Category Archives: Hunting

Bare Limbs and Squirrel Hunting

The stark bare gray limbs of hardwoods right now offer the best of times and the worst of times for squirrel hunting.  Tree rats are easy to spot a long way off, but they can see you the same distance, too.  It is easier to find them but harder to get close enough for a shot.   

The population is lower than at the start of season back in August. Human hunters and natural predators have taken some of the squirrels that survived last winter.  But both have killed many more of the dumb young ones born during the spring and summer.  They are much easier targets.  

  Sitting and hunting is tougher this time of year.  Squirrels aren’t coming to an oak or hickory that is full of nuts to feed.  They are scrounging around, looking for nuts they buried earlier when they were falling, and looking for anything else edible in the winter woods.  You can’t sit under a good tree waiting on them to come to you.   

After a rain you can find them eating mushrooms in pine thickets, but that food is scattered, like everything else.  And the green needles on pines make it hard to spot a squirrel when they scurry up a tree and hide from you.  

  Creeping up on a feeding squirrel is possible, but deer hunters would be impressed with the abilities of a squirrel to spot you and flee.  Any movement in their world draws instant attention and they will either flatten against a limb or tree trunk, making them very hard to see, or head for a hollow tree where they are totally protected.

One of the best tactics for me was to take off running through the woods when I spotted a squirrel in a bare tree. That usually made them freeze in place, trying to hide rather than running to a hollow.  With no leaves on the tree I could usually find the hiding critter.

A little breeze helped in several ways.  It would move bushes and limbs enough to confuse squirrels’ senses, making it easier to creep up on them. But when searching for them up in a tree a little breeze would often fluff their tail a little and the hair moving or sticking out from the tree trunk would make them easier to find.

Another trick was to scan for their ears sticking up.  Not much natural up in a tree looks like squirrel ears.  It helped that I had a good scope on my .22 to scan limbs and trunks, looking for any telltale sign.  I always carried it rather than my .410 in the winter, expecting to get shots at squirrels sitting still rather than running through the limbs when the .410 helped.

I also learned to throw a stick to the far side of a tree where a squirrel hid.  The noise and movement of it hitting a bush would make the bushy tail move to my side of the tree.  I could see him from the movement, and could usually get a good shot.

Every squirrel killed when I was growing up was eaten. I was pretty good as skinning and gutting them and mama could cook up fried squirrel with gravy, squirrel and dumplings, BBQed squirrel and squirrel stew that was delicious.  The younger squirrels were best for frying, but even tough old boar squirrels were good and tender when cooked right.This is a great time to take a kid out and teach them gun safety and hunting skills.  Deer season is over and the woods are quiet and bare, offering fun and good food!

Do You Have Hunting Rituals?

Hunting Rituals

If you have hunted much you probably have rituals you go through. Some, like sighting in your rifle, are critical for success. Others, like carrying a buckeye in your pocket, are more mental that critical. But even those mental ones can be important since confidence breeds success.

Being member of a deer club that has a camp each year will introduce you to many more rituals.  For years at Big Horn Hunting Club a big iron pot hung over the fire.  Not only was a fire burning constantly from camp opening until the time we all left, water was added constantly all week to keep it full for washing dishes or other hot-water needs.

Then we got a gas fired water heater that produced all we needed.  Guess what?  The kettle stayed over the fire and we still kept if full of water.

Don’t dare shoot at a deer and miss during camp. You have to admit missing when you come back to camp since others have surely heard you shoot.  And the ritual at many camps and even in non-camp groups is to cut out your shirt tail if you miss.  I’m pretty sure some guys carried an old shirt they didn’t like in their truck just so they could change if they missed a deer.

Blooding is another common ritual.  When a youth kills their first deer some blood from it is smeared on their face, usually just a finger mark down one cheek.  And the youth will not wash it off for days, it is a mark to wear proudly!

In many clubs it is a ritual to eat the liver of a deer the day you kill one.  There are some good reasons for this. It tastes good – if you like liver.  It is easy to process in the woods. All you have to do is set it aside when gutting your deer then slice it up. 

Showing respect for your kill is another ritual some of us stick with.  Most of them come down from Native Americans who depended on killing game for their survival.  From the time I shot my first bird with a BB gun I have always felt a tiny spark of regret for killing something.  So when I read about ways to show respect to the animal for giving up its spirit for your needs I liked them.

Of course the most important way to show respect is to make a good shot, killing the animal with as little suffering as possible. 

As soon as I confirm the deer is dead, as the Native Americans would do, I pause for a minute looking at the beauty of the deer and thank it for its sacrifice, remembering what it took to outsmart it in its natural habitat, or just the luck I had that day.

That makes me even more determined to use every bit of the deer I can and waste nothing. That is another way of honoring a deer or any other animal you kill.

In Europe a similar practice developed. A successful hunter would place a sprig of an evergreen into the deer’s mouth then put a spring of the plant into their cap, connecting the two.  The sprig in the deer’s mouth also honored its last meal. 

