Georgia is home to the legends of bobwhite quail hunting and the ghosts of ruffed grouse
The drumming sound was haunting in the early morning distance through tangled rhododendron and a mystic fog. Was it a ghost? Was it the homemade fireball moonshine from the night before? Ruffed grouse in Georgia? Can you even hunt them? It is incredible how something so familiar to a New-England-born hunter as a drumming grouse could cause such sensory overload.
Before the morning was through and after lots of boot leather was logged into the mountainous terrain, we heard three grouse drum and, to my shock, one roared out of a soft wood as we walked a trail. The sound of drumming in these mountains has disappeared at an alarming rate and is only matched by the decline of the king of the South: the bobwhite quail.
Most of northern Georgia is mountainous. As you head toward the coast, you get into the rolling Piedmont hills and finally to the flat plains of southern Georgia. You’ll find swamps down there, too, most notably Okefenokee Swamp.
While about 90 percent of Georgia is privately owned, there are still more than 100 wildlife management areas covering about one million acres. The Private Lands Program is a means by which hunters can access private property. The program concerns more than just hunter access; it also involves plans like the Bobwhite Quail Initiative.
To those that yearn for the tried-and-true old world of bobwhite quail and the more obscure art of grouse hunting, it is still there in Georgia today. While I will not say “alive and well,” to those willing to sacrifice days and hours, long walks and dog runs, the wild birds are still there. Although it is truly hard hunting, there is still an allure to hunting ghosts.
|Game Species*||Dates||Daily/season Limits||Restrictions|
|Bobwhite Quail||Nov 14, 2020 – Feb 28, 2021||12 Per Day||—|
|Ruffed Grouse||Oct 15, 2020 – Feb 28, 2021||3 Per Day||—|
|American Woodcock||Dec 5, 2020 – Jan 18, 2021||3/9||—|
|Snipe||Nov 15, 2020 – Feb 28, 2021||8/24||—|
|Dove||Sept 5 – 30, 2020, Nov 21 – 29, 2020, and Dec 8, 2020 – Jan 21, 2021||15/45||—|
|King and Clapper Rail||Sept 17 – Oct 21 and Nov 13 – Dec 17, 2020||15/45||—|
|Sora and Virginia Rail||Sept 17 – Oct 21 and Nov 13 – Dec 17, 2020||25/75||—|
|Crow||Nov 7, 2020 – Feb 28, 2021||No Limit.||—|
|Squirrel||Aug 15, 2020 – Feb 28, 2021||12 Per Day||—|
|Rabbit||Nov 14, 2020 – Feb 28, 2021||12 Per Day||—|
COVID-19 restrictions in Georgia
As of August, no significant rules place restrictions on hunting Georgia during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state recommends that people buy their license online to minimize exposure at traditional in-person licensing sites, but has no restrictions on out-of-state hunters. There are also no current shelter-in-place orders for travelers unless symptoms are present.
Get the latest: Georgia COVID-19 and Recreation
Northern bobwhite quail hunting in Georgia
Georgia has long been considered one of the best places to hunt quail in all of the country. So much so, in fact, the state made the bobwhite quail the state gamebird in 1970. Since then, however, populations have declined more than 85 percent. This drastic decline in population levels is partially the result of changes in habitat. As a response, the state of Georgia set up the Bobwhite Quail Initiative. In partnership with private land owners, the Bobwhite Quail Initiative seeks to bring back better habitat for quail. The region for northern bobwhites extends from the Blue Ridge Mountains down to the coast.
While hunting wild bobwhite quail on public lands is certainly possible, the private operations of Georgia attract people from all over the world to experience southern bobwhite culture.
The bobwhite quail season in Georgia opens on Saturday, November 14th, 2020 and runs to February 28th, 2021.
Ruffed grouse hunting in Georgia
Up in the northern mountains of Georgia live the ruffed grouse. They prefer higher elevations; quite a bit of the Chattahoochee National Forest has good habitat for them. As far as public lands go, check out Cooper’s Creek, Rich Mountain and Chestatee for grouse hunting in Georgia.
Certainly a more obscure tradition than bobwhite quail hunting, there is a fascinating culture of grouse hunters in Southern Appalachia that will trek miles for a handful of flushes. If hard hunting is something that drives you, then hunting ruffed grouse in Georgia is worth the journey.
