White-tailed deer season is a time that licensed hunters look forward to.
White-tailed deer are plentiful in Georgia, with there being around 1 million of them. During the season, which runs through Jan. 15, hunters are allowed to kill 10 antlerless deer and no more than two antlered deer. Last year, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, licensed hunters killed 315,000 bucks and does. Deer hunting is big business in Georgia. The GDNR says it brings in $800 million from license fees, sporting equipment, food and land-lease permits.
Hunting also is a part of local history and culture, as in these stories from “The Untold Stories of People and Places St. Catherines Island” by George Armelagos and John Toby Woods Jr. (used by permission):
Van Marter described a hunt in 1904 on St. Catherines during the Rauers’ era. They used horses and drivers who specialized in using the dogs for that activity. The drivers were so well-known that when Perry Jackson, the last black driver from St. Catherines, died, the New York Times reported in 1931: “For years, Perry was known to financiers and professional and business men of prominence who hunted deer on the island preserve.”
From the hunt Van Marter described, it was hard to kill a deer on the island at that time, as it was so thickly covered with trees, vines and other vegetation. They usually were killed when the deer were run out on the beach. The hunt described in 1904 was made up of wealthy men. It was estimated there were between 10,000 and 20,000 deer on the island at that time.
John Toby Woods Jr. said that although he used dogs to drive the deer, he found them to be a distraction. The hunts had a pattern that would ensure a success. The Sheriff’s Hunt was one that was looked forward to each fall. The sheriff would set the date of the hunt with Toby Woods. Sheriff Paul Sikes was careful to invite the Liberty County politicians who were his supporters and those who were his political foes. On the hunt, political rivalries were forgotten on the surface. The hunt would begin at dawn when Sikes and his guests were picked up at the dock at Half Moon. In the dawn light, the hunters were placed at their stands on the road along Sams Field Woods. Once the hunters were in place, Toby Woods took the hunters’ dogs and, with a couple of his workers, drove the deer toward the hunters. In 30 minutes, the first hunt would be over, and they would collect the bucks and does that were killed.
The men would move north to the next site and the process would begin again. By the second stand, the dogs were of little help. There were so many deer moving in different directions that the dogs were on their own. Some of the dignitaries on a hunt around 1956 included Freeman Smith, Adrian Long, Fred Woods, Clayton Blount, Russell Smiley, Joe Long, Bobby Sikes, Dewitt Branch, Ben Butler, Leroy Coffer, Edward J. Noble, Marvin F. Clark Jr., Willie Hall, Joe Smith, Mel Price and Roscoe Denmark.
Pete Clark, who served as the administrator of the Liberty County Planning Commission, described a “county hunt” that took place in 1959. Pete was 21 in 1959, and was working for the family newspaper, The Liberty County Herald. When his dad, the clerk of the Liberty County Commissioners, could not make it to the hunt, he asked Pete if he would like to take his place. It was a “big deal” to be asked to hunt on St. Catherines, and to be asked to the county hunt was a “real big deal” and considered a prestigious honor.
Pete said that Toby Woods picked up the group of 30 of Liberty County’s most important officials at St. Catherines’ dock on the Half Moon River at sunrise on a foggy day. The visibility was less than 20 feet. Pete was not sure if they would make it to the island. He asked Mr. Woods if they would be able to make it in the foggy darkness.
In his usual talkative manner, he replied, “Yup.”
Pete said that Toby started the engine, looked at his watch, the boat’s compass and then the engine’s RPMs as the boat moved away from the dock. Then he sat down on a stool, picked up the newspaper and proceeded to read it.
“I wore myself out running from the bow to the stern sure that we would hit something,” Clark said.
He said that after about 20 minutes on the water, they encountered a marsh. Toby backed off and looked at his watch, the RPMs and the compass, as if this ritual would magically take them to the island. It worked. A half-hour later, as the fog was lifting, Toby arrived at Waldburg Creek and then to the dock at St. Catherines — just as he finished reading the paper. (Later, asking John about his father reading the newspaper, he was told that he was a practical man, and since it was dark and foggy there was nothing else he could do so he may as well read the paper while he had time!)
The hunt was more than Pete could ever have anticipated. They were taken to Savannah Woods, where Pete was given a “stand” behind a tree just behind a canal. As the deer squatted to jump the canal, he would shoot them. He killed five deer that day and took one of the dressed deer home. The other four were shared with those who were not so lucky. Pete said that camaraderie was part of the hunt.
The group that day included Ed Moody, Bill Martin, Joe Smith, Judge Durrence and Kermit NeSmith. One of the participants had “his shoes shined” by one of the hunting dogs. While eating lunch and sitting on a log overlooking North Beach that day, Judge Durrence asked Bill Martin, “How much is two-tenths inch of rain?”
Without batting an eye, Bill quickly replied, “If you walked out in that ocean and peed, that’s how much the water level would rise!” (Isn’t if funny how we remember little things like that many years later?)
I asked my husband, Gene Love, a retired Georgia wildlife biologist, some questions about deer. He cannot count how many deer he has aged by cutting their jawbones out and checking their teeth. He measured antlers and weighed deer.
For eight years, he was the manager of Sapelo Island. There were many deer hunts each year on it. It was a lot of work coordinating the event and being responsible for the safety of the hunters. A deer has a keen sense of smell; if a hunter drinks coffee, wears deodorant or smokes cigarettes or cigars in the woods, he will be lucky to see a deer.
People who kill deer these days usually take the carcass to a butcher shop, where the owner processes deer and grinds it into sausage, hamburger, roasts and cubed steaks. They package it into quantities wanted and have it ready for the freezer. Cubed venison steak soaked in buttermilk and seasoned, floured and deep fried is delicious. Or, fried and put in a Crock-Pot with a can of condensed mushroom soup and simmered for a few hours also is great. There is little fat in venison. I remember when my daddy worked with the hunts the Howards had each season in Long County, and the killed deer were dressed and cut up. The meat was divided into piles and numbered. Each hunter drew a number. Daddy was very “lucky” to draw the pile of neckbones almost every time!
Hunters, enjoy the deer season. Remember to hunt legally and always put safety first. Don’t waste the meat you kill. If you do not want it, share it with someone who does. Maybe this will be the year you take home your trophy deer!