There’s more to hunting than the harvests. There are more sights to see and more to take in, so don’t count your harvests as the only measure of success. Hunting is a chance to go out in the wild woods and off the path that’s been set for you. There isn’t a schedule. It’s not about having a goal. It’s about taking opportunities as they are presented to you. And not just opportunities to shoot game. Opportunities to hear everything from true silence to noises you never knew existed. To see wild life, new landscapes and the unexpected.
You’re out there to participate—to interact with nature and enjoy the experience. Have a little fun! It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and to think about what you could have done differently or wish you had known ahead of time. Every hunter, new and seasoned, makes mistakes and learns something new each time they go out in the field.
At the most basic level, hunting takes place on either private land or public land.
Resident hunting licenses are required for all resident hunters 16 years old or older, except when hunting on land owned by them or their immediate family (blood or dependent relationship) residing in the same household.
Many areas have municipal ordinances against discharging a firearm within city limits. Be sure to follow these ordinances.
Do not trespass. If you want to hunt on land that does not belong to you or immediate family (as defined above), you will need written permission from the landowner.
If you do not own land usable for hunting, someone you know might. You can find many great opportunities by reaching out to people you know.
Georgia has nearly 100 WMAs with approximately 1 million acres of public hunting lands. Every Georgia resident has at least one WMA within one hour of home.
Federal lands and some state parks offer hunting opportunities as well.
In the previous post, we hope we got you excited about hunting! It’s still possible to get out there and hunt before small game season is over. In this post, we will talk you through what you will need for hunting squirrel.
License Requirements and Hunter Education
In order to hunt squirrel, you will need a basic Hunting License.
To get up and running before the end of small game season, we recommend that you purchase a three-day Apprentice License and be accompanied by an experienced and/or knowledgeable licensed hunter.
When purchasing a hunting license online, you can pick the date you want the license to become effective, making it possible to purchase a three-day apprentice license in advance of when you intend to hunt.
If you are going to hunt on a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or practice at one of WRD’s shooting ranges, you will need a Wildlife Management Area license in addition to your hunting license. This WMA license is also sometimes referred to as a “WMA stamp.”
Are you interested in hunting, but not sure where to start? In the next few blog posts, we’ll outline some steps to get started and simplify the process. Because it’s such a good starting point, we’re going to explain the requirements of a squirrel hunt that you can do before the end of the season. Squirrels are a manageable size, they have excellent meat and you only need a basic hunting license to hunt them. In later posts, we’ll explain what firearm to use, how to choose where you hunt, how to clean a squirrel, and give you a recipe you can use with your harvested squirrel meat.
Squirrels are small game, and small game season is open until February 29, 2016. Deer season is over, and turkey season doesn’t start until late March, but there’s still time to get out in the field and hunt squirrel!
If you don’t get a chance to go small game hunting before the season is up, that’s okay. We’ll also have posts about what you can do between hunting seasons to hone important skills, as well as information about hunting turkey.
Ask yourself why you want to hunt. Do you want to feel a greater part of the nature that surrounds us? Do you want to provide high-quality food for yourself or your family and feel the joy that comes from living off the land? Do you want to take part in a sport that brings millions of people together all over the country? There are many reasons to start hunting. Take a minute to figure out what you want to get out of the experience.
Learn about your target game animal’s biology. It will help you when you’re in the field.
Gray squirrel are common. They are usually found in hardwood or mixed hardwood and pine forests. They are not usually found in dense pine forests. Stands of hardwoods make for good squirrel habitat in part because many of these trees are good mast producers. Mast refers to the nuts produced by woody plants and consumed by wildlife. An oak tree, for example, is a mast producer because it drops acorns.
Like many game animals, their major activity time is in the morning and the late afternoon. Though they will be out and about during the day, too, they will not be as active and prevalent.
Look for big leafy squirrel nests in trees. These are a good indicator that squirrels are in the area. Note that it is illegal to shoot into a nest.
Most people get involved in the sport of hunting through family and friends who guide them through the process.
If you’re going to hunt small game before the end of the season, the guidance of a hunting mentor will be invaluable. If you can, reach out to an experienced hunter and see if they can mentor you. Depending on the hunter, they may also be able to let you use some of their equipment. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Hunters are generally passionate about hunting, and many would love the opportunity to share this experience with someone else.