Some of my rituals bring back good memories. On my first dove shoot when I was about ten years old one of my uncles gave me an old army surplus gas mask bag for my hunting stuff.  I killed my first dove that day and to this day I carry some necessities for the hunt in my bag. It has my skinning knife, bullets, a couple of plastic garbage bags, some rope and a spool of cord and toilet paper.

I mentioned a buckeye for success earlier. When I was a kid many of us had one we carried for luck. We would cherish it and polish it often, making I shiny and bright.  It was as necessary as our pocket knives and we went nowhere without both.

Zeroing in your gun is critical, especially if you have a scope, which most of us do.  Old iron sights didn’t change much but a scope can change a lot from year to year, causing you to miss your shot.  A few shots fired at the range before season opens, and again if you drop your gun or hunt in widely changing temperatures, makes sure if you get your shirt tail cut off it is your fault, not your gun’s fault.

The Griffin Gun Club opens its range each year, usually the first Saturday in October, and members are there to help you make sure your gun hits where you aim it. They are experts at sighting in a rifle and can fine tune with just a few shots.

Get ready for hunting by going through all your pre-season rituals and zero in your gun. Then, as you hunt and experience your rituals, remember where they came from and why they are important.

Air Gun for Christmas

Photo Credit MGM Films

A Christmas Air Gun?
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Remember “A Christmas Story” the classic movie tale of Ralphie Parker and his dreamed-of Christmas Red Ryder BB gun? If you don’t you’ll probably have a number of chances to see it again within the next week—the film has run on cable channels nearly every Christmas season since it was filmed in 1983. 

Basically the film is about Ralphie, a sort of geeky kid circa 1940’s who obsesses on a special model of the venerable BB gun, while his mother is sure it will be his destruction. His beset and frequently blixtoflipblankety-blanking dad (there were no curse words uttered in the film, but lots of near misses from ol’ pop) has to be convinced the gun is OK—which of course he is by the end of the film.

Ralphie defeats a bully, gets the present of his dreams and all live happily ever after, sort of.

There are still a lot of Ralphie Parkers out there who might want an actual shootable gun for Christmas, even in this age of iPhones, Siri and Alexa. And the modern version of the Red Ryder is still around, and still on the Christmas wish list for a lot of kids, particularly those who have grown up in hunting and shooting families. But many older kids and a whole lot of adults might prefer some of the amazing advances in air gun technology that have come along in the last few years—and that are now sold at affordable prices for most of us.

First, a caution—even though Ralphie was a kid who needed glasses and frequent adult advice to stay out of trouble, air guns beyond the “Air-Soft” models do not fall into the category of toys for kids of any age. Even the basic Daisy Red Ryder is capable of causing serious injury to humans, pets, windows, televisions and the paint job on your BMW–anything that can be injured or broken. Like archery gear, which is increasingly popular among young people these post “Catching Fire” days, an air gun used carelessly can be dangerous.

With that provision, responsible older kids under adult supervision—and responsible adults—might well have an air-powered BB gun or pellet rifle on their Christmas list this year. The guns are far quieter than even a .22 short rimfire and their range is far more limited, making it possible to enjoy target practice safely and without bothering the neighbors in safely backstopped areas that are not miles out of town. In families where firearms are part of the legacy, they can make a good first gun for training.

It’s also a big plus that ammo costs a fraction of what standard ammunition costs—you can do many hours of shooting for what it would cost for a few minutes with center-fire or even rim-fire conventional firearms.

For those who get more serious about air gun shooting, there are now big bore air guns with amazing power that are actually being used to take deer and other big game. They’re expensive, noisy and of course dangerous when used carelessly, but it’s a mark of the strides airgun manufacturers have made in recent years to develop this sort of power. Daisy is by far the best-known manufacturer of air guns in the U.S.—the company has been making them since 1895.

The company and their Gamo subsidiary make a broad spectrum of air rifles, both bb guns that shoot round steel bb’s and pellet guns, which fire larger rifled slugs in .177 or .22 sizes. (Some larger-bore rifles in the .35 size are also available now for hunting, but are much above the entry-level pricing.) Pellet guns are more powerful and more accurate at longer ranges than BB guns. In fact, they’re used in the Olympics—there are 10-meter (about 32.8 feet) events in both pistol and rifle divisions. To be sure, the rifles used by these super-accurate shooters are very, very pricey—some made by Anschutz list at over $4,500.But it’s possible to get into air gun shooting very economically.

The classic Daisy Red Ryder is still just 25 bucks at Wal-Mart. And much improved entry-level pellet rifles are also surprisingly affordable. One of the more interesting offerings this year is the new Gamo Swarm Maxxim, a 10-shot repeater that comes with a 3 x 9 x 40 mm scope for about $180. 

