WMA December Rut Hunts In Southwest Georgia

The rut is all but gone for most, but there’s some dirt in deep southwest Georgia where things are heating up.

Mike Bolton | December 3, 2023

If you look at the GON rut map, you’ll quickly notice that WMA hunters in the Peach State enjoy a benefit not available to hunters in many other states. Dedicated WMA hunters can do their homework and pick and choose WMAs where they can hunt the rut pretty much all season long.

While the rut has ended pretty much all over the state, there is a slice of the southwestern part of the state where the rut action will be heating up this month.

Georgia underwent a major white-tailed deer restocking program during the middle of the 20th century. Deer stocked were from several states, which not only brought great deer to the state, but also their genetics. The genetics determine the rut of those deer to this day.

 Most hunters understand why the rut varies across the state, WRD Wildlife Biologist Charlie Killmaster says. But in extreme southwest Georgia, there is an underlying factor that comes into play. Hunters may not be familiar with a term used by wildlife biologists there. That term is hydrology. Killmaster said that it is a term rarely heard when talk of the Georgia rut comes up.

“From the late 1920s until 1975, Georgia restocked whitetail deer from various states,” he said. “A few places received a lot of stocking. There has been a small smattering of stockings since 1975, but not many.

“The top-three places that Georgia restocked deer came from were Georgia’s barrier islands, Texas and Wisconsin. There have also been deer from Virginia, North Carolina and all kinds of different places brought here.

“An area where the state did no restocking at all was extreme southwest Georgia. There were no deer stocked there because the area was pretty much controlled by large landowners. There were already some deer there. The only stocking that might have been done there was done by some private landowners.

“Southwest Georgia was in a flood plain prior to the of damming the Chattahoochee River. That’s why hydrology came into play there. The deer there had to have a late rut so their fawns would be born after the floods.

“Deer across the river in Alabama and deer in the Florida Panhandle near the river have the same genetics.”

That diversity across the state, according to WRD Senior Wildlife Biologist Brent Howze, provides WMA hunters an opportunity to pick and choose hunts on WMAs where they are most likely to be successful.

WMA hunters can look at the GON Rut Map on page 57 and see that a long swath of December rutting activity occurs from early to mid-December in southwest Georgia (gray area.) That swath cuts through portions of Early, Seminole Miller, Decatur and Grady counties. Those areas were in the original Chattahoochee River flood plain before the river was dammed.

Another concentration of even later rutting activity occurs in extreme southwest Georgia (red area.) The rut there occurs from late December to early January in that original flood plain. That area includes portions of Seminole and, Decatur counties.

Howze says a number of WMAs can be found in those two areas.  Hunters wanting to hunt the rut should familiarize themselves with the WMAs and understand when hunting is available in December and what regulations apply.

“Honestly, my best advice to hunters coming to the area is to first study the GON Rut Map,” he said. “It is accurate. It is based on the same information that is available to us.”

Howze says the following WMAs in southwest Georgia will see rutting activity during December.

Lake Seminole WMA: This WMA consists of nine separate tracts of land totaling 8,635 acres along Lake Seminole and associated waterways.

No hunting is allowed within 200 yards of a house, dock, building, structure or developed recreation area. Camping is allowed at the Corps of Engineers campgrounds on the Hale’s Landing Tract and the River Junction Tract.

You must sign-in to hunt. It’s open all of December through Jan. 15 for firearms and archery. An extended archery season runs Jan. 16 through Jan. 31.

“The habitat on this WMA varies,” Howze said. “All of the tracts join water. Each tract is unique, but they all have high ground and low ground.”

All of the tracts have some degree of road access, and most hunters choose to access the tracts by vehicle, Howze said. However, many of the more successful hunters choose to gain access to the tracts by boat, which allows them to get “where people aren’t,” he said. Both the River Junction and Spring Creek tracts have boat ramps. Howze said hunters can simply pull their boat up to the bank of any tract and walk in.

“The Spring Tract is upland and wiregrass,” he said. “There’s a pond on the south end and some hardwoods on the north end. This tract has a lot of deer.”

Howze says that the Hale’s Landing Tract is an island with lots of ground cover.

“There’s a really nice Corps of Engineer’s campground there,” he said. “There’s access to this tract off of Highway 253. The best access to the better places to hunt on this tract is by boat.”

The River Junction Tract can be accessed by vehicle, he said. It has a good deer population and has no big hog problem.

The Ten-Mile Tract is made up of a lot of islands. It is mostly uplands with a large population of deer, but it received a lot of hurricane damage. Finding deer can be easy, but getting them out can be a chore.

One of the WMA’s most popular deer hunting tracts in the past was the Ranger Station Tract, but Howze recommends avoiding it these days.

“It was one of the better places to deer hunt, but it was heavily damaged by the hurricane,” he said. “It needs to be cleaned up. We plan to burn there next year and replant it. It should be good again in a few years.”

