A tornado hit Fort Stewart! Well, not really. The whirlwind that swept through on a recent weekend was actually me. Being I haven’t been in the woods for nearly six months due to work travel, I hit Fort Stewart with a vengeance. Thank God there was somewhere in my part of the state open to hunt this time of year. I was about to blow a gasket!
Entering the woods at 10:30 a.m., I followed scattered pig sign in from a road crossing made the night before. Staying on the freshest sign, I looped and made figure-8s until I discovered where they had lain up for the day. They were in a head-high gallberry thicket situated in the inside turn of a ty-ty branch. As I stalked along the transition between the two, I caught some movement to my right. It was the top of a gallberry bush wiggling. Just an armadillo or a little bird bugging, I thought, as I eased forward.
Nope! It was two solid-black gilts rooting around as they eased out of their sanctuary for the day. I chose the plumpest of the two and squeezed the trigger on about a 40-pounder. My first kill of the season! The other ran back into the thicket. Waiting a few minutes, I eased into the thicket. I heard the other give a few low grunts, as if it was asking, “Is that you?’’ I let out a couple of low grunts and shuffled my feet.
The shoat came within 15 feet and paused, catching my scent. I could see black through the thick stems, but I couldn’t tell which end I was looking at. A little voice said, “Pass.’’ There was no need to ruin a good hunt searching for a badly hit animal or destroying meat, even though I knew the short mag could’ve punched through.
At 4 p.m. and 7/10 of a mile from the truck, I called it a day. I wanted to get back and prepare for my first full day of hunting the next day, a day I’d been dreaming about for months. I wanted to relax and make some new memories along the way.
The next morning I began walking at 6:30 a.m. and didn’t stop until 8:30 that evening. I signed in and out of 10 areas, walked between 1/2- to 1 1/2-mile loops in each one. I burned nearly a tank of gas in four different counties, hunting and driving completely around Fort Stewart. I had turned ravenous for some time in God’s Great Outdoors after six months of work and stress in a jungle of concrete and steel.
The spirit in me was driving, “Never give up, never give up!’’ My body was tired and aching, but I kept going. It was going to be a hog or dark, whichever came first. The last part of the day was used figuring out some hogs that were cutting corners in four different blocks that encompassed nearly 2 square miles. It finally came together at 7:55 p.m. as I met a group of seven hogs, trotting across a burned pine flat heading to an evening area of wallows. I picked out the largest, about 70 pounds, and tickled the trigger. Boom! Right in it’s tracks. It was another fat gilt. Unbelievable! Another fine piece of meat.
Woo-Wee! The weekend of the tornado! Thank you Jesus! I dropped to my knees and raised both hands high in the air as I praised Him. Only He and I knew how much I really needed that full day of hunting.
It was totally amazing. I spent the day on an area that encompasses more than 250,000 acres without seeing another hunter in the woods or passing any on its many miles of dirt roads. Even more amazing was that every area I checked into had no other hunters signed in, and on a Saturday to top that!
I had put in a round-trip time of 18 hours (driving, hunting and butchering), a tank of gas, a whole bottle of 100 percent DEET, two ThermaCELL cylinders, two sets of GPS batteries, 8 miles of wading swamps and pushing through palmettos and gallberry thickets in three different counties, eight embedded seed ticks, and my body was polka-dotted with chigger bites. All in one day!
Georgia is very lucky to have Fort Stewart as an outdoor getaway, somewhere you can hunt year-round. There is nowhere else in Georgia on public land where the general public can pursue feral hogs all year. Note: During turkey season hog hunting is only open in archery-only areas.
As I spent a day and a half hunting, I do admit it felt kind of weird toting my .270 WSM during the summer. Of course, weapon-type requirements will change as other types of game seasons come and go on Fort Stewart.
You could never hunt all this land, which is located in five counties: Bryan, Evans, Liberty, Long and Tattnall. There will always be a greener pasture around the corner. There will always be another deep hog wallow, another hidden ridge of white oaks, an island in the swamp, a travel corridor along a drainage, or an oasis of wild blueberries on a pine flat completely surrounded by a ty ty swamp.