The Swarm is no kid’s toy—it can shoot a .177 pellet at up to 1300 feet per second according to the manufacturer. (A .22 version is also available.) A .22 short rimfire goes down range at around 1100 feet per second, so clearly the Swarm has to be treated as any firearm, never pointed at anything one would not want to shoot, never loaded except when shooting is imminent and always treated as if it were loaded, even when thought to be empty.

The repeating function is a big plus in the Swarm—most pellet guns require you to cock the gun, insert a pellet and fire, then cock again, insert another pellet and so on. It’s slow and bothersome when target shooting. The Swarm uses a rotating cylinder to hold 10 pellets, so it’s possible to shoot 10 times without reloading. A counter on the side of the cylinder shows how many shots are left. The scope also adds another dimension to the rifle—it’s got the same adjustments for windage and elevation as scopes costing a whole lot more, and optic quality is good for the price level. (If you’re not familiar with sighting in a scope, there are plenty of good videos on the internet to show you how—basically right and left adjustments are on the side dial, up and down on the top dial.)

To shoot, you simply pull down on the barrel to recharge the gun with air, close it up, release the safety, aim and fire. Once sighted in, accuracy is on a par with conventional rifles at short ranges, out to about 30 yards, and good shooters can hit a golf ball at 50 to 80 yards.

Not only is the gun good for target shooting, if you’ve got a pesky squirrel chewing holes in your eaves—which I did prior to getting the Gamo—it can be a very quick solution. (Before you write, note that squirrel season is open across Alabama Sept. 14 to March 8, with the limit 8 daily.)  

To get more details on air guns, visit https://gamousa.com or https://www.daisy.com. For those who get into air gun shooting seriously there are national competitions, including the upcoming Camp Perry Open Jan. 13-17 near Port Clinton, Ohio—see details here: http://thecmp.org/air/cmp-competition-center-event-matches/camp-perry-open.  

Ducks, Unlimited, A Conservation Organization for All

If there were no hunters, there would be no wild game animals in the United States. With no Ducks, Unlimited, there would be no wild ducks in the North America.

    Hunters are the original conservationists.  We prize natural areas and the wild animals and birds that inhabit them.  Ducks, Unlimited, founded in 1937 with the goal of preserving natural habitat that ducks require, started a movement of similar groups.

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and many organizations have followed Ducks, Unlimited’s lead.  All raise money to preserve habitat and study the habits and needs of their favorite game animal or bird, and all want to increase the habitat needed.

    Ducks, Unlimited holds banquets where money is raised to further those goals.  For the price of a ticket, a good meal is served and there are raffles and auctions of items mostly related to duck hunting. Locally, the Pike County Sportsman’s Night Out will be held Thursday, October 10 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the Strickland Building in Concord.

    It will be a fun night of fellowship with like minded sportsmen and conservationists, and you can go home with a full stomach, happy face and some great equipment.  Plan to attend, some tickets are still available by calling Roy Brooks at 678–858-6482 or Kel Brannon at 770-468-7871 and tickets will be available at the door.  Individual tickets are only $35 and couples are $60.

    Ducks, Unlimited looks at the big picture, working all over North America to accomplish its goal of wetland conservation. More than 14 million acres of waterfowl habitat in North America have been conserved across our continent since its founding, focusing its efforts and resources on habitats that are most beneficial to waterfowl. 

    But it pays attention to smaller details, too.  Here in Georgia, more then 27,000 acres of habitat have been conserved.  Georgia is part of the Atlantic Flyway and some waterfowl hatched in more northern areas of the US and Canada depend on Georgia wetlands for winter habitat.

    Our coastal wetlands provide necessary winter habitat for diving and puddle ducks, from lesser scaups to green wing teal and wigeon.  Interior parts of the state include river bottoms and beaver ponds where thousands of mallards and wood ducks survive the winter.  Reservoirs are important to ring-necked ducks, canvasbacks and wood ducks.  

    Last year in Georgia, 150 events raised 2.1 million dollars to help conserve 27,310 acres in our state. And 97 thousand dollars from our state were used for habitat in Canada, where many of our ducks are produced.  Without those nesting areas, our duck population would be greatly reduced.

    Some of the projects in Georgia include restoration of managed wetlands on the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, a priority for our coastal area.

    Ducks, Unlimited works with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on the coast and other places, like the Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area near Lake Seminole. There, an additional 2840 acres of mostly upland habitat that protects the wetlands, a necessary precaution, have been secured. And upland habitat benefits deer, turkey and small game.

    At the Cordele Fish Hatchery in Crisp County a Ducks, Unlimited project helped restore an existing 48-acre lake where the levee was damaged by heavy rains.  Vegetation control helped remove trees and bushes and allow the types of vegetation waterfowl need to grow. This area is a wildlife viewing area where you can see songbirds and ducks and the efforts will increase numbers as well as diversity of those species.

    At the Penholoway Swamp Wildlife Management Area high quality bottom land hardwood forest as well as nearby uplands have been enhanced.  This area has tidal swamp forest as well as other habitats in Wayne County, and is open to many kinds of public recreation as well as hunting.

