Since I moved to Georgia last fall, I have found that the closest hunting opportunity for me has been the Redlands Wildlife Management Area (WMA). This area lies primarily within Green County but extends into Oglethorpe and Oconee Counties as well. The WMA consists of a 37,500 acres mix of private and federal lands. Being limited to public hunting opportunities, I immediately saw this WMA as my best chance to continue hunting deer, turkey and small game while I’m in Georgia, and who knows, maybe even a little piggie if I catch one out and about. But so far, this experience has been a major disappointment, mainly because I set my expectations too high.
Now you could say that I have been somewhat spoiled in my hunting experiences. I grew up in Maryland hunting a private farm by permission of a neighbor. Deer were and still are very plentiful with good body weights and the potential for large racks and small game was abundant. I later moved to Virginia for college and a career and began hunting private farms of friends and clients as well as National Forest where deer and turkeys were also numerous. The National Forest of southwest Virginia is far different from that which I have found in the Redlands WMA. It primarily encompasses the mountainous un-developable areas and is found in huge contiguous tracts measuring in the hundreds of thousands of acres. I routinely hiked for miles in one direction through the mountains to reach deer stands and while chasing turkeys. In several years of hunting Virginia’s government lands, I have only ran into another hunter maybe five times. This is in large part to the huge expanses of public land, where if you were willing to put the leg work in, you could get away from any hunting pressure. A far cry from what I found in the Redlands WMA.
The areas of public land are very broken within the Redlands WMA with only one relatively large contiguous piece in the Skull Shoals area. This area is very popular among hunters, as I found out during both the 2011 deer season and the 2012 spring gobbler season. For example, while scouting for turkeys this spring, I heard 11 birds the week before the season opened. On opening day, I counted 26 vehicles on the same stretch of road where I had heard the birds the week before and had direct competition for the gobbler I chased. If you are hunting smaller tracts of public land that are greatly accessible by both road and trails, such as those found in Redlands WMA, expect to have a lot of company.
Now I know it sounds like I am bashing the Redlands for being too small and over hunted, but actually the Georgia DNR has done a fantastic job of establishing public lands for hunting all across the state of Georgia. These lands protect the habitat for game and non-game species alike and are vital to the continuation of wildlife health in the state. So it is no wonder that public hunting areas are popular amongst hunters as that is the goal. The numbers of squirrels are definitely not suffering, and I have run into armadillos, rabbits, and many wonderful song birds while hunting. I heard a total of 15 different gobblers during this spring’s season, so they are out there, although they are tough to hunt due to the high pressure. The whitetail deer is the only animal of which I have not found a great amount sign. I have seen only a handful of does, scattered sign of feeding, and very little buck sign. The Redlands is a sign-in/sign-out WMA meaning that hunters are required to sign in prior to hunting the area and sign out any game harvested. At the end of last year’s deer season, I checked the sign-out sheet and by far the majority of deer killed were does, fawns, and small bucks (six points or less). Not exactly a mecca for big bucks.
The only regulation that pertains to the Redlands WMA that I find to be inconsequential is that which pertains to the size of whitetail bucks permitted to be harvested. In the Redlands WMA, two whitetail bucks may be harvested each year but one of the two must have a minimum of four tines of one inch in length on one side of their rack. This regulation is an attempt to increase the age and maturity of bucks. The problem is that it leaves an opening for young immature bucks to continue to be harvested. If you choose a tine restriction as the method for controlling buck harvests, you must make the restriction absolute. Only then will young bucks have the opportunity to live long enough to reach maturity. Not only will you begin seeing older, higher quality bucks, but the number of bucks will increase as well improving the overall health of the herd.
Redlands WMA also surrounds the northern portion of Lake Oconee offering additional recreational opportunities for boating and fishing. I have heard that the lake is a great fishery for large mouth bass, striped bass, and catfish. I have not tried fishing this lake yet, but I fully intend to in the upcoming summer months.
Bottom line is the Redlands WMA is a great opportunity to get outdoors and experience nature as both an observer, hunter, or fisherman. It is highly accessible and so a great place to take young children who may not be ready for the strenuous hikes through mountains. Wildlife is plentiful and you will undoubtedly find your ears filled with the sounds of song birds and chattering squirrels. If you’re a hunter, expect to find hunting challenging, mainly due to the amount of other hunters that you will encounter. Get to your spot early or you may not have anywhere to park.
Do not pass up a chance to explore and utilize public land recreation opportunities. The activities are abundant and the memories are waiting to be made.
photo courtesy of Riki7 via Wikipedia (right)