NC Game Lands deer preview

Public Lands offer great deer hunting for sportsmen who put in the time to scout. (Photo by Craig Holt)

Top Game Lands for NC whitetails

Here’s the top public lands for North Carolina whitetails.

Hunters in North Carolina are excited about the prospects for 2022-23 deer hunting. And many will be hunting on public land.

Most hunting occurs at private lands, but game lands are a good option for hunters who know what to look for.

This issue concentrates on public-lands deer because most activity occurs during cooler fall and winter periods.

For more information, visit and click on the Hunting application, then check Seasons & Limits to find precise hunting dates for all species. Regulatory updates also contain hunting regulations.

Hunters should note some game lands have permit-only seasons. 

To apply for hunting permits visit the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission web site and search Permit Hunting Opportunities (

Hunters are required to wear International Orange while hunting Game Lands in North Carolina.

Nantahala and Pisgah

The state’s top two public lands (by 2021-22 deer harvest totals) might be a surprise, but there’s a caveat — while other public lands may extend into two or three counties, Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest game lands spread across parts of 18 counties from the northwestern corner of the state to the southwestern tip. Those two total 1.1 million acres, each about 525,000 acres. 

Both Nantahala and Pisgah are open to in-season hunting seven days per week.

Last year hunters tagged 570 deer at Pisgah while Nantahala hunters bagged 536. 

The problem, as it has been for decades at the N.C. mountains, is relatively poor soil, scattered mast and boon-or-bust acorn numbers.

“(Deer success) depends on availability of mast crops,” said David Stewart, long-time land-management biologist for Districts 8 and 9. “A lot of times (mast) is good all over. Other times an isolated ridge has good acorns that produce every year. White oak ridges are especially good.

“The main factor for success is if hunters do their homework. Sometimes (food and deer) are up high or may be lower. Hunters should go where deer feed.”

Top harvests of Pisgah deer by counties came at Burke (1700), Buncombe (1101), Caldwell (1177), Watauga (1354) and Yancey (1509). But mountain counties have low numbers of antlered bucks per square mile, 0.96 in Haywood County to Watauga’s elevated 5.59 bucks.

“Every year I run across one or two big (harvested) bucks,” Stewart said. “They’re out there; it just takes work to find ’em. I tell folks to do their homework to get familiar with trails and areas so they’re comfortable going to (chosen) spots.”

Because of the rugged nature of Districts 8 and 9, geo-locator apps (OnX or Avenza) are valuable. However, the WRC ( recommends checking its map apps – NC One Map (, North Carolina Digital Collections ( and a Geodata server ( – that include up-to-date boundary changes.

Smaller game lands, in fact, often have more deer-hunting opportunities per square mile than Nantahala and Pisgah.


At the other end of the state, Croatan National Forest (162,220 acres) in Carteret, Craven and Jones counties ranked third (407) in tagged deer during 2021-22.

“Judging by habitat after prescribed-fire burns (which allow understory to grow), deer have plenty to eat at Croatan,” said District 2 management biologist Ritchie Clark.

In addition to third-ranked Croatan, Carteret County’s portion rated sixth statewide with 165 harvests and Craven County was 8th with 154 deer.

In District 2 — between Croatan and Wilmington — Pender County’s Holly Shelter ranked 7th with 155 harvested whitetails. Nearby Angola Bay added 50 deer.

Trophy deer are killed on Game Lands in North Carolina every year. (Photo by Craig Holt)

Butner-Falls, Jordan

The northern piedmont’s Butner-Falls Game Land (40,505 acres in Durham, Granville, Wake counties) rated fourth with 394 tagged whitetails while nearby Jordan Lake (40,460 acres in Chatham, Durham, Orange, Wake counties) hunters downed 324 deer for 718 total harvested deer.

The combined game lands (53,425 land acres after deleting lake acres) are inside the heavily-developed Research Triangle. So bagging 419 bucks last season (5.0 per square mile) far outstripped Nantahala and Pisgah’s rate (0.146 bucks per square mile).

“I think the explanation is (deer) live at interfaces with urban areas, places they don’t get hunted (urban and suburban communities are de facto sanctuaries) and places they can be hunted (game lands),” said Chris Baranski, Districts 3 and 5 game-management biologist. “Deer usually are protected (at Jordan and Falls) unless they go to game lands.”

He said both habitats are excellent for whitetails – bottom lands, hardwood ridges, fields and pine thickets – often with adjacent agricultural crops.

Game-lands fields, planted with millet, buckwheat and corn and pre-flooded green-tree and waterfowl impoundments, also offer sustenance for whitetails.

Game Lands are managed to provide plentiful food sources for deer. (Photo by Craig Holt)


At 52,000 acres, Uwharrie National Forest in Davidson, Randolph and Montgomery counties is historically comparable to Butner-Falls and Jordan. It ranked fifth last season among game lands with 356 tagged whitetails.

Because of its location in the southern Piedmont, Uwharrie has been a long-time location for public-lands deer hunters from Charlotte, Albemarle, Greensboro, Troy and Asheboro.

“It’s the likeliest place to have the best chance of killing a big deer,” said Greg Queen, District 6 overall biologist.

The habitat also contains upland hardwoods, pine forests and steep ridges as part of the Burkhead Mountain Range.

Uwharrie has multiple unrestricted camp sites at sections east of Badin Lake that adjoin most of its shoreline. That region also has a large archery-only section and firearms shooting range. 

Hunting seasons follow county regulations, but deer chasers should be aware they will share Uwharrie with horse riders, hikers and bicyclists.

Uwharrie allows seven-days-per week access.

Other notable game lands

Other top deer game lands include the northern-piedmont’s R. Wayne Bailey-Caswell (18,150 acres, Caswell County, 174 deer killed in 2021-22); Sandhills (65,028 scattered acres across Hoke, Moore, Richmond, Scotland counties) that accounted for 142 deer last year; Yadkin River (formerly Alcoa Game Land, 11,600 acres, 169 harvested deer 2021-22) at the river’s shore and shorelines of  High Rock, Tuckertown and Badin lakes; and the Lower Roanoke River Wetlands (31,708 acres, Bertie and Martin counties, 112 deer taken in 2021-22).

Hunters should check game lands for availability and if permits are required.

Sunday hunting on game lands

These game lands allow 7-days-per-week hunting

  • Alcoa
  • Alligator River
  • Angola Bay
  • Bachelor Bay
  • Brinkleyville
  • Buffalo Cove
  • Cape Fear River wetlands
  • Carteret County
  • Chatham
  • Chowan
  • Cold Mountain
  • Croatan
  • Currituck Banks
  • Dare
  • Elk Knob
  • Embro
  • Goose Creek
  • Gull Rock
  • Harris
  • Hyco
  • Juniper Creek
  • Lee
  • Light Ground Pocosin
  • Linwood
  • Lower Fishing Creek
  • Mayo
  • Nantahala
  • Needmore
  • New Lake
  • North River
  • NW River Marsh
  • Pee Dee River
  • Pisgah
  • Pond Mountain
  • Sandy Creek
  • Shocco Creek
  • South Mountains
  • Sutton Lake
  • Three Top Mountain
  • Thurmond Chatham
  • Tillery
  • Toxaway
  • Uwharrie
  • Van Swamp
  • William H. Silver

These game lands offer hunting Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday

  • Bullard and Branch Hunting Preserve
  • Columbus County
  • Mitchell River
  • Perkins
  • Robeson
  • Sampson
About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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