    At the Blanton Creek Wildlife Management Area on Bartletts Ferry Lake, two water control structures were built near the Chattahoochee River to increase vegetation suitable for ducks and other water birds. It covers 50 acres and Ducks, Unlimited worked with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as well as the

Georgia Power Company on it.

    In Colquitt County on the Mayhaw Wildlife Management Area 50 acres were restored through the installation of a water control structure and perimeter levees to provide suitable habitat for emergent marsh vegetation.  Some waterfowl foods were also planted there.

     Working with the University of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources near Eatonton, Ducks, Unlimited helped construct a series of dikes and water control structures on Indian Creek to form a pond in hardwood habitat.

    Near Gay in Meriwether County, 50 acres of waterfowl habitat on the Joe Kurz Wildlife Management Area on the Flint River was restored with a water controls structure that will help wood ducks and mallards as well as others.

          These and many other projects in our state have already made a difference here and will continue to help wildlife in the future, thanks to Ducks, Unlimited and their partners.

          Ducks, Unlimited’s efforts benefit all wildlife, not just ducks, and provides recreation benefits to everyone to all who value nature.

    If you don’t want to attend a local banquet, join this conservation organization to help their efforts.  Right now, your $35 annual membership fee includes a nice fleece jacket.  Anyone that values natural habitat, from hunters and bird watchers to fishermen and hikers should be proud to be members.

    Go to https://www.ducks.org to join and find out more about this important conservation organization.

Archery Season for Deer

Archery season is in full swing and the cooler nights have deer moving.  I still can’t shoot a rifle due to my port, but I got out my old crossbow and put out some corn about 20 yards from my box stand.  Deer are eating it, so I hope to harvest some meat this year although I have never killed a deer with a bow.

    I say “harvest” not hunt, since I do not consider shooting game over bait hunting.  But since it is legal now, it is ok to shoot deer over bait. Just don’t call it hunting.

    Some big bucks are already being killed with bows this year. Many of them are killed in metro counties where there is no gun season. Those bucks have adapted to living around houses in small wooded areas, and avoiding cars, growing big.

Big Laser WMA Profile

Big Laser WMA Profile

Georgia’s public hunting areas include a mixture of National and State land, including Wildlife Management Areas, Natural Areas, National Forest and State Parks open for hunting. The choices are scattered all over the state and include a wide variety of habitat and hunting opportunities.

So how do you choose one if you are looking for a place to hunt on public land?

A little over two years ago Randy White started planning his move to Georgia from Virginia where he had lived and hunted for many years. While looking for a house, he discovered Georgia Outdoor News and started subscribing. He studied the Public Hunting Area information and chose three areas that met his requirement, and applied for quota hunts on them for the 2003 season.

The three areas he applied for were Big Laser, West Point and B.F. Grant. They were chosen based on being Quality Deer Management areas, having relative high hunter success rates and producing big bucks each year. He was drawn for a gun hunt on Big Laser where he killed a 10 point buck that scored 116 4/8 points on November 12th. On a muzzleloader hunt on West Point he got an 8 point buck.

Randy chose a good area at Big Laser for several reasons. The area is 9 square miles – 5900 acres – of land on the Flint River south of Thomaston. The river valley in that area is steep with high hills dropping to the river, so there is not much river bottom. But there are a lot of hardwood ridges, rolling hills, pine woods and thickets.

Stacey Koonce killed a 14 point buck at Big Laser that scored 102 1/8 points after having a 17 point deduct for sticker points and a spade brow tine. It was killed two days after Randy got his big buck, and Stacey says the buck was hard on a doe. When it walked up on him its tongue was hanging out and he was ignoring everything else.

The fact those two big deer were both killed in mid-November should give you an idea of the best time to hunt Big Laser. Although all the hunts can be good, the mid-November hunt is going to be during the height of the rut.

Stacey killed his deer at about 11:00 AM, close to the same time Randy killed his, and after many hunters have left their stands. That is another factor to keep in mind, stay in your stand as late as you can stand it, then wait longer. Many big deer are killed in the middle of the day on public hunting areas.

Lee Kennemer is the wildlife biologist in charge of Big Laser. He says Big Laser is a beautiful area to hunt with big hardwood groves on ridges around the river and on the hills away from the river. These open oak woods look like perfect deer habitat, and they do produce acorns for the deer in the fall. It is pretty, but it does not produce food for deer year round.

There is a lot of other kinds of habitat that produces food for the deer. The deer are healthy there even though the body weight is down a little due to the drought conditions the past few years. Antler growth has held up, though.

There are 30 permanent food plots on the area that cover 110 acres. Due to budget restrictions, not many new food plots are being put in, and the current ones are being managed for long term food production with Bahia grass and some overseeding of wheat. A few also contain some clover. Most are winter and summer plots with few fall food plots in production.

Although there are not many changes for the past couple of years, DNR personnel are working to keep older food plots from becoming shaded in and expanding existing plots when money is available. The wheat that is overseeded is the major effort for the fall, and the plots with clover in them also produce food in the fall. Last year there were about 30 acres planted in wheat for the fall.