When you hunt Fort Stewart, make sure you bring a GPS or compass. Some of these blocks are immense, ranging from several hundred to several thousand acres in size. Before writing this article, I hunted a total of five days and never saw another person or a vehicle. On some main roads, my tire tracks were the only ones for several days.
Here’s the best advice I can give you. Don’t try to learn the whole area at one time. Pick one for the day and learn it. Most blocks here will have hogs on them at times based on food sources and pressure. I have a lot of success at times in areas of minimal sign because hogs are very nomadic, constantly transitioning to different food sources. Sometimes you have to stay ahead of them. Lone boars also stay on the move looking for hot sows, and you are apt to see one at any time anywhere.
While you are out there, mark some good deer spots for the upcoming season. I can hardly wait to climb 30 feet up a particular slash pine, overlooking a dense tangle of vines and fallen trees inside of which is hidden, well… ain’t tellin’ ya!
My best day was the following Saturday. I bagged a 125-lb. sow and two boars that went 175 and 225 pounds. I saw at least 15 deer, an additional dozen or so hogs, three bushels of squirrels, five coyotes, two raccoons, two rabbits, a bobcat, and I lost count of the turkeys. I also saw 15 swallow-tailed kites in one group circling above the trees (which are very rare), gopher tortoises, and a 5-foot alligator in a small flat pond. It was a very enjoyable and blessed day indeed.
You’re probably going to laugh when I tell you how I oftentimes make my decision on which areas I’m going to hunt. I have a coffee can that has labeled and laminated pieces of paper for all the hunting areas. I shake the can, my wife pulls out one, and that’s where I go for the day. If it’s not an open area for that day, she’ll draw again. I call it “Shake ’n Bacon.”
It doesn’t matter what she draws out. There is hog sign in every block out there, and there’s always something to see, learn and enjoy. I’ve always been good at speed-scouting and eliminating. I can’t stand not knowing every inch of an area, so to speak. I came up with the Shake ’n Bacon method or I would pull my hair out with so much land to choose from.
However you determine where you’re going to hunt, the most typical way to get on hogs quickly is to drive around the block and find the freshest tracks or wallows along the edges. Right after a rain is when I love to drive around. The darkened sand and red clay smoothed by the rain will really illuminate tracks. Follow their sign. If you lose it, start gridding off the area, paying special attention to the thicker cover and wet areas. For extra hunting tips, go to www.gon.com, click on “Hunting,” then “Hog” and scroll down to “Summer Sausage Run.”
If you decide to hunt hogs at Fort Stewart this month, definitely bring a ThermaCELL, high-volume DEET, a GPS/compass, map, extra shirts because you will sweat and plenty of water. Also, because meat will spoil quickly in the summer, bring a game cart or a backpack if you want to quarter up your hog in the woods. I sleeve my meat in the 20-lb. bags from the ice machine before tossing it in my pack. If I ever see any bags hanging on the chute arm where people leave them, I stop and pick them up. I also use them for freezer bags, and they are long enough to double over. If you cart out, there is a cleaning station by the Pass and Permit Office.
In closing, I apologize to any of the regulars who hunt here for bringing to light what an overwhelming abundance of outdoor opportunities that abound at Fort Stewart/HAAF. There was a time when I would’ve been selfish and kept it a secret, too, but I feel it is far more important to promote our hunting heritage. If I can excite someone to start hunting or to hog hunt for the first time, or even to re-ignite a passion for someone who may has stopped hunting because of lease prices or smaller crowded WMAs, I will then feel I have done my duty helping my fellow outdoorsman. Anyway, there is plenty of elbow room, and I sure left a bunch of hogs behind.
My freezers and heart are full. Is yours? God bless, and start making tracks!
The Hunting At Fort Stewart Is Well Worth Jumping Through These Hoops
There are some hoops to jump through before you’re allowed to hunt on Fort Stewart. However, access to more than 250,000 acres and a plethora of game made it well worth my efforts.
Don’t expect to hunt there this weekend. The permit process takes a few days, and you’ll have to make two trips on base without a firearm in your vehicle before being allowed to hunt. This effort is one reason hunting pressure can be low. The below steps will get you on your way to hunting.
