For deer hunters who love trying to kill a deer with a stick and string or a crossbow bolt, there are certainly challenges, but there is also great opportunity.
The first weeks of Georgia’s archery deer season often find big bucks still on a late summer feeding pattern, and unpressured does make putting some meat in the freezer easier than after hunters have been in the woods. If you’ve patterned a big boy on camera or by late evening scouting of a food plot or field, there’s a chance you can get a shot with a bow before that autumn change when a mature buck’s pattern changes dramatically.
Across the state, food is key during early bow season. To help with food-source scouting, GON has a great team of deer-hunting experts. GON’s Hunt Advisors have been in the woods, and here are their reports from across the state.
Chattahoochee National Forest (Dawson and Lumpkin counties): Tim Dangar reports, “The mountains are loaded with bear. So what does that mean? It means they are going to be moving around a lot due to a bad acorn year. The lower the elevation, the better the acorns. Up at 2,000 feet and above, nuts are very hard to find.
“The bears are working wild cherries and autumn olives hard. Find one of these food sources for opening day and a sighting, if not a shot, should be very possible. The berries and olives are more abundant along creeks and low moist areas. As for the deer, food plots, honeysuckle, green brier and soft mast will be the food sources for opening day of bow season. If you are looking for hogs, if weather remains hot, they will be hanging out along creeks so they can wallow in the mud and eat anything they can find. The mountains have plenty of game, just a little more challenging due to the terrain. Snake boots are highly recommended.”
Cherokee County: Tim Dangar, of Ball Ground, reports, “The month of August has always been an exciting month for me as hunting season officially starts with the opening of squirrel season. The scouting trips are time well spent looking forward to the bow opener.
“Well, I guess four years in a row is too much to ask when it comes to excellent mast crop. The best I can tell, acorns are fair at best. There may very well be that one white oak or red oak that is loaded but not an overall good year for nuts. I find it to be the same way when talking grapes and persimmons. I got my food plots in on Aug. 17, and they are already up but in need of some rain. I did notice a lot of tracks, and the ends of the oats and wheat are already being nibbled on. The overall condition of the deer herd in north Cherokee County is the best in years, in numbers and health. A good number of does have trailing twins with them and this is encouraging this far along, which means coyotes have not been an issue. I credit that good reproduction to the abundant mast crop for last three years. Word of caution, wear those snake boots while scouting and early bow season, they are out there ready to strike. Hope every one has that seven-arrow group in a pie plate by now. If not, you got a little time to work on it. God Bless, and stay safe. The woods are calling!”
Madison County: Keith Ingram, of Comer, reports, “Deer season is not the only reason I’m ready to see this summer end, but it’s the best reason. It’s going to be a new era here in north Georgia with the changes in the baiting law. Can’t say I’m happy about it, but you’re going to have to do it to even the playing field. I’ve got a couple of feeders and supplements out at the house and on the club. The deer are hitting them very hard at the house. Have not checked the club yet, as we will be putting in our food plots the first weekend in September, and I will check the baits and supplements then.
“The herd looks as though we had another strong fawn drop, as there are one or two fawns with every mature doe I see, and their survival rate has been very good.
“The natural foods look good. The water oak acorns are very heavy, and the whites and reds look very good, also. The only concern is that they could be rotten in the shell with all the rain we have had. I have a bachelor group of five bucks running together at the house, and three of them are really good deer, hope to get an opportunity at one of them. Early season strategy is to sit close to food, more than likely a feeder, until the acorns start falling, and then I will be on the acorns until they are gone. I truly believe a whitetail will pass anything to get to a white oak when it is dropping.
“I hope everyone has a safe and successful season, and remember to wear those harnesses.”
North Fulton County: Greg Grimes, of Ball Ground, reports, “Well, like always, the anticipation is great for the opener. This year is obviously different being that baiting is allowed. In the past I did have out bait for my camera surveys, and of course it had to be gone by the end of August. So far this year I have a big inventory of nice bucks that most would be proud off. However, we don’t see but two that we passed last year, and neither are the mega giants that keep you up at night. I may be getting out-baited on the areas around my suburban tracts.
