Deer Management in Georgia: Q&A


Bait

  • Why is bait legal in south Georgia and not north Georgia?
  • Are mineral rocks and salt licks legal for hunting use when hunting deer?
  • Why not legalize baiting statewide on private land?
  • Why not do a random drawing or change up the zones every other year for baiting deer?
  • When will baiting finally be legalized in the northern zone? And what justifies only allowing the southern zone to bait?

Regarding hunting over bait, this activity is regulated by state law not DNR regulation. The Georgia General Assembly passes laws, and the Board of Natural Resources passes DNR regulations. The changes in the state's baiting law were a legislative decision made by the Georgia General Assembly and not a DNR decision. There was considerable debate within the legislative process concerning this change and, at the time, consensus within the Georgia General Assembly was that there was considerably more support in south Georgia than there was in north Georgia for this change. As such, the law was modified to allow deer to be shot over bait in south Georgia.

  • How has the use of bait affected the deer harvest and population?

There have been no measurable changes to deer harvest or deer populations, positive or negative, in south Georgia that can be directly attributed to the use of bait.


Coyotes/Predation

  • What is the true coyote impact on our deer population, and what is the best way to manage the coyote population?

Fawn recruitment rates (the number of fawns per doe surviving to hunting season) have declined by 22% since the mid-1990s, which is likely the result of coyote predation. This decline in productivity of the herd has been mitigated by recent reduction in doe harvest. I recommend using camera surveys to estimate recruitment rates before expending effort controlling coyotes. Should you have an issue, intensive trapping just prior to and during fawning is the most effective way. Contact your regional Game Management office for advice on camera surveys and appropriate recruitment rates for your area.

  • Are bears a significant predator to fawns and adult deer in areas of the state with larger bear populations?

Recent research in Appalachian states just north of Georgia indicate that bears can be significant predators of fawns, however the impacts to adults are likely minimal. However, this is a very complex issue in north Georgia that is likely intertwined with habitat issues, other predators, and competition with other species. We hope to start a large-scale research project in north Georgia to address these very issues soon.


Wildlife Management Areas

  • Why can't all Wildlife Management Areas be open for hunting deer for the entire season?

Georgia’s Wildlife Management Areas must accommodate a variety of hunting opportunities, not just deer hunting. Additionally, most of those areas could not sustain the harvest pressure of being open all season, and the quality of hunting would decline.

  • Which public area in north Georgia has the largest estimated deer population this season?

There are plenty of excellent areas to hunt in north Georgia. Berry College WMA traditionally has the highest hunter success.

  • What is the best piece of advice you can give to a new hunter who has never hunted public land before?

Start by selecting a WMA or two and really read up on the specific regulations for them. It’s never a bad idea to contact the regional Game Management Office and chat about it and seek advice. Here’s a guide I wrote a few years ago with more detailed information.

  • When are more WMAs opening? 

Two new WMAs just opened this season, and many more opened over the last couple of years. We are always on the lookout for new opportunities to provide to hunters.

  • Are there any food plots planted on WMAs? If so, which ones, if not then why not? 

While we do plant quite a few food plots on most of our WMAs, our primary focus is to enhance native habitat conditions.  Food plots are a good supplemental food source for deer during stress periods, however proper forest and habitat management is much more critical to deer and other wildlife species.

  • What is the best way to participate in hunts for deer on WMAs, and what is the best way to find out available hunting dates and the sexes that can be taken on those dates?

Always start with the Georgia Hunting Season’s and Regulations guide. Public hunting opportunities and the rules for each property are listed in this guide.

  • Which WMA would you recommend for young or beginning hunters and why?

Clybel WMA is probably one of the best. Clybel has excellent habitat and high quality hunting as a result. There are many adult/child hunting opportunities on the area throughout the year. Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center is located there and hosts numerous programs for youth wildlife education. In particular, the Hunt and Learn programs they offer give new hunters training and hands-on hunting experience from pre-hunt preparation to properly handling your quarry. There is also an excellent shooting sports complex on-site offering archery ranges, pistol and rifle ranges, skeet, trap, and sporting clays.

  • Why can't we have fewer quota hunts and more non-quota hunts on WMAs?

Quotas are implemented on WMAs in order to manage hunting pressure. Limiting the number of hunters provides a higher quality hunting experience on certain hunts that would otherwise be too crowded. The variety of quota and non-quota hunts we have throughout the WMA system provides a broad range of hunting opportunities to suit a broad range of desires.

  • On West Point WMA, I worked with Jim Hackley years ago to make it a great hunting spot. Can you tell me why is has gone downhill? Why did the biologist let all the does get taken?  

