Originally created 10/24/98

Aiming to snag a deer



Russ Campbell needed just a few more things.

"You have to have an orange vest," he said Friday as he popped into Sports Authority for last-minute supplies. "This is pretty much all I need. I'm ready."

Mr. Campbell, along with his brother, two friends and 320,000 other Georgians, planned to hit the woods at dawn today for the opening of the statewide gun season for whitetail deer.

While the camouflage-clad hunters all hope to see deer, their preseason preparations have kept local merchants seeing green.

"They were lined up in here this morning buying hunting licenses," said Keith Wade, a Sports Authority store clerk. "But we've been selling lots of, well, pretty much everything."

Hunters who already have the basics, such as a rifle and scope, still spend a bundle on accessories, he said. Buck lure, ammunition, clothing, deer stands, insect repellent, grunt calls, the list is endless.

"It can get over $500 -- easily," he said.

Georgia ranks fifth in the nation in annual hunting expenditures, totaling about $889 million, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. And the vast majority is spent by deer hunters.

The agency's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife also estimated Georgia's deer hunters spend 4.6 million hunting days afield, accounting for more than two-thirds of all hunting statewide.

All that deer hunting translates into an economic impact of $1.78 billion, creating more than 21,000 jobs -- some of them local to Augusta.

At Angel's Taxidermy & Deer Processing in Martinez, employee Larry Hatcher was making preparations Friday for the stream of successful hunters who will begin arriving at mid-morning today.

"We'll expect 80, maybe 100 or more deer," he said. "It'll at least double, and then some, next weekend, when either-sex days open."

The owner of the business, Angel Hamilton, barbecues a whole hog each year on opening day -- just for visitors.

"It's something we do every year for anybody who wants to eat," she said. "We get a lot of people coming by here, even if they don't have a deer. They mainly want to see what other people got."

Last year more than 60 percent of the state's 320,000 deer hunters harvested at least one deer. More than 27 percent of those hunters harvested three or more deer, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The total harvest, 509,000, was up from the 1996 harvest of 397,000.

With this year's deer herd estimated at nearly 1 million animals, how successful will the weekend be?

"It's not so much how many deer are there, it's how they're acting in terms of movement," said wildlife biologist Vic VanSant of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "Sometimes people think the deer aren't there because they aren't seeing them."

The hot, dry summer created low food supplies and poor browse conditions that will affect deer movement this fall, Mr. VanSant predicted. "It'll be an interesting year in terms of where the deer are."

For Augusta-area hunters without a place to go, there are abundant public areas open to hunting, including the archery-only Phinizy Swamp Wildlife Management Area, just minutes from downtown.

Other areas include the 10,000-acre Clarks Hill WMA, the 8,000-acre Yuchi WMA in Burke County, the 15,000-acre Tuckahoe WMA in Screven County and the 8,000-acre DiLane Plantation near Waynesboro, Ga.

Robert Pavey covers environmental issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.