Uwharrie National Forest
The Uwharrie National Forest is open during season to licensed hunters who follow the rules. The Forest Service, which comes under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, owns the land, but the NC Wildlife Resources Commission manages it as part of its game lands program.
Deer hunting is a tradition of the Uwharries. It remains the most popular sport. The first hunters used spears, bows and traps. European settlers introduced gunpowder. They helped themselves and by the 1930s, whitetail deer were pretty much gone from the Uwharries. State game warden Ollie Thompson trapped 133 deer in the Blue Ridge Mountains and stocked them into the Uwharries in 1944. Five years later, the season re-opened and 136 bucks were taken. Thanks to Ollie and modern wildlife management techniques, deer populations have made a remarkable comeback here and elsewhere in North Carolina. Now it is estimated that 50 whitetail deer per square mile roam this public hunting preserve in the middle of the Piedmont. A hunter needs a North Carolina big-game license, game lands permit, and a little knowledge to enjoy a successful hunt on what the old folks still call the "Uwharrie Reservation." Dog hunting is not allowed.
Every hunt begins with pre-season scouting. Maps are available at the Ranger's station in Troy and at country stores in the area. Pick up a game lands map with your permit. For more terrain detail, order the appropriate USGS topographical maps.
For hunters that like staying close to their vehicles, the Uwharrie Hunt Camp off Highway 109 offers ready access to 185 miles of Forest Service roads and jeep trails. This popular hunting ground between Badin Lake and the Uwharrie River always draws the biggest crowd on opening day.
There are several smaller outparcels scattered through Randolph and Montgomery Counties. Primitive camping is allowed. The largest is the almost 5,000 acres—and still growing—Birkhead Mountain Wilderness located off Lassiter's Mill Road south of Asheboro. It is strictly walk-in hunting in the wilderness area. Plenty of deer roam the wilderness, but hunters have to drag game out on foot. Some pull small carts with bicycle wheels to get deer out. A few hunters butcher their kills in the field, wrap the meat in the skin and carry it out indigenous style. Carrying a deer on your shoulders could draw fire from a careless hunter—so don't.
National Forest land next to farms offer the best chance. Deer love to feed in corn and soybean fields. Many private hunting clubs adjoin the national forest, and members bait with corn and apples. Use a map and compass and be sure of your exact location. Trespassers are not well tolerated. Baiting is not allowed on forest service land. Deer have suitable habitat in the national forest. Mature hardwood stands provide mast and cover. Browse is abundant in old logging sites. Biologists sow food plots. These 2-to-5-acre clearings are planted in clover, Egyptian wheat, lespedeza and other wildlife attracting crops. Natural berry producing plants thrive in these openings. The hills are laced with streams that flow into the Yadkin-Pee Dee river system. It is easy to find tracks leading to favorite watering holes and feeding areas, but being there while the tracks are made is more difficult.
Deer are not the only big game in the Uwharries. The state re-opened the wild turkey season last spring. Years of restoration work by wildlife commission biologists and groups such as the Uwharrie Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation are beginning to pay off. Mike Seamster, the state's restoration leader, estimates there are 35,000 wild turkeys in North Carolina.
The turkey season is open April 9-May 7 in 51 counties this year, including parts of Uwharrie National Forest. Donnie Mullinix checked in 24 turkeys at his store during the 1993 season. The largest bird weighed 22 pounds.
Suitable habitat is identified. Turkey-attracting food plots are planted. In previous years, birds were live-trapped in other states or from other parts of the state and released in areas where they were once abundant.
Gobblers will sometimes walk right up on turkey hunters without being seen or heard. Turkeys have been known to approach a hunter from behind. If all goes well, the hunter might get a shot. Shotgunners need a 12- or 20-gauge load of number 6 shot. Get the turkey within 40 yards and aim for the head. A turkey can take a load of shot to the body and flee, never to be found—except by vultures and other scavengers. Bow-hunting for turkeys is even more challenging. Imagine hitting a fast moving basketball bouncing through the woods.
Successful turkey hunters carry home a meal, a trophy and a lot of satisfaction. Wild turkeys don't come easy and the successful hunter has to be at the top of his game.
Small Game Hunting
There are rabbits and squirrels galore; excellent sport with a .22 caliber rifle. Many deer hunters carry a .22 rifle along on scouting trips. Don't hunt rabbits here with dogs unless you know that your beagles will not chase deer. The best reason to go small game hunting in the Uwharries is because so few people do it. Coon hunters have a good time chasing the wily raccoons through the woods at night. There are some national champion coon-dogs that got their start in the Uwharries.
More quail are seen every year, but these coveys stick to the deep woods and are hard to hunt. The local Quail Unlimited chapter is trying to improve bird hunting here.
The forest service recently bought a 150-acre farm that borders the Birkhead Wilderness Area. The rolling fields that adjoin the forest are ideal habitat for quail, doves and rabbits. Volunteers and biologists are again working together to develop this area into a small game hunters delight. Quail Unlimited and the Wild Turkey Federation are the leaders in this conservation effort, donating money and expertise. The state and federal biologists are hoping to have dove-hunting fields open for the '94 season.
Waterfowl hunters shoot mallards, black ducks, pintails and wild geese from blinds in Badin Lake. Duck hunters are allowed to build blinds on Badin but must remove them at the end of the season.
With today's lighter steel shot loads, hunters must get ducks in closer—usually 25 to 30 yards—before shooting. Best time is opening day before ducks get gun-shy.
Hunters need enough boat for the job with proper clothing and safety equipment for those frigid days of duck season. A swim in the lake is a lark during summer when the water is warm. During winter such a fall could mean hypothermia and death.
Hunters must have credentials in order, including the federal duck stamp. Baiting is not allowed. All shotguns must be plugged to limit the magazine capacity to three rounds. Non-toxic steel shot must be used. The goose season is a few days early in the fall, followed by the duck season.
Hunters must study regulations and be experts at waterfowl identification to avoid stiff state and federal fines. The waters are well patrolled.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication