Georgia’s seen a slight dip in deer numbers the last five years, but with an estimated decrease from 1.1 million to 1 million deer, there are still plenty of whitetails to go round.
“In general, the deer population is in excellent shape and well balanced with [the available] habitat across the majority of the state,” said Charlie Killmaster, deer project coordinator for Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.
Last year’s acorn crop was pretty poor in most parts of the state, but a wet spring created abundant natural forage for the deer. But as the summer went on, dry conditions took hold, and Killmaster was worried that the forage would suffer without some substantial rains. By mid-August, those rains had not materialized and large regions in central Georgia were rated as suffering from “Extreme” to “Exceptional” drought, the later being the worst designation made by the national U.S. Drought Monitor.
The hardest hit area? The Blue Ridge Mountains. Here, deer have been hit with periodic bouts of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, frequent mast crop failures (2007 and 2011 were especially bad years for acorn production here), and increasing competition for food and habitat from bears and feral hogs. All of that, plus, a severe lack of early successional habitat from changing forestry practices really hurt deer numbers Killmaster said.
The biggest bucks tend to come from Southwest Georgia, particularly from drainages of the Flint River. “Metro-Atlanta counties typically produce excellent bucks as well,” Killmaster notes.
Rut? “Highly variable, ranging from mid-October to early January,” he said. “On average, the first couple of weeks of November are prime in many parts of the state.”
The Southern Regional Report**
It looks like this will be another strong season for southeastern deer hunters, with deer herds in good to very good condition. Deer populations are stable to slightly growing, and all states expected a strong fawn crop this year. The central south (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) saw drought expand over the region as summer went forward. However, this part of the country did receive substantial spring and early-summer rains, which generated a good deal of forage, so deer went into the summer in pretty good condition.
Top Trophy Zones
AR: Arkansas and Chicot counties.
FL: Alachua, Gadsden, and Jefferson counties.
LA: Avoyelles, Concordia, and East Feliciana parishes.
MS: Delta counties like Bolivar, Tallahatchie, and Yazoo are well represented in the record books. Outside of the Delta, Adams County has produced trophy bucks for the past 50 years, including the current state typical record, a 10-pointer killed in 2010 that netted an amazing 184 6⁄8.
OK: Osage and Coal counties. The latter is developing a reputation as a big-buck county, and that was only enhanced last year when 13-year-old Kelsey McKay shot a 200 7⁄8-inch monster non-typical. It is the largest buck ever taken in Coal, a county well represented in the state record books for both typical and non-typical whitetails.
SC: Orangeburg, Aiken, Fairfield, and Colleton counties.
TN: Cumberland and Van Buren counties, and the Tennessee sections of the U.S. Army’s Fort Campbell Military Installation.
TX: Irion, Kennedy, Maverick, Tom Green, and Webb counties.