Scouting Reports From The Georgia Deer Woods
The 2019 archery deer season opens on Sept. 14. Here's a look across the state from GON's Hunt Advisor team.
Deer love muscadines, but this preferred food source doesn’t last long. The wild grapes are ripening early and already falling in many areas, and with the season opening a week later this year, muscadines may be played out by opening weekend. The way the calendar falls this year, bow season doesn’t open until Sept. 14.
For the “it’s too hot to hunt” crowd, maybe an extra a week before hitting the woods is a good thing. But for the bowhunters who have a mature buck patterned on a summer food source, that extra week could be a game changer. Opening day of archery season this year comes right at that time period when bucks go through a big change and abandon summer patterns. Last year saw the opposite. The archery opener was Sept. 8, and we saw a record numbers of big bow bucks.
Food is always key to early bow season success. To help with food-source scouting, GON’s team of deer-hunting experts have been in the woods, and here are their reports from across the state.
Chattahoochee National Forest (Rabun County): Tim Dangar, of Ball Ground, reports, “I try to make it a tradition to hit the mountains on Aug. 15 every year for a scouting trip with a .22 mag on my shoulder in case a hog or coyote comes in view. This year it was a great day for hiking and scouting with temps in the mid 70s and a good breeze in the high elevations. Talking to a local, they had about four hours of hard rain and wind the night before. This explained the green acorns I found on the ground. Don’t get too excited about these acorns, on further examination I found them to be rotten inside, and all were red oaks, no white oaks. I know it’s early, but hard mast in the high-ups seems to be poor.
The poor condition of the nuts I found on the ground could be from high amounts of rain in the early spring in that area. About the only soft mast in the 7-mile hike was autumn olives, but they are also poor. I wish I had better news to report about the national forest, but it just isn’t good. Even the wildlife openings I encountered on my hike were unattended and grown-up with small trees. The only sign of game in the area was hog and bear. I have some private land close to the national forest where I have a feeding station and camera. Out of more than 500 pictures, only six were deer, the rest bear. NOT GOOD!
“Well, I will still hunt the mountains because that is just what I do. I may have to find a way to eat bear meat, just saying. Hang in there my fellow mountain hunters, it’s going to get better, I hope. Be safe and God bless.”
Cherokee County: Tim Dangar reports, “Greetings to my hunting buds, statewide. As we kick off another season, don’t forget to thank God for allowing us to be around for another season!
“Well, looking at food sources around me locally, I’ve seen better. Soft mast in the wild is poor at best, while planted trees are producing fair to good fruit. Looking at hard mast, I have not found any trees with acorns on the low and middle parts of tree, only at the very tops, and not many even up there. Red oaks are better than white oaks. This may explain why my feeders are getting cleaned out in a week’s time or less. Side trip, talking about feed, corn with C’mere Deer corn coat mixed with BB&J and Buck Grub seems to be the ticket. I have not planted food plots yet due to hot and dry conditions in my local area. However, 15 to 20 miles in any direction they have had normal or above normal rain.
“The deer herd is doing well, with some twins showing up on camera and a whole lot of bucks, from spikes to 8-points. Freezer not looking good right now, but between myself and the grandkids, we hope to change that come Sept. 14. We have been getting the bows tuned in, which helps with excitement for another season opener just around the corner. Looking forward to reading about how things look around the state. Hope to see some ‘red arrow’ reports next month. Till then, be safe and God bless!”
Madison County: Keith Ingram, of Comer, reports, “Well, it’s hard to believe that another deer season is just a couple of weeks away, but here it is. I have been living here in Madison County for 14 years, and I’ve done the majority of my deer hunting on my own property and adjoining properties. This year things have changed. I put my feeders out and put cameras on them, and that’s when I realized I have a major problem—HOGS. It’s not enough land to hunt them with dogs, mainly because of roads, so thanks to a buddy of mine, I’m setting traps and hoping to catch as many as I can. I was hoping they would never show up here, but they have, and I will just have to deal with it.