American woodcock hunting in Georgia
Eastern populations of American woodcock have also declined quite a bit in recent years. Despite Louisiana and east Texas being the meccas of Southern woodcock hunting, parts of Georgia still get a solid flight of birds. The American woodcock that migrate to Georgia do so from the middle of October through December. Recent studies have even shown woodcock jumping between the central and eastern flyways. Woodcock come here to winter and to find places with unfrozen ground where they can probe for worms.
Although not like cover in the traditional northern haunts of woodcock culture, find the food and you will find the birds. Following rivers can be a sure bet; find some nasty, thick cover and there are sure to be some woodcock if the flights are in.
The American woodcock is a federally regulated bird and, like all states, requires a free HIP number. The 2020 to 2021 season was announced this year to run December 5th to January 18th. As with all states, the daily limit is 3 with a possession limit of 9 birds.
Dove hunting in Georgia
Dove hunting tradition runs as deep as the culture of southern bobwhite quail. Many participate in longstanding family traditions and gather in dove fields throughout Georgia to await these tasty, early season treats.
The season is split into three parts: first opening September 5th and running to the 30th, then a brief window from November 21 – 29, and finally the late season arrives on December 8th and runs to January 31st.
Other small game species to hunt in Georgia
Although the game species listed above account for the core of small game hunting in Georgia (beyond waterfowl), there are some other opportunities worth pursuing. There is the overlooked snipe, four subspecies of rails, and—if you are really looking for something—crow. For snipe, the best places to look are probably in the southern Hannahatchee, Chickasawhatchee, Elmodel, Horse Creek, and Flint River.
Beyond the feathers of Georgia, there are small game animals with fur that are available to hunt in the state. The never-ending fun and good meals that come with squirrel and rabbit hunting are worth the effort to pursue. Squirrel opens August 15th as one of the earliest opportunities to break in new boots and to satisfy the overwhelming anticipation for the coming hunting seasons in Georgia.
Georgia hunting licenses and hunter safety course
The license structure in Georgia is pretty straightforward, except for a Public Lands Access Pass which is needed to hunt public lands. There is no “small game” license in the state, but the base hunting license does not account for big game hunting which requires an additional license. The state also offers a hunting apprentice license which is based on a daily rate. It allows a person who has not completed a hunters safety course to hunt with a licensed adult.
|Hunting One-Day/Plus||—||$20 One day/$6 Each Additional|
|Apprentice Hunting & Fishing (Per Day)||$5||$30|
|Public Lands Pass||$30||$60|
Anyone born after 1960 must complete a hunter education course before purchasing a hunting license. Anyone under the age of 16 is not required to complete a hunter education course, but must be under the direct supervision of an adult. Hunters between the ages of 12 and 15 can hunt without direct supervision on many public lands as long as they have completed a hunter education course. There are four approved websites where you can complete a hunter education course without a field day, all with varying fees.
Dog training regulations
Dog training in Georgia is permitted on the hunting dates for the species listed for each wildlife management area. As a result, the regulations for bird dog training in Georgia vary depending on where you are. You can train your dog on the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests from August 15 to May 31. You may only use pigeons and pen-raised quail in designated areas. For a list of available wildlife management areas, go here.
Project Upland Magazine content from Georgia
In 2018, Project Upland Magazine traveled to Georgia to shoot the film Hard Day Riding. This controversial film highlighted the issues that black bird dog handlers have faced in the field trial world; these issues ultimately led to the creation of the Georgia-Florida Shooting Dog Handlers Association. This project was curated by Durrell Smith, host of the Gun Dog Notebook Podcast and founder of the Minority Outdoor Alliance.
The Summer 2020 Issue of Project Upland Magazine cover story featured Durrell Smith and his research into the history of African-American bird dog trainers in the South, primarily in Georgia. On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd’s murder sparked mass protests about racism in the United States right as this issue hit mailboxes and landed on newsstands. This uncanny timing sparked a range of controversy and emotion across the Project Upland platforms that eventually helped inspire Durrell’s founding of the Minority Outdoor Alliance.
Durrell also has a wide range of articles on the website, many of which feature hunting in Georgia: Articles by Durrell Smith
Related Conservation and Non-Profit Organizations for Bird Hunting in Georgia
The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information is subject to change. The article may not reflect this. Please visit the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division for the most up-to-date information on bird hunting in Georgia.
Project Upland is an editorial initiative to capture the cultures and traditions of upland bird hunting. We seek to inspire a future generation of upland bird hunters to understand the essence of hunting traditions and the critical cause for conservation.