient and waiting on the right time to turn his hunting up a notch.
“As usual, late afternoons on food sources are the best places to kill a deer now,” John said. “Good bucks aren’t moving much in the daylight yet, but you never know what might step out on a food plot or near a persimmon or dropping oak tree right before dark. No scrapes have been seen yet, and only a couple of rubs. If I find good rubs this time of year, I suspect it’s a mature buck. I have not found any white-oak acorns on our place. I’m guessing there are a few trees bearing mast; I just haven’t found them yet.”
John has been using binoculars to search for white oaks, and he said if he finds a good tree, it will be a hot spot since not all of his white oaks are loaded with acorns this year.
“Water and pin oaks have a good acorn crop,” said John. “Red oaks are spotty, but the ones that have acorns are loaded. I suspect this will be a good year for hunting red oaks in a lot of areas. Persimmons are fair to good — most are still a few weeks from dropping. Muscadines seem to be gone already.”
Baldwin County: MacKay Bloodworth of Milledgeville said the deer activity is picking up.
“I have seen a definite increase in the deer activity on my property and in general,” said MacKay. “The deer are becoming more active during the early morning and late evening. I think the deer were glad to see the temperature get back in the double digits. I have seen several early scrapes, but a minimal number of rubs. I usually see more rubs by this time. I am seeing lots of tracks under the water oaks and have seen some deer feeding up high on the oaks, pulling acorns off the limbs. The muscadine crop that was good is nearing an end, with a few left on the vines that have not dropped yet. The persimmons are a little behind the muscadines, but that is normal around here. There are good numbers of green acorns on the oaks that should drop later.”
MacKay hasn’t heard of anyone arrowing a good buck, but his co-worker Blake Swicord of Milledgeville arrowed a fat doe this morning at 7:30 that was getting full on crabapples.
“I expect the scrape and rub activity to only increase from here, with the second week of November being the magic time to be on the hunt for a good buck,” said MacKay.
Hancock County: Matthew Gilbert said the deer seem to be moving fair.
“In the mornings, things get slow after the sun warms everything up,” said Matthew. “In the evenings, we’ve been seeing deer pretty steady during the last hour and a half of light. The cooler weather should help the daytime movement some, but the October lull will be here fast. When that happens, it’s best to hunt funnels near bedding areas. You want to try and catch that buck quickly after he gets out of bed.”
Most of the deer activity has been on Matthew’s food plots.
“The deer have been hammering our peas and soybeans; they’re just about eaten up,” Matthew said. “We need some relief from more mast falling. We’ve got one persimmon tree that has produced this year, but it’s very small and almost out of fruit. Muscadines are raining everywhere and causing the deer to be scattered somewhat, but they are eating them up as soon as they are falling. A few green acorns are beginning to fall and within this next month, more should ripen and start feeding the deer some much-needed carbohydrates. Right now, I’m concentrating on muscadines near trails to our corn fields, hoping that a big buck will stage there before getting into the open. In a week or two, I’ll be looking for that random white or red oak in a funnel that might have some acorns. In three weeks and a little rain, our fall food plots should be coming on strong and begin attracting some deer.”
Laurens County: Matt Adcock of Dublin said the muscadine crop was so strong this year that they were still coming down in mid September, but they weren’t likely to last much longer.
“Water oaks are coming down now, and a few red oaks are trickling down,” Matt said. “I even heard a few swamp chestnuts fall while hunting last week. The deer are still eating the iron-clay peas we planted, so there is an abundance of food for the deer right now. You must find the preferred food source, and that can change quickly this time of year. Scouting is the key, and you must adjust your stand location to be on the preferred food.”
Morgan County: Dwayne Britt of Grayson said he has not seen a lot of activity so far on two separate hunting tracts, other than a few does and a 6-pointer during the morning hours.
“The persimmon trees are loaded and starting to fall in some areas, and they’re still not ripe in others,” said Dwayne. I’m seeing a lot of water-oak and red-oak acorns, but the white-oak acorns are very scarce this year. The bucks are still in bachelor groups and in their summertime pattern, but I believe that’s about to change with the cool weather and the food sources changing.”
Camden County: Cale Stancil of Kingsland said only three does have been taken on the 9,000-acre Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in three weekends of hunting with approximately 25 dedicated bowhunters hitting the woods each weekend day.
“Deer movement in extreme southeast Georgia has been slow due to poor feeding times and moon phases on the weekends and unbearable heat,” said Cale. “The bucks have started to rub and make territorial scrapes, but most likely under the cover of darkness. Recent cooler temperatures and improving feeding times and moon phases should help your chances for some daylight activity in the near future. The live-oak trees that have acorns are still maturing and should start dropping well in early October. The water oaks are definitely loaded and will be a solid food source for some time to come. Deer are crushing the iron-clay peas at my farm. As always, the first two weeks in October should be your best bet to take a mature buck in this part of the state.”
In north Camden County, Bo Russell said there are plenty of water oaks, and they are beginning to drop.
“Now that the acorns are filled out, they are much easier to spot,” said Bo. “I have also seen several white oaks that are loaded with acorns. They border a food plot and may have benefited from the fertilizer. Pre-rut activity has started according to the amount of fresh tracks up and down the dirt roads, and visible rubs and scrapes. The rut will peak in Camden County in about a month, around muzzleloader weekend.”
A hunting buddy, Conrad Unnerstall, arrowed a nice 8-pointer at his club in McIntosh County, his first afternoon in the tree.
Dooly County: During opening weekend of bow season, muscadines were plentiful in the bottoms on Robert Scherer’s property near Byromville. Robert said the persimmons were fully ripe, and they were just beginning to fall. He said there will be plenty of persimmons for the deer to eat the next several weeks. They were planting food plots the weekend of Sept. 22. “I did not see any rubs or scrapes while scouting a good portion of my tract,” Robert said, “but we saw a number of healthy 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old bucks opening weekend moving right at dusk, and we saw them on my deer-cam throughout the late-summer months.”
Early County: Sam Klement said the deer hunting in Early County has been slow. “To date, I have heard of no deer being shot, and really, not many sightings from a stand. No big-deer encounters, yet. Our deer are still in velvet and bachelored up and moving very little. I have not seen any rubs to date. Our deer are hitting cropland very heavy — peanuts and soybeans. On our lease, our iron-clay pea food plots are looking good and are getting hit fair. Persimmons are dropping great. Our acorns are starting to drop as well. October should be much better, and our deer should start moving more in the a.m. hours,” Sam said.
Turner County: Michael Lee of Valdosta has been hunting both Turner County and Lee County. “The deer are moving fairly well and feeding on some acorns now, as well as our food plots,” Michael said. “We have been seeing about the same number of deer in the mornings and evenings, and a nice 12-point was taken opening weekend in Lee County where we hunt in a hardwood bottom. The bucks are still traveling together somewhat, and we are seeing a lot of spotted fawns still. The temperatures have been about average for this area so far, but we could use some more rain. The persimmons are raining down now, and the deer are eating them up as fast as they fall. We are also finding a good amount of scrapes already as well as rubs.”
With the help of our team of Hunting Advisors, GON will publish timely, local hunting reports throughout the deer season.
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