By Chris Jenkins
Chris is a Board Member and Director of Conservation for the Southeast Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and lucky to call the beautiful North Georgia Mountains home.
There are a few things in my life that you could classify me as obsessed over, but hunting is by far my most intense addiction. For example, I strive to hunt the entire Georgia deer season in the rut. I start hunting the coastal maritime forests to catch the September and October rut, then I move around the Piedmont and Coastal Plain to catch small nuances in the November rut and finally I finish by hunting the December rut in the mountains. In case I tag out in Georgia, I strategically live at the junction of three states so I can quickly shift gears and start hunting North or South Carolina. When turkey season rolls around, I hunt almost every day of the season, even if it means getting out for a couple hours before work in the rain. I take my son and other kids every chance I get and the entire time am constantly stressed about providing a quality experience for them so I can leave something with the next generation. Basically, I have built a lifestyle around the outdoors and I do almost all of it right here on public land in Georgia!
For the last ten years, I have been living in Georgia and hunting and fishing between one hundred and one hundred and fifty days a year almost entirely on public land. Recently, I was on social media and saw a post from someone who was moving from central Georgia up to one of our small mountain towns. This gentleman was very concerned about where to hunt and was frantically trying to search out a hunting lease in the Georgia Mountains. I was shocked and rarely comment on Facebook posts, but I felt like I had to. I simply told him there was no need to find a lease, he had almost a million acres out his backdoor that he could hunt and fish with no need to pay any type of lease. This experience and others made me realize that many of us hunters here in Georgia think of hunting as a private land activity. Some people own their own land but many lease private ground to hunt. I have nothing against private land hunting and do some myself, but if you get nothing else from this blog I want everyone in Georgia to realize that we are all Public Landowners and that there are endless opportunities from the coast all the way to mountains.
I moved to Georgia from the Rocky Mountains, living in a state that was almost completely public land, I was accustomed to heading out into the field with no thoughts about where I could and could not go. When I realized I was moving “back east”, I was a little concerned. I knew most states in the east were dominated by private land and I was, like the hunter moving to North Georgia… concerned about where was I going to hunt. After doing a little research, I was amazed at the opportunities to hunt public land in Georgia. I was lucky in that I had the opportunity to move anywhere in the state and coming from the west I wanted to find an area that was dominated by public land. Research quickly led me to learn about the Chattahoochee National Forest (https://www.fs.usda.gov/conf) and I now live in a county that is almost 75% public land and I can hunt and fish year round all within thirty minutes of my house. The Chattahoochee National Forest is almost one million acres and is full of opportunities to hunt deer, bear, squirrels, and turkeys. With many wilderness and roadless areas, the North Georgia Mountains can give you a very “western” hunting experience, or as we like to say, #mybackcountry. On a backcountry deer hunt last year, I stood on a rock precipice looking out at miles and miles of wild country and thought to myself that it was as endless as the western landscapes I had left behind.
I realize most of Georgia’s population does not live in the National Forest but there are public land opportunities that can be found throughout the state. Despite Georgia only having one hundred miles of coast line, we have about one third of all the salt marsh remaining on the Atlantic Seaboard. By design, our coast is dominated by public land with only a handful of barrier islands developed. There are endless opportunities to hunt hogs and deer on barrier islands, cast flies to tailing redfish, or take your family to harvest shellfish. The Georgia coast is a hidden gem and it is because as public landowners, we own it; our coast is not cut up and developed into houses and high rise hotels like many of our neighbors. In between our coastline and mountains are the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions that are dominated by private land but Georgia Department of Natural Resources maintains an immense network of Wildlife Management Areas (https://georgiawildlife.com/allwmas). There are over one hundred and thirty Wildlife Management Areas in Georgia and they spread to every corner of the state. These WMAs give a great diversity of forests, swamps, and fields for all of us to recreate in.
Over the last ten years, I have grown to love Georgia and all the opportunities to hunt and fish on public land. In many ways, I think the opportunities here are greater than what I had in the west. I hunt and fish year round making it a lifestyle, whereas out west it always seemed like an event. A group of Georgia based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Members are taking the next 8 months to showcase our amazing public lands and the hunting and fishing opportunities our state holds. The hope is that the gentleman who was stressed about finding his hunting lease in the middle of a million acres of public land and thousands more Georgia sportsmen and women will think of our public lands as theirs; to realize that they do not always need a hunting lease to have a great experience in Georgia.
To do your part conserving public lands in Georgia, become a member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers today!