With 52 hunters bringing down 100 deer, the November 29-30 quota hunt at Fort Yargo State Park was a success on every level. The park was able to thin its deer herd, and a lucky group of hunters got the chance to hunt a 1,814-acre tract that hasn’t seen a rifle or bow in more than 50 years.
By comparison, hunt organizers were surprised by low hunter turnout at the November 14-15 quota hunt at Hard Labor Creek State Park. In the hunt’s second year, only 136 hunters showed up from a quota of 250. However, the hunters who made it had an excellent hunt, killing 74 deer for a 54.4 percent success rate.
Most of the deer were taken on the first day of the hunt at Hard Labor, as 2 1/2 inches of rain fell on the second. Some of the better deer taken were a 3 1/2-year-old 8-pointer and a 4 1/2-year-old 12-pointer. A January 9-10 hunt is also scheduled at Hard Labor Creek. According to Park Manager Bruce Roper, hunters can rest assured there are still plenty of deer.
A relatively small hunt of 65 hunters was held at Fort Yargo, located about a mile outside of Winder. And though the average age of harvested deer was surprisingly low, at a little more than 2-years-old, there were a few very impressive bucks killed.
The deer also were uncharacteristically healthy despite obvious over-population problems judging from browse surveys conducted at the park, said Chuck Gregory with the DNR’s State Parks Division.
“The deer taken were very healthy; their weights were very good,” he said. “It was a little surprising, but if you look at the fact that we have 150 deer/vehicle collisions a year, those deer are being thinned out by vehicles. That’s why we’re seeing a low age range.”
Of the deer killed on the doe-first hunt, in which hunters must take a doe before taking a buck, 66 were does and 34 were bucks. Zack Pirtle, 12, of Covington killed a doe and one of those bucks, a monster 13-pointer with a 19 1/2-inch outside spread and 24-inch main beams. He was hunting over a five-acre clearcut in a ladder stand with his father, Donald.
“It was a good hunt. I saw a bunch of deer,” Zack said. “When that one stepped out, I knew he was big but I didn’t have time to start shaking. My dad said shoot; I shot and all I saw was white belly from there.”
Robert Mier of Springfield made a more than four-hour trip with two buddies to hunt Fort Yargo, and the bruiser he killed made the drive worthwhile. Robert took a 9-pointer with a 21-inch outside spread and 20 3/4-inch main beams. He scouted the park in September, and with a little help from senior ranger and resident deer guru Artie Doughty, he located a good scrape and rub line next to a food plot where the buck came out behind three does.
“The DNR and all the people involved did an excellent job of organizing this hunt,” Robert said. “The staff was very informative in telling you where things were and how the park is laid out.”
But those aren’t the only good bucks on the property, and there are some bigger ones still out there, Artie said.
The first hunt, in November, was scheduled to coincide with peak rut activity, Artie explained, but he went on to say the January 3-4 hunt would have been his preference if he had been drawn. In the past, Artie has witnessed a lot of bucks fighting over the last few estrous does late in the season.
“The January hunt will probably show a lot more big bucks,” Artie said. “That’s the one I would want to hunt.”
A bonus for hunters at the Fort Yargo hunt was that the majority of them didn’t even have to drag their deer out of the woods. Over the hunt, park staff made multiple trips up the trails and access roads to pick up deer and transport them back to the cleaning station.
The Athens Food Bank also brought in quite a haul. Hunters at Fort Yargo field dressed and donated 44 deer to Hunters for the Hungry. The Hard Labor Creek hunters donated 22 deer to Hunters for the Hungry.