“I’m not sure of the acorn crop for the opener, but I’ve been told by others of a bumper crop of acorns this year. I do know where there are some muscadines near the deer bedding area I might hit on opening day with the right wind direction. I have some new scent killer we are excited to try as well to help hold off that early season stink from our sweat.
“I will be calling on others who hunt the north Fulton ’burbs for their input every month. I value their opinions as well, and it makes it fun pulling for each other. The bucks seem to be like us. Some roam more, some less, some are more night owls, and some are early risers. I get a group of bachelor bucks lots of mornings up until almost 9 a.m., so I will get tucked in before daylight on the opening-day a.m. in hopes they show. Also, the cameras indicate some midday action, but it is so inconsistent it makes it hard to hunt that time with confidence.
“Usually this time of year is better in the evenings, but I don’t have any open pasture ground, just the woods so a.m. might give me a better chance. I plan to take the boys out, too, to go after some of these decent bucks in the early season. We set up a blind, so the deer get used to it.
“My prediction is lots of quality bucks being ground checked the first two weeks in Fulton. As a buddy put it, with the construction boom in full swing in all of Fulton, the deer have been pushed to even smaller parcels of woods that are left, meaning it could be a really good year for sightings when paired with the legalization of baiting.
“Aim low Fulton County hunters, the time is here.”
Columbia County: Dylan Hankal, of Appling, reports, “So far this season I have noticed deer movement has been steady going by my Browning trail cameras. It seems that the fawn survival rate has been decently good considering all the fawns I’m seeing with does. I would say that about 90 percent of the does on our property have fawns traveling with them to and from bedding and feeding. With that said, we have seen an overwhelming amount of does this year compared to bucks. Although we have seen multiple bucks on the cameras, the does are easily out numbering the bucks.
“This spring we were not able to plant our preferred soybean/corn mixed food plots, so on our property we have three feeding/mineral sites. This is where we have our Browning trail cameras set up. Most of the deer we see on our cameras have their ribs showing, which indicates to me that we have too many deer on our property. My family and I plan on harvesting about 10 to 15 does this year to help combat this problem in hopes of balancing the deer-to-food ratio.
“The majority of deer movement between both bucks and does on our property is from about 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Then movement is picking up around 5:30 p.m. till dark. The way we plan on hunting to start off the year is by hunting either on or close by our feeding/mineral sites and harvesting as many does as possible to help reach our management goal of balancing the buck-to-doe ratio. As September ends, we plan on planting our fall food plot blends whenever we get the first rainfall, and until then and while they’re available we’ll definitely be hunting over persimmon trees on the property.”
Crawford County: Randy Kee, of Locust Grove, reports, “Everything is pointing toward a great season in Crawford County this year! Higher than average rainfall this summer has resulted in a bumper crop of soft mast in the woods. There should be plenty of great food sources to help you get some meat in the freezer.
“For early archery season, key on the soft mast that appears to be very abundant.
“Muscadines are doing very good this season, and it appears that they’ll be ready to start dropping right around opening day. The vines were loaded with the grapes heading into September. Hang yourself a climber in bow range, and the deer will come. Muscadines are one of my favorite go-to tactics for early season.
“While not as plentiful as last season, there is still a great crop of persimmons this year. In Crawford County, they will usually begin to fall in early season but should be falling better by the middle to end of September. Get ’em while they’re hot. Check your trees at least weekly to see if the fruits are turning. A good trail camera is another good option to determine when the deer are on these fruits. Act quickly, these persimmons won’t last long.
“Everything points to another good acorn crop. Some of the trees appear to be loaded. Water oaks are doing great, and they are beginning to drop some green acorns. Hopefully, they will become a major food source by the end of September. Some of the red and white oaks are heavy with green acorns, while others are not. Find the trees that have acorns, and make plans to hunt them. I prefer to hunt the water oaks that start dropping first. The deer will be all over them once the soft mast crop has dried up. The white and the red oaks should be falling by mid-October.
