WMA Deer Hunting Special
COVID-19 will impact the 2020-21 WMA deer season.
Here in this article we have also created special charts from all the individual WMA hunt results, so you can get a good idea of how things fared last year as you make plans for this year’s WMA hunting season. We looked at and crunched lots of numbers to help make those decisions easier.
WMA Quota Hunts
History teaches us that the first hunt on a new piece of WMA land can be spectacular. This theory proved true once again for those drawn on the first gun hunt at CFL Hilliard. With a quota of 100, 73 hunters showed up to hunt Oct. 31 – Nov. 2, and they took 49 deer for a hunter-success rate of 67.1%, making it the state’s No. 1 quota hunt last year.
“The property was owned by a family and managed as their private hunting area prior to DNR purchase,” said Drew Zellner, WRD wildlife biologist in Albany. “They had feeders across the property and harvested very few deer compared to the size of the property (8,089 acres). This made for some very good hunting for the folks who had the opportunity to be picked on the hunts last year, and success was quite high.”
The second quota hunt was Nov. 21-23 and yielded a 28.6% success rate. This WMA will once again host two quota hunts for those who’d like to try out this still relatively new piece of WMA dirt. Drew said there’s lots of access from Highway 355, Highway 352, Backbone Ridge Road and Brantley Road. You’ll find a few interior roads and a number of foot-travel only paths.
“There are plenty of places to access good hunting close or farther from open roadways, and we had no complaints from hunters to open additional roads during last year’s hunts,” said Drew.
When locating a place to hang a stand, you’ll see that CFL Hilliard is 10-15% open fields, some with sparse trees, and 30% hardwood drainages. In the drainages is a mix of bay and gum, and you’ll find oaks farther up the slope. The rest of the WMA is made up of a mixture of everything from mature longleaf pines all the way down to 5- and 7-year-old loblolly pines.
When you look at WRD’s “Lottery Odds – Deer 2019” at georgiawildlife.com/hunting/quota#odds, you’ll see that 50% of hunters earned a spot on the No. 1 hunt in the state without using a priority point.
The take-home message from the success seen at CFL Hilliard is to be aware of new WMAs that offer quota hunts. Of course one benefit to your GON subscription is we try and make sure you don’t miss these important things. For example, Ceylon WMA is a brand-new WMA we’ve reported on, and it’s going to be offering three quota deer hunts this fall. It’s located on the coast in Camden County.
“This property has been used for (private) hunting for many years,” said David Mixon, WRD Region 6 supervisor. “There is a decent population of deer. It was once managed as part of Cabin Bluff. It has been primarily managed as a hunting property.”
Unlike any other coastal WMA, Ceylon will operate under antler restriction that say bucks must have 4 points on one side or a 15-inch outside spread.
“The entire peninsula that Ceylon is a part of has been under some sort of antler restrictions for many years,” said David. “Most are more restrictive than what Ceylon now has. Because of this long-term management of the larger area, it made sense to maintain some antler restrictions.”
Ceylon’s first-ever WMA deer hunt will take place Oct. 22-24 and will draw 100 hunters. The rut in this area can vary, but David says it’s generally around the second week of October.
“There are a good number of roads, trails and firebreaks. Not all of these are drivable by vehicle, but they provide a way to move around on the property,” said David. “There are also many wildlife openings that are around 2 acres in size scattered throughout the property. A good place to view these roads, openings, etc. is on our interactive map.”
For more on Ceylon, go to georgiawildlife.com/ceylon-wma. Also, if you spend a few days on the WMA, you’re likely to see hogs. Shoot straight!
If you’re going to participate in a WMA quota hunt, you’ll need to apply online at www.gohuntgeorgia.com by the Sept. 1 deadline. You’ll have 46 different WMA quota deer hunts to choose from. You can select only one hunt or pick as many as three to up the odds of getting selected for one. Or, if you just want to earn one priority point and start saving points for some of the more popular hunts in the next few years, you can do that, too. Remember that WRD’s selection-odd tables at georgiawildlife.com/hunting/quota#odds will give you an idea of how many points to use on the more popular hunts.
The state’s hardest quota draw continues to be the second gun hunt on Flint River WMA, where chances of a quality buck are well above average. It took four priority points for a guaranteed draw, and only 25% of hunters got in applying with three points. With a 16.7% hunter-success rate, this hunt didn’t rank in the Top-20 most successful for quota hunts last year. However, three of 24 hunters bagged a quality buck.
WMA Non-Quota Hunts
Lake Seminole WMA’s Oct. 19 – Jan. 12, either-sex hunt only reported 36 hunters signing in to hunt, and they took 62 deer for a hunter-success rate of 172.2%. Yes you read that right! In fact, these numbers are so far off the charts that they are likely pretty stretched. How far off they are isn’t known.
“My thought is that the majority of folks are just not signing in to hunt,” said Drew Zellner. “We first put up a sign-in kiosk a few years ago and retired them after Hurricane Michael, so the only way to sign-in to these tracts is via the electronic sign-in system. I assume this number will increase in the next few years as people become more aware of the system that is in place.”