“Now for the reason for this report, things are looking promising for a good deer season. Got a few bucks on camera, with a couple of shooters showing up. The fawn survival rate seems to be strong again, with every mature doe having at least one fawn with them, and one that has triplets. They all seem very healthy, as there is plenty of browse in the woods. The muscadines are already falling, and more than likely they will be almost gone early in bow season. Persimmons are heavy, also. I found a tree the other day that I didn’t even know I had. It’s going to be a good acorn year, as the trees are loaded with all types. I just hope the deer get their share before the hogs get to them. I will be planting a food plot or two in early September also.
“Hope everyone has a safe and successful season this year.”
Columbia County: Dylan Hankal, of Appling, reports, “So far this year it is looking like we will have a good persimmon crop and possibly another good crop of acorns. Fall food plots will be planted in early September to provide a late-season food source once the fruits are gone, but I think finding the coolest places during the day will be key to finding the deer in the first few weeks of season. Once the persimmons and acorns start falling, we will shift our focus around food sources, but for now it will be in or around creek bottoms.
“Fawn numbers are looking decently well, even with the pressure of domestic dogs and coyotes roaming the area. The bucks are in and out, but we are looking forward to a promising season.”
Hancock County: Matthew Gilbert, of Loganville, reports, “After a hot summer, we are getting excited about deer season and cooler temperatures coming. This past weekend, we made a point to get some work and a little scouting done while enjoying the decent weather. While riding tractors and checking game cameras, my son Davis and I kept a lookout for ripening food sources.
“It appears we will have a pretty solid natural smorgasbord of food throughout the season. Persimmons are loaded this year, muscadines are decent, and fruit trees we planted have solid production. We have not really noticed what is going on with the white and red oaks, but many water oaks look to have a bumper crop. Our sawtooth oaks have many acorns ready to drop also.
“Our summer plots have done fair, but with the hot weather, they have mostly played out. Davis and I spent most of our day bushhogging our plots, getting everything ready to plow. There was a decent amount of moisture in the ground, so during the next week they will be plowed, and we should be ready to get some seed in the ground the first two weeks of September.
“Riding around this summer and from looking at game cameras, we have seen many does with multiple fawns. The young deer herd over the last two years seems like it is very plentiful. Over the last five years, we have been doing some logging, which has added to the cover on our land. Also, with decent rain this summer, the deer have all the food they want in those cut overs.
“With the Gilbert boys getting older, we are having some fun getting work done at the hunting land. Their girl cousins pitch in a good bit, too. In the next few weeks, we will all try to get together for a work day to trim up stands and make sure everything is good to go for a fun deer season. With all the help, the work gets done in short order. Along with all the laughs and time spent together, the kids get to understand the hard work it takes to have such a good time during the fall.
“While bushhogging, Davis was able to drop the mower on a 5-foot rattlesnake. This was a good reminder to be careful in the woods. It pays off being observant when moving around. Whether noticing food sources, faintly used trails, an unusually large track, or something dangerous, there is no replacement for increasing your woodsman IQ.
“We are looking forward to some great times during the hunting seasons with friends and family. Us daddies are at a new level of appreciation for the woods. As much as we love the experiences of hunting, our kids are catching up with sharing the same passion. It is incredibly fun to watch!”
Laurens/Wilkinson counties: Tim Knight, of Dublin, reports, “For Laurens and Wilkinson counties, water oaks and pin oaks, as well as white oaks and swamp chestnuts, are spotty at best. Muscadines are very plentiful but falling hard right now and may be scarce come the bow opener. Persimmons are promising, but they are still green. If you have clearcut property, look for poke berry and American beauty berry. Deer love the leaves on these woody shrubs. If you can plant plots, soybeans are a quick food source and can be planted 10 days out as long as you have moisture. They will clip them off as soon as they germinate, so plant them heavy. Good luck to everyone!”
