For the second year in a row, Lee County is No. 1 in Georgia when it comes to producing high-scoring bucks.
GON has rated the big-buck production of counties for 12 years. In nine of those years Macon County was No. 1, every year except in 2000 when Dooly County slipped ahead of Macon by a few points, and for the past two years when Lee County moved into the top spot. Lee County’s current big-buck score is 250, a slight drop from its score last season of 252, which was an all-time record.
Overall, most counties saw a slight downward tick in their scores. Of last season’s Top 10 counties, seven came in with lower scores this season, with only Worth, Colquitt and Taylor making a move up. Among the Top 40 from last season, 20 came in with lower scores this year, while 14 saw an increase and six remained exactly the same.
The formula that GON uses to rate counties on big-buck production uses a consistent method of scoring the counties, so the rating system also shows trends. The formula compares the big-buck production based on official net scores from bucks taken in the past 10 years. We assign a point value based on the scores of those bucks, and also factored into the equation is the square miles of each county.
Scores can drop because we only look at the 10-year window. For example, Dooly County produced some incredible bucks last season, including the best buck taken in the entire state. Yet, Dooly’s score actually dropped, and the county fell from No. 3 to No. 4 in the state. While 2005 was stellar for Dooly, 1994 was even better. Those 1994 bucks dropped out of the equation, and the county’s score dipped from 175 to 171.
The map shows that many of the better counties appear in clusters, and all share one or both of two key factors for antler growth — high-quality food from farming or food plots, and older age structure of the bucks. Many of the top counties have low hunter densities on large tracts of managed land. The result is more older-aged bucks.
The Best of the Best
To make it into the top category as one of the best counties for big-buck production, a county must tally a score of 100 or better, and only 10 Georgia counties out of 159 met that mark after this year’s calculations.
What’s remarkable is how far Lee and Macon counties are in front of the rest of the state. Consider this: Worth County is at No. 3 with 181 points. If Lee County holds its current score, Worth would have to produce seven Boone & Crockett bucks this season to catch Lee.
Two counties are new to the red zone this year. Terrell County moved up to No. 9 in the state with a score of 104, up from 93 last year. Dougherty County also moved into the red with a score of 102, up from 93.
Meanwhile, three counties dropped out of the red zone — Henry, Heard, and Montgomery. Morgan County now stands as the lone Northern Zone survivor in the red zone.
Counties Moving On Up
The chart on page 16 show the counties that saw the greatest percentage increase in their trophy scores from last season. Among those on the way up, there are some surprises, and there are also some counties for which it has only been a matter of time that they join the state’s elite big-buck producing counties.
Bleckley County made the biggest jump with a score that ballooned from 51 to 72, a 41 percent increase. Last season Bleckley saw a new county record set, the Chad Peterson buck that netted 167. Bleckley shot up from respectable ranking of 54 in 2004 to its current mark as the No. 37 county in the state for big-buck production over the past 10 years.
Another county making a big move was Marion, which produced a Booner last season, had another buck in the Fab 40, and also produced several 140-class bucks. Marion County’s score rose 31 percent, shooting up from 71 to 93, now placing Marion in a tie for No. 17 in the state.
Two counties with big increases in their scores last year that come as no surprise are Mitchell and Telfair. Mitchell County’s score rose 24 percent, and its score of 99 is just one shy of entering the red zone. Telfair County, which holds the honor for producing Georgia’s state-record buck, rose 26 percent, and its score of 98 is also just one good buck from cracking the 100-point barrier and entering the red zone.
An interesting side note. Only two Georgia counties that made the chart on page 16 for counties with the biggest percentage increase in trophy-buck score also made that chart the previous year — Hancock and Rockdale, which sit solidly in the yellow zone both with scores of 86. Another year with increases like these counties have seen the past two seasons, and we could see a splash of red across the Piedmont.
This Year’s Predictions
Last year I predicted that the map would have more red on it this time around, while also predicting that Henry County would drop out of the top tier as development continue to chew up former hunting land. We were right about Henry — it dropped from a score 105 all the way down to 89‚ but we were wrong about the number of red-zones counties, which fell from 11 to 10.
What will the map look like next year? Again, I’m predicting more red. The obvious choices for a move up are Mitchell, Telfair and Fulton, all of which are just one good buck from cracking the 100-point level, and all of which have been trending up the past several years.
A Final Word
Each year we receive calls from hunters who are looking for a hunting lease, and who are especially interested in areas that are good for quality bucks. My advice is simple — don’t lease a tract of land just because it’s in Lee or Macon counties. Lease a tract land because of what that particular piece of dirt has on it and because of what’s immediately around that tract. Any county in Georgia has the potential to produce a good buck, but certain tracts of land in the very best counties may never produce a good buck.
Last season was generally tough for Georgia hunters, and it was reflected in these scores. Early indications are that this year could be a good, so expect some rising trophy-buck scores.