My first hunting memories were born on B.F. Grant WMA. Growing up east of Atlanta, dad and I wore some tires out running back and forth to this 14,000-acre Putnam County WMA, roaming hardwood hillsides and creek bottoms for squirrels and turkeys.
In the early 1990s I killed my first turkey there. The first drake woody I ever watched fall was at B.F. Grant. The first time my young eyes saw a fox squirrel, a wild hog and a buck in velvet was at B.F. Grant, and the biggest deer rub I’ve ever seen in my life was on this piece of public land.
I’m certainly not the only one who has a special place in the memory box for this WMA. There are hundreds of folks who cherish this University of Georgia owned — state leased — public-hunting area, many of whom enjoy the good deer hunting.
Thomas Cooper is one hunter who is synonymous with deer hunting at B.F. Grant. In November 1974 he killed B.F. Grant’s largest-ever buck, a 215 7/8-inch non-typical Boone & Crockett. It was recognized as the largest buck killed in North America in 1974. Yes, the best-scoring buck taken in the nation in 1974 was at B.F. Grant WMA. That’s strong.
“We’ve still got the Polaroid picture of that deer at the check station when it was laying under the weigh-in shed,” said Harry Luke, who has been the area manager of B.F. Grant since 1979.
B.F. Grant has had quality-buck rules in place since 1974, and it was the first WMA in the nation to implement the idea of trying to grow bigger bucks on public land. Now, 30 years later it does produce a lot of ‘quality’ bucks, enough so that it remains popular among deer hunters.
“People are always going to show up at B.F. Grant,” said Harry.
For years B.F. Grant has hosted two buck-only quota hunts, one in early November and the other in late November or early December.
Jason Hays from Newborn is a B.F. Grant deer hunter who was drawn and showed up for last year’s first hunt, November 3-6. On that hunt he shot a 133 3/8-inch 13-pointer that was good enough to get him on this month’s cover of GON.
“We’ve turkey hunted it since the mid 1990s,” said Jason. “We decided to put in for the draw deer hunts in 2000 when we started seeing all the good buck sign.”
Jason killed his first B.F. Grant buck a few years later, a 10-pointer that probably scores in the 120s. His dad killed one in 2001 that scored 132 3/8. Jason’s brother killed a buck in 2004, the day before Jason killed this month’s GON cover buck, that should go in the 120s. Jason said the biggest key to their success has been a willingness to put a lot of distance between them and other hunters.
“My dad hunts about an hour and 10 minutes from the truck,” said Jason.
Jason, too, gets way back, and he says he’s never seen another hunter. The day before the early November hunt, he walked an hour from the truck and hung his stand on an edge between some mature pines and some thick, young pines.
The first morning of the hunt was terrible — 80 degrees and muggy.
“I hunted daylight to dark and saw one small 3-pointer,” said Jason. “The next morning rain came in at daylight — it was pouring — and the wind was blowing. A major cold front was coming in, and the temperature was starting to drop. There were a lot of shots.”
In front of Jason’s stand there was a ditch full of briars than ran from the mature pines into the bedding area. At 7:30 Jason watched as two does made their way toward the thick pines behind him. As the does slipped behind Jason’s stand, he watched. When he turned back around a good buck had appeared along that briar edge in front of the stand.
“I think he was bedded in that briar patch,” said Jason. “He was making a beeline for those does. He was facing dead at me, and he wasn’t that wide, so I wanted to get a better look. When he turned and I saw those points and the beams, I didn’t have to think twice about it.”
The buck was 4 1/2 years old.
Jason’s deer is an above-average buck for B.F. Grant, however, last year’s early-November hunt was exceptional for good-racked bucks.
“People saw deer everywhere,” said Harry. “The year before (2003) we had the same number of people but the kill was down on the buck hunts. The weather was terrible. That meant all the 2 1/2s (bucks) made it to 3 1/2s, the 3 1/2s to 4 1/2s and so on.”
B.F. Grant’s first quota hunt is more popular than the second hunt.
“That’s the week when the pre-rut activities are really kicking in,” said Harry. “The rut usually peaks between the (November) 11-14. That’s what we always figure by reproductive tracts.”
For last year’s first hunt, 303 hunters killed 35 bucks for a hunter-success rate of 11.6 percent, up 211 percent from that same hunt in 2003.
In order to be one of the 400 drawn for this early November hunt, you’ll probably need a single-rejection notice. However, 7 percent of last year’s applicants picked for the hunt had no rejections.
The second quota deer hunt at B.F. Grant is usually very poor. Last year 204 hunters (400 quota) shot two bucks for a success of 1 percent.
“By that hunt you’ve had small-game hunters in there rabbit hunting, coon hunters in there at night and they’ve already had that first buck hunt,” said Harry. “Once you’re after the rut, big bucks are just hard to find, especially on a management area where they’ve been educated, educated and educated.”
Traditionally both B.F. Grant quota hunts have been buck-only. Starting this season hunters drawn for the second hunt will be allowed two days of antlerless deer hunting.
“Because that second hunt is so slow, they wanted people to have an opportunity to kill a doe,” said Harry.
