Fort Yargo rangers bag jogger, protester during deer hunt

WINDER - Fifty-two hunters from as far away as Texas bagged 92 deer during Fort Yargo State Park's two-day hunt Jan. 3 and 4.

Park rangers also snagged a jogger and a protester during the closed hunt.

The hunt was held with the goal of cleaning out about 130 deer from the estimated 250 to 300 deer living within the park's 1,814 acres. A hunt was also held in November. Throughout the four days, hunters harvested 190 deer.

"You can tell a difference," Senior Park Ranger Artie Doughty said. "Instead of seeing 20 or 30 in a herd, we now see about 12."

Deer thrive best when about 15 to 20 live within each square mile. Park Manager Eric Bentley estimated Fort Yargo was attempting to support about 75 to 80 deer per square mile.

Park officials supplemented the deer's diet with a mixture of oats and wheat. Still, Fort Yargo's deer were looking pretty skinny come springtime. Hungry deer mowed down the landscaping in neighboring subdivisions and collided with numerous vehicles while attempting to cross the road, possibly in search of food.

With less deer foraging, Fort Yargo's appearance will begin to change, Doughty said.

"The flowers, song birds and small game will start coming back," he said. "Deer eat all the ground plants, which keeps bugs and seeds on the surface. That's what birds, rabbits and ground life eat."

Only 14 Barrow County hunters participated in the November hunt with six in January's hunt.

While bullets flew through the woods, park rangers bagged two trespassers and issued three citations.

"A jogger came in and jogged six miles before we caught him," Doughty said.

Space outside the park was set aside for those who protest hunting. One protester slipped into the park through the woods and confronted a hunter.

"He called 911, and kept walking away from the anti-hunter until we got there," Doughty said.

Fort Yargo is the only state park in Georgia that stands inside a city's limits.

Two hunters were issued three citations, one for not wearing an orange vest while hunting. In another case, a hunter brought in a buddy who was neither licensed to hunt nor authorized to participate in the park's hunt.

Hunters donated six deer to Hunters for the Hungry, compared with the 49 donated during Fort Yargo's Nov. 29 and 30 hunt. The donated meat was passed along to the Athens Food Bank.

Georgia State Parks have been holding deer hunts for eight years. Doughty said the two hunts combined made the Fort Yargo hunt the No.1 hunt in the Georgia State Park system.

Fort Yargo will hold one three-day hunt next winter. After that, officials will evaluate whether they need to continue.