FORT VALLEY, Ga. -- — General gun season is in full burst in Florida right now, making it tough for bow hunters to find quiet woods to harvest a buck for a holiday meal.
But for those willing to make a daylong drive north to Georgia, there’s a private 1,500-acre preserve set aside for archery only, providing a good chance for taking home an edible trophy.
Beaux Eden Plantation, located near the center of the state south of Atlanta, is managed intensively for trophy bucks in a herd estimated at 325 to 350, according to owner Steve Wemple of Pinecrest. Since hunting season opened in September, 11 bucks have been killed by hunters or found dead from fights and other natural mortality. That leaves a target-rich environment, with each hunter allowed to take one buck and one doe before the season closes Jan. 15.
With acorns still dropping in the woods and 27 fields planted with oats, alfalfa, turnips and other deer delicacies, the animals have plenty of incentive to hang out at Beaux Eden. And deer aren’t the only inhabitants. A small covey of native quail is supplemented with farm-raised birds for hunting on three quail courses, and hunters regularly spot a flock of wild turkey.
“I take pleasure in developing the habitat to maximize what Mother Nature can do,” Wemple said.
Wemple, a lifelong hunter who owns 143 Popeye’s Chicken franchises in the Southeast, said he has experienced the best and worst of hunting operations in his travels.
“What I tried to do was put everything I’d seen or experienced hunting around the world that I liked into this, and not do things where I’d been hunting before that I didn’t like,” he said.
The “likes” include no trophy fees. free fishing in three stocked ponds. five stand and trap shooting stations. an 18-hole golf course. a posh lodge and gourmet food.
On a recent weekend between guest bookings, Beaux Eden hunting guide Chad Sullivan and a partner went into the woods before dawn with the aim of taking out a seven-point buck, considered inferior because of its irregular tines and small size for its 4½ years of age. Dressed in full camo, they climbed about 20 feet to a tree stand secured to an oak. Sullivan was armed with a compound bow and half-dozen arrows that he said could take down a deer out to about 30 yards.
“We got the numbers where we want them,” Sullivan whispered. “We need to start taking out inferior bucks to keep our [buck/doe] ratio the same. Leave the mature bucks here to breed.”
For about a half-hour after sunrise, nothing much happened as the hunters sat in the stand listening to owls hoot and a cacophony of hens cutting in the distance. But when Sullivan glanced to his left, he spotted two bucks browsing for acorns about 70 yards away out of range. One was the target misfit, the other a healthy-looking eight-pointer.
Hoping to encourage a closer encounter, Sullivan produced a calling device and blew into it, making a sound that was a part grunt, part burp — “the sound they make chasing does,” he explained.
The two bucks looked up briefly, then calmly resumed feeding.
Sullivan decided it was time for confrontation. He brought out a pair of fake deer antlers and rattled them loudly, mimicking the sounds of bucks fighting during breeding season.
But instead of responding to the challenge, both animals trotted away out of sight.
Sullivan shook his head.
“Guess they had their butts whooped earlier this year,” he speculated.
The hunters stayed up in the stand for about another hour as the sun rose higher and the air grew warmer. No more deer appeared, so they adjourned for breakfast and vowed to try again the next morning.
That afternoon, Sullivan, lodge general manager J.B. Broadmax and their team of five dogs guided two hunters to bag 17 quail in about 1½ hours. Maybe the fresh, barbecued backstrap would have to wait, but appetizers of roasted, marinated quail kabobs wrapped in bacon made for a superior consolation prize that evening.