Alabama Bow Season Preview

Looking for a trophy buck this archery season? Join us in scrutinizing the areas that offer your best odds for such a find.

By Dottie Head

With opening day of bow season just around the corner, Alabama sportsmen need to be busy making plans. While most claim to hunt for the sheer joy of being in the woods, few turn down the chance to harvest a trophy buck. Over the years, many Alabama hunters have done just that, adding some monster bucks to the Pope and Young Club's (P&Y) all-time record book.

A prime example is George Mann, who tops the Alabama list with the top two deer, a 170 2/8 P&Y buck taken in Lee County in 1980 and a 1994 rack from Macon County that scored 163 4/8. Amazingly, Mann also appears on the list five more times: at No. 13, with a 144 P&Y score for a buck taken in Lee County; at No. 14, with a 143 7/8 P&Y buck from Macon County; and at Nos. 29, 30 and 96 for other whitetails downed between 1980 and 1994.

As of December 2003, there have been 109 P&Y record-book typical deer taken in Alabama, along with three impressive non-typical bucks. Those non-typicals are a 197 1/8-inch deer taken by Ronnie Everett in Bullock County during 1990; a 177 3/8 P&Y buck harvested by David Darnell in 1997 in Marengo County; and a buck from 2000 killed Tyler Walker in Bullock County and scoring 155 3/8.

During the 2003 hunting season, only one buck made the Alabama P&Y list, a 141 7/8-inch buck taken by Eldon Scott III in Conecuh County. This deer ranked No. 21 on the overall list.

Three made the list the previous season. These were led by a 127 5/8 taken by Buz Ackerman in Madison County, which claims the No. 80 spot on the list. The other two were a 126 P&Y arrowed by Brian Lindsey in Sumter County and the 125 3/8 buck harvested by Jeff McWhorter in Blount County.

So now that we have whetted you appetite for a monster buck, where are the best places for finding these deer? Let's start the search with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (DWFF) map of game management regions. For management purposes, the state is divided into six geographical areas.

If you're eager to bag a P&Y buck, your odds are best by far in Region IV, which comprises Autauga, Bullock, Chambers, Coosa, Elmore, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Russell and Tallapoosa counties. To date, Region IV has given up 45 P&Y record-buck whitetails. That's nearly half of all Alabama P&Y bucks! Montgomery County scores the highest, with 14 of those. Macon County produced seven, and Bullock County hunters brought home five.

The second-best area to hunt a P&Y buck is Region III, which is composed of Bibb, Chilton, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, Shelby, Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties. This region has yielded 29 P&Y bucks over the years.

Rounding out the totals are Region I, with 13 P&Y racks; Regions II and V, with 10 each; and Region VI, with the fewest - five total P&Y deer.

So what makes one region better than another one for bagging an archery trophy? Apparently soil type is part of the answer, according DWFF wildlife biologists Chris Cook and Bill Gray, who co-authored Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer in Alabama.

Let's start with a little antler biology. First of all, deer have antlers, not horns. The difference is that antlers are grown and shed each year, while horns, such as those of a cow, are not shed. Antlers generally begin growing on mature bucks in April. The antlers are used as sexual display for females and, occasionally, for defense. Deer also rub their antlers on trees and bushes as part of the breeding ritual.

THE POPE AND YOUNG CLUB


Founded in 1961, the Pope and Young Club is a non-profit scientific organization that advocates and encourages responsible bowhunting. The club promotes quality fair-chase hunting and sound conservation practices. Modeled after the Boone and Crockett Club, which maintains records for deer harvested with firearms, Pope and Young is best known for its record-book program. The club maintains records for all big game taken with a bow and arrow and recognizes the finest specimens submitted every two years.



Pope and Young maintains a universally accepted archery scoring system and sets the standards for measuring and scoring big game in North America.



The club's Record Program is open to all archers. In order to qualify, hunters must harvest the animal with a bow and arrow using the rules of fair chase during legal hunting seasons and in compliance with state and local hunting regulations.



The minimum score for the P&Y all-time record book is 125 for typical racks and 155 for non-typical. If you suspect you have a deer that qualifies for this program, you will first need to find a certified measurer. A list of certified measurers in Alabama can be found on the club's Web site, at www.pope-young.org.



In addition, there are certain requirements that must be met for a deer to be eligible for the program. First, the antlers must be allowed to dry at room temperature in normal humidity for at least 60 days from the date of harvest before being measured. If the final score meets or exceeds the established minimum score, the hunter must submit a scoring form completed by an official measurer; a completed Fair Chase affidavit; three photographs of the antlers -- a front view, left side and right side view; and a $25 recording fee.

 

A buck's antler size depends upon nutrition, age and genetics. A healthy buck that has access to a variety of high quality foods grows a bigger rack than a deer with lower quality foods in its diet. Mature bucks generally reach their prime between the ages of 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 years. During this growth period, a deer's antler volume may increase with age, but the number of points on these antlers may not. Apparently, there is little correlation between the number of points on a buck's rack and its age. More reliable age indicators include main antler beam length, antler spread and antler circumference.

So what does soil have to do with all of this? According to Cook and Gray, the quality of the habitat is greatly influenced by the nutritive value of the plants growing in an area.

"The amounts of protein, energy, minerals and trace elements contained in plants are directly related to the fertility of the soil in which they grow," their report states.

Alabama is made up of six major soil provinces. These are the Limestone Valleys and Uplands; the Appalachian Plateau; the Piedmont Plateau; the Prairies or Black Belt soils; the Coastal Plains; and the Major Flood Plains and Terraces. The soil type in each of these areas dictates its ability to hold moisture, composition and natural fertility.

The areas considered to be highly fertile are the Black Belt Prairies and Major Flood Plains and Terraces regions. Not coincidentally, the harvest in these areas reveals that bucks in these regions are in better physical condition than those from less fertile areas, such as the deep sands of southern Alabama's coastal plains.

Based on this data, it is not surprising that Montgomery, Bullock, Macon, Dallas, Wilcox and Sumter counties rank among the top locations for harvesting P&Y record-book bucks. All these counties contain at least one of the preferred soil types.

Of course, soil type is far from the only determining factor in deer health and antler size. Even in the best areas, deer may be in poor physical condition if the area is overpopulated. Conversely, deer in great condition can be found in areas with low soil fertility if they have access to agricultural crops of high nutritive value and the deer density is relatively low. How the habitat is managed plays a critical role in determining deer population and size in any given area.



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