You may also consider joining a hunting club. Joining a non-governmental organization (NGO) that relates to game (such as the National Wild Turkey Federation) is another way to get involved in the hunting community.
At WRD, we have Hunter Education Field Days that help supplement the teaching provided by Hunter Education courses, and Hunt and Learn programs that provide hands-on learning for young novice hunters (ages 10-17).
If you’re ready to learn how to hunt, you will need to commit time to it. You’ll need to, hopefully, find an experienced hunter who can help you through the process and start searching in your area for ways to get involved in the hunting community. You’ll need to set aside the time, energy and money over the next couple of weeks to take Hunter Education (can be done online), get a hunting license (can be done online/by phone), get equipment, practice, and learn the land you can hunt on.
We’ll guide you through these steps, starting tomorrow with the license and materials you will need to get started.
Wildlife biologists with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division recently completed breeding bird counts on several wildlife management areas (WMAs) and private properties that are part of Georgia’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) focal landscapes. Biologists listen for male bobwhites and other species that use the same habitat as quail. These birds include Bachman’s sparrow, painted and indigo buntings, loggerhead shrike, prairie warbler and field sparrows.
Male birds call during the spring and summer in order to attract mates and announce their territories. Calling males are counted from designated locations and these numbers are used to generate a population index which allows biologists to track long term population trends.
In the video below, from the Albany Nursery WMA, you can hear two field sparrows and a male bobwhite quail. These birds were located along a fallow field border (comprised of native grasses/weeds/briars/shrubs) intentionally established along the edge of a crop field that’s managed for mourning doves. Management for bobwhites and many other game and nongame species can be successfully integrated into working farms and forests through planned management. Landowners can receive technical guidance and detailed management plans through BQI which is solely funded through the Bobwhite Quail license plate. For more information on Georgia’s quail focal areas, monitoring or how to manage for quail and other species on your property, go to www.georgiawildlife.com/bobwhite-quail or contact a WRD BQI biologist within BQI’s East Region (706-554-3745), Central Region (478-296-6176), or Southwest Region (229-420-1212).
By: Elliot Ambrose, Georgia DNR Public Affairs Intern
The war on Georgia’s invasive species: Part I
There are invaders among us. Large and small, they have infiltrated and spread, displacing native inhabitants and upsetting the natural balance. The culprits are known as invasive species, and they pose a real and significant danger to environmental, economic and human health.
Some have been here for years; others have only recently made an appearance. Even more have the potential to become problems in the near future. Whatever the case, invasive species can have wide-ranging and long-lasting impacts if not addressed.
One invasive that exemplifies this problem is the feral hog.
A prolific and destructive species, feral hogs have been in Georgia for centuries. In the last several decades, however, pig populations – and the cost of damages they cause – have skyrocketed.
The pig problem
Introduced by Spanish settlers in the 1500s, feral hogs have increased their range, and their impact, significantly in Georgia over the last 50 years. Spread in large part by people illegally moving them to other areas, the species now occupies more of the state than ever and is having a devastating effect on native plants and animals and their habitats.
According to Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist with the DNR Game Management Section, feral hogs threaten some native species by excluding them from valuable food sources.
“It’s another big animal out on the landscape that’s requiring a lot of resources to keep going,” Killmaster said. “The fact that they can out-compete a lot of our native species is causing a problem.”
On Ossabaw Island, where feral hogs have flourished in near isolation for hundreds of years, the threat to native species is even more direct. In the early 2000s, hogs destroyed nearly 70 percent of loggerhead sea turtle nests laid on Ossabaw beaches. In a DNR effort started in 2006 with State Wildlife Grant funding, systematic shooting and trapping has shrunk the predation rate to 10 percent. But keeping it there requires relentless work.
“If we stopped hunting them, it would get out of control quick,” said Cody Elrod, a DNR wildlife technician in his sixth summer on Ossabaw.
Wild hogs can begin breeding at 6 months old and give birth to eight to 26 piglets a year.
Feral pigs will also eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds, including shorebirds, turkey and quail. As they search for food, wild hogs use their snouts and tusks to root through the soil, a destructive behavior that can severely impact native plant communities and reduce the total number of plant species in an area. Declines caused by extensive rooting can also lead to infestations by invasive plants such as Chinese tallow, particularly in wetlands and other sensitive habitats.
