Georgia hunters will have a little more room to roam this fall with the addition of the new 10,800-acre Chattahoochee Fall Line WMA (CFL). The land, located in southern Talbot and western Marion counties, was acquired through a unique partnership between the Georgia DNR, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the U.S. Army. The area will provide Georgia hunters with a variety of hunting opportunities, including the first public opportunity to hunt the legendary Fort Perry Plantation.
CFL WMA gets its name from the unique geographic region of the state in which it lies. The “Fall Line” is an ancient shoreline that stretches across Georgia, from Augusta to Columbus, and into Alabama. It is here that clay soils give way to sand, and the rivers and streams “fall” from higher to lower elevations. As the name implies, the “Chattahoochee Fall Line” is where the Chattahoochee River watershed overlaps this Fall Line. In addition to its unique soils, the area is home to longleaf pine forests that provide perfect habitat for a variety of rare non-game species, as well as deer, turkey and quail.
Almost as unique as the property itself is the means by which the property was acquired and became a WMA. It all started with the Army, and more specifically Georgia’s very own Fort Benning. With all of the base’s training exercises, especially since the addition of the U.S. Army Armor School, you can imagine what problems could arise if housing and business developments began popping up along the base’s border. Conflicts over noise, smoke, lights and radio-signal interference could ultimately cripple the base’s ability to properly train our soldiers for combat.
It was these types of concerns that prompted the Department of Defense to develop the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program. The program uses a third-party partner (in this case The Nature Conservancy) to purchase land and conservation easements on land near targeted areas outside of the base. To date, the Fort Benning program has resulted in the protection of more than 15,000 acres via conservation easements and nearly 11,000 acres by conservation purchases from willing landowners. These purchases are funded by the Army, TNC, public and private grants, as well as through private donations.
This past May, TNC sold approximately 8,800 acres of their ACUB holdings to the Georgia DNR at a substantially discounted price. This property, along with an additional 2,000 acres still owned by TNC, will be jointly managed as the new Chattahoochee Fall Line WMA starting with the 2014 small-game season.
The transaction will allow TNC to achieve its mission of protecting ecologically important lands and waters for people and nature and to reinvest the proceeds back into the ACUB program to continue their efforts within the region.
The habitat at CFL WMA is characterized by deep, sandy soils reminiscent of what you would expect to see along the coast. Unlike the coastal plain, however, the area has a lot of topography, ranging from 450 feet of elevation along Black Creek, up to 700 feet on the highest ridges.
On the wide, rolling ridgetops, you’ll find a variety of mixed pines, including stands of both natural and planted longleaf pines at various stages of development. In addition to the longleaf are stands of loblolly and sand pine, as well as plenty of mixed hardwoods. Along the bottomlands of Black Creek and its tributaries are larger stands of mature hardwoods.
Because of its unique habitat, much of the WMA’s management will focus on restoring the longleaf pine plant community that once dominated the Chattahoochee Fall Line region. Through the use of an intensive fire regime, the area should provide ideal habitat for the endangered red cockaded woodpecker and the threatened gopher tortoise. However, just because much of the habitat work will focus on non-game species such as those mentioned above doesn’t mean that your favorite game species won’t benefit, as well.
Turkey, deer and small-game populations should all benefit from the WMA’s management practices and provide Georgia hunters with plenty of opportunities in the field.
For hunting purposes, the CFL WMA will be broken into three tracts. The largest of the three, at 6,700 acres, is the Almo Tract. This tract is located just south of Highway 96 and east of Highway 240 near the small town of Geneva. This tract was once the “TMI (Trophy Management Inc.) Tract” and was known for its big bucks. GON remembers several really big deer from past Truck-Buck contests taken from this piece of dirt.
Fall hunting opportunities on this tract will include two sign-in archery deer hunts, two three-day quota firearms deer hunts, three days of quota quail hunting and 157 days of small-game hunting. Spring turkey hunting opportunities will include 27 days of quota turkey hunting and 15 days of general turkey hunting.
Adjacent to the Almo Tract, but with limited access and designated as an archery-only area, is the Black Jack Crossing Tract. The 1,600-acre tract actually consists of two separate 800 acre blocks—one adjacent to the Almo Tract on the north side and one just across Highway 240 from the Almo Tract on the west side of the property.
While there is no small game or firearms deer hunting on the Black Jack Crossing Tract, bowhunters can enjoy the deer hunting there for the entire Georgia deer season, Fridays through Sundays only. The entire spring turkey season is open there as a general sign-in hunt but is also restricted to archery equipment.
The third tract, and the one that is sure to draw a lot of deer-hunting interest, is the 2,500-acre Fort Perry Tract. The property was formerly owned and managed by hunting enthusiast and North American Whitetail magazine publisher, Steve Vaughn. Vaughn had a keen interest in trophy whitetail management and developed the property intensively for such purposes.
The area was high fence, and early in its development select deer were brought in from various locations across the country to provide superior genetics. Today, transporting deer is an illegal practice in Georgia because of chronic wasting disease concerns.
In addition, an intensive feeding program was put in place with food plots and supplemental feed. The hunting was very restrictive and limited. The results of Vaughn’s intensive management were undeniable, as numerous deer in the 170 to 200-plus-inch range were harvested there over the years.
While a portion of the high fence was removed several years ago, those fortunate enough to have access to the plantation continued to kill some impressive bucks. Even with the high fence and supplemental-feeding program being a thing of the past, the Fort Perry Tract of CFL WMA should still provide Georgia public-land hunters with perhaps the best chance in the state of harvesting a trophy whitetail for the next few years.
Because of the potential to harvest a true trophy whitetail, interest in hunting the Fort Perry Tract will certainly be high, so all deer hunting will be through the DNR’s quota system. Deer-hunting opportunities will include one three-day quota archery deer hunt, and four three-day quota firearms hunts, two of which include a youth hunt and a WRD youth “Hunt-and-Learn” hunt.
In addition to the deer hunting, Fort Perry will provide six days of quota rabbit hunting, three days of quota quail hunting, 178 days of small-game hunting, 12 days of quota turkey hunting and 28 days of general turkey hunting.
You can never have too many places to hunt, and the addition of the Chattahoochee Fall Line WMA to Georgia’s family of WMAs will provide hunters with some incredible hunting opportunities on a truly unique property. In the end, it is a win for all parties involved and will hopefully lead to similar opportunities for new hunting areas in the future.
The proposed season dates and regulations mentioned in this article were not confirmed at the time of this writing. Always check the current Georgia Hunting Seasons & Regulations guide before heading afield. Copies of this guide, as well as maps of most of Georgia’s WMAs, are available online at www.georgiawildlife.com.
The CFL check station is located on the Almo Tract, just off of Highway 240, about 3 miles south of Geneva. There is a campground for primitive camping next to the check station, as well as one on the Fort Perry Tract.
All bucks harvested on the WMA must have at least 4 points (1 inch or longer) on either side or a 15-inch outside spread.
For more information on hunting the CFL WMA, contact the DNR Game Management Region 4 office at (478) 825-6354. For information regarding the ACUB program, contact Brant Slay, Land Protection Manager for TNC’s Chattahoochee Fall Line program at (706) 682-0217. For information about the Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership, contact LuAnn Craighton, CFLCP Outreach Director, (706) 571-2500.