Bow season is in full swing, but deer hunters who prefer to use firearms will have to wait until Oct. 20 to hit the woods. And when they do, they'd better be wearing the required fluorescent orange, have written permission to be hunting on land not owned by themselves or family, and make sure they are not hunting over bait.
Archery, or "bow" season, opened Sept. 8, giving bow hunters a jump start on the season. Primitive weapons season is short this year - those using black powder guns only have from Oct. 13-19 to hunt using those weapons. Hunters using dogs in Bulloch and surrounding counties will be allowed to hunt the full season – Oct. 20, 2007 to Jan. 5, 2008 – but need to make sure they observe the law, said Cpl. David Sims, conservation ranger with the Metter-based office of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Sims said rangers will be out in force this season and will watch for hunters breaking laws, especially those not wearing the required 500 or more square inches of fluorescent orange above the waist, and those hunting over bait.
Legislators introduced a bill last year that, if passed, would have made hunting over bait legal in Georgia. The bill did not pass and hunting over bait is still illegal, Sims said.
Hunters can feed deer all they wish, he said. There is lo law against feeding deer, but any type of feed, lure or attractant placed where deer can access it must be removed a full 10 days before hunters can hunt over that area, he said.
"Conservation rangers work many hours pursuing hunters who hunt over bait," he said.
Feeding deer actually harms hunting, Sims said. By providing deer an easy access to plenty of food, they are not prone to forage for acorns during the day – when a hunter can bag them. Instead, they visit feed plots at night, when it is illegal to hunt, he said.
Attracting a large number of deer to a food plot or salt lick can also help spread disease, he said.
Hunters have a bag limit of 12 deer, but only two can be antlered bucks, he said. And one of those bucks must be "at least four points" on one side.
The limit set is designed to encourage hunters to take more does. Many hunters are out to bag the big trophy bucks, but "we encourage them to take does, because that will, in turn, make our herds stronger," Sims said. "You've only got so much food source."
Georgia has an abundant population of white tail deer, and many traffic accidents and encounters with humans could be prevented if the deer population was thinned, he said. Harvesting does limits reproduction and actually helps maintain herd quality. The fewer does available helps ensure that the superior bucks are breeding the does, he said.
If a hunter accidentally shoots a "button buck" thinking it is a doe, likely he won't be in trouble even if he already shot his two buck limit, Sims said. But the antlerless deer must not have visible spikes.
Hunters must wear the required 500 square inches of orange above the waist at all times during hunting activity, he said. "This includes walking to and from your deer stand, as well as when sitting in the stand."
Hunters also must have written permission – on their person – if they are hunting on property that does not belong to them or their immediate family, Sims said.
And hunters using dogs must follow some pretty strict rules as well, he said.
Actually, most of the laws have been in effect for years, but recent changes in society have led to rangers enforcing them more strictly, he said. "We've started out with verbal guidance, then to written warnings, and now we're writing tickets."
Hunters using deer dogs must have an additional license other than the normal big game license. Anyone involved with hunting with dogs, regardless of whether they own a dog used, must have a special license.
Parking or stopping on public roads, whether they are dirt or paved, is illegal as well, and that law will be strictly enforced for safety reasons, he said.
"Dog hunters" must have written permission to retrieve game or look for lost deer dogs, and must have a permit to run the dogs on designated property, he said. If a dog is found off that property, they "will be returned, but the owners may face charges."
While deer hunters must have written permission to hunt on other people's land, DNR Rangers have the right to enter any "property in the state of Georgia, private or otherwise," he said. Rangers finding violators can confiscate the hunting equipment, and in some cases can even seize the vehicle used, he said.
But no one wants to "just punish" people, he said. All the DNR wants is for Georgia's hunters to be safe and to hunt legally, he said.
And speaking of safety, Sims reminded those using tree stands to be careful and use a safety strap. "Tree stand issues usually outweighs firearm incidents" during hunting season, he said. And hunters should unload weapons, climb their stands and then pull the weapons up to them using a string or rope, he said.
For more information on deer hunting or any type of hunting in Georgia, access Internet web site www.gohuntgeorgia.com.