In addition to environmental impacts, feral hogs also wreak economic havoc, particularly for farmers. Hogs destroy acres of farmland by rooting up crops and recently planted seeds. Their foraging creates uneven, dug out areas that can damage large farm equipment. Feral hogs are also carriers of diseases, such as swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, which can be transmitted to domestic pigs.
The cost of the damage is uncertain, but a University of Georgia survey of landowners in 2011 estimated the total at more than $81 million.
Georgia’s least wanted
The voracious feral hog is just one invasive species causing concern in Georgia.
Known as “the seventh worst weed in the world,” cogongrass was documented at fewer than 10 sites in Georgia in 2004. By 2012, this Asian grass variety had spread to more than 600. Now covering 1.25 million acres of the southeastern U.S., cogongrass is more widespread than kudzu, the region and state’s most infamous invasive. Fortunately, all known cogongrass sites in Georgia have been mapped and treated.
A more recent arrival in Georgia, the emerald ash borerfirst appeared near Atlanta in 2013. The small green beetle native to Asia and east Russia is widespread throughout much of the Northeast, and has killed tens of millions of ash trees. The emerald ash borer is viewed as one of the most destructive forest pests ever seen in North America, making it a top priority for state and federal agencies.
Control efforts in Georgia are focused on containing the infestation, including through raising public awareness about how the insect is spread, typically through transporting contaminated firewood.
As is evident with the efforts to control feral hogs on Ossabaw, managing invasive species requires persistent effort. And because many exotic invasives spread rapidly and are difficult to eliminate once established, the focus is usually on management and control, rather than eradication.
There are a number of ways the public can help in the war on invasives. Learn to identify the invasive species found in your area to keep tabs on potential problems in your neighborhood. Take care to clean your gear and equipment before leaving outdoor areas and never release pets into the wild. When landscaping or gardening, consider choosing native plants instead of exotic varieties that may spread beyond your yard and put pressure on native species.
(Editor’s note: This is the first post in a multi-part series on invasive species in Georgia. Up next: Watch what you plant! Explore the benefits of “growing native” and how to avoid exotic invasive plants.)
Hunters Helping Farmers, a private lands initiative by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and DNR, connects farmers and landowners with a pig problem to hog hunters in their area.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service offers the Feral Swine Damage Management Program, a national initiative to reduce wild pig populations and their impacts. The program is the first federally authorized feral hog management effort and involves coordination between federal, state and local agencies.
Key offenders, plus some lesser knowns
Hemlock wooly adelgid: Native to Asia, this small, aphid-like insect feeds on the sap and inner bark of hemlock trees. First reported in Virginia in the early 1950s, it is now established in several eastern states and has affected more than 50 percent of the geographic range of the eastern hemlock.
Chinese wisteria: Brought to the U.S. from China as a garden ornamental in the early 1800s, the woody vine is capable of reaching a height of 40 feet. This invasive displaces native vegetation and kills trees and shrubs by girdling them.
Kudzu bug: This stink bug family member was discovered in the U.S. in October 2009 and has since spread through the Southeast. A native of India and China, it has become a nuisance pest in Georgia, damaging soybean crops and overwintering in houses.
Cuban treefrog: With a wide diet and the ability to deter predators with noxious mucus, this large treefrog is highly adaptable and believed to have a detrimental impact on native species. First recorded near Savannah in 2009, Cuban treefrogs have established large colonies in Florida and are widely available for purchase as pets.
The Statewide Invasive Strategy
The focus of Georgia’s invasive species strategy is preventing the introduction of new invasive species and minimizing the spread of existing populations and their impact on native species, the economy and environmental and human health.
This goal is achieved through early detection and rapid response programs, cooperative management activities, and public outreach and education. The strategy also includes monitoring and research of invasive species to determine key management priorities, as well as designing and proposing legislative or regulatory measures.
The invasive strategy was called for in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy guiding DNR and partner efforts to conserve Georgia’s native wildlife and natural habitats. That plan is being revised, yet will continue to emphasize controlling exotics.
