North Bama Public Land Deer

This Alabama deer hunter had an amazing season during 2005-06: He downed 10 whitetails -- all of them from public lands! (July 2007)

Michael Perry displays the big 10-point buck that he harvested at Black Warrior WMA in late 2005.
Photo by Anthony Campbell.

The 2005-06 season was one to remember for Michael Perry of Cullman County. He took 10 deer over the course of the season, including a 158-inch 10-pointer and a 140-inch 9-pointer. Most amazing of all, his deer came from public land that anyone can hunt!

Forty-one-year-old Michael Perry of Cullman County grew up squirrel hunting and trapping on Alabama's wildlife management area system, and he's never found a reason to hunt anywhere else. He now targets whitetails on those tracts and keeps a detailed calendar of when he takes deer in certain areas, so he knows the best times to hunt the different WMAs. He's also meticulous about post-season scouting to find good areas to hunt for the next season.

During