Last year provided a solid season for quality bucks all across Alabama. Don’t be shocked if this year isn’t even better.
Alabama is entering its third year of the three-buck season limit and wildlife biologist Chris Cook, the state’s Deer Project Studies leader, thinks Alabama is seeing at least a little bit of results from it.
“People are passing up spikes and 4-pointers more, even on the management areas where we don’t have antler restrictions,” he said. “The three-buck limit is at least partly responsible. I know guys who used to kill 10 and 12 bucks a year on the management areas. They’re abiding by the rules and they’re passing more on small bucks.”
Passing up the little guys is exactly what the rule was aimed at, so Cook thinks it is having its desired effect. Before the limit, hunters could legally kill a buck a day in Alabama starting in bow season on Oct. 15, 2009, and running until the end of gun hunting, which falls on Jan. 31, 2010 for this season.
Cook agreed 2008-09 was a good season for bucks in Alabama, including on the state’s network of WMAs.
“We saw some really nice deer that were taken,” he said. “I’ve measured two or three bucks that went over 160 inches, including bucks from Barbour County and Tuscaloosa County.”
Biologist Bill Gray in southeast Alabama said he measured a Russell County buck that scored more than 160 on the Boone and Crockett scale and a Houston County one that went more than 150.
“People throw these numbers around all the time, but an 8-point in Alabama that measures 130 inches is a really nice deer,” Gray said. “People see these freak bucks from the Midwest on TV and expect to see one in Alabama, but everything is relative. Yeah, we do have places capable of producing 160-inch deer, but you have to understand that those deer aren’t the norm.”
Both Cook and Gray said they measured quite a few bucks in the 125 to 135 range.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources now has its own whitetail records recognition program. The minimum score for typical entries is 140 B&C for typical racks. For non-typicals, it’s 165.
The old, private Alabama Whitetails Records uses gross B&C scores without deductions for its entries. There’s also the Buckmaster system that uses its own composite scores. The state’s system uses the true B&C system, including deductions for asymmetry.
“What we’re seeing is that about one of every three bucks we’re asked to measure makes the records,” Cook said. “That’s what we wanted and what we expected.”
They wanted a buck to be special to make the book. Over time, the state’s program is expected to be able to shed some light on the best trophy regions in the state, but it’s still so young that they’re not there yet.
There has been talk of lowering the minimum entry to 135. A buck in the 135 to 140 B&C range is a career deer for the average Alabama hunter.
Where The Big Ones Roam
It may sound like a broken record, but those areas of the state most likely to produce a superior deer this year are the same ones they have been for years and years.
A crescent-shaped swath of the state starting in Marion County and running along the Mississippi line to Pickens and Greene and then turning east through south-central Alabama to Bullock County is arguably the best hunting region in the state.
Jackson County in the far northeastern corner of the state, with its rugged mountains, limestone bluffs and bottomland crop fields, also yields more than its share of trophies, despite heavy, intense hunting pressure countywide.
“Dark horse” counties with good trophy potential around the state include Tuscaloosa, Marshall, Bibb, Winston, Lauderdale, Butler and even Baldwin County down near the beaches.
“I would not be surprised at all to see a big deer come from Baldwin or Mobile counties,” Cook said. “There’s still a lot of agriculture in that region south of the interstate that provides the deer herd with some high nutrition food.”
Other counties he likes are Barbour, Montgomery, Lowndes and Elmore.
If you have some land with deer on it and you’re willing to pass up small bucks, control the doe population and plant high-quality food plots, you can produce good whitetails just about anywhere in the Cotton State, Gray said.
But hunters who expend resources to improve the habitat and improve conditions for growing bucks don’t guarantee themselves a trophy. They just give themselves more opportunity.
The management trend is something the state’s biologists are noticing statewide. More and more clubs are forming with an emphasis on quality deer management in regions of the state that haven’t had them previously.
“It used to be that the tradition was for North Alabama hunters to travel to the Black Belt for their hunting,” Cook said. “Now they’re hunting a lot closer to home.”
The management aspect of deer hunting has turned the sport into a year-round hobby, not just something that is pursued in the fall and winter.
“People want to stay close to home and do some things to help their local deer herd,” he said.
That same trend sees fewer and fewer hunters traveling to the state’s WMAs, too. Those public lands were once among the only places that held deer in some regions of the state. Many of the state’s hunters wouldn’t consider hunting them now, but buck quality seems to be on the rise on the public areas.
When it comes to managing for quality bucks, Cook said hunters in North Alabama actually have one advantage over sportsmen in the Black Belt.
“They’ve never had the overpopulation problem to deal with and the damage to the habitat that it causes,” he said.
In these hard economic times, the state’s WMAs do offer a great opportunity for sportsmen who want to hunt, but don’t want to spend a small fortune on hunting club dues. A number of the WMAs are managed for quality bucks, where a buck must have 3 points on at least one side to be legal.
The price to hunt the WMAs is just $16 for a season, plus a little gas money and maybe food to travel to them.
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