Local & Outdoors Info
Hunting vs. Hiking in the National Forest and Wilderness Areas
Before going into our national forest and wilderness areas, you should be aware that these areas are open to hunting during the hunting season (fall and winter for most species, March and April for turkey).
In Georgia and Tennessee, there are also Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) that are open to hunting on a specific schedule. North Carolina has Game Lands that are similarly managed. Big game hunts – turkey, deer, bear, and boar – will be scheduled for specific dates. It is a good idea to avoid these areas during big game hunts, because they are very heavily used. Most of these same areas are very lightly used during small game hunts, and can safely be used for other recreational activities. It’s a good system, because there are only a few days each year of heavy use, but people need to be aware of the system.
If you are planning to hike in the Cohutta Wilderness, for instance, you should check the schedule for the Cohutta WMA. If a big game hunt is scheduled, I would strongly advise choosing an alternate area that is open to small game hunting only. You can find the information online. In Georgia, general hunting seasons are here:
For WMA regulations and big game hunts, check here:
This is to save you from driving for an hour to the trailhead, only to find three dozen deer hunters there.
Remember that the hunting tradition is still strong in the mountains, and everyone wants to be left alone to enjoy their day in the wilderness. (It’s also a crime to interfere with a hunter in Georgia.)
In addition to avoiding deer hunts, I very strongly advise avoiding areas where hog or bear hunting with dogs is underway. This is very popular in North Carolina and in Tennessee. There are several signs that indicate that a boar or bear hunt is underway. You will see hunters along the road or in their trucks with tracking devices. Their trucks usually have a dog box. Dogs used for this type of hunting usually wear special collars with transmitters. During the hunting season, they often become lost, and can be seen along the roads, waiting for their masters to find them. By all means, you should keep your companion dogs strictly away from these dogs.
New Fees for Hikers and Birdwatchers
This is a confusing situation, but some public land in Georgia now require hikers, birdwatchers, and others to either have a hunting or fishing license or buy a Land Pass for $30. It’s cheapest to buy a fishing license ($15). This was done to capture the federal funds available from the Robertson-Pittman Act, which provides more much money to the state than the actual license fees. (I believe it was also done because the hunters got tired of paying when the hikers didn’t, and then getting disrespected by the hikers.)
If you go to the third bullet point on this link, there’s a brief explanation and a list of properties where it is required. Unfortunately, the list is a confusing mess.
Please be aware that these fees support conservation and land restoration efforts that benefit us all.
Wear a Blaze Orange Cap!
Probably the best single piece of safety equipment you can purchase is an inexpensive blaze orange hat. This fabric can be seen for up to ten miles, and with it on your head, the highest point on your body, you will be visible to other folks in the woods. They are easily obtained from sporting goods stores, hardware stores, and some gas stations. The cost is $7-15. I would not go into the field without one during any hunting season.
Never, never, never …
- Don’t wear, carry, or use anything white during deer season (fall and winter). A flash of white in the woods can be mistaken for a startled whitetail deer raising its tail.
- Remember that if you hear owl calls, crow calls, or turkey calls during turkey season, that they may be being made by a hunter, especially if they sound real bogus (March, April).
- Don’t allow your dog to confront bears, hogs, or hunting dogs.
- Don’t get too close to bears or hogs.
- Bears with cubs are especially dangerous, because they are very protective of their young.
- Don’t feed the bears. If bears develop a taste for human food, they often become nuisance bears, and may have to be destroyed. Remember that feeding a bear is like signing its death warrant.
- Don’t go into the woods without telling someone reliable exactly where you are going and when you expect to return. Be sure they know the color, make, and model of your car and your license number.
- If the authorities are asked to search for you, the first thing they will do is to try to locate your car at the trail head or other point of entry. If it’s there, and you aren’t, they will likely mount a search. If they don’t find it where they are told to look for it, they will conclude that you are safe in a bar room somewhere.
- When I go into the woods alone, I tell someone exactly where I plan to park and set a firm time to call out to report that I am out of the woods.
- Remember that your cell phone isn’t likely to work when you are in the wilderness. As you approach the area you plan to hike, it’s a good idea to note where your cell service terminates, in case of emergency. Obviously, high points of land are a better bet than lower areas.