Deer at Big Laser have abundant acorns to feed on most years in the fall, and oak woods are where most folks hunt. But Lee says you are not likely to see a big buck walking in open woods during the day. They may feed on the acorns, and use food plots, too, but they retreat to the thickets during hunting hours.

Lee suggests finding a good thicket near acorns or a food plot where the deer are feeding and set up near it to see a buck moving at daylight dusk. Lee also says that if you walk more than 400 yards from an open road to find a place to hunt you are much more likely to have the hunting to yourself.

Moving just a quarter mile away from a road to be able to hunt alone does not seem like too much trouble, but most hunters are not willing to carry a stand that far, much less try to drag or pack out a deer that distance. But you increase your odds of finding a good buck by hunting away from the roads.

Randy hunted away from the roads and said he did not see another hunter in the woods the three days he was hunting. He camped during the hunt and met a lot of nice folks in the camping area, but he had the woods he hunted to himself.

Linda Guy has managed Big Laser for the past 24 years and says they keep 25 percent of the roads closed during hunting season. This allows hunters to walk away from open roads and find a secluded place to hunt. No traffic, including 4-wheelers, is allowed anywhere except on open roads. You can use a wheeled push cart to get your deer out and Linda says that is a popular method.

The way Randy scouted for deer at Big Laser is an excellent way to find your deer there or on any other hunting land. He had never seen the area before, so he got in the woods before the hunt and walked with a hand-held GPS, marking every scrape and rub he found. By studying the GPS he located a good scrape line and set up his portable stand near the middle of it the afternoon before the hunt.

The next morning at about 10:45 Randy used his rattling horns a little, and spotted movement through the trees. He then used a grunt call to lure the deer in and it came toward him, circling to get downwind or uphill of him. When it got within about 60 yards Randy saw it was a good buck, meeting the QDM requirements, and he grunted with his voice to make it stop.

Randy hunts with a shotgun and slugs, something most Georgia hunters have abandoned for rifles. But at 60 yards the slug from his shotgun did the job and Randy got a buck any hunter would be proud of on any hunting land, public or private.

Stacey also scouted for his deer, but he had an advantage. Last fall was his third hunt on Big Laser. He had hunted several other public hunting areas and liked Big Laser best, because of the habitat and QDM regulations. The habitat is excellent with the rolling hills away from the river his favorite place to hunt. He says you can find ridge after ridge to walk up in hardwoods to pines on top then down the other side through hardwoods to a creek or ditch.

He found one a little different, with thick pines running all the way down to the bottom of the hill. The buck he killed was near a scrape line and was in the thickest part of the area. He and his partner had scouted the area and both set up there, and Stacey says working together they felt one had a good chance of getting the buck they were after.

Another thing Stacey likes about Big Laser is the distance between open roads. He says you can get away from the roads and away from other hunters by walking a little while. He likes to get away from the roads to find bigger deer and fewer hunters.

Lee says what Randy and Stacey did to find their deer is the key. Hunters must scout out the area and find signs of a good buck if that is what they want. Walking a short distance from a road and putting up a stand in open woods or near a food plot probably won’t get you a shot at a quality buck. You need to put in some time in the woods to find one.

Some of the areas at Big Laser are difficult to get to. The ridges and ditches running down to the river valley make hunting right on the river tough, and there is one section of the area where you must wade a creek or come up the river to get to it. Hunting areas difficult to reach are more likely to produce a good deer for you.

There are several hunts this year on Big Laser, starting with sign-in archery hunting September 11 – October 7. It is open for quality bucks and anterless deer. On October 9 and 10 there is a sign-in Adult/Child hunt on the area.

Randy plans on hunting Big Laser during archery season this year and use that time to scout the area better for another big buck. Lee suggest coming down and hunting for squirrels and scouting at the same time. You can squirrel hunt there starting August 15th and trying to get a tree rat adds to the fun of the scouting trip.

Use Randy’s and Stacey’s system to hunt Big Laser. Play the odds, apply for all the hunts and be prepared to do some scouting before hunting. Locate a thick area near food and try to find rubs and scrapes if it is during the rut. Set up and stay in the tree all day if possible. You just might have a truck buck entry before the hunt is over.

The QDM regulations are popular but Linda says each year she finds 4 or 5 big bucks killed illegally and left when they don’t meet the requirement. She asks hunters to be sure the buck they see meets requirements, don’t “ground check” your deer after shooting it.

Linda also reminds hunters that the campground is primitive at Big Laser and quiet hours are from 10 PM until 7 AM. That means no generators, no radios and not loud noises. You will get a ticket if you violate quiet hours.

Hunt Early Season Squirrels in Pines

If you plan on squirrel hunting anytime soon, check out big pine trees. Everywhere I go I see signs squirrels have been cutting pine cones. It seems a little early for that and it may indicate limited food supplies, or maybe I just don’t remember timing very well.