I recommend calling the Region 4 Game Management Office at 478-825-6354 and ask to speak with the biologist for West Point WMA. That would be the best person to address your concerns.

  • With the low population of deer appearing in the Johns Mountain WMA, do you plan on closing the WMA for a few years to get the population back or maybe cutting the hunting days in the area?

I recommend that you contact the Region 1 Game Management office at 706-295-6041 and ask to speak with the biologist for John’s Mountain WMA about deer management on the area. Generally, we manage WMA deer populations by limiting antlerless harvest rather than closing hunting opportunity altogether.


Management

  • Would harvesting more doe on our property bring more bucks?

It depends. If your buck to doe ratio is heavily skewed towards females, then it’s possible to see more movement activity in bucks as a result of reducing the number of females on the landscape. I recommend contacting your regional Game Management office to get more specific advice about your property.

  • If one needs to cull some does, which ones are the best to cull?

It depends on how severely you need to reduce the doe population. If you have a substantial browse line and a high fawn recruitment rate, then I would target the largest and most dominant does. If less severe, I would target yearling does (1.5 year olds, not fawns) because they will have lower productivity.

  • How many does should you take off your property?
  • How many does do you take on 500 acres?

While it’s always best to contact a biologist and have them base a recommendation off of site-specific information, a general rule is that 1 doe per 75 acres will decrease deer density, 1 doe per 150 acres will stabilize density, and 1 doe per 200 acres will increase density.

  • What are proper doe/buck ratios?

For years, the most common recommendation was a 50/50 ratio or 1 buck to 1 doe. However, with today’s recruitment rates, I tend to prefer 1 buck to 1.25 does. As always, site-specific information is really critical for accurate recommendations, so contact a biologist.

  • Would it be better management to make it illegal to shoot fawns with spots? To me it's hard to tell if a fawn is male or female?

It is difficult to tell the difference between female and male fawns, which is why all of the harvest regulations are broken down to antlered bucks and antlerless deer.  While hunters taking spotted fawns may be distasteful to some, there is no biological significance between taking an antlerless deer before or after the spots fade.

  • Is there way to estimate deer density on a tract of land based on deer signs or sightings?

Currently, the most effective way to estimate the size of a deer population is by using trail camera surveys. While they do produce an estimate of deer density, I recommend conducting surveys annually for a few years and manage base off the trends in the population rather than the actual numbers due to the limitations of the method. Here’s an excellent “how to” guide for camera surveys.

  • When managing for quality deer with a requirement for antler size, should hunters be allowed/required to shoot large deer with non-typical antlers or crazy-long spikes?

Areas subject to antler restrictions required by regulation must abide by them regardless of the age or size of the deer. There has been extensive research on the ability of hunters to influence the genetic composition of a local deer population through selective harvest of deer with poor antler quality. Culling genetically inferior deer will not improve the genetic makeup of the herd, nor will failing to remove those individuals have any detrimental impacts.


Regulations

  • What’s this new Game Check system and what's it used for?

Georgia’s Game Check system is a new mandatory harvest reporting tool for deer and turkeys.  While we have conducted, and will continue to conduct, annual hunter surveys to estimate state and regional harvest, the surveys lack the fine scale and time-specific aspects of the deer harvest that Georgia Game Check can provide. With the new method, we will be able to view harvest trends at the county level and over time through the season, which helps to inform the most appropriate harvest regulations for sustainable hunting in perpetuity.

  • Why did you change the harvest dates to male/female specific dates? Have you seen better animal management success in other states that have these similar programs, such as SC?
  • I know the Midwest is experiencing issues with their deer herds.  Are we starting to see some of the same thing here, and is that why we are restricting either-sex dates?

For over a decade, deer harvest regulations were designed to reduce the deer population from over-abundance to a healthy level. Coupled with reduced fawn recruitment rates, it was time to reduce the female harvest and stabilize the population, or slightly increase it in some areas, per the Georgia Deer Management Plan 2015–2024.

  • Has there been any consideration of extending deer season in the southern part of the state so that hunters in this area can hunt more of the rut?
  • Could the season open later, like October 1st, and go through the end of January?  Other states west of Georgia open later!!
  • Why does the hunting season end the first week of January when the weather is just getting right to hunt? The season comes in in September when the weather in south Georgia is in the mid-90s, and the deer don't get up and move until dark. Can't we have the season come in October and push the season till later in January? The season use to end in the middle of January, and now it's the first week of January.