“Food plots are doing great thanks to good rainfall this year and a particularly mild August. These plots are always a good option for filling a tag. It is also a great location to take someone new to hunting. Heavy deer activity and easy access might make the hunt more enjoyable for a child, and who knows, maybe that big one that you have on camera will show up.
“Our deer herd is doing fantastic this season. Every doe on camera appears to have twin fawns this year, and the buck herd is in rare form. There are numerous bachelor groups strutting their stuff on every trail cam in the woods. I already had some sparring on camera even before the velvet was gone. By the end of August, most of the bucks had shed their velvet. We should have one heck of a rut!”
Fayette County: Shane McMonigle, aka “rutnbuk” on the GON Forum, reports, “Ladies and gentlemen… start your engines! Bow season is here! The past two years I have opened my September preseason report with amazement at how many deer are in my county. Well, this year is no different. The deer are abundant to say the least. I think the rainy summer has helped the fawn recruitment, as I have seen plenty of healthy looking little ones.
“I have only recently begun scouting, and as expected because of the summer rainfall the muscadines and persimmons are all sagging limbs. The water oaks are looking bigger than normal, and as usual for them, the trees are loaded. However, the jury is still out on the white and red oaks. I have seen a few trees in my areas with acorns, but some typically heavy-producing trees I have checked are running on empty. More to come on the acorn situation next month as I get to cover some more area.
“Something else sagging is the truck beds leaving the local feed stores loaded with corn! Wow, can you believe baiting is finally legal in the Northern Zone? I do predict this will result in some more tags being filled, especially the first week as deer will still be in a predictable pattern coming to bait stations. But once acorns start dropping and love is in the air, it will settle down. I think it is going to get expensive in my county if someone chooses to bait regularly. Investing in a timed feeder would be the way to go because these are some corn-eating critters right now. Whatever amount I put out in the evening is gone in the morning. If I forgot to mention, I may have a shooter or two on camera, well that was on purpose—LOL. Good luck folks, and God Bless!”
Hancock County: Matthew Gilbert, of Loganville, reports, “With the surplus of rain this year, we are looking forward to some great hunting this fall. Everything we have planted this year, from pine trees to food plots, have had an unbelievable year of growth. The cutovers are full of browse, the soft mast is getting ready to ripen, and there are fresh tracks to be seen after each rain. Everything we have seen makes it look like the whole state of Georgia may have an exceptional season.
“This summer, most all of the persimmon trees are loaded with fruit, with the branches bending toward the ground. The muscadines look as if there will be an above-average year. We have not really paid attention to hard mast yet, but as always, this could be a contributing factor to deer movement in November. As mentioned before, every cutover is full of browse and cover. This is one of the years the deer should be going into the fall in great shape, and we may even see some record weights on the deer we kill.
“The fawn numbers look great with the amount of little tracks we are seeing. Most all of the does we have seen seem to have two fawns with them. Very rare, while riding our property, do we jump a doe there is not at least one fawn chasing after mama. Also, in trail-camera pictures, the amount of fawns are also much greater than years past. This may be due to the does being in great shape from the last year, but we really believe the amount of cover has contributed to survival.
“Recommended hunting tactics for early bow season will be finding soft mast or early food plots and hunt between them and known bedding areas. Our bedding has changed with some logging being done on our property, so it will be an opportunity to use some woods-smarts to find the most well used travel routes and wooded food sources. We do have some good funnels formed through the logging, and these will also be used as hunting opportunities.
“This type of hunting will be good for my three boys to learn as they get to make their own choices this fall. Learning through some hard hunting will be a good experience for the boys to learn woodsmanship, and that will help them grow whether they are successful or not. With Turner having killed his first deer last fall, he will get to make the choices on where he and I hunt together. The older two boys, Wilson and Davis, already know to be attentive whenever we go to the property to find their own hunting areas. They are doing a pretty good job of looking around and asking questions. All three have also claimed a food plot or two based off last year’s experiences. Watching the boys become young men has become the best part of the whole experience of being in the woods.
“As always, we are all mainly looking forward to the fellowship and fun to be had this hunting season.”