I grew up on a small 15 acre farm where we raised a few cows, some hogs and 11,000 laying hens. A branch ran down one property line and was wooded, but most of the rest of our land was open. Fortunately, all around our property were woods and I knew everybody around us and had permission to hunt their land.

Behind our house I could follow the branch upstream and cross a property line. Not far from there was a ridge with a huge white oak tree on it. That white oak was a great place to hunt squirrels when acorns were mature and I spent many hours sitting under it.

A little further up the hill there was a big old pine tree, and it also was a good squirrel hunting spot. The squirrels would come from a long way to cut the pine cones in that tree and eat the acorns in the white oak. There is no telling how many squirrels I killed out of those two trees over the years.

There is something special about sitting in the woods as it gets light early in the morning, with everything slowly coming into focus. I got that thrill while squirrel hunting and now get it from a deer stand.

Learning to hunt squirrels is great training for deer hunting, teaching you to sit still, move carefully and slowly when you have to, and to stay quiet at all times. Shooting squirrels is also great training learning to hit a target.

We never let squirrels go to waste. Young squirrels were floured and fried just like chicken. Older squirrels were boiled then the meat was used to make squirrel and dumplings. We also made BBQed squirrel, squirrel stew with carrots and potatoes and baked squirrel with onions. It was all good.

Give squirrel hunting a try. And don’t hesitate to cook them and see how good they taste!

Getting Ready for Deer Season

Getting ready for deer season. Deer hunters are getting all excited, planting food plots, scouting for natural food sources and getting equipment ready. Archery season opens this Saturday and hunting a food source, or the trail between feeding and bedding areas, is usually the best bet now.

On October 15 Primitive weapons season opens for a week. That week you can continue to hunt with a bow but you can also use a muzzle loader. Then gun, or modern fire arms, season opens on October 22 and stays open here until January 8, 2017.

Like last year hunting is buck only in area counties until November 5, then you can shoot does until November 13. It is buck only again until November 21 when doe days are open until January 1. There are a wide variety of different doe seasons around the state. Those dates include Spalding and surrounding counties but doe days are different as close to us as Merriweather and Bibb counties, so check before going.

If you hunt with a long bow you should have been shooting it for weeks, making sure you can hit your target. If using a cross bow it is more like shooting a gun but you need to practice with it to learn its range limitations and accuracy.

Gun hunters should never go into woods without zeroing in their guns. I have heard all too many times a guy say “I don’t know how I missed that big buck.” Than they shoot their gun at a target and the sights are way off. Their excuse is usually something along the lines “It was dead on four years ago when I checked it.”

Griffin Gun Club hosts a sight in day, usually the first Saturday in October, when the public can bring their guns and some ammo to the range and members will help make sure your gun is accurate. It is a great time to have someone that is good at sighting in guns help you.

Right now deer are feeding on a variety of things, from grass and vines to mushrooms. After the rain this weekend there should be a lot of mushrooms to attract deer on opening day. Deer love mushrooms and I usually find them in pine woods, growing in the pine straw litter. The only problem with hunting mushrooms is they are scattered and it is hard to pattern the deer, and they last for only a few days.

It won’t be long before acorns start falling, and they are deer’s favorite food. Find a big whiteoak tree dropping lots of acorns and you are almost guaranteed a deer will find it too and feed around it. Set up on a hillside with lots of oaks and you should see deer feeding through the area.

Squirrel Season Opens In Georgia

Squirrel season opens August 15th. This opening day always brings back memories of my experiences growing up hunting tree rats. They were the main game available to kids back then, and I hunted them every chance I got. We ate every one I killed, too.

I got a BB gun when I was six years old and “hunted” birds around the house with it. When I was 8 Dad bought me a used Remington semiautomatic .22 and taught me to shoot it. I was not allowed to take it out of the house without an adult with me, but my friends and I managed to get to shoot a lot by convincing one of our fathers to go out for a time with us most every weekend.

That fall I was chomping at the bit wanting to go squirrel hunting. Dad did not care for squirrel hunting but loved to shoot dove and quail. He took me with him on dove shoots and we had a couple of pointers and I got to follow him and the dogs, too. All of the time he had to go hunting was spent looking for birds.

One afternoon after school I was home and the only adult there was a woman that helped at our farm. I saw a squirrel grab a pecan from the tree in the front yard and head back across the road to the woods. I told Gladys to come with me as I grabbed my .22. She fussed at me but followed.

Across the road I looked up the big hickory tree that the squirrel had gone up. As I walked around the tree the squirrel would circle, keeping the trunk between us. I told Gladys to shake a limb on the opposite side of the tree from me, and the squirrel came around where I could see it.

That was my first squirrel. My parents were a little upset that I had made Gladys go out with me, and she was not happy, either, but Dad showed me how to clean the squirrel and he seemed proud of me that I had been able to kill one. After that they let me go out on my on, by my self for a couple of years, then allowed me to hunt with friends once they were sure I was careful enough.

