The red-cockaded woodpecker has brought better deer and hunting to the Hollins and Choccolocco wildlife management areas, as well as the entire Talladega National Forest.
Historically, this cardinal-sized bird has inhabited open pine forests from Texas to Florida, and as far north as New Jersey. However, because of the decline of the types of forests where the birds live, the red-cockaded woodpecker has disappeared from much of its original range. Now listed as endangered, the woodpecker is still found in Alabama in the Oakmulgee, Talladega and Conecuh NFs.
Biologists from the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries now manage WMAs on those federal properties to promote the recovery of this species. The U.S. Forest Service also manages its forestland outside the WMAs to return them to their natural states, using fire regimens to help bring back native trees and other vegetation. Fortunately, these programs also benefit deer, turkeys, quail and other game.
Mother Earth provides the best nutrition for all her wildlife, and when she is allowed to follow her natural cycles of fire and regrowth, more food is produced for deer and all the other wildlife in the forest. Because of today’s programs, Hollins and Choccolocco WMAs and the Talladega NF have productive deer outlooks.
“Since 2000, the U.S. Forest Service has done a lot more thinning in the forest than it has in many years,” said DWFF biologist Gene Carver, who handles the Hollins and Coosa WMAs for Alabama. “The Forest Service was restricted from timber management since the 1990s because of a lawsuit. About the only things the Forest Service could cut in the forest were beetle-damaged trees. That suit was settled in early 2000, and the Forest Service began a managing for the red-cockaded woodpecker.
“Today, the Forest Service is trying to restore the forests back to longleaf pines and hardwood,” he continued. “There’s been a lot of thinning and removal of loblolly pine stands, and as these loblolly pines mature and are harvested, the land is being returned to longleaf-pine management.”
But timber harvest is not the only effort afoot in the forests.
“There’s been a good deal of mid-story removal, which is also part of the management scheme for the red-cockaded woodpecker,” Carver noted. “The Forest Service’s new management regimen is greatly increasing the amount of herbaceous growth, which is putting more food on the ground for deer.”
By reducing the amount of ground litter, more sunlight gets to the forest floor and allows native plants to regenerate. That creates far better habitat and forage for wildlife. Carver ranks the deer population on Hollins WMA as being in very good shape.
“We saw a lot of deer movement this past spring, which causes us to believe we’re going to have a good deer season this year,” he pointed out.
Hunting Deer At Hollins WMA
Hollins WMA is located in east-central Alabama in Talladega and Clay counties, covering a total of 29,000 acres. In addition to the added forage created by the new woodland management scheme, the DWFF plants some food plots too. Each year, up to 120 green fields are planted on Hollins, according to Carver.
“At Hollins, you won’t see as much relief as or as many steep mountains and deep valleys as you do at Choccolocco,” the biologist said with regard to the terrain on the tract. “Hollins has less-rugged terrain, except for Rebecca Mountain that goes through the middle of that WMA.”
That is not the only difference in the two WMAs.
“You will find more hardwoods at Hollins,” he explained. “There’s probably a higher percentage of longleaf pines at Hollins.”
For 2009-10, Hollins is hosting 10 days of firearms deer hunts. Those consist of a one-day Nov. 21 hunt on opening day of the season, a two-day session on Dec. 4 and 5, and a five-day hunt starting on Jan. 2, 2010. Also, there is a final two-day hunt on Jan. 29 and 30. Primitive weapons hunters also get a two-day session on Nov. 18 and 19.
Bow season on the WMA follows the state season guidelines from mid-October through the end of January. Be aware, however, that when bowhunting during the firearms hunts, you have to abide by the same bag limits and regulations as the gun hunters.
For more details or last-minute date changes for Hollins WMA, go online to www.outdooralabama.com. Then type Hollins in the search box.
Last year, hunters took 153 deer at Hollins WMA with bows, guns and primitive weapons, with bucks making up 60 percent of the deer harvested.
“The 1 1/2-year-old bucks taken weighed 115 pounds each,” biologist Gene Carver said. “We know that if our 1 1/2-year-old bucks weigh 110 pounds or more, that year-class of deer is doing very well. We feel confident we have good, healthy weights on all the deer at Hollins.”
Wildlife biologist Brandon Howell oversees 50,000-acre Choccolocco WMA in Cleburne County.
“The good news is that the deer aren’t overpopulated here at Choccolocco and never have been,” he emphasized. “Last year, 900 gun hunters took 80 deer at Choccolocco, which is a relatively high success rate.”
At Choccolocco, there are about 60 food plots, but because of the controlled burns conducted by the Forest Service and those numerous wildlife openings, the native browse on which the deer feed is abundant. For this season, the WMA is host to a youth gun hunt on Nov. 14 and 15, then a primitive weapons session on Nov. 17 to 20. On Nov. 25-29, Dec. 21-23 and Jan. 2-6, the area is open to regular firearms hunts. Hunts for handicapped hunters take place on Dec. 4-5 and Dec. 11-12.
Again, this WMA is open to archery hunting from Oct. 15, 2009 through Jan. 31, 2010. For updates or more details, visit the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Web site and type Choccolocco in the search box.
During the first two weeks of deer season in 2008, bowhunters took more than 20 deer, but then the number of bowhunters dropped off at Choccolocco, Howell reported.
“I plant most of the food plots more strategically for bowhunte
rs than for gun hunters,” the biologist noted.
But you don’t want to set up for an archery hunt right on the food plots on Choccolocco.
“A better tactic is following the deer trails from the food plots back into the woods for at least one-fourth to 1 mile,” Howell advised. “Then set up your tree stand along those trails, especially when you see trails intersecting each other.”
Choccolocco has about 4,000 acres of nearly flat terrain within its total of 46,000 acres. Those lowland regions make for easy foot travel. The rest of the WMA includes steep hills separated by hollows. The resulting tough treks to get a deer out of the woods encourages most sportsmen to hunt close to roads, leaving the more distant hollows to be less frequently hunted.
Brandon Howell suggested you find maps on the Internet and look for the easiest ways in and out of Choccolocco’s less visited hunting spots. Next, do some on-the-ground scouting, and use a GPS to plan your routes in and out to the hunting site you mark. Also, if practical, plot more than one path in, and then pick the one that is most favorable for the winds blowing on your day of hunting.
Whether you pick Hollins or Choccolocco WMAs or some other part of the Talladega National Forest to hunt this year, you should encounter improved conditions. And as you drag your deer back to the truck, you might want to tip your hat to red-cockaded woodpeckers. Those birds are responsible for most of the habitat work that has benefited the whitetail population.