Silver Lake WMA: This is a 9,200-acre piece of property located in southern Decatur County. It falls within both the gray and red areas of the GON Rut Map.

Primitive camping is available, and you must sign-in to hunt. There is no hunting Dec. 1-13, but a Bonus Deer Hunt will be held Dec. 14-16 with any buck not counting against your state limit. A tag will be provided should you be successful. Buck-only firearms hunting will be allowed Dec. 30-Jan. 14. Archery hunting will be allowed January 15-31.

“All of the Silver Lake WMA is accessible by vehicle,” Howze said. “It has very good roads, but you will have to walk to get away from other hunters. There are a lot of good places to hunt

“It is primarily upland forest (longleaf pine and hardwoods) interspersed with ponds, and there’s Silver Lake, which is 300 to 400 acres. The west side is primarily longleaf pines and wiregrass. The east side is industrial pine. This WMA has a lot of deer.”

Mayhaw WMA: This 6,300-acre property is in Miller County. It falls within the gray area of the GON Rut Map.

Fifty tent, trailer and RV campsites are available. Primitive camping is also available. Firearms hunting runs from Dec. 15-Jan. 14.

“There is a lot of varied habitat there, and there are a lot of deer there,” he said. “It is an outstanding place to hunt. We found that out last season when there was a really high harvest. It was so high that we are allowing just a two-week firearms season in December.

“One thing people should know is that if it is wet on the other WMAs in the area, it is really wet on Mayhaw. It can get flooded in heavy rains in December and January.

“There’s a good road system, though, and hunters can get around, but if you want to get away from the crowds, plan to walk a ways.”

Elmodel WMA: This 1,600- acre WMA is near Newton in Baker County. It falls just within the gray area of the GON Rut Map.

No camping is allowed on this WMA and hunting is sign-in only, so hunters will need to record any harvest on their state-issued harvest record.

“This WMA is archery only,” Howze said. “There are a lot of deer, but it is unusual in that it is mostly former cow pastures with hardwood hedge rows. There are a lot of dove fields. There are not many pine trees, so it’s difficult to find a place to hang a tree stand. A lot of hunters use ground blinds.”


Bolton’s Rut Hunting Tips

In Georgia, those who hunt WMAs are blessed to be able to travel the state and choose hunts on WMAs where rutting activity is taking place. The latest rut in the state mostly occurs in extreme southwest Georgia. That rut occurs from early to mid-December and late December through early January.

One misconception some hunters have about the rut is that a buck totally disregards its normal survival instincts. Thus, they believe, hunters can disregard some of their normal precautions that allow them to hunt unnoticed by bucks. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s some tips to help:

Lessening Your Presence: In addition to adding antler growth and body weight as they age, bucks add wisdom. To increase the odds of a trophy buck entering your area—especially when bowhunting—a hunter must be wise, too. The same common-sense precautions that a hunter should be taking outside of the rut should be taken during the rut. One of the biggest mistakes hunters make is wearing the outfit they’ll be hunting in on the way to the hunt. Keeping your hunting clothes in containers to protect them from odors is a must. Only put on your hunting gear once you reach the area where you will hunt. Wearing high rubber boots and gloves when walking to your stand lessens the chances of accidentally leaving a smell-trail that will notify a buck that something isn’t quite right. Why gloves? Walking to your stand you are bound to grab branches and push them out of the way. That can leave your scent.

It goes without saying that you should hunt with the wind in your face. A buck’s olfactory senses that he uses to satisfy his desire to mate work just as well in alerting him to dangers.

Fool Bucks With Fake Scent Trails: Understand that during the rut that bucks often look for does to breed by following a scent trail. A drag system may be just the trick you need. Saturate a piece of clean cloth with a artificial doe-in-heat scent. Tie it to your boot with a string and drag it during your walk through the woods. One mistake some hunters make is attaching the drag to themselves at their vehicle. You don’t know which route a buck will take when following a scent trail. Attaching a scent drag to yourself at your vehicle could lead a buck to your vehicle where they can be spooked. Also, you will want to unhook the drag before you get to your stand. How close to your stand depends on whether you are hunting with a firearm or a bow.

Tricking A Buck’s Ears: Much has been written about how a buck’s survival depends on his nose. True, but his ears play an important role in his lifecycle, too. Tricking his ears can play big dividends during the rut. Rattling with two antlers can simulate two bucks fighting. That can send a buck already in a mating frenzy running to investigate intruders into his territory. It is important to know that a buck can somehow pinpoint that sound to within a few feet. Many hunters have been busted with antlers in their hands and their weapon at their side by a buck looking right at them. Rattle for less than a minute, put the antlers down and have your weapon ready for a shot.

Also, many times during the rut when bucks are running does, a buck will flash by so quickly that a hunter can’t get their weapon up and aimed in time for a good shot. A grunt call may stop a buck in its tracks if it is close enough to hear it, but a whistle on a lanyard around your neck is much more effective.

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