Rabbit season starts Saturday, Nov. 17. Do you have a place to turn out beagles and hunt?
There’s a common gripe in the rabbit-hunting community that revolves around the difficulty in having a place to run dogs during deer season. Yes, it’s very true that access to private tracts full of briars and bunnies is getting next-to-impossible to find when orange-clad hunters are still in the woods.
There is an outlet for relief: WMAs. A good percentage of the state’s WMAs are only open to deer hunting for a small number of days. As a result, most of them stay open to small-game hunters for most of the season.
Yes, there may be some competition with other hunters, which could mean the quality of hunting may not be as high as a private briar thicket, but WMAs do give beaglers a place to go during deer season, turn out hounds and hear a few good races.
I called around to WRD’s Game Management offices last month to speak with wildlife biologists about where the best rabbit-hunting WMAs were in their regions. They seemed eager to get beaglers headed in the right direction. After speaking with a few of these folks, I was surprised to learn that many of the WMAs you’ll read about below are under-utilized.
So… no more excuses about no place to go. Don’t wait until Jan. 2 to go rabbit hunting on your deer club. Venture out, and kick up a few WMA rabbits.
As always, check WMA dates in the Hunting Seasons and Regulations booklet before you go.
Region 1: “One WMA that would come to my mind is Coosawattee,” said Adam Hammond, WRD biologist. “It is some pretty good rabbit hunting for up here. It’s old Bowater timber land, so there’s a lot of clearcuts — a lot of habitat. It’s a pretty popular rabbit-hunting area.”
This 7,450-acre WMA sits in Murray County. You’ll find several stages of pines on this area.
“They’ve done a lot of cutting up there,” said Adam. “Some of the pines are young and wouldn’t hold many rabbits yet, but nearly half the area is huntable for rabbits.”
WRD Biologist David Gregory said J.L. Lester has a bunch of rabbits.
“It’s 477 acres of quail and rabbit habitat,” said David. “That’s all Lester is, an old field.”
J.L. Lester is only open to rabbit hunting for four days of the season, and there’s a three-rabbit-per-hunter-per-day limit. This year’s rabbit-hunting dates are Dec. 22-23 and Feb. 23-24.
“It’s great hunting, but it’s almost crazy because everybody is out there hunting those days,” said David.
“The number of hunting days is limited because that place gets used pretty much every weekend of the year by field trials. The funding to purchase the area was generated through field-trial interest.”
As a result, J.L. Lester is a fantastic place to take a hound and run — but not shoot — a rabbit. According to most of the rabbit hunters I talk to, they care way more about the race than the kill, so Lester fits the bill nicely. The only stipulation is that folks can’t run hounds when a field trail is going on. For the most part, hound handlers will have to train their dogs during the week. Field-trial schedules are posted at the check station or are available by calling (706) 295-6041.
“Pigeon Mountain is a good spot, both in the valley and on top,” said David. “We’ve got enough old fields up there that were farm fields that we keep in early successional habitat; it has rabbits on it.”
Try the Blue Hole, Estelle and Rape Gap areas.
Region 2: Dawson Forest offers the most WMA rabbit-hunting habitat in northeast Georgia.
“South of Hwy 53 we had a big beetle killing three or four years ago, and we’ve come back and done a bunch of salvage cutting,” said Ken Riddleberger, WRD Game Management region supervisor. “Since then we’ve been trying to burn it on a three-year rotation to keep it in early succession.”
This area is located across from the check station on the Goethe Tract. It’s about a 700-acre block, and there are areas of brush scattered throughout.
There’s been some patches of cutting on Dawson Forest’s City of Atlanta Tract the last few years that will hold rabbits.
“At Lake Russell WMA at the Georgia Mountain Orchard, we are reclaiming that old field,” said Ken. “It had gotten encroached with a bunch of head-high pines. We’ve reclaimed about 40 acres in there, and it’s come back in great forb habitat.
“There’s not much briars but a lot of good cover. We put a bunch of windrows in. There’s a lot of good forbs. The forest service is going in there to do some timber thinning probably in the next few years around that big opening.
“That could be a really good place to find some rabbits, because we’ve also been managing the fields in that same area.”