When you look at B.F. Grant’s 2004 success as a whole, it ranked No. 2 on GON’s Best WMAs for Antlers in the WMA Special. However, when I look at Truck-Buck entries over the last five years, I see a lack of 130- to 140-class deer.
“The problem is too many 2 1/2-year-old deer are getting killed in the 90 to 100 (B&C) range — in my opinion,” said Harry. “A deer in that range will make that 16-inch beam length.”
Bucks with a 15-inch outside spread or 16-inch main beams are legal on B.F. Grant.
Again, it’s interesting to note that after a very poor harvest in ’03, the area saw a tremendous increase in bigger-racked bucks in ’04. For the 2004 season, B.F. Grant had a 64 percent increase in hunter-success rates on 2 1/2-year-old and older bucks. It makes sense that when you don’t kill them one year, they’re going to be around for the next.
“I see a few 140s around, but they don’t show up much in the hunts,” said Harry. “They usually kill one to two deer in that class every year.”
Looking into B.F. Grant’s future, we may see a shift toward a more consistent, better-scoring buck herd. Starting with the 2003 season, the quota on both B.F. Grant quota hunts was dropped from 600 to 400 hunters. Could fewer hunters improve quality over time?
“Over time it’s got to,” said Harry. “If you can’t eliminate the number of days that hunters are in the woods, but you can eliminate the number of people in the woods for those days, it’s got to (improve quality).”
For hunters wanting a non-quota deer-hunting opportunity, try B.F. Grant’s annual December primitive-weapons hunt. It’s real popular, drawing between 450 and 550 hunters and producing above-average success rates. On that hunt you may shoot quality bucks or antlerless deer.
If you’re a bowhunter, B.F. Grant has two archery weekends during the statewide archery season. Combined totals for both hunts last year were 478 hunters killing 16 deer for a success of 3.3 percent.
“I got some soybeans and lab-lab, some millet and sorghum — most of it is going over in the MARSH pond and the rest of it will be in strips and archery patches,” said Harry.
If you head out to do some archery scouting watch for these small archery plots that were planted in July. Harry has about 25 acres planted.
As a whole, the area is pretty diverse. The WMA has lots of persimmons, muscadines and oak trees. It has a lot of mixed pines/hardwoods habitat, along with some areas of hardwoods along the Big Indian Creek drainage and Little River bottom. Also, there’s plenty of the thick stuff where the deer like to hide.
If you go to one of B.F. Grant’s deer hunts, Harry said you’re welcome to shoot a hog if you see one.
“The year before they did real good,” said Harry. “They didn’t kill but three last year during the managed hunts, and during the small-game season they killed very few. They either weren’t there or they didn’t see them. I think the hogs had so many acorns to eat they just didn’t move around. Now here it is in the middle of the summer, and we’re seeing them everywhere.”
B.F. Grant hogs can be taken with small-game weapons during small-game seasons, starting August 15. Last year small-game hunters couldn’t take hogs with small-game weapons until November 1.
“It is a change,” said Carroll Allen, WRD’s assistant chief of game management. “We’ve got a build up of hogs there. I do a little small-game hunting there myself, and it seems like there’s more and more of them. I suspect they may be having an impact on the University’s operation, too.”
Carroll isn’t the only small-game hunter who enjoys the good populations of critters to hunt.
“We get a ton of coon hunting,” said Harry. “You have two big drainages coming through there, Little River and Indian Creek. A lot of people rabbit hunt. In the last 10 years I’ve seen squirrel hunting with dogs quadruple compared to just regular squirrel hunting. People have taken off hunting with dogs.”
Harry’s been around long enough to even remember the good ol’ days of the B.F. Grant bobwhite.
“In the late 70s, early 80s, it was nothing to get up 15 coveys of birds a day,” said Harry, “but you don’t see the quail hunters like you used to. We have a few coveys. We do get a lot of woodcock hunters, too.”
Harry doesn’t mind talking about the turkey hunting on the area, too. Yes, the hunting is good, but I’m more impressed with the week-long, adult/child turkey hunt that Harry helped get adopted on the WMA.
“It’s something I really like,” said Harry.
For about the last five years, the first week of B.F. Grant’s turkey season is adult/child. Over the years I’ve taken a few kids on this week-long hunt, and I’ve had a ball. I remember one year Harry was handing out these nice, wooden box calls to all the kids. He told me about a particular box call he handed out to a young boy.
“The next year he came back to the same hunt at B.F. Grant and was just tickled to death,” said Harry. “He had just killed his first gobbler, and he was using that box call.”
Expect 30 to 40 adult/child pairs if you decide to show up for this hunt next spring.
“When you consider Cedar Creek had 500 people show up opening weekend, 30 pairs on 14,000 acres isn’t many people,” said Harry.
On May 13, 2005 I connected with a B.F. Grant gobbler after he committed verbal suicide. The dang bird just woke up and decided he was going to gobble like a private bird that’d never been fooled with. He came running to the gun — beats all I ever saw. It was a text-book turkey hunt on public land. You hunt years to find a bird like that.
I’ll chalk it up as another B.F. Grant memory.