VPA Hunting Lands In Georgia
Small tracts of private land in Georgia are leased by the state using federal grants. The VPA program offers an additional 27 properties to hunt, ranging from small archery-only tracts in Atlanta to 1,000-acre south Georgia farms.
The most important factor in your success as a hunter is access to quality land and habitat that holds plentiful game. You can’t kill a deer, turkey or a dove if you don’t have a place to hunt, or if the place you have isn’t worth hunting.
There are more than 1 million acres of public hunting lands through Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges and a sundry of other government owned and leased lands available to the public under various arrangements.
But despite these available public lands, we still want and could use more hunting property. Since 2014, new land has been available through a program called Voluntary Public Access, or VPA for short. The private lands are leased by the state using federal money provided by a United States Department of Agriculture grant.
In the hunting regs, it says, “Since 2014, through a USDA grant, the DNR Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) has been able to enhance and add to its WMA program through additional temporary agreements with private landowners for public hunting opportunities.”
Last season, there were 27 VPA properties scattered around the state. Some are adjacent to other tracts or part of larger tracts. They range from a 28-acre dove field to the 4,420-acre Lanahassee Creek, which will become a full-time WMA for 2019.
Most VPA tracts are open for archery deer hunting, turkey and small game hunting, but the regulations and hunting dates might vary for each VPA. Make sure, as always, to carefully study the official hunting regulations each new year before going hunting on any public land.
In all, the VPAs in Georgia added up to another 8,000 acres of Georgia property where hunters could venture—at least with some level opportunity—during the 2018-2019 hunting seasons.
“Our grant officially closes Sept. 30, 2019, so we can’t enroll any more properties after that (on this grant),” said WRD’s Don McGowan. “The USDA has just reauthorized a new federal Farm Bill, and the VPA will once again be part of it. I fully expect us to apply for the grant again—and hopefully we will get it again.”
Exact details on which properties will be part of the VPA program for the upcoming 2019-2020 hunting seasons won’t be available until the official regulations come out, but Georgia’s VPA lineup should be much like last season.
“We have pretty much obligated all of our grant funds anyway, so we weren’t looking to pick up any new leases before (reauthorization and new grants). We are working on contract renewals, and as it appears now we will retain most of the agreements that we had last year—with the exception of Lanahassee Creek, which is now a state-owned WMA,” said McGowan.
“Most of the landowners who we have heard from have had positive things to say about the program as evidenced by the vast majority of them having renewed their agreements. Hunters have liked the program, too. We have received some very positive feedback based on some of the hunter surveys we have done,” McGowan said.
There are six VPAs that have ‘Dove Field’ in their name: London Farms, two Mossy Creek tracts, Seabolt Farms, Appling County and Anderson Dove Fields.
Several of the VPAs are near or connected to existing WMAs, namely Chattahoochee Fall Line (CFL), Coosawattee, West Point, Sprewell Bluff and Hannahatchee WMAs.
VPA hunting areas are scattered around the state. There are VPAs in the north Georgia counties of Murray, White, Hall and Bartow.
In the central piedmont are VPAs in Upson, Troup and Burke counties with VPAs.
The southwest section of the state has VPAs in Marion and Webster counties.
Cook, Lanier, Clinch, Lowndes, Wayne, Appling and Berrien counties contain VPAs in the south and southeast part of Georgia.
The largest of the VPAs last season was 4,387-acre Lanahassee Creek in Webster County. Drew Zellner is the WRD regional biologist for that area.
Deer hunting on Lanahassee is under quality-buck regulations—legal bucks must have a 15-inch outside or 16-inch main beams.
“Historically it was a quality deer hunting club, and the lease was sold to the Conservation Fund. There are several leases around it, and we wanted to be good neighbors,” Zellner said.
There were two quota deer hunts held there last season, and 17 deer were taken, including Tommy Moore’s 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer. The habitat is mainly planted pines, including 2,000 acres of planted loblolly pines, 1,400 acres of longleaf pines, and Lanahassee Creek makes up the west side boundary. Many of the pines are young, less than 10 years old.
