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Prepare Now for Your Carolina Draw Hunt

Keep these tips in mind and your odds for getting drawn for an excellent public-land deer hunt go up dramatically.

By Dan Kibler

Yeah, you can go to Virginia or South Carolina and plunk your dollar down at the cash register in the convenience store and try to win the lottery. Just remember, your chances are worse than one in a million.

A deer hunter who's gambling on finding a great place to tag a big buck might think that trying to draw one of the hunts that are up for grabs around North Carolina is about as likely as winning the lottery.

Actually, the odds of drawing a permit for one of a handful of special, permit-only hunts is a lot better than trying to fight the crowds on your local game lands or trying to squeeze into an established hunt club somewhere on good land.

Some of the hunts are on the best deer-hunting turf that North Carolina has to offer. Some of them are in locations where deer are only hunted a day or two every year to control the herd. Some of them are so close to major metropolitan areas that you can wake up at 4 a.m., stop for a biscuit and coffee and still be climbing in your tree stand an hour before daylight.

Places that fit into a permit-hunting profile include federal or municipal lands where controlled hunting is used as a management tool to control the deer population, public-hunting areas that are too close to large population centers to permit unregulated hunting, or tracts of land that aren't particularly large, and tracts of land where a landowner will only allow his acreage to be put in the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's game-lands program if the number of hunters is limited.

Photo by Jerry Amos
The commission offers a handful of permit-only deer hunts annually on game lands across the state. The deadline for applications runs anywhere from mid-August to October. Permit-only hunting is offered on a handful of national wildlife refuges in North Carolina, with applications required to be filed before summer ends.

"The objective of our permit-hunt program is to provide a quality hunting experience," said Dr. David Cobb, the chief of the commission's Division of Wildlife Management. "The land we put in the program, a lot of the time it depends on the ownership. When we don't own the land, a landowner sometimes says that he'll agree to have his land in the game-lands program provided the hunt has a limited number of permits.

"A perfect example is the Roanoke River. On the land that's federally owned, part of the wildlife refuge, hunting by permit is required. We also look at the location of land in relation to large metropolitan areas. If we have a place close to a large population center, and if it's a highly desirable species, we may choose to make that a permit hunt. In cases where we have to limit the number of hunters, we'll do it to limit interference and to help keep the resource protected."

For commission hunts, hunters can register at any wildlife service agent. In some cases, hunters can apply for a number of different hunts on the same application, listing their hunt preferences in order.

Here are a handful of hunts for which special permits are required, and for which drawings are held:

The Pungo hunt has been a favorite of hunters for years, even before the area was absorbed by the Pocosin Lakes NWR.

The refuge offers five two-day gun hunts on the 9,200 acres surrounding Pungo Lake in Hyde and Washington counties near the town of Columbia. Generally, they start in late September and run through October, with only shotguns and muzzleloading weapons allowed.

Wendy Stanton, a wildlife biologist for the refuge, said that deer hunting is open on the remainder of the refuge throughout the regular state season for deer, and that archery hunting is permitted on the Pungo Unit from the opening of the state season through Dec. 1 - except for the 10 days of the permit-only gun hunts.

"When the Pungo Unit was established by Congress in 1963, it was to be an inviolate waterfowl area," Stanton said. "Now, there are so many deer on the refuge that we need to allow some deer hunting as a management tool. We set the hunts up so they end prior to the arrival of most of our waterfowl in November."

Hunters took 154 deer on the permit hunts last season. A total of 200 permits are issued for each of the five hunts. Stanton said that approximately three-quarters of the hunters who are drawn use shotguns. Only handicapped hunters who make arrangements with the refuge are allowed to take vehicles into the Pungo Unit, and they are restricted to certain areas. The rest of the hunting public has to go in on foot - or on two wheels.

"A lot of hunters rig up their bicycles with things to carry tree stands," Stanton said. "They're really incredible little setups. The refuge is closed to vehicles, the vegetation is very thick, and most hunters will set up their deer stands along the roads."

Stanton said that the refuge has cut some strips of vegetation back through the pocosins, and hunters will also set up along those clearings to wait for deer.