Georgia currently has one of the longest deer seasons in the nation. For years we have heard from hunters at public meetings a desire to remove the zones and have a single, statewide, deer season. In conjunction with input from hunters and the biology of the species, a statewide closing date of the second Sunday in January was established.  Peak rut dates in Georgia range from mid-October to late-December, which the current season fully encompasses. Georgia Rut Map.

  • Why does GA have a 10 doe limit?
  • Why is there just 2 buck limit when we have so many does?
  • Has the 10 doe tag negatively impacted the overall population of Georgia's deer herd?
  • How does the DNR come up with a 10 doe limit? I speak with game management and in my area they do not keep track of deer per square mile or buck to doe ratio, so how can you set limits not knowing what we have?
  • Are too may does being harvested?
  • Why is the game limit so high? 12 deer a year seems too much to me.

The deer bag limit is firmly established in state law, which may only be modified by elected members of the Georgia General Assembly. Thus, the regulatory tools available to the department to address biological issues relating to deer harvest are season length and either-sex days.

  • Concerning White county Georgia why are doe harvest days so few during gun season considering there are so many does in this county?

The Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills just south of them have the lowest deer population in the state.  As such, harvest of females must be more limited to prevent over-harvest of the population. While it may seem like there are plenty of does, the productivity of that population is much lower than the rest of the state and it requires more does to produce enough fawns for sustainable hunting opportunities.


Movements

  • How close to humans do deer habitually roam?

Deer in the suburbs are very habituated to humans and will freely walk right up to homes to eat ornamental vegetation.  However, most of this activity occurs at night.

  • How far do deer travel? Do they stay close to the same areas?
  • What is the typical territory of a buck, how far do they travel?
  • What is the general home range of both does and mature bucks?

While home ranges can vary among individuals and get larger as habitat quality declines, a buck will typically occupy 600 to 1,000 acres and a doe from 300 to 600 acres.  However, there can be dramatic seasonal shifts in core areas that may be miles apart.

  • Has it been proven that things like four wheelers or attractants or various smells such as human presence, impact the presence of deer?

I’m not aware of any research that specifically addresses the impact of ATVs on deer movement and behavior.  Regarding scent, it can vary tremendously based on the individual experiences of those animals.  Deer subjected to human scent in urban/suburban areas with few negative interactions will be quite tolerant of it.

  • How do droughts, such as we are in this year, affect deer movements/habits during the hunting season.

Very dry conditions can increase deer movement to meet adequate water intake, but it may also cause a shift in core use areas based on water availability.  This is typically not much of a concern in Georgia and is much more pronounced in semi-arid regions of the US.

  • How do storms, such as Hurricane Matthew, affect deer activity?

During heavy storms, deer may still have to move to meet basic life needs. However, movements will be suppressed during extreme weather events.


Population

  • What area has the most deer?
  • What does this year's population look like? (Each zone)

The deer population is stable in south Georgia and has increased slightly in the northern portion due to lower buck and doe harvest last year. The piedmont region of Georgia holds the largest deer population in the state.

  • Why am I seeing so many "urban" deer this year, has the population grown, and if so, by how much?

Estimating any sort of population parameter in urban areas is extremely difficult because most of the data we base them on is derived from hunter harvest. With very limited hunter harvest in urban areas, monitoring the deer population proves quite difficult. My educated guess would be that such dry conditions have caused deer to congregate more heavily in irrigated areas.

  • What is the current deer population estimate in Georgia?

1.27 million.


Disease

  • Why do coyotes get mange?

Deer get mange too! There are numerous species of mange mites that can infect many different types of mammals. Mange can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected animal and the tiny parasites eat skin cells and cause extreme itching leading to hair loss.

  • Do piebald deer usually have piebald offspring. Do they need to be taken out of your herd?
  • We have piebald deer on our lease. Is this from inbreeding, and should we be culling them from the herd? Any adverse effects?

Piebald is a recessive genetic anomaly that causes blotchy white patches on the fur, but can also cause serious skeletal deformities. Deer born with severe deformities typically don’t survive. For a piebald fawn to be born, both parents must have the recessive gene. While inbreeding could cause an increase in the incidence of piebald, Georgia deer have very high genetic diversity. As such, there are no population or local herd level effects of the disease. It’s up to you if you want to shoot one; there is no biological benefit or consequence.

  • I know what ticks look like, but on a deer i see what to be or looks like lice bigger than the ticks and they outnumber the ticks.

Those are called deer keds, a little louse fly that lives around the hair of deer. They originally have wings that fall off after they land on a deer. They don’t bite onto the deer like ticks and can be seen scurrying around on the underside of the deer.

