I vividly remember the moment I first laid eyes on a Pope & Young whitetail in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. It was the afternoon of Nov. 3, 2001. While bow season had been open nearly two months, I wasn't hunting; in fact, I hadn't even bought any deer tags yet. I was just out fooling around with a new video camera on a friend's small tract in western Cobb County.
As I panned the camera along the edge of a pine thicket bordering a fescue pasture, I suddenly found my viewfinder filled with a buck. A serious buck. He was roughly 150 yards out, but it took just a moment to know he was a beast.
That's a P&Y deer, I said to myself. He's over 20 inches wide, and I think he'll push 200 pounds on the hoof.
As you might imagine, I soon was buying my deer tags and figuring out where to hang a tree stand. I figured it was just a matter of time before he came back through.
My next sighting came a full three weeks to the day after first seeing that deer, and at considerably closer range: I ended up arrowing the dark-racked brute at four yards. He has a gross score of 137 1/8 inches as a clean 8-pointer, and despite major deductions for asymmetry still netted 129 5/8 to make P&Y with over four inches to spare. In large part, the score reflected his 21 1/8-inch inside spread, which at that time made him the second-widest P&Y ever from the Peach State.
Yes, the Atlanta suburbs have big deer. In fact, some taken in recent years have been much bigger than that 4x4 I arrowed 16 seasons ago. This heavily developed part of Georgia is becoming well known for harboring impressive whitetails.
Why? It's a matter of good buck:doe ratios and balanced age structure, both resulting from how deer hunting is regulated in the metro area. Cobb and several neighboring counties — Dekalb, Clayton and the northern part of Fulton — have been bow-only for many years, giving bucks a real chance to reach maturity. Getting to age 4 ½ (often even 3 ½) is all it takes to get some bucks above the 125-inch threshold for P&Y qualification.
Obviously, decreasing the harvest is a recipe for growing trophies of all kinds, from moose, caribou and antelope to turkeys, tuna and bass. But there are few more obvious examples of this approach's effectiveness than with whitetails in the Atlanta area. In fact, Fulton County — home of Atlanta itself — has more than twice as many P&Y bucks as any of Georgia's other 158 counties, many of which are rural and have ample agriculture. That's a testament to the impact of managing for age, though the reason to avoid gun hunting was to safeguard human safety in this highly developed area.
Georgia's archery season opens in mid-September and runs to year end in non-metro counties of the Northern Zone. Gun hunting overlaps that from late October on. In the metro bow counties — Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and the part of Fulton County lying north of Ga. Hwy 92 — hunting extends interrupted on through Jan. 31. In the Southern Zone making up more than half of the state, a combination of bow and gun extend into mid-January.
The accompanying map reflects where Georgia's P&Y entries have been concentrated. While many large hunting properties in more rural parts of the state now are intensively managed for big whitetails — especially from Middle Georgia south — P&Y entries have accelerated more rapidly in the "metro" area than elsewhere.
And some of these deer are far bigger than that wide 8-pointer I shot in Cobb County. For instance, Jay Maxwell's overall No. 1 P&Y non-typical, which scores 213 4/8, was taken in the bow-only part of Fulton County. The state's No. 2 bow non-typical was taken in adjoining Forsyth County.
With the Atlanta area's recent economic rebound, bowhunting access in suburbia isn't getting any easier; many wooded tracts that sat idle during the recession now are being bulldozed for subdivisions or commercial development. In fact, in 2006 that great tract where I shot my wide buck was carved into a handful of $800,000 "estates" with huge, ritzy homes. Nice, I suppose, but forever lost as a bowhunting spot.
As more deer land gets taken out of circulation in this way, competition for the remaining tracts only grows fiercer. But for archers fortunate enough to have access to the remaining woods, prospects for P&Y whitetails remain as solid as ever. It doesn't take much land in suburbia to give you a crack at a big buck.
Private hunting land in rural Georgia tends to be available only through owning it or leasing as part of a club arrangement. There's a long-established tradition of leasing access from timber companies across the Southeast, and it's certainly true in this state. Many tracts now have been leased for 20 years or more by the same groups. While most of these clubs are made up of resident hunters, quite a few sportsmen from Florida also lease timberland here, particularly in the southern counties.
As the map shows, along the famed Flint River corridor such counties as Worth, Dooly, Macon and Lee are steady producers of P&Ys. There's more agriculture in these coastal-plain counties than in some others. Also, some of these counties have antler restrictions that go beyond the state's normal rules.
If you don't have a key to any of those locked gates, fret not. Scattered across Georgia are some well-managed public lands huntable throughout bow season. Virtually any of these could produce a P&Y buck. While public land in the region tends to offer tough hunting in thick cover, some big deer are available. Also worth checking out are Army Corps of Engineers acreages around some of the major reservoirs. Most of these are bow-only; check with the ACOE for specific regulations for each property.
For more details on Georgia bowhunting, click here. To learn more about bowhunting records for all species of North American big game, check out this link.