Self-climbing tree stands are popular because no permanent stands are allowed, and hunters are not allowed to use screw-in type steps, bolts or wire.

Hunters are required to wear at least 500 square inches of blaze orange above the waist, visible from all directions.

Hunters can take two deer per day, either-sex, during the permit-only hunts. Applications for hunts can be obtained by writing or calling the refuge at P.O. Box 329, Columbia, N.C. 27925, (252) 796-3004. Applications must be returned to the refuge before the Aug. 20 drawing date. Applicants who are drawn for hunts are required to pay a $12.50 fee before a refuge permit can be issued.

The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department owns three tracts of land near Charlotte that total more than 3,000 acres and need annual permit-only hunts to control the deer population.

Hunters have an Oct. 1 deadline to apply for one of six Friday-Saturday hunts on the three tracts of land, with weapons limited to muzzleloaders and shotguns with slugs. The hunts are among the most popular that the commission offers, with only 126 permits available for more than 2,000 applications. Hunters can apply in parties up to five, and those who are drawn must attend a mandatory orientation the Sunday before the hunt. Only portable tree stands are allowed, and scouting is allowed only on the day of orientation.

The permit-only hunts are designed to control the deer herd on the three tracts of land, so hunters are limited to only one antlered buck during the two hunting days, and those who take does on the Latta and Cowan's Ford tracts will be issued DMAP tags - the does they take will not count against their season limit of six deer.

The Cowan's Ford Wildlife Refuge covers 668 acres along the Catawba River downstream from Lake Norman. Twenty-eight permits are available for an early-October muzzleloader hunt, and another 28 are available for an early-December hunt limited to shotguns using slugs.

The Latta Plantation covers 1,290 acres north of Charlotte and west of Huntersville, near Route 73. Twenty-five permits are available, again for an early-October muzzleloader hunt and December shotgun hunt. The preserve is divided into three zones, with hunters assigned to certain zones.

The McDowell Nature Preserve covers 1,082 acres south of Charlotte, not far from the Carowinds amusement park. For the purposes of two shotgun-only hunts in November, the preserve is divided into two zones, with hunters assigned to those zones. Only 10 hunters get permits for each hunt.

One of the most popular permit-only deer hunts is conducted on the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge along the Pee Dee River in Richmond and Anson counties.

Last season, Janet Faulkner of the refuge staff said that she processed 2,100 applications for four three-day (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) hunts and the single-day youth hunt. One-hundred youth permits are issued, and 250 permits are issued for each of the other four hunts, which are scheduled for mid-October through mid-November.

"The muzzleloader and the first two gun hunts fill up, but the last gun hunt - the antlerless-only hunt - doesn't usually fill up," Faulkner said.

Archery hunting is permitted at other times on the refuge. Permits are required, but there is no draw involved.

Faulkner said that 130 deer were taken on the muzzleloader and gun hunts last year on the refuge, which covers almost 9,000 acres. "That's about the average number for us, but the sizes of the deer taken were really good. We had some nice bucks taken."

Matt Luck of Seagrove took the "nicest" buck on the refuge last year, a 13-pointer with a 5x5 typical frame that weighed 200 pounds and scored 159 2/8 points non-typical using the Pope and Young scoring system. He killed the buck, which had a 17 3/4-inch inside spread, on Sept. 19.

"I'll tell you, this last year was the first time I didn't get picked for a muzzleloader or gun hunt, and I'll keep putting in for them every year, but if you don't hunt the archery season, you're missing out," said Luck, who has been applying for refuge hunts since the mid-1990s. "It's awesome. There's nothing but corn and soybeans (on 4,300 acres), so the deer have no chance to do anything but grow.

"The week after I killed my big deer, I missed a 130-class buck. And we were watching a big buck with a big drop tine."

Faulkner said that a hunter could use all six of his tags during the hunt - two each day, either-sex. "We take applications in June and July. We close it on July 30," she said.

Successful hunters can scout as much as they want before the hunts, to try and locate areas that are holding good numbers of deer or lots of bucks.

Like the Pungo hunt, only portable tree stands are allowed; screw-in metal steps are not allowed.