  • I've noticed that a lot of bucks from previous years have disappeared, is this an EHD problem? (Private land)

Hard to say for sure, but I doubt that it’s caused by EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease). During late summer and early fall, some bucks will make seasonal shifts of their core home range often vacating some properties altogether. One way to determine if you do have an issue with EHD is to walk the edges of creeks and other water sources to look for carcasses during archery season; deer seek water when succumbing to EHD. Georgia is fortunate to have relatively high herd immunity and we seldom see large mortality events as a result.

  • Has CWD made it into Georgia? If so, has there been any course of action?

To date, there have been no documented occurrences of CWD (chronic wasting disease) in Georgia. We have a year-round surveillance plan that we operate under to detect the disease should it arrive in Georgia.

  • I have a few deer on trail cam that appear to be lost their hair. What could be causing this?

It could be one of a few things. Deer begin to shed their reddish-brown summer coat during late summer and early fall to make way for a sleeker, gray winter coat. This can often resemble hair loss on trail camera photos. Another cause could be demodectic mange that does cause actual hair loss. Unless there are other complicating heath issues, they often recover from this.


Rut

  • How do you determine when the rut occurs?

Georgia’s rut map was developed by analyzing peak deer movement periods resulting in peaks in deer-vehicle collisions. We have also collected reproductive data from across the state that can help determine this. Specifically, deer fetuses are removed from hunter-killed deer and measured for length. That length corresponds to the number of days of development having occurred which can be used to backdate and find the approximate date of conception.

  • How often do deer come in heat?
  • When is rut season?
  • When is the rut usually started and how long does it last?

The rut ranges from October to December in Georgia, depending on what area you’re hunting. While the peak movement period typically lasts about a week where the largest proportion of breeding occurs, the total span of breeding may occur across one and a half to two months. If an individual female is not bred during her first estrus cycle (around 24 hours), she will typically cycle again 28 days later.

  • What is the buck to doe ratio born each year?

When looking at the total births across a large area, the sex ratio of fawns is typically 51% males and 49% females.


Antlers

  • Do minerals increase antler size?
  • Many companies sell nutrients claiming their product will allow "trophy quality" bucks. Is there true evidence to support their claim, or is a hunter better off saving their money and management hunting year to year?

There is currently no scientific evidence that supplemental minerals will improve antler quality, despite research to question it. However, two primary components of antlers are calcium and phosphorus and there is no evidence supplementing them can harm deer. With most mineral supplements, the attractive component is actually the salt, which can be lacking in some areas. During spring, when water content is very high in new vegetation, deer urinate very frequently to pass the excess water, which also depletes salt. There are some documented benefits to providing supplemental salt in areas where natural sources are limited.

  • Do white-tailed bucks have feeling in their antlers?

When antlers are in velvet and developing, they have nerves and feeling in them. However, after mineralization occurs antlers harden and they shed the velvet containing those nerves.

  • We see several deer with deformed racks and the deer appear weak, possibly malnourished. What should we do during the year to improve the situation? 

First, I recommend consulting with one of our regional biologists to determine if the population is in balance with the habitat and seek advice on habitat improvement. Deformed antlers are not caused by a lack of nutrition.

  • Why doesn’t south Georgia have antler restrictions like north Georgia?

There are 9 counties in Georgia with antler restrictions on both bucks. There is a written procedure under which the hunters and landowners can petition to impose, modify, or remove antler restrictions at the county level. When the current restriction requiring one buck of the two buck bag limit to have at least four points on one side was imposed, most of the interest in changing regulations at the county level diminished.


Habitat 

  • When prescribed burning to improve habitat for wildlife, would you recommend burning during the fall, spring, or a combination of both for best results?

The vast majority of prescribed burning takes place during late winter as the conditions for burning are ideal, and it’s the optimal time of year for soil disturbance to stimulate the growth of desirable vegetation. However, some circumstances may indicate a need for warm-season burning later in spring to control certain invasive species, such as sweetgum.

  • How can I enhance the native browse for game and non-game animals as a small property manager with minimum funds.

Prescribed fire is likely the single most economical management practice with tremendous benefits for wildlife. If you control the timber management, thinning and clear-cutting when appropriate also greatly improves habitat conditions. Other practices, like timber stand improvement in hardwoods, can also be of benefit. This can be done through timber harvest or by injecting herbicide into less desirable species of trees to reduce competition for desirable species and allow sunlight to the forest floor.

  • Where can I get a soil analysis with advice on fertilizer?