Putnam County: Dwayne Britt, of Bishop, reports, “The upcoming season looks promising. I’ve seen more fawns this year than ever before. The acorns appear to be fair to good. I’m not seeing as many as the last few years, but I’m still seeing good numbers on white oaks and red oaks. Muscadines are everywhere and still a couple weeks before many are ripe, which means they should be a good food source the first few weeks of bow season. We just planted in Morgan County and will plant at Putnam in early September.
“I may over-seed some plots with iron clay peas like I have in the past. It seems to help keep deer from over browsing oats or wheat, and if it gets dry, it helps hold moisture and draws deer in during bow season. After our first year with corn, I’ve learned quickly that mature bucks do not favor feeders, and the more remote you can place the corn the better chance of having a mature deer during daylight hours. As always, if you find an early white or red oak dropping, that should be a good spot to start your season. Also, don’t forget to keep your eyes on the ground and watch out for rattlesnakes heading in and out of the woods.”
Crisp County: Jodi Manders, of Cordele, reports, “We are surely ready for deer season and some cooler weather. We have been monitoring our trail cameras all summer, and the deer activity has picked up in the last couple of months. We are seeing less deer so far than what is normal, but we expect it will pick up in mid October. There have been a few fawn pics, but it looks like only two or three. We have been getting way more than normal coyote pics this year than in the past, which is probably the reason for the low fawn count.
“We have been monitoring the antler growth, and the bucks seem to have put on a good bit of inches during July and August. They are still in full velvet here and hopefully will grow a few more. There is plenty of natural browse the deer have been eating, and this year they will have lots of persimmons to feast on. They usually last well into rifle season. We also have been seeing the deer in the farmer’s peanut fields. Hopefully we will get some green plots planted soon. Always like to have those green plots in late season.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Mr. Glen Solomon. I hope you all have a successful hunting season. Be safe and God bless!”
Early County: Sam Klement is a member of Realtree, PSE and Muzzy hunting teams and primarily hunts on his QDMA properties located near the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Blakley. “I would first like to report we are seeing a lot of successful hatched turkeys and quail. It looks like our predator efforts and wildlife enhancement practices, burning, trapping, food plots, etc., are paying off! This summer while running cameras and doing pre-season work, I am seeing great numbers of turkey poults and quail, as well as getting many images on my surveys of twin fawns.
“Our area has been blessed with above-average rainfall, and the dry land crops look almost as good as irrigated crops. Good news for our deer. Because of this rain, our browse is staying more palatable, our soft mast sources are extremely robust, and the acorn crop looks promising. My efforts now are shifting to tweaking a few last stand sets and cleaning up my food plots in preparation for an early September planting. We have finally gotten most of our fallen Hurricane Michael trees and roadways cleaned up, and our farms are starting to look much better. Our local farmers have a lot of peanuts and corn planted this year, so our early dove seasons should be a lot of fun.
“I also want to remind my fellow southwest Georgia hunters to be extremely careful when doing pre-season work and scouting. We are encountering what seems like a higher amount of snakes this year. Not sure why, but they are crawling and out in full force! Be careful out there with your dogs, as well, this time of the year.
“Looking forward to a great fall season and very excited to be getting close to opening day. Enjoy your family and the outdoors!”
Harris County: Jimmy Harper, of Hamilton, reports, “Heading into the 2019-2020 season, the deer herd in Harris County appears to be in very good shape both in quantity and quality. On all three properties my family hunts—one a fairly large timber company lease and two smaller, privately owned tracts—we’ve observed more does with fawns and more twin fawns than we have in many years. This is likely due in large part to having, for whatever reason, fewer coyotes on all of these tracts over the last couple of years. Hopefully this is a trend which will continue! On our 790-acre timber company lease, which we’ve held for 35 years and intensively manage for mature bucks, we’ve already identified a half-dozen resident shooters—and this number always increases by one or two bucks once the rut kicks in. So it’s looking to be a very promising deer season.