Possibly the most "famous" of the commission's permit hunts are those on the Roanoke River Wetlands Game Lands and Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge in Bertie, Halifax, Northampton and Martin counties.

More than 26,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods, swamps and farmlands are included in the hunt on 10 different tracts around Williamston, Scotland Neck, Hamilton and Plymouth. Access is available to many of the tracts by the river only.

Archery and muzzleloader hunts are available by permits, but those aren't draw hunts. Hunters can hunt any of the tracts for a $5 application fee from July 1 through the end of the announced seasons.

When it comes to the gun hunts, however, the number of hunters is limited, with parties of up to five able to apply as a group. The deadline for applications (plus a $5 fee) is usually mid-September, with the hunts running for three days each from mid-October through late December.

There are nine hunts on each of the 10 tracts of land; the commission sets the number of hunters per tract. The 600-acre Beach House tract gets only 10 hunters; the 5,300-acre Deveraux Swamp tract, the 5,000-acre Broadneck tract and the 5,000-acre Conine-Askew tract get 60 each.

Hunters can apply for a number of hunts on each application, with choices made in descending order of preference. Hunters have a 75 percent chance of being selected for at least one of their desired hunts, and groups of up to five hunters can apply together.

The commission annually offers a publication that includes all of the special hunting opportunities, and descriptions of all tracts - including location, access and habitat - are included.

The Roanoke River wetlands area is in one of the state's most deer-rich areas. Biologists have estimated that the deer herd exceeds 65 animals per square mile in much of the region.

Some of the tracts are accessible only by boat from Williamston, Hamilton and Scotland Neck. Camping is legal within 100 yards of the river on tracts that are owned by the state. Like the Pee Dee and Pungo, hunters are limited to portable tree stands without permanent or anchored steps.

The Dupont State Forest, located in Henderson and Transylvania counties, is one of the showplaces for deer hunting in the western third of North Carolina.

The North Carolina mountains aren't known for excellent deer hunting, but the forest, which covers around 10,250 acres, is an exception.

The commission helps manage the property, along with the North Carolina Forest Service, with habitat management including timber cutting, selective burning and direct habitat improvement. Compared to much of the western third of the state, the deer population on the state forest tract is sizable.

Access to the area is from the cities of Brevard and Hendersonville.

Each year, there are seven two-day hunts offered by the commission - four archery hunts from mid-September to early October, a blackpowder hunt in mid-October, three more archery hunts from mid-October through mid-November, and three hunts for any legal weapon from late November through mid-December. The dates roughly coincide with the western deer section seasons.

There are 85 hunters drawn for each hunt, with a $5 fee and a maximum party size of five. Odds on being selected for a hunt run around 70 percent. The deadline for hunt applications is mid-August.

The commission has only had permit hunts on the state-forest land since 2000. The land was not obtained by the state until 1998.

Commission officials believe deer hunting on the state forest is much better than in surrounding mountainous areas because the lay of the land isn't quite as harsh. Unlike the Pisgah or Nantahala national forests, the Dupont State Forest land is more rolling hills with mixed hardwoods, pine plantations and some openings. Officials estimate that the deer herd is much larger than in the nearby national forest areas.

The commission offers special permit-only hunts for youngsters between the ages of 12 and 15 on three tracts of land - the 1,050-acre Mountain Island State Forest in Gaston and Lincoln counties, the 800-acre Duke Power tract at Belews Lake in Stokes County, and the 850-acre Warrior Creek Recreation Area along W. Kerr Scott Reservoir in Wilkes County.

The hunts are for one day only, and they are held from early October through early November, with a one-day orientation the week before the hunts. Seven hunters are allowed on the Belews Lake tract and 20 on each of the other two tracts. About two-thirds of all hunters who apply are selected for the hunts, and shotguns are the only weapons allowed. Each hunt has a one-deer bag limit.

All youths must have completed a hunter-safety course before applying, and must be accompanied by a licensed adult (who may not hunt). On the Mountain Island and Belews Lake tracts, the one-day hunt is the only hunting allowed during the entire year.

The deadline for applications is Sept. 1.

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