Three New State Parks Allow Deer Hunting
Bobby Brown, Mistletoe and Tugaloo state parks look to hunters to reduce deer overpopulation.
In only the third year since the state-park system began management deer hunts on park land, three new parks have been added to the list of parks on the quota-hunt list. The new parks, all in northeast Georgia, are Bobby Brown and Mistletoe on Clarks Hill Lake, and Tugaloo on Lake Hartwell. Here’s a look at the hunting opportunity on the new parks.
Tugaloo State Park
This 393-acre peninsula park located at the upper end of Lake Hartwell will offer Dec. 8-9 and Jan. 8-9 archery deer hunts.
The park has an extremely high population of deer, said WRD Game Management Biologist Kevin Lowery.
In September 2006, WRD personnel conducted a spotlight count of the deer on the park. Because the park is relatively open and has a good road system, a high percentage of the property was surveyed.
“The spotlight counts at Tugaloo suggest a population range of 100 to 133 deer per square mile, or 60 to 80 deer on the park. The density is similar to what we saw at Fort Yargo,” said Kevin. “I think the deer population on Tugaloo increases through the season as more pressure is occurring outside the park. We did not see many bucks on our counts (one spike), but we didn’t see many at Fort Yargo, either. I did see some good buck sign when I did some browse surveying at Tugaloo.”
Assistant Park Manager Tommy Crabb at Tugaloo said that there are plenty of bucks using the park.
“I have seen 12 or 14 different bucks this summer that are still in velvet,” he said. “Several of them are pretty impressive, and they still have some growing to do.”
During gun hunts on state parks, hunters must shoot a doe before they can legally take a buck. That is not the case at Tugaloo. The first deer in range of a broadhead is legal.
“We talked about the idea of requiring a doe before a buck,” said Tommy, “but it is different with archery equipment. You have to be a lot more patient, and you have to let them get a lot closer, so we did not make that requirement.”
Tommy hoped that hunters who are drawn for the hunt will remember the reason the park is open to hunting.
“We hope they will be here to help thin out the deer and not be hunting antlers,” he said. “The deer are way overpopulated.”
The heavily browsed park will be open to archery hunters only — bows or crossbows — during two quota hunts scheduled for December 8-9, and January 8-9. The quota is 25 hunters.
Mistletoe State Park
Mistletoe State Park will also hold its first-ever deer hunt this fall, a two-day modern-firearms hunt with a quota of 75. The hunt is scheduled for December 5-6.
WRD Game Management Biologist I.B. Parnell, who toured the park with Park Manager Bill Tinley, says the deer population is high.
“There should be a lot of understory on the park that is not there,” said I.B. “There is no honeysuckle present below 5 feet and very little hardwood regeneration. When you look at a red cedar tree and from the ground to 5 feet high there are just stubby little branches, you know you have a high population of deer.”
The park is roughly the shape of a wide horseshoe surrounding a cove on Clarks Hill Lake, said Bill Tinley. The park covers nearly 2,000 acres, and some of that land is best accessed by boat.
“We will be allowing access by boat during the hunt,” said Bill.
Most of the land surrounding the park is either private hunt clubs or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property. There are a lot of deer on the surrounding land that likely move onto the park during deer season.
The terrain is mostly upland pine, with some hardwoods in the drains.
During a two-day hunt, Bill says that hunting food sources will be less important than hunting travel lanes because the deer will likely be on the move with the influx of hunters.
Once you have shot your mandatory doe first, you may have a chance at a nice set of antlers. Bill said there are at least two exceptional bucks that use the park.
To date, the deer hunts on state parks have run smoothly, and the park managers who run the newest parks to offer hunting expect more of the same.
“I haven’t heard a negative word about the deer hunt we are planning on Mistletoe,” said Bill. “A lot of people are saying, ‘All right! When is the hunt?’ The local deer hunters have wanted to hunt the park for years.”
Bobby Brown State Park
Bobby Brown State Park is the third park to offer its premier deer hunt this fall. The park is located at the upper end of Clarks Hill Lake on a peninsula between the Broad River and the Savannah River. Mark Millard is the park manager.
“There are a lot of deer on the park,” he said. “The browse line here is very distinct.”
Because of the park’s small size, just 665 acres, hunters at Bobby Brown will be restricted to muzzleloaders or archery equipment. With the popularity of similar hunts on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bussy Point tract on Clarks Hill, Mark expects the hunt to be popular.
