The dog days of August are once again upon us. At most places the fish have all but quit biting, and bow season is still more than a month away. Seems like now is the perfect time to post up in your favorite recliner and try to stay cool until the heat gives way to fall temperatures.
If you’re a bowhunter looking to be successful, the living room is the last place you need to be. With the bow opener on Sept. 9, there is plenty of time to do some scouting, but the question is where to go?
I’m sure for many reading this, you have private property that you have been managing all year in hopes of September success, but for the ones who don’t, there are a couple off good WMAs located in the vicinity of Augusta that until now have somehow managed to fly under the radar.
Clarks Hill and Fishing Creek WMAs located north of Augusta are not much to look at on a map. At a combined area of not even 16,000 acres, many of which are too wet to hunt, it is easy to see why they don’t receive the pressure that many larger, more popular WMAs do. And that’s good news for anyone who’s willing to make the drive this fall to hunt one or both of these WMAs.
I guess that’s the reason Dean Oliver, of Waycross, makes the roughly three-hour long trip to Augusta sometimes two or three times a week to hunt these properties.
“I have bowhunted some of the best management lands Georgia has, and right now, I have no doubt Clarks Hill and Fishing Creek are the very best,” said Dean.
Dean is an avid bowhunter and a former bow-shop owner who has been slinging sticks at deer for nearly 16 years, rarely hunting with a rifle. His personal best buck harvested with a bow was an impressive 128 inches that he killed on Little Satilla WMA. When I asked Dean to help with this article, he was more than willing to help out, and said that there are plenty of deer to go around.
Clarks Hill is a pretty good size at roughly 12,700 acres, most of which is huntable land.
“If you want to be successful hunting deer on Clarks Hill, you need to be in the woods with your bow on Aug. 15 to hunt some hogs,” said Dean.
Dean uses the small-game season to scout for deer and scout for hogs simultaneously. As he walks through the woods, he moves slowly and quietly looking for deer sign and listening for hogs. When he finds a good rub or bedding area, or other sign, he marks it on his handheld GPS to form a strategy for the upcoming deer season.
“The hogs on this WMA move around a lot, so covering some miles is the best way to find them,” said Dean. “Some days you’re practically tripping over them, and some days it’s like they don’t even exist. This is why combining hog hunting and scouting is an excellent strategy.”
A few days before the bow season opener, Dean takes a look at all of the deer sign he has compiled on his GPS and forms a plan as to where to hang his stand to cut off a big buck.
“Don’t be a bit surprised if you’re riding through the WMA and you can see me up in my stand,” said Dean. “A lot of times, particularly early in the season, the deer relate to the small food plots near the roads within the WMA. I killed four deer last year shortly after I had watched people drive right by my stand.”
Just remember that WMA rules state you must not hunt within 50 yards of a road that is open for vehicular access.
Dean told me that a lot of times there will be deer under him in a food plot, and when they hear a truck coming, they will ease off into the bushes, and minutes later they will come back out and resume feeding.
“I know this logic of hunting close to the road goes against everything we know as bowhunters, but fact is for the first few weeks of the season on Clarks Hill, it will put some meat in your freezer,” said Dean.
He went on to say that hunting these small food plots are also a great strategy for those who don’t have time to do much scouting.
Though the deer aren’t as timid toward vehicles as typical deer, Dean mentioned that scent control is crucial to keep from alarming the deer as to your presence. For this reason, he uses Scent-A-Way products and also a little old-fashioned turpentine on his boots to mask his scent.
If deer sightings are hard to come by on the food plots as the season progresses, Dean starts to look for bucks in the beginning stages of the pre-rut. This is where early season scouting helps as to know where the real hot spots are.
“If you don’t get to do much scouting, then hang your stand about 20 yards off of a good rub line and put in some time for a chance to arrow a good buck,” Dean said.
Fishing Creek is another WMA definitely worth some scouting this month. A little on the smaller side, this WMA comes in at 2,900 acres.
“You can’t let the size of Fishing Creek fool you,” said Dean. “This area is full of deer, and there are some real bruiser bucks in these woods.”
Surprisingly, this area currently does not have one entry on GON’s Triple-Digit WMA Bucks rankings. Dean thinks the main reason for this has nothing to do with a lack of quality deer, rather a lack of hunters in the woods.
Dean says that although Fishing Creek doen’t have the number of deer Clarks Hill has, these deer do tend to be a little larger. This is due in part to a lot of prescribed burns and seasonal discing performed by WRD. An abundance of food on this property ensures deer reach their maximum potential, and a lack of hunting pressure helps to really up the ante for a chance at a big deer.
Dean approaches this WMA with the same early season hog hunting scouting strategy as Clarks Hill. As he hunts the hogs in August, he is on constant lookout for white oaks and persimmon trees to mark on his GPS.
Also, like Clarks Hill, the small food plots along the interior roads offer lots of deer activity on Fishing Creek. Instead of hunting right over these plots, Dean prefers to set up his climber approximately 100 to 150 yards in the woodline.
“What you will find is the does will move out onto the plot about an hour before dark, and the mature bucks will move to the edges right as darkness falls,” said Dean. “By being a little farther in the woods, you have a good chance of cutting off a big buck right before daylight fades.”
As the deer get a little more wary as the season progresses, Dean begins to hunt areas closer to the lake. Due to the lake being low, areas along the shore are covered with a variety of young, tender green plants, many of which deer love. Concentrate your hunting efforts on green areas with lots of deer tracks and other sign.
When I spoke with WRD’s Game Management’s Region 3 Supervisor Lee Taylor, his enthusiasm for these areas was no less than Dean’s.
“We have all been working hard at the Region 3 office, and all of the hard work is paying off. Both areas have good deer populations, and there is definitely some quality bucks mixed in,” said Lee.
He went on to say that the woods in Clarks Hill had been getting a little thick, but thanks to some prescribed burning, hunter access is much better.
Lee also mentioned the food plots as good areas to hunt, especially for those not wanting to put a lot of miles on their boots.
“We manage the plots pretty well; they are mostly winter wheat and really attract deer and other wildlife,” said Lee.
There aren’t any special regulations or antler restrictions on these areas, and regular WMA rules apply.
Grab a hunting regulations booklet, and brush up on all WMA rules and hunting dates before the season starts.
With just over a month until bow season, don’t let the dog days of August get you down. Grab your bow, and get to the woods for some scouting and hog hunting. With a little luck, you will be picking up some delicious hog and deer sausage from the processor in no time.
Archery & Small-Game Dates
Archery-only: Sept. 9-21, 2017
Sept. 25-Oct. 13, 2017
Small-game: Aug. 15-Sept. 21, 2017;
Sept. 25-Oct. 26, 2017;
Oct. 30, 2017-
Feb. 28, 2018
Archery-only: Sept. 9-Oct. 13, 2017
Small-game: Aug. 15, 2017-
Feb. 28, 2018