Thanks to a hard-working group of elementary school students at Reese Road Leadership Academy in Muscogee County, Georgia has an official state mammal.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 70 into law on April 30, 2015, recognizing the white-tailed deer as our state mammal (keep in mind, Georgia does have a state marine mammal, the North Atlantic right whale).
It all began last year with a simple question from a curious Boy Scout named Kevin Green. “Why doesn’t Georgia have a state mammal?” asked Green, a fourth-grader at Reese Road Leadership Academy.
Green’s question led a group of first-graders at the Columbus school to take on the task of making a recommendation to state legislators. The students worked with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division to choose a mammal that would represent Georgia well. The white-tailed deer had all the characteristics they were searching for: It is easily recognized by most Georgians, found throughout the state (there are about 1 million deer in Georgia) and sports a tremendous economic impact through hunting.
On Feb. 11, the students visited the State Capitol to present their information and recommendation on the white-tailed deer to a House subcommittee. Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) was on hand for the presentation.
“It’s great to see students have the opportunity to work with our state agencies and legislators. It was such a positive experience for everyone involved, and these students should feel a great sense of accomplishment for the rest of their lives knowing that they had a direct impact in designating the white-tailed deer as the official state mammal of Georgia,” said Hugley, who sponsored House Bill 70.
The students saw their hard work pay off when Gov. Deal signed the legislation, sealing an accomplishment that will last more than a lifetime. Georgia DNR and all those involved in the process are proud to have worked with this outstanding group of students. Thanks to their efforts, the state can finally claim the white-tailed deer as the state mammal of Georgia!
To learn more about the white-tailed deer, check out this fun video from the first-graders at Reese Road Leadership Academy.
By James Tomberlin, Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist
The northern bobwhite quail occupies a prominent place in Georgia’s wildlife heritage. In fact, the Georgia General Assembly formally designated the bobwhite as the official Game Bird of Georgia in 1970. During the 1800s and through the mid 1900s quality early succession habitat occurred throughout the state as a by-product of the extensive, low-intensity agriculture and forestry practices. This resulted in widespread bobwhite abundance and earned Georgia the reputation as a premier quail hunting destination. However, since that time bobwhite populations have experienced severe long-term declines – more than 90 percent since 1966.
This decline is an indicator of a dramatic ecological change with widespread economic and recreational impacts. Bobwhite hunters in Georgia have declined by more than 80 percent since 1964, with a similar decline in hunter harvest. Across much of Georgia, bobwhite densities have fallen below levels needed to attract and sustain hunter interest. In some landscapes viable bobwhite populations are no longer apparent.
Due to the severity of the bobwhite decline, a grassroots effort through the Georgia General Assembly and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Board led to the development of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) in 1998. BQI is a proactive effort to restore and maintain bobwhite habitat on private lands across Georgia’s Upper Coastal Plain.
An important objective of BQI is to increase recreational opportunities primarily through improved quail hunting. BQI cooperators have worked with WRD to voluntarily host half-day or full-day quota youth quail hunts during the wild quail season. These hunts have provided many youths with their first opportunity to experience wild quail hunting, which is paramount to sustaining this part of Georgia’s wildlife and hunting heritage. The 2015 hunts were graciously hosted by Lee Harris of Red Hawk Plantation in Pulaski County and Tom Bradbury of Whitehall Plantation in Bleckley and Laurens Counties. The hunts gave Zachary Shumate of Fort Valley, Brian Massey of Thomaston, Chad Shelton of Thomasville, and Ethan Canaday of Loganville, accompanied by a parent/guardian, to pursue wild bobwhite quail for the first time. Both hunts were a success, with great fellowship and multiple coveys encountered and each hunter harvesting at least 1 quail.
Since its inception, BQI has advanced bobwhite restoration in Georgia and across the Southeast and revealed:
Within appropriate landscapes, bobwhite numbers can be increased through judicious habitat restoration across working farms and forestlands
Landowner demand for bobwhites is high but adequate levels of financial incentives and qualified technical staff are essential for success
Habitat restoration must be focused into spatially explicit landscapes to produce and sustain a bobwhite population response.
The Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area is ready for the 2014-2015 season. Ducks have shown up in good numbers in the impoundments and hunters are excited about the season which begins this Saturday, Nov. 22 and runs through Nov.