Drew said there is no way to gauge hunter effort. On season-long, sign-in hunts, hunters only sign in one time per season and could hunt once or 50 times.
“That is probably one of the big reasons for success rate abnormalities,” said Drew. “There are also some locals who know these areas pretty well as they have hunted them for years and seem to be good at harvesting deer on these areas. Multiple tracts make up Lake Seminole WMA, almost all of which are accessible by boat. The Spring Creek Tract is best accessed by vehicle as there is a road running through most of the property. The Ranger Station Tract can be accessed fairly easily by vehicles, as well, but there is still a lot of the property of that tract that will have to be traversed by foot.”
Since Hurricane Michael, the habitat has changed from a mature forest on many of the tracts to much of it being more dominated by early successional habitat. This will continue to make for good deer hunting for several years.
For the second year in a row, both non-quota hunts at the Ohoopee Dunes McLeod’s Bridge Tract were stellar, boasting the No. 2 and No. 6 best hunts. In last August’s WMA Special, GON reported that this WMA had the No. 1 and No. 2 best non-quota hunts in the state for the 2018-19 season. Between the two hunts, only 15 more hunters tried the WMA last season, which leaves me scratching my head as to why more didn’t attend.
“We were surprised as well by the low turnout,” said Chris Baumann, WRD’s Region 4 supervisor. “We have primitive camping there, but even provide a bath house to encourage folks to bring the whole family.”
Chris believes that since the Ohoopee Dunes McLeod’s Bridge Tract was in only its second WMA deer season last year that hunters were still somewhat reaping the benefits of the deer population being pretty high on that area due to past private management of really only hunting for big bucks and not much doe harvest.
“We are still seeing really heavy use of our wildlife plantings on the area, so it should be another good year for hunters there,” said Chris. “As we (continue to) implement timber thinning practices, we will be developing more wildlife openings on the area as well, which is one thing many hunters look for. The incredibly wet spring set back some of the thinning efforts, so there may still be one operation left to complete by deer season, but it will be on a much smaller area so shouldn’t impact much hunting. This is a great place to come during archery season.”
We took all 82 WMAs where we had season-long data and wanted to know what was tops for simply putting venison on ice. We created the below chart that ranks WMAs from best to worst in terms of hunter success.
Buck Shoals WMA in White County is back on top for year No. 2, but it’s worth noting that they hosted three quota hunts, two youth hunts and one Hunt & Learn and also have a one-deer limit in place on all three hunts. While it’s limited hunting, the success is fantastic if you’re a lucky one to be drawn.
WMA Youth Hunts
There are some jam-up WMA youth hunts in this state. In fact, there are so many good choices on WMAs to take a kid hunting, we felt it necessary to rank all the WMA youth deer hunts in the state last year and their hunter-success rates. That chart is below.
For the full 2020-21 WMA Youth Hunting calendar, see our WMA Youth Hunt Schedule.
WMA Deer Hunting & COVID-19
It’s safe to say COVID-19 has put more hunters in the woods, and those hunters are likely hunting more than they have in the past. The WMA turkey season saw a 15% increase in hunter sign-ins and a 34% increase in hunter success, so the question in front of us is will we see a big jump in usage and success on WMAs during deer season?
“I have a friend who manages hunting leases who says she ran out of lease spots early this year—folks wanted to be sure they have a place to go and a chance to keep the freezer full,” said Tina Johannsen, WRD’s assistant chief of Game Management.
“I heard a fellow Southeast state deer biologist yesterday offer his opinion that we’ll see a similar surge in resident hunters afield this fall but a big drop-off in non-residents if travel and quarantine restrictions continue in some states. I agree. Folks don’t hunt as much as they want most years because they have ballgames, social events and other places to go. This year, there are a lot fewer of those places a person can go. But they can go to the woods, if they have a lease or they’re willing and able to hit the closest public land.
“Another reason folks don’t hunt as much as they want to is because they don’t have time off to go, or they have to use their time off for other priorities. But this year, people are continually going to be getting sent home because of exposure to a positive and that kind of thing with COVID. If you feel fine for two weeks but have to stay home anyway, you might as well go to your hunting camp and social distance from your household to keep them safe.”
More folks in the woods engaging in hunting is positive for the industry, but it could cause some social issues.
“There may be complications, such as crowding on some public lands, high harvests in areas that may not need it as hunters fill their freezers and hunting leases that have too many members when everyone is able to come out for multiple visits,” said Tina. “Fortunately, deer herds are generally pretty resilient, and hunters are adept at social distancing. I imagine we will see all kinds of hunters, not just deer hunters, spending more time on WMAs this fall. If everyone is respectful, we have over a million acres, and everyone should be able to have a quality experience. It would be great if a lot of folks who’ve wanted to visit various WMAs and just never had time are able to use COVID downtime to enjoy the fruits of WRD staff’s labor across the state.”
Tina said that in January 2021 WRD will be hosting their public meetings as they gear up for the next two years of hunt regs. Should you have concerns resulting from COVID impacts on turkeys, deer or other game, this will be the time for you to communicate with WRD.
Individual hunt stats are available are below.
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