Your local University of Georgia County Extension Office.

  • Best food source in southeast Georgia?

There are tons of species that deer will take advantage of during different times of year. This can also depend on which types of habitat you have on the property you hunt. The best way to determine this is to pay attention to the plants with bite marks from deer and keep notes. Another option is to take the plunge and examine the stomach contents of the next deer you kill. It’s not as bad as you think it is once you get used to it!

  • Which native tree provides the best deer browse when hinge cut?

Generally, I don’t recommend hinge cutting as a method to increase available food for deer. A better option is to remove small patches of undesirable hardwoods to allow sunlight to the ground. Most of the higher-quality plants are early successional herbaceous species that need direct sunlight and soil disturbance to grow. However, should you specifically wish to hinge cut, I would recommend red maple, winged elm, and black willow, as they have been documented to be of higher preference to deer.

  • Why are high-quality food plots critical to a hunter’s year-round quality-deer management program?

I don’t consider food plots to be critical, but rather supplemental to high-quality habitat. Good native habitat and timber management practices are far more critical to quality deer management than food plots. Food plots are a good way to bridge seasonal nutrition gaps in natural vegetation. Very healthy deer can be grown on land in the absence of food plots if density is maintained in balance with the available habitat.

  • What's the best thing to plant for deer to eat?

This really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. For antler development and good nutrition for fawning and nursing does, high-protein warm-season plants like beans and peas are hard to beat. However, food becomes scarce in late winter and cool season grasses like wheat, oats, and rye mixed with clovers can be very beneficial during that stress period.

  • What is the best proven thing to plant for fall and winter food plots?

The most economical and fool-proof would be a mix of cereal grains (wheat, oats, rye) and clover.


Miscellaneous

  • Are there any plans to develop more free shooting ranges on state-owned land, due to the added interest in shooting in Georgia?

Yes, we are always looking for new opportunities to develop new shooting ranges.

  • There are a few deer on a nearby golf course. I am concerned about their safety, as the course is surrounded by a busy traffic area. Are there rehoming opportunities for deer?

Unfortunately, no. While it may seem like a more humane alternative to relocate deer, wild animals don’t understand what is happening when humans capture them. Deer are high-strung animals that don’t respond well to stress, and survival after capture and relocation is very low.

  • How do you tell the age of a deer?

The most common method used to age deer is tooth replacement and wear. Just like humans, deer shed their juvenile teeth at a certain age. Once all teeth have been replaced, patterns in wear correspond with each subsequent year. Deer can also be aged visually, to a certain extent, by examining body characteristics that correspond to different age classes. Here are a couple of guides to the two methods: Texas Parks and Wildlife Guide to Age Determination of White-tailed Deer and the University of Missouri Extension's Techniques for Aging Live Deer.

  • What does the law say about selling and buying deer meat.

Buying and selling deer meat is unlawful. Deer were nearly driven to extirpation (local extinction) in Georgia and the rest of the southeast in part due to commercial hunting.

  • Why do you like deer?

Probably the best question here! White-tailed deer are the number one sought after game species in the country because they are challenging to hunt, excellent table fare, attractive and mysterious. Like other hunters, I love deer for these reasons as well. I knew that being a deer biologist would be my chosen profession the second I put my hands on a live deer. During college, I was employed at the UGA Deer Research Facility, and helping conduct research on live deer pretty much sealed my fate. I have such great respect for the species and never seem to get bored or tired of working with them. They are one of the most researched species on the planet, yet there’s still so much we don’t know about them.

  • I know deer love hot peppers; they wiped my garden clean! How good are they for a deer's diet? Are there any studies on this subject?

There are no studies that I’m aware of, but humans like them so why wouldn’t a deer? Deer can eat every plant we eat plus hundreds of others that humans aren’t capable of digesting. It may seem strange, but deer will even readily consume poison ivy with no ill effects!

  • What is the distance a deer can see?

Deer can likely see just as far as humans; however they perceive the world much differently than we do. Being a prey species, the eyes are positioned more on the sides of the head rather than the front. This greatly limits their depth perception and binocular vision, but tremendously increases their field of view. Because of this, deer can see a lot more area at one time and they are very keen on detecting movement. Unlike humans, they have more trouble focusing or distinguishing small objects or patterns, which is not as critical in terms of survival. A deer’s nighttime vision is far greater than that of humans due to a reflective substance (tapetum lucidum) in the back of their eyes that doubles the amount of light passing through the retina. This is why they have eye shine at night and humans don’t.

10-25-2016 

Our state deer biologist answers your question about deer management in Georgia.

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