I spent many hours in the woods around the house learning the habits of the wily squirrel. Wild squirrels are not like city squirrels that are not afraid of much of anything. Wild squirrel is a favorite menu item of everything from hawks to foxes and they are very wary. You have to stalk them or sit very still until one comes close enough to shoot.

And wild squirrels don’t fill every tree in the woods. You learn to find what they are feeding on and locate the areas where they are active. Squirrel hunting taught me the importance of cleaning a place to sit so I would not crunch any leaves, and how to stay very still for a long time, not an easy lesson for an eight to ten year old.

I remember Dad going squirrel hunting with me only one time. It was a Saturday afternoon before bird season opened and he said he would hunt the woods across the road with me. I was thrilled, and it was one of the best days every for me. I felt real grown up showing him oaks and hickories where the squirrels fed, areas where mushrooms grew after a rain and attracted them, and pines where they cut cones.

Somehow that afternoon I killed 10 squirrels, the first time I had ever got a limit. Looking back I remember that Dad never fired a shot, somehow he was always the one to move around a tree to make the squirrel move, the one that moved around while I sat still and made the squirrels think the danger was gone, and the one that was slow raising his gun when we both saw a squirrel.

That happened over 50 years ago now, but I still have vivid memories of him in the woods, whistling to me and motioning to me to move a certain way. I remember the pride I felt showing him my knowledge, and the pride I felt from him toward me. It is a very good memory.

Squirrels are great game to teach youth hunting skills. Learning to hunt squirrels will prepare you to be a better deer hunter, too. And you can build some great memories with between parents and kids while squirrel hunting. Consider a trip to hunt squirrels with your kids this fall.

Big Laser WMA Profile

Big Laser WMA Profile

Georgia’s public hunting areas include a mixture of National and State land, including Wildlife Management Areas, Natural Areas, National Forest and State Parks open for hunting. The choices are scattered all over the state and include a wide variety of habitat and hunting opportunities.
So how do you choose one if you are looking for a place to hunt on public land?

A little over two years ago Randy White started planning his move to Georgia from Virginia where he had lived and hunted for many years. While looking for a house, he discovered Georgia Outdoor News and started subscribing. He studied the Public Hunting Area information and chose three areas that met his requirement, and applied for quota hunts on them for the 2003 season.

The three areas he applied for were Big Laser, West Point and B.F. Grant. They were chosen based on being Quality Deer Management areas, having relative high hunter success rates and producing big bucks each year. He was drawn for a gun hunt on Big Laser where he killed a 10 point buck that scored 116 4/8 points on November 12th. On a muzzleloader hunt on West Point he got an 8 point buck.

Randy chose a good area at Big Laser for several reasons. The area is 9 square miles – 5900 acres – of land on the Flint River south of Thomaston. The river valley in that area is steep with high hills dropping to the river, so there is not much river bottom. But there are a lot of hardwood ridges, rolling hills, pine woods and thickets.

Stacey Koonce killed a 14 point buck at Big Laser that scored 102 1/8 points after having a 17 point deduct for sticker points and a spade brow tine. It was killed two days after Randy got his big buck, and Stacey says the buck was hard on a doe. When it walked up on him its tongue was hanging out and he was ignoring everything else.

The fact those two big deer were both killed in mid-November should give you an idea of the best time to hunt Big Laser. Although all the hunts can be good, the mid-November hunt is going to be during the height of the rut.

Stacey killed his deer at about 11:00 AM, close to the same time Randy killed his, and after many hunters have left their stands. That is another factor to keep in mind, stay in your stand as late as you can stand it, then wait longer. Many big deer are killed in the middle of the day on public hunting areas.

Lee Kennemer is the wildlife biologist in charge of Big Laser. He says Big Laser is a beautiful area to hunt with big hardwood groves on ridges around the river and on the hills away from the river. These open oak woods look like perfect deer habitat, and they do produce acorns for the deer in the fall. It is pretty, but it does not produce food for deer year round.

There is a lot of other kinds of habitat that produces food for the deer. The deer are healthy there even though the body weight is down a little due to the drought conditions the past few years. Antler growth has held up, though.

There are 30 permanent food plots on the area that cover 110 acres. Due to budget restrictions, not many new food plots are being put in, and the current ones are being managed for long term food production with Bahia grass and some overseeding of wheat. A few also contain some clover. Most are winter and summer plots with few fall food plots in production.

Although there are not many changes for the past couple of years, DNR personnel are working to keep older food plots from becoming shaded in and expanding existing plots when money is available. The wheat that is overseeded is the major effort for the fall, and the plots with clover in them also produce food in the fall. Last year there were about 30 acres planted in wheat for the fall.

Deer at Big Laser have abundant acorns to feed on most years in the fall, and oak woods are where most folks hunt. But Lee says you are not likely to see a big buck walking in open woods during the day. They may feed on the acorns, and use food plots, too, but they retreat to the thickets during hunting hours.

