Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore offers resident and non-resident hunters the opportunity to go on managed hunts and take an unlimited number of deer and wild hogs with bows, crossbows, pistols and muzzleloaders as well as with conventional cartridge rifles for the Adult-child and Feral Hog hunts in December and January. The hunting season on the island begins with an either-sex archery (bow or crossbow) hunt in late October with a 150-hunter quota, a Primitive Weapons either-sex hunt in mid-November with a 100-hunter quota, an Adult-Child hunt in December with a 50-person quota (only the child may shoot) and two Feral Hog hunts in January with a quota of 100 each.
Each of these hunts are three-day hunts with hunters being transported to the island on the Cumberland Island Ferry. Hunters are required to have a Georgia big game hunting license (currently $90 for a 3-day nonresident license) and are charged a $35 fee for transporting them and their camp to the island. The ferry only makes one trip to take hunters in and another to collect them and their game at the end of the hunt. These are camp-out hunts, although showers, indoor toilets, a game cooler and an ice machine are available at the Plum Orchard Camp. There are no facilities at the Brick Hill Camp, but game is picked up daily and put in the cooler at Plumb Orchard. This is Georgia’s largest barrier island. The areas that may be hunted extend for about 10-miles on the northern 2/3rds of the island, and hunters select non-exclusive hunting blocks and walk out from camp. The hunting areas are designated wilderness areas and no wheels are allowed, although deer carts may be used on the major roads. Hunters put their stands along many of the designated trails, shoot their animals and drag them to one of several roads or to the beach for pick up.
Hunters board the ferry at St. Marys the day before the hunt starts to allow them to set up camp and perhaps pre-position their stands for the next day’s hunt. About equal number elect to hunt from climbing tree stands or from cushions or stools on the ground. The vegetation is very thick on most parts of the island with shots typically being at ranges of 30 yards and closer. Videos showing the details of the hunt and the trip to the island may be seen at: http://youtu.be/wgPNeKXxAXg and http://youtu.be/wgPNeKXxAXg.
Exotic animals on the island, besides hogs, include very large numbers of armadillos and about 100 feral horses. These species are protected as are the island’s native snakes, including at least two species of rattlesnakes, and some of the state’s larges alligators inhabit the island’s fresh-water ponds.
Although the island is sub-tropical with palm and palmetto trees, the weather is highly variable. Often it rains on some days, and the temperatures may occasionally drop below freezing with the recent record low being near 0 degrees F. More commonly temperatures are above freezing and mosquitoes and sand fleas can be very bothersome. ThermaCells, head nets and bug repellent are recommended.
People often hunt in small groups and camp together hunt after hunt. These camps can get quite elaborate with several tents, large tarps and elaborate lighting and cooking equipment. Others go with small one-man outfits. Electric generators and loud music are discouraged. Once people have hunted the island for a few years, they often have favored areas and will revisit them year after year. Stand hours are designated for the morning and evening hunts, although hunters may stay out all day if they wish.
Allowable hunting instruments are those that are legal under Georgia laws. These include either bows or crossbows for the archery (or any other) hunt, muzzleloading guns (including pistols, smoothbores with single round ball and rifles) for the muzzleloading hunt, and any of the previously mentioned hunting tools as well as cartridge rifles for the Adult-Child and Feral Hog hunts. For details consult the current state game regulations at http://www.gohuntgeorgia.com.
To apply for the hunts make your application and pay your hunt fee at http://www.pay.gov and type in “Cumberland” in the search box to bring up the menu that will give the details of the hunts. The new hunt dates are set and applications are accepted after July 1 of each year. Residents and non-residents may apply as well as non-U.S. citizens. All are required to have hunter-safety training and all must wear some blaze orange garment/s (usually a vest) during the hunt.
Although I had been successful in taking one or more animals on previous hunts, very windy weather and perhaps the use of a heavy Tree Lounge tree stand prevented me from being as successful as I had been the previous years. I have taken up to three hogs on a single hunt and have also killed deer. Because the hogs are so often hunted, they generally max out at about 200 pounds. The hogs that have been feeding on nuts and soft mast are excellent eating, while those working fiddler crabs on the marsh are not nearly so tasty. These island deer are small, with the record buck weighing only 132 pounds. These deer can have handsome 10-point and larger racks, but primarily because of competition with the wild hogs do not have sufficient food to grow huge racks or increase their body size. When some of these deer were transported to the interior of the state where better food sources were available, they proved that they could grow to 200-pounds, provided they had enough to eat.
The desire to improve the island’s habitat for deer and other wildlife is the reason that the hunt limits are so liberal. Other methods of hog control have included trapping and now a full-time employee has the job of shooting hogs every day. The hog population must be reduced by 75 percent on an annual basis to keep hog numbers from increasing. Even though this is an island, hogs will re-populate it from nearby areas even if their numbers were reduced to small levels. The practical objective is to attempt to control hog numbers to help preserve the island’s unique habitat and also to protect the eggs of endangered sea turtles that nest on the island’s beaches.