Georgia WRD Game Management Biologist Alex Coley went to Bobby Brown State Park to do a deer-herd assessment last fall. What he saw was contradictory.
First, the deer damage to the habitat is significant.
“There is not much vegetation growing below 6 feet,” said Alex. “There is clearly a lot of deer pressure. The browse line is a definite browse line, and there is almost no greenbriar below 6 feet.”
But where were the deer?
Alex said WRD performed two spotlight surveys on November 27, 2006. With a good system of old logging roads, the coverage of the small park was good.
“We saw 12 deer on the first survey and six on the second survey, and all the deer we saw were does,” said Alex. “Park personnel were seeing more deer than that during an average day.”
As at other parks, there are at least a couple of good bucks that have been seen roaming on Bobby Brown State Park. According to Alex, there is reportedly a nice 8-pointer and a 10-pointer that have been seen regularly by park personnel.
Last year, Fort Yargo State Park in Winder joined the list of parks on the quota-deer-hunt list, and hunts will be held there again this fall.
“All the way around, our hunts last year were fantastic,” said Senior Ranger Artie Doughty. “We blew away anything Georgia had ever seen for harvest numbers. And the hunters just flat loved it.”
During the first of two hunts on the park, 52 hunters at Yargo killed 100 deer for an unheard of hunter-success rate of 192.3 percent. Overall, 191 deer were killed on the park during two hunts. There were a couple of outstanding bucks killed, too, including one by Zack Pirtle of Covington, who was 12 years old at the time. Zack was hunting with his dad when he shot a spectacular 13-pointer that graced the cover of the January 2007 GON.
There were no safety issues during the hunt. The only minor snag at Yargo was an anti-hunter who was found walking in the woods during the hunt.
“But we were all over that within three minutes of getting the report,” said Artie.
If you think all the deer were killed at Yargo, think again, says Artie.
“We saw a decrease for awhile,” he said. “But deer from surrounding land have moved in, and after fawning season there are about as many deer as before, and some good bucks.
“The bucks are here,” said Artie. “We have been seeing them during the summer, but last year it didn’t take them long to move when the shooting started.”
Artie’s advice to hunters selected this year is to search out the thickest cover on the park if you want to see bucks.
“The Pirtles did their homework,” he said. “They may not have seen as many deer as some other hunters, but they located a thick area and the quality of the bucks they saw was better.”
Artie expects another outstanding harvest this fall.
“We may be down some from last year, but there are still a lot of deer on the park,” he said.
Hunts at Yargo are planned at least through the 2008-09 season.
“None of the other hunts will match Yargo,” said Artie. “Your best opportunity to see deer and kill deer is right here. And your best opportunity to kill a buck is right here. This hunt is the hunt of a lifetime.”
The State Park quota deer hunts will be filled on the Georgia WRD Web site. There is a difference, however, from the WMA quota deer hunts that you apply for at the same site. There is no priority system for the state-park hunts. Each year when you apply, you have exactly the same opportunity to be drawn for the hunt as the next guy — even if you were drawn for last year’s hunt and he wasn’t.
“These are strictly management hunts to control deer populations,” said WRD Game Biologist Brandon Anderson. “For instance the hunts are over at Red Top Mountain State Park. They got the deer population there corrected, and the park is no longer hunted. Because the future of the hunts is uncertain, no priority system was implemented.”
The good news is that your chances are as good as anyone else; the bad news is that you can’t build toward a sure thing as you can with the WMA quota-hunt priority system.
All hunters chosen for a state-park hunt are required to attend a pre-hunt meeting that is scheduled for the evening before the first day of hunting. All hunters who attend a state-park hunt will be assessed a $30 non-refundable hunt fee. A $3 parking pass is also required. The parks will be closed to other uses during the quota hunts.
On the firearms state park hunts, hunters are required to kill one antlerless deer before they are allowed to kill a buck. But if you are drawn, remember to bring plenty of bullets because once you have your first antlerless deer down, there is no limit to the number of deer you may kill. The idea behind the hunts is to reduce the number of deer on these parks because they are damaging the ecosystems. For that reason the parks are looking to Georgia’s hunters to show up with deer rifles in hand to perform some needed deer-herd management on these properties.
Are there hunts in the future on other Georgia State Parks?
According to Chuck Gregory, the park system resource preservation program manager, the process of assessing the impact of deer on park land through scientific research will continue, and if that research indicates damage being done by the overpopulation, future hunts on other parks could be implemented.
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