Lanahassee also had archery and primitive-weapons seasons for deer, two quota turkey hunts, quota quail hunting and small game hunting.
Though most VPAs allow deer hunting, many of them are archery only. The two Fulton County tracts, Camp Creek and Cowart Lake, offered rare public hunting near metro Atlanta. Suburban bowhunting can host some good action and sometimes a trophy buck, particularly in Fulton County. These tracts total 326 acres, and 12 deer were bagged on them last season.
Next season, the Camp Creek tract will be renewed but at Cowart Lake only the portion west of the lake and outside the city limits of Atlanta will be renewed.
The Sills Brothers/GloKrest Dairy tract in Hall County will not be renewed, since they decided not to participate in the program this year. Neither is the Anderson Dove Field in Wayne County.
For clarification, the ‘LoLa’ tract consists of a portion in Lowndes County and Lanier County separated by the river. The name comes from the first two letters of each county. They are considered one area for logistical purposes.
The Collins Road VPA was formerly known as the Burke County VPA and is also being renewed.
Greg Nelms is a WRD biologist for Game Management Region 6 in south Georgia. The VPAs in his region include Sparks Cut Off, Cardinal, Warren Farm, LoLa, Dupont, Nashville and Appling County Dove Field.
“Most of the properties are planted pines, flat woods with little creeks. The bigger tracts have some hardwoods. There are some wetlands at Dupont and Nashville,” Nelms said.
His areas received low participation because of their remoteness and poor access. And probably because most hunters still have heard of VPAs.
“The deer population for the area is average. They’re like out of the way local sanctuaries,” Nelms said.
The Coosawattee VPA adds a new 1,077 acres adjacent to the 5,626-acre Coosawattee WMA and is essentially the same property, only that VPA funds were used to lease the new section.
Most VPAs are relatively small in the 100- to 300-acre range. Five properties exceed 1,000 acres; Coosawatee VPA is 1,077 acres, CFL Little Pine Knot VPA is 1,003 acres, CFL Blackjack Crossing/Brown Springs VPA is 1,143 acres and Camp Thunder VPA is 1,627 acres.
Camp Thunder is a Boy Scouts of America (BSA) camp in Upson County outside Thomson on the Flint River. The soils and habitat along the Flint River are renown for quality habitat and growing big bucks. One of the larger VPAs, it allows archery deer hunting in addition to turkey and small game during state seasons. No ATVs or camping are permitted. Three deer were harvested last season. As with most VPAs, any deer harvested must be reported on Georgia Game Check. Unlike managed hunts at most WMAs, no VPAs offer a special state tag for deer kill, and all will count toward your state bag limits.
Typically, when a new public hunting area opens, it can be quite heavily visited as many hunters want to try a new spot and possibly get the chance to hunt previously unhunted lands.
However, hunter numbers have been relatively modest on the VPA properties—again, most likely because most hunters don’t know about VPAs.
For example, the 349-acre Dupont Tract in Clinch County had a total of only 37 hunters on its three archery hunts and two firearms deer hunts. A total of two deer were harvested on all those hunts.
The 391-acre LoLa Tract in Lowndes and Lanier counties had 92 hunters take two deer on its three archery and two firearms hunts. The 101-acre Nashville Tract and 134-acre Warren Farm Tract were open for archery deer hunting the entire season, and 24 and 32 hunters arrowed four and two whitetails, respectively.
So, while these are fairly small hunting tracts, they do provide additional lands for Georgia hunters.
The highest VPA harvest was 37 deer at the Chattahoochee Fall Line—Blackjack Crossing, which is a compilation of several tracts. It is managed as part of the CFL WMA, and these additional acreages are available because of VPA funds.
Information on VPAs will be listed in the 2019-20 Hunting Regulations booklet and should be consulted before heading to one this fall.
Some VPAs will be dropped, and some new tracts of land will likely be added. Others may have a name change.
Georgia’s Voluntary Public Access Program provides nearly 8,000 acres of land available to the public to hunt. If you are looking for a new place to hunt this fall, check these properties out, and be thankful to the landowners and the USDA for more hunting opportunities in Georgia.