This area sits adjacent to several planted openings of sorghum and clover, making about a 60-acre area that is good rabbit habitat.
“There’s rabbits there now, but it’s going to be an even better place down the road,” said Ken.
This area is located in the north-central section of Lake Russell WMA. It’s just west of Brown’s Bottoms on Forest Service road 191.
“Hart County WMA has a good bit of brushy habitat, openings and some managed fields that provide some habitat,” said Ken. “It’s not a real big area, but if someone wants to run some beagles, they can run them over there. There’s a couple of big creeks that run through there with some beaver ponds. In those bottoms, you can get into some swamp rabbits.”
Wilson Shoals sees a fair number of rabbit hunters who don’t mind some fairly steep terrain.
“We have a 50- or 60-acre block near the dove field where we’re doing annual burning,” said Ken. “We’ve burned it the past two years. Wilson Shoals does get some local guys who come run their dogs. They kind of know where to go. There’s a road called Adam’s Way; there’s some habitat back in there.”
Region 3: Di-Lane WMA in Burke County may be the best, and certainly the most popular, place to turn loose a pack of hounds on a Region 3 rabbit.
“It’s a good place to hunt,” said Vic Van Sant, WRD Game Management region supervisor. “We thinned about 3,000 acres, and a pretty fair percentage of it would probably support rabbits. We’ve got some open fields and scattered burnings. We do have a fair number of people who hunt there on a regular basis.”
Yuchi WMA, located in the same county, has a good bit of open land that could hold a few rabbits.
“It’s a sand ridge, so it has a little less of the forb-type food that rabbits need, so it may not be a particularly good spot. There are rabbits there, but it’s not as good as if the soil were a little better.”
Clarks Hill WMA is getting some attention from rabbit hunters.
“Clarks Hill has about 1,200 acres of timber that’s been thinned and may actually be pretty good for rabbits right now,” said Vic.
Vic said nearly 600 acres of the area is already two years old, and it has briars growing in it. Look for the majority of this cut on the main peninsula where the check station is located.
“There’s probably some places to find rabbits on Tuckahoe,” said Vic. “We’ve got a lot of thinning that took place. There should be some places in there that have some swamp rabbits.”
Look along the Savannah River and adjacent to Briar Creek for the possibility of running a canecutter.
“Broad River has a big dove field that probably has a few rabbits,” said Vic. “There’s a couple of clearcuts that might be worth checking out.
“Fishing Creek has some open areas, but there are probably only 40 acres of what I’d call open. It has Fishing Creek, so somebody could get after a swamp rabbit down there.”
Vic said that Oconee WMA has some open fields, clearcuts and some thinned areas adjacent to clearcuts that will hold some rabbits.
Region 4: “The places to go in Region 4 would be Clybel, Joe Kurz, Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee,” said Bobby Bond, WRD biologist. “At Clybel we’ve been trying to work on some of the old fields that have been choked full of pasture grasses in the past. We’ve been trying to spray them.”
There’s a clearcut on the corner of Shepherd Road and Shepherd Pond Road that was sprayed two years ago. It helped kill off the fescue and bermuda.
“Now it’s full of briars and broomsedge,” said Bobby. “We’re slowly working on other areas to knock back the pasture grasses and get them looking more like old fields.
“Hopefully the rabbit hunting will improve in time. At one point it was great, and then the trees started growing up, and the pines got planted. It (rabbit hunting) did go down a little bit, but we’re trying to get it turned back around.”
Joe Kurz is another WMA covered with old fields and cover, but Bobby said conditions there could be better.
“If we can get enough chemicals and money, we’re going to start spraying to get those fields into better shape for the future,” said Bobby. “Hopefully, Joe Kurz and Clybel we’re going to manage similar. They both have a bunch of fields on them.”
For hunters planning to hunt Joe Kurz, the daily limit is three rabbits per hunter per day.
Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee WMAs have some early successional areas that Weyerhaeuser cut before selling the property in 2004.
“Some of those, they just cut it and never planted anything,” said Bobby. “We don’t own it, so there’s not much we can do with it. There’s briar heads, but I have a bad feeling it’s going to be heading the other direction — a bunch of volunteer sweetgums. It’s probably still good enough this season.”