Putnam County: Dwayne Britt, of Grayson, reports, “So far, so good. Weather has been good this spring and summer providing an abundant amount of muscadines. The persimmon trees are loaded, as well. We put a couple of tons of lime out this year and had to spray a lot for weeds due to all the rain. Our club will be planting the first of September and hoping the rain continues. Everything is thick, and we’ve seen a lot of rattlesnakes.
“I’m seeing more deer sign, fawns and does than ever before. Not sure what’s happened to the coyotes, but we’re not seeing that much sign so far this year, which is always a good thing. There are plenty of white oak, red oak and water oak acorns this year.
“We have set up bait stations on our property but are not allowing any does to be harvested over bait. Still feels strange knowing you can hunt deer over bait this year. I don’t expect a lot of change in regards to baiting other than holding does for the rut to pull those mature bucks in for peak times and maybe late season. I expect the deer will still prefer food plots and acorns over a pile of corn overall.”
Colquitt County: Adam Childers, of Norman Park, reports, “It’s almost here ladies and gents! We’ve had an unusually rainy summer here in south Georgia. Hopefully this will translate into a bountiful harvest in both the crop fields and deer woods this fall. There has been no shortage of natural green forage for the deer to snack on this summer, so overall I believe the deer herd is in tip-top shape in my neck of the woods.
“I’m beginning to find some grape vines that are dropping fruit, so I’ll be keeping an eye on them as activity increases. The persimmon trees haven’t started dropping yet but should become a hotspot for deer activity in early October. The early season food plots look good with all the rain we’ve had. Any plots that need to be planted or replanted should be handled ASAP in order to have something to entice a deer out of the woods for opening weekend.
“I would imagine that you Northern Zone folks mostly fall into two groups. You are either really excited or are really opposed to the new baiting laws. Well, I’ve got good news for both groups. Since baiting became legal in the Southern Zone, I’ve never killed a deer over corn. I have spent a small fortune putting it out in front of cameras and have gotten some nice pictures. At least for me, it seems that the bucks will be regular on a corn pile until a few days after the velvet is shed, and then they crawl in a hole until mid October. So, the first good news is that if you want to bait, you can pour out all the corn you want and sit in the middle of it all season long. The other good news is that even though baiting is now legal, my prediction is that it will have a very small impact on the overall deer numbers in our state. With that being said, good luck to everyone this season, and hopefully by the time you hear from me again some bone has hit the dirt, and the Dawgs are 3 and 0!”
Crisp County: Jodi Manders, of Cordele, reports, “Finally, deer season is almost here, and we are looking forward to another successful year. We have had our trail cameras out all summer trying to get a look at the population on our place. There have been a good number of fawns on the cameras, even a set of twin fawns. There have also been an increased number of coyote on camera, also. We have a fawn that has some injuries to one side and can’t help but think a coyote tried to get it. It looks like it has started healing, so maybe it will survive.
“As we head into bow season, we will definitely hope for a cool down in the weather. There is a good crop of persimmons on our place again and a few acorns, and they are always a good choice for hunting early season to get deer into bow range. We planted some mixed green plots of wheat, rye, clover and radish to hunt during bow season and later on in the season. The deer always come to them. I have been seeing deer in the farmers’ fields throughout the day, so we are hoping to keep them in the woods by planting these food plots. Hope you all have a safe and successful season. Good luck, God bless!”
Harris County: Jimmy Harper, of Hamilton, reports, “Harris County was blessed with very consistent periods of measurable rainfall throughout the spring and summer. This, combined with somewhat cooler than normal summertime temperatures, resulted in both native browse and warm-season food plots being in great condition heading into bow season. Even more importantly, the Harris County deer herd, both in overall condition and in quality of mature bucks, is looking the best it has in many years, at least on the properties I have access to hunt. In fact, I’m more excited for this season to get started than I have been for any season in recent memory!
“While many counties in Georgia seemed to experience a ‘down’ year for mature bucks killed last season, that didn’t seem to apply as significantly for Harris County, with many very good bucks hitting our red clay. And based on trail-camera pictures of velvet bucks over the summer, I’m expecting this season in Harris County to be even better than the last one was, at least from an overall mature buck perspective. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to name a hard-core Harris County bowhunter who does not have at least one P&Y-class buck targeted to hunt this season, and many have more than one identified on their preseason hit list.
“The heavy and consistent rains we’ve enjoyed in Harris County this year are a mixed blessing because they’ve created so much preferred browse that the deer are not concentrated on just one or two food sources, as most of us bowhunters would like. That makes preseason scouting—at a safe distance and with proper scent control—that much more important.
“Muscadines in Harris County are looking great and seem to be ripening a little later than normal, which is also good news because it means they will remain on the vine longer into bow season, so they can be hunted even longer than usual. Food plots, or a staging area or trail leading to them, should also be a great location to hunt this bow season. Water oaks and pin oaks are also looking good, which they almost always do, and I’m seeing a few red oak acorns that the squirrels have cut, but I’m concerned about our white oak acorn production this season in Harris County. I know that’s not a concern for hunting this month during early bow season because those acorns don’t fall until October anyway. But I wanted to mention it now, so that as you do your scouting, you can be looking for white oak trees that are producing acorns. I’m not finding many myself, so, if you can find one, you may have yourself a hotspot for later in the season, especially if they end up being in short supply.
“So, knowing that multiple P&Y-class bucks have already been located on the Harris County properties I have access to hunt this season, where do you think I’ll be hunting on opening day of the Georgia bow season? I’ll be sitting in a camo chair under the hot Georgia sun with my three sons—Jimbo, Joe, and Jake—enjoying a wonderful day of shooting at doves during the second Blanton Creek WMA quota dove hunt! Besides the fact that we enjoy a very long bow season, and deer season in general in Georgia, there is nothing better than hunting anything with your family! There will be plenty of time to chase those bucks later….
“But when I do hunt them, and I hope you will at least consider this advice, I’ll only hunt in the afternoons (No morning hunts!) until very late in October, usually the last week of that month. I’ve found over the years most deer, and especially mature bucks, are bedded down before sunrise until the week of Halloween. And the last thing I want to do is burn out my stand locations, especially my best ones, by hunting them when my chances of seeing one of my target bucks are extremely low. I realize there are exceptions to this, so go ahead and kill that big buck if you have him tagged on a morning pattern, but I prefer to play the odds and let my scouting and hard work put my mature buck on the ground.
“But no matter how you hunt, when you hunt, or where you hunt, as long as you do it ethically, I wish you nothing but enjoyment and success this season and every season. And we all need to remember that ‘success’ in the deer woods doesn’t always have to equate to a big buck on the ground. Finally, take someone hunting with you when can and help create a new hunter; that will be a REAL success—for you, for them, and for the future of hunting!”
Macon County: David Keene, of Oglethorpe, reports, “We have water oak acorns that are starting to drop. Deer are starting to hit the acorns. We also have a good crop of persimmons that should be ready during archery season. We also have good honeysuckle patches. Looks like we had a fair fawn crop, and we have several different bachelor groups showing up. Looks like we may have a good selection of bucks to choose from.”
Twiggs County: Richie Green, of Jeffersonville, reports, “Finally the good times are here again. This year should be a good one due to all the rain we’ve had. Water oaks are loaded, and food plots should be head high by now if the deer haven’t eaten them up. Persimmons are there, as are crabapples, so deer aren’t gonna have to go far to get full, but the good news is I’ve been seeing a lot more deer already this year compared to last.
“There were a lot of does last year that dropped twins around here, and this year looks to be about the same. I have four different does this year with twins so far, and I didn’t have but four cameras out. I just put out eight more this week, so that should go up some more I hope. The bucks are still in hiding, but that will change when the horns start getting hard.
“It will be interesting to see how the north feels about being able to bait this year because I personally don’t think it stacks the odds in our favor for a big buck unless there is a hot doe near by, but it does help put meat in the freezer.
“Good luck to all this year, and remember to take your kids hunting no matter how old they get.”