30 before starting up again on Dec. 6. Butler Island is quota only and is open on Saturdays, Champney Island is open for walk in hunters Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays, while Rhetts Island is boat access only and is open Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays. Outside of the impoundments the rivers and swamps offer great hunting as well. Shooting hours are until noon. Please print out the late-season migratory bird seasons and regulations guide athttp://georgiawildlife.com/Hunting/Waterfowl for more information on the waterfowl season, and check out the information below for waterfowl hunting on Altamaha WMA.
There are three islands that are made up of impoundments on Altamaha WMA, Butler, Champney, and Rhetts Island. Butler Island is a quota hunt that is offered every Saturday during the waterfowl season until noon. There are 25 blind areas ranging from 4 to 16 acres in size that are randomly selected through a lottery style drawing. Each week, there are 25 blind areas reserved for the quota hunters. Stand-by hunters draw for the blinds open by quota hunters that do not show up at the hunt. These blind areas do not have physical duck blinds but are rather a mix of open water, potholes, emergent grasses, and trees. Hunters use the natural cover to hide themselves from approaching waterfowl.
Hunters on Butler Island should arrive at the check station, located one mile South of Darien, Georgia, between 4:30 and 4:45 a.m. Quota and stand by hunters will need to go inside the check station and sign in with Game Management personnel upon arrival. Drawing for blinds for the quota hunters will begin at 5 a.m. The stand-by hunters will then be given the opportunity to draw for the remaining blind areas. Once the blinds are selected, hunters and their gear are loaded onto trailers pulled behind pick up trucks and are taken out to the hunting area. Hunters are dropped off at their blinds, where they will find a small boat. This boat is designed exclusively to get hunters and gear across a narrow perimeter ditch. Once this ditch is crossed, hunters can get out of the boat in waders and wade through the blind area. Water levels are normally between 8 and 24 inches deep in the impoundment. Hunters can put out decoys and hide in the natural cover in the blind area. Large decoy spreads are not needed on Butler Island. 6 to 12 decoys is appropriate. Pack wisely to minimize extra gear and bulky decoy bags. Other hunters on the trailers will appreciate it and it will make the walk easier when packing gear in and out of the blind areas.
Hunting ends at noon. Game Management staff will drive around the dikes and pick up hunters at 9 a.m. and noon. Hunters can also walk to the cross dike. This is a central location in the center of the impoundment where the trailers are parked. Maps of this area are located in the check station. For those wishing to hunt until noon, DNR will pick those hunters up at their blinds where they were dropped off that morning.
Champney Island offers hunters a walk-in hunting opportunity on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays during waterfowl season until noon. This is a first come first serve area that can be very productive. Hunters will often try and draw a stand-by blind on Butler Island, but keep Champney Island as an option in case they are not drawn.
Champney Island is broken up into three huntable impoundments, New Snipe, Old Snipe, and West Champney. New Snipe and Old Snipe pools can be accessed from Champney Road or Massman Road, while West Champney can only be accessed by Massman Road. A canoe or small boat can be useful to get into the impoundments and to move around within the impoundments. Similar to Butler Island, hunters need to wear waders and can expect water levels to range between 8 – 24 inches across the impoundment.
Rhetts Island is boat accessible only and is open to hunting Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays during waterfowl season until noon. It is a large impoundment broken up into three pools. Pool 1 is the western most pool and Pool 3 is the eastern most pool. Pool 1 has two access points into it from the Champney and Butler Rivers. The pull over sites allow hunters to cross the perimeter dike with a small boat to access the impoundment. Because the Champney and Butler Rivers are tidally influenced, there can 6-9 feet of difference between high and low tide depending on moon phase and wind. This can create a large mud flat in front of the pull over sites, so be aware of the tide stage when planning your trip. A push pole is a great tool to help navigate through the soupy mud that leads up to the pull-over points.
Consistent with the other impoundments, Rhetts Island has a perimeter ditch around each pool and water depths in Rhetts Island range from 8 – 24 inches deep. Hunters can hunt out of waders or out of their boat using natural cover in the impoundment as camouflage. Hunters are strongly advised to scout Rhetts Island in the daylight prior to making a trip over in the dark the morning of the hunt. This will help increase your chances for a safe and successful hunt.