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Rainfall disparity will force different deer strategies

It appears it will be a tale of two fortunes for deer hunters when gun deer season starts on Nov. 22. With the majority of central and northern Alabama under extremely dry conditions, food availability will be a factor for the 10-week season. In much of south Alabama, where there has been adequate rainfall, the acorn crop will likely affect hunting success, at least for part of the season.

Bill Gray and Chris Cook, wildlife biologists with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said the acorn crop in the hunter’s particular area will dictate hunting tactics at the start of the season.

“Until the acorns are gone, folks need to be concentrating on areas where deer are feeding on acorns,” said Gray, whose territory includes southeast Alabama. “I would anticipate this will be a little better year in terms of seeing deer and having the opportunity to harvest deer. I think the acorns are going to play out a lot quicker than they did last year. Last year we had acorns when the season went out. People were killing turkeys full of good red oak acorns.”

For Cook’s area of west central and central Alabama, the rainfall has been much more sparse.

“From talking to our people on the Wildlife Management Areas, as well as landowners and hunting clubs I’ve been meeting with recently, it should be a pretty good hunting season,” Cook said. “The deer are already just wearing out food plots.

With the exception of Barbour County, Alabama will be entering its second season with a three-buck limit, two of which can be any legal buck with bare antlers protruding above the natural hairline. The third buck must have four points of at least one-inch in length on one side. In Barbour County, the harvest of whitetail bucks is limited to those with a minimum of three points on one side. A point is an antler projection of at least one inch in length from base to tip. Main beam tip shall be counted as a point regardless of length. All bucks harvested in Alabama must be recorded on the hunter’s license before the deer is moved or field dressed.

Gray said there has been a great deal of interest in the buck limit, but he likely won’t have any answers for a few more years.

“We’ve only had one year under our belt with a buck limit in place,” he said. “People ask me about it all the time. It takes four-and-a-half years to produce a mature buck. I wouldn’t anticipate seeing any increase in older age bucks being harvested until after year three. That’s because it’s going to take that long to produce these older age bucks. And, a lot of it is going to depend on hunter behavior. Hunters still have the opportunity to take a couple of younger bucks each year, so it’s going to depend on how people respond to the buck limit.”

Alabama offers 35 Wildlife Management Areas for public use. Each WMA has separate hunting schedule and regulations. Hunting deer and turkey on a WMA requires the purchase of a $16 WMA license in addition to the $24 all-game hunting license. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/wildlife-areas/ for more information.