Lee suggests finding a good thicket near acorns or a food plot where the deer are feeding and set up near it to see a buck moving at daylight dusk. Lee also says that if you walk more than 400 yards from an open road to find a place to hunt you are much more likely to have the hunting to yourself.

Moving just a quarter mile away from a road to be able to hunt alone does not seem like too much trouble, but most hunters are not willing to carry a stand that far, much less try to drag or pack out a deer that distance. But you increase your odds of finding a good buck by hunting away from the roads.

Randy hunted away from the roads and said he did not see another hunter in the woods the three days he was hunting. He camped during the hunt and met a lot of nice folks in the camping area, but he had the woods he hunted to himself.

Linda Guy has managed Big Laser for the past 24 years and says they keep 25 percent of the roads closed during hunting season. This allows hunters to walk away from open roads and find a secluded place to hunt. No traffic, including 4-wheelers, is allowed anywhere except on open roads. You can use a wheeled push cart to get your deer out and Linda says that is a popular method.

The way Randy scouted for deer at Big Laser is an excellent way to find your deer there or on any other hunting land. He had never seen the area before, so he got in the woods before the hunt and walked with a hand-held GPS, marking every scrape and rub he found. By studying the GPS he located a good scrape line and set up his portable stand near the middle of it the afternoon before the hunt.

The next morning at about 10:45 Randy used his rattling horns a little, and spotted movement through the trees. He then used a grunt call to lure the deer in and it came toward him, circling to get downwind or uphill of him. When it got within about 60 yards Randy saw it was a good buck, meeting the QDM requirements, and he grunted with his voice to make it stop.

Randy hunts with a shotgun and slugs, something most Georgia hunters have abandoned for rifles. But at 60 yards the slug from his shotgun did the job and Randy got a buck any hunter would be proud of on any hunting land, public or private.

Stacey also scouted for his deer, but he had an advantage. Last fall was his third hunt on Big Laser. He had hunted several other public hunting areas and liked Big Laser best, because of the habitat and QDM regulations. The habitat is excellent with the rolling hills away from the river his favorite place to hunt. He says you can find ridge after ridge to walk up in hardwoods to pines on top then down the other side through hardwoods to a creek or ditch.

He found one a little different, with thick pines running all the way down to the bottom of the hill. The buck he killed was near a scrape line and was in the thickest part of the area. He and his partner had scouted the area and both set up there, and Stacey says working together they felt one had a good chance of getting the buck they were after.

Another thing Stacey likes about Big Laser is the distance between open roads. He says you can get away from the roads and away from other hunters by walking a little while. He likes to get away from the roads to find bigger deer and fewer hunters.

Lee says what Randy and Stacey did to find their deer is the key. Hunters must scout out the area and find signs of a good buck if that is what they want. Walking a short distance from a road and putting up a stand in open woods or near a food plot probably won’t get you a shot at a quality buck. You need to put in some time in the woods to find one.

Some of the areas at Big Laser are difficult to get to. The ridges and ditches running down to the river valley make hunting right on the river tough, and there is one section of the area where you must wade a creek or come up the river to get to it. Hunting areas difficult to reach are more likely to produce a good deer for you.

There are several hunts this year on Big Laser, starting with sign-in archery hunting September 11 – October 7. It is open for quality bucks and anterless deer. On October 9 and 10 there is a sign-in Adult/Child hunt on the area.

Two quota hunts of 400 hunters each will be held this year at Big Laser. The first is October 27 – 30 and the second is November 10 – 13. Both are check in hunts and are quality buck with anterless deer allowed the last two days of each hunt. There is a Honorary License holder hunt that is sign-in on November 23 and 24 that allows quality bucks or anterless deer.

This year there is also a third gun hunt that is sign-in and open to all, there is no drawing or quota. It is scheduled for December 3 and 4 and is quality buck only. This was done since a lot of folks have stopped hunting by December and the quota hunts were not being filled at that time. Although the rut will be over by them, you might have a good chance to find a big buck if you are willing to work at it.

Randy plans on hunting Big Laser during archery season this year and use that time to scout the area better for another big buck. Lee suggest coming down and hunting for squirrels and scouting at the same time. You can squirrel hunt there starting August 15th and trying to get a tree rat adds to the fun of the scouting trip.

Use Randy’s and Stacey’s system to hunt Big Laser. Play the odds, apply for all the hunts and be prepared to do some scouting before hunting. Locate a thick area near food and try to find rubs and scrapes if it is during the rut. Set up and stay in the tree all day if possible. You just might have a truck buck entry before the hunt is over.

The QDM regulations are popular but Linda says each year she finds 4 or 5 big bucks killed illegally and left when they don’t meet the requirement. She asks hunters to be sure the buck they see meets requirements, don’t “ground check” your deer after shooting it.

Linda also reminds hunters that the campground is primitive at Big Laser and quiet hours are from 10 PM until 7 AM. That means no generators, no radios and not loud noises. You will get a ticket if you violate quiet hours.