At Ocmulgee, there’s a 220-acre cut on Magnolia Road and a 70-acre area across from the check station that are worth trying. Both were cut in 2003.
“There’s also scattered clearcuts spread across the rest of Ocmuglee and Oaky Woods,” said Bobby. “If they drive the loop road on Ocmulgee, they’re going to see two or three different clearcuts.
“Plum Creek, which owns part of Ocmuglee, has been doing a ton of cutting on the north tract, which is north of 96, but those won’t be good until next year or the following year.”
Region 5: This southwest Georgia region sees very little pressure from beaglers looking to hear a rabbit race.
“I’d like to see some north Georgia rabbit hunters come down this way,” said Julie Robbins, WRD biologist. “I don’t see much pressure from the rabbit hunters. I can’t think of the last time I was out on a WMA and saw someone going for rabbits.”
Chickasawhatchee WMA’s rabbit habitat has been improving.
“With the burning and thinning we’ve been doing out there, we have some more early successional habitat,” said Julie. “I would say in the past five years we’ve really seen improvements.
“The rabbit population is fair, but with the work we’re doing, I’m assuming we can get it to a good population.”
Flint River WMA is worth a look.
“It’s kind of the same as Chickasawhatchee; it has some planted pine plantations that have been thinned and prescribed burned,” said Julie. “We have two areas that were clearcut and replanted to longleaf.”
These two areas were cut two years ago and are a little more than 20 acres each.
“It has about a 20-acre dove field that would be a good area to check for rabbits,” said Julie. “It has thick briars on the edge of that field.”
Julie said there are likely some swamp rabbits on the area.
“Elmodel would probably be a good one for rabbit hunting,” said Julie. “The area is a mix of 300 acres of agricultural fields, fallow fields, planted pines and hardwood drains. It’s good rabbit habitat.”
Two parties will be drawn to hunt a pair of one-day quota rabbit hunts at Albany Nursery. This area is only 300 acres, which is why a quota is needed. The hunts are scheduled for Jan. 19 and 26. If drawn, parties may not exceed three hunters. Applicants must apply to the Game Management office in Albany by Dec. 15.
Region 6: WRD Biologist Greg Waters said Horse Creek and Bullard Creek WMAs are the best Region 6 WMAs that he knows about.
“On Bullard about a third of it is leased, so the paper company has done clearcuts here and there and replanted some,” said Greg. “They’ll be better in a couple more years.
“The Montgomery County Tract north of the river is a big, open flat they’ve replanted in hardwoods. The hardwoods haven’t done well, so it still has a lot of early growth in it. I’m sure there’s some rabbits in there.”
On Horse Creek WMA, a lot of areas have been cleared in the last two years. Look for rabbit hunting to improve there in the future.
Region 7: Altamaha WMA has some great rabbit hunting on the impoundments, which opens after duck season closes.
“The rabbit hunters wear out those impoundments,” said David Mixon, WRD Game Management region supervisor. “They are full of marsh rabbits. There were people out there last year, parties of three and four, limiting out. People with dogs, without dogs; you didn’t have to have dogs there were so many rabbits.”
Penholoway Swamp WMA’s focus is going to be on small game.
“There’s some young clearcuts up there where there should be some rabbits to run right now,” said David. “We have about 200 acres of fields right now that’s bare dirt. Our goal is to make those into dove fields, and once that happens that’ll be a rabbit haven. I would suspect those fields would be broken up. We’ll leave cover, mow different sections. It’s not going to be all one big field. We want to provide cover for rabbits and quail.”
Paulks Pasture and Sansavilla WMA have some recent, 2-year-old cuts with decent briars growing up. On Sansavilla, young pine plantations and briar patches are a little more scattered.
“There are a fair amount of briars in patches on Clayhole, but I really don’t know what the rabbit population is like,” said David. “We are getting that area on a burning rotation to improve early successional habitat, so I suspect it’ll improve.”
To the beaglers who feed, worm and clean kennels all year long, don’t wait until deer season is out before you load the hounds and seek out a briar patch. Read your regulations booklet, and figure out which WMAs are open to small-game hunting this month.
This year, get a “head start” on rabbit season.