“Although August has been very dry overall in Harris County, just as it usually is, natural browse is still looking reasonably good. The number and size of the muscadines growing on our properties is outstanding this year and should be a natural food source that concentrates both deer and bowhunters on September afternoons, especially early in bow season. As far as acorns, the ever-dependable water oaks are producing well on our properties, just as they seem to do each and every year. Unfortunately, that species of acorn isn’t very high on a deer’s food preference list. And I’m not seeing any real indications that we’ll have a large number of white or red oak acorns this year, which we all know are definitely much higher on a deer’s preferred food list. Of course, that’s me looking at only select areas and trees on the three properties I hunt, so you could have a very different situation on the property you hunt, which is one of the many reasons why we all need to get out and do our boots-on-the-ground scouting each and every year. Still, as many of you know first-hand, one of the best situations for us hunters is to have only a few white oak trees on our property dropping acorns during hunting season, because that tends to concentrate the deer around those trees. In those years, it’s almost as simple as ‘find those trees, find the deer!’
“Most of the summer food plots appear to be having a rough time right now due to the heat and lack of consistent rain, and we’ll wait until late September or even early October to plant our fall/winter food plots. From many years of past experience, we’ve learned the hard way to contain our excitement and not plant these plots in early September, at least not in west-central Georgia anyway, because they’ll just come up and burn up! So, to bridge any nutrition gaps that our deer might have, we provide supplemental feed year-round—protein and corn, respectively, at the appropriate times of the year—in free-choice feeders to the deer on all of our properties. The deer, and especially the bucks, are hitting those feeders particularly hard right now due to the late summer drop in quality of their native browse. So, even if you don’t hunt over it as ‘bait,’ supplemental feeding, especially in the stress periods of late summer and late winter, is something everyone should at least consider doing in order to improve the overall health of their deer herd, not to mention to hold deer on their property for hunting.”
Macon County: David Keene, of Oglethorpe, reports, “We had an average fawn crop this year—several sets of twins and but seeing several dry does. Maybe those are old does? We are seeing more mature bucks than we usually do. A good many Macon County legal bucks are being seen around the area.
“There was a good pear crop this year, and the deer are hitting them hard. We also have a good muscadine crop, but the persimmons are light this year. We have a good many water oak acorns dropping on our trails, and the deer are finding them. So far the neighboring farmers have not planted any crops near us—letting the fields lay?
“I have been seeing several coveys of wild quail, so that may be a good sign. I have only seen a few hen turkeys on my 16 trail cameras. Still have several buck groups together, one group with five bucks hanging together. We are looking for a good season.”
Twiggs County: Richie Green, of Jeffersonville, reports, “Once again my favorite time of year is here. The Outdoor Blast got me into high gear, and it hasn’t stopped even in this heat. Congratulations once again for a great show GON. If you didn’t go, then I’m sorry, it was a great show and Shoot-Out. I’ve been in the woods since June getting stuff ready and checking and moving stands, clearing old plots and making new ones, and it’s been hot and dry is about all I can say for this area. I’ve only had 1 1/2 inches of rain since May, so I didn’t mess with summer plots. I did plant some last week hoping rain will come. It literally rains 3 miles from the house, but not here. The good news is acorns are on some trees and persimmons are here, but they’re small. If I get some grapes dropping somewhere on opening day, that’s probably where I’m gonna be, because the lack of rain has them getting ripe already.
“I’ll head to my favorite WMAs before opening day to check them out and find some food. If you don’t hunt any, I’ve said it before, you’re missing out on some good hunting.
“Not getting many pictures so far on my feeders, but I do have one doe with twins on one track and a great pic of a buck on May 30 that was already a shooter with more bone to add. The deer look good as I dodge them going to work and coming home. The summer coats are slick and red, but most all I’m seeing are does.
“Maybe this year the hot days won’t stay around as long as it did last year, and we can have some good hunting weather like it use to be in the “good ol’ days. I’m looking forward to another great year. I got my first P&Y in Georgia last year on Sept. 30 and hope to add some more.
“Please keep the Solomon family in your prayers. Sorry I never meet Glen, but he was one of us that loved the outdoors for sure. Good luck everyone and stay safe.”
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