The Georgia DNR began offering lottery deer hunts at a handful of state parks in 2014, and they remain among the most attractive hunts in the state’s public hunting system. It will take at least three years of applying and being rejected to have a chance of being chosen, and up to five or more for the most popular parks. You don’t want to waste one of the best tickets in public deer hunting, so here are 12 tips for getting the most success out of a Georgia State Park quota hunting permit.
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I was selected for Hard Labor Creek State Park in 2021 with four refusal points, making me one of 11,740 people who tried to get one of 635 total spots statewide. That’s about a 1 in 18 chance of being drawn in all State Park hunts, which is even more difficult than trying to get an alligator permit (1 in 17). In WMA quota hunts, your odds are about 1 in 4, which shows you the desirability of state park hunts.
State park hunts are resource management hunts, not recreational hunts: they occur in parks that have a great need to keep deer populations under control. So there are usually a lot of deer, and they are only hunted once a year on these two-day hunts. Thus, the demand.
With my Hard Labor Creek permit in hand, I did my scouting and planning early. But at the end of the hunt from November 2 to 3, he was empty-handed. I made a few key mistakes that I won’t repeat the next time I’m drawn. Here is my advice based on my first experience.
Visit and explore the park early. Most importantly, talk to park staff about hunting access when you go. When I explored Hard Labor Creek, I assumed that the closed service roads would remain closed during the hunt. I was wrong. They were all open to give hunters greater access. Areas I thought would be “remote” and difficult to access were actually very easy to reach by vehicle when the first day dawned. Know all the access routes and don’t wait until a couple of days before the hunt to explore. Go several times, in various seasons, to familiarize yourself with the area.
Set up and mark as many stand options and backing areas as you can. If I had asked park staff about road access, they would have pointed to different areas than I did. My only alternative was to enter areas I had never seen before. Two days is not a lot of time to explore and find completely new areas, and people are hunting, some of them all day. If you wander into unknown areas during the hunt, you will annoy a lot of people.
Download maps before exploring or hunting. Most of the hunted state parks are in rural or remote areas and may have poor cell signal. I use the onX Hunt app on my phone and downloaded satellite maps of the park while at home on WiFi. The “offline” map was very clear when I was on the site, and my phone had no trouble drawing the map every time I opened it. I was able to easily put a pin in potential stand sites and navigate to them again in the dark during the hunt, but I barely had enough signal to send a text.
Have realistic expectations. Like I said, this is a resource management hunt. State park managers must harvest deer to maintain healthy density levels and prevent habitat damage. They must do it in a short period of time to avoid prolonged closures that affect the normal users of the Park. Thus, the density of hunters will not be low and the access roads will be open. Your recreational enjoyment is a low priority. This is a job hunt, and your help is needed to get the job done without complaining that someone else was sitting in your marked booth area.
Avoid scenic areas. One of the downsides of state parks is that they tend to be dominated by mature mixed hardwood and pine forests, because unfortunately the forests are not managed for diversity or wildlife. There are very few edges or openings, but there may be a small variation in forest density. I did notice that hunters tended to gravitate towards more open woods where visibility was better, but I did find more deer tracks and signs in the thicker cover. Don’t be afraid to mark stand sites in thicker cover with less visibility, especially if you can find acorn-producing trees in such cover. There may be fewer hunters and more deer in areas like this.
Don’t hunt the trails. Many of the roadless areas in state parks have hiking, biking, or horse trails that are closed to the public during the hunt. These are great for accessing deeper woods, and everyone will be walking and pulling deer on these trails during off hours. Several times while using the trails to get in or out of the woods at noon, I passed right under hunters sitting on climbing posts. If you hunt like this, don’t get angry when other hunters pass by. (By the way, no one bothered me about this. Even the trail hunters exchanged a “Good Luck” when I passed them. But if you don’t want to be bothered like that, don’t hunt in sight of a trail.)
Be flexible. In addition to pre-planning multiple stand sites and backup areas, be prepared to hunt in a variety of ways. Bring a climbing stand or saddle rack, but also bring a pigeon stool or ground hide to travel lighter and hunt in an area without large trees to climb.
Additional orange. Hunting on public land is extremely safe, no matter what you may have heard. But that’s because we all have a good track record of taking care of ourselves and others. When I hike in or out during the day, I wear a back brace that hides my orange vest on that side. So, I bring an extra orange vest and hang it on my stand. I also bring a solid orange cap to wear going in and out. Flashlights and headlights should be on when it is dark or dim.
Shoot yes. Again, you are in this hunt to help keep deer numbers in balance with available food, and there isn’t much deer food because the state parks are dominated by unmanaged mature forest. Don’t let a doe pass by hoping to see a big buck. If you can, fill out your doe tags (these are bonus permits that don’t count against your state’s limit). If you can’t fit them in your freezer, donate them or give them to a non-hunter neighbor who would appreciate the deer.
Remote removal plan for deer. To see the fewest hunters and the most deer, you need to find corners and areas of the park that are farthest from an open road or trail system. That means being able to get your deer out of there. Be prepared to dress your deer in the woods by carrying a sharp knife and disposable gloves in your backpack. Have a wheeled buggy, sled, pull system or help from a friend to get your deer to your vehicle and to the control station.
Learn the special rules. State parks come with unique rules that you won’t hear at regular WMA or federal land hunts. Where else but here will they tell you not to leave heaps of guts on the golf fairway? And at Hard Labor Creek, anyone who killed a wild pig was rewarded with a free round of golf. There are also many off-limits “Safe Zones” around buildings, roads, and property lines that you should be aware of. Pay attention to the emails and other notices you will receive about your hunt, and be sure to attend the required pre-hunt safety meeting.
Stay on site. You won’t be able to hunt in a state park every year, so make the most of it. Reserve a nice state park cabin or reserve a spot for your tent or RV (this lodge is closed to the public during the hunt and is only available to licensed deer hunters).
Staying on site is convenient and you will meet your fellow hunters from other areas. I know some of the friendliest people and the best deer hunters on public land hunts, so take your time to stay local.
Take care. Don’t forget your tree climbing harness if you plan on climbing, pack plenty of oranges, and remember to identify your target with your binoculars before grabbing a rifle and looking through the scope. All of this goes no matter where you are hunting.
Hunts in Georgia state parks are a unique opportunity to hunt rarely pressed deer on scenic public lands. In fact, I wish there were more parks open for deer hunting. Start applying this year and every year until you have enough Reject Points to hunt, and coordinate friends in the process so you can apply as a group for more fun.
Apply online at https://quotahunt.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com. The quota request deadline is September 1.
Publisher’s note: Lindsay Thomas Jr. is a freelance outdoor hunter and writer from Georgia and director of communications for the nonprofit National Deer Association. Follow him on Twitter @lindsaythomasjr or Instagram @lindsay_thomas_jr