1. Go to the Team Stewart website at www.stewart.army.mil. On the left side, click on “Directorates.” A drop-down box will appear. Click on “Emergency Services.”
In the lower right-hand corner, click on “Weapon Registration Form.” Read and click on the blue link at the bottom. Being it’s a one-time thing, you may want to consider listing all the hunting weapons you plan to use at Fort Stewart. It will ask for info such as serial number, model and make, type and description, etc.
2. When you have the form filled out, bring it in person to the Registration Office on base to Building 226 located at East Butman Avenue or at Hunter Army Airfield, Building 1279 Neal Blvd.
I dealt with a courteous staff at Fort Stewart. It’s very easy to get to. I entered the gate at Hinesville by proceeding south on SR 119. As you near the main gate, you will notice a side road to the right with a sign that states “Non-Decaled Vehicles Only.” Enter here. It will by-pass the main gate. You will need three things to enter: driver’s license, current insurance card and vehicle registration (tag receipt).
It’s very important to leave your weapons at home during this process. The normal paperwork process takes three to five business days, so you will have to return to hunt after they contact you. If you have any questions, contact Chief of Physical Security Arthur Weston at (912) 767-1883.
3. After dropping the form off, leave base and circle around to the Pass and Permit Office located at 2551 State Highway 144 East—Bldg. 93. This is where you’ll pick up your hunting permit. The cost is $60, and the hunt/fish combo is $80. Bring your current hunting/fishing licenses and hunter-safety card, which is mandatory. The staff will give you a vehicle permit (which must stay in view on the dash), ID card, general hunting rules, area listings with quotas, seasons and bag limits and how to utilize the automated access system to hunting areas using your cellphone.
Also, if you hunt with archery equipment, bring your bow if the date you come coincides with a listed date on the website for a qualification shoot. You must pass this test before you can bow hunt. Certain times of the year, such as now, you will need to make an appointment.
Make sure you buy the very detailed area map for only $5, which will be very beneficial. The Pass and Permit Office can be reached at (912) 435-8061.
4. Back to the Team Stewart website. At the top left-hand corner, click on “About.” When the drop-down box appears, click on “Hunting on Fort Stewart.” Scroll down and open “Regulation 420-4.” This publication will cover all the information, guidelines and instructions you will need to pursue hunting and fishing on Fort Stewart/HAAF.
While you are on their website, check out the other links to get familiarized with what a great outdoor program they have. You will notice they have an excellent food-plot program having annual and perennial plantings that utilizes more than 800 acres of wildlife clearings. They also have programs for thinning thick stands, mast orchard plantings and protecting existing stands of hardwood mast trees. The program I like the most is their prescribed burn program, which creates a lot of browse and curbs unwanted growth. They burn a certain amount of acreage annually.
Click on the “Area Status Sheets” on the left of the hunting page. This is a list of all the open areas for the day. Note, some areas may be bow only, shotgun only, quality-managed, etc.
5. On your initial and return trip to pick up your permits, plan to do some driving and scouting to familiarize yourself with the area. You can get a Recreation Pass and do some game-scouting and nature watching. Bring your wife. That way your trip will be more fulfilling and worthwhile being gas is so expensive. Again, leave your weapons at home, you can’t bring them on base yet. But, if you have friends or a hunting camp nearby as I did, leave them there if you plan to hunt later that day.
With the vehicle, weapon and license permits, you are ready to hunt. Realize my instructions above are very condensed, and I know you will have several questions. Study the Fort Stewart Hunting Home Page and all its links, especially Regulation 420-4, along with how to utilize the automated access system and following its prompts, the daily area status sheets for open hunting areas, transportation and storage of your firearm and ammo, etc.
Fort Stewart is a training area for our nation’s heroes, and all their rules and guidelines must be followed to ensure safety and so that none of their exercises or duties will be interrupted. Also, remember to keep the military and their families, especially those who are deployed, in your prayers. The pursuit you are enjoying here today is just one of the many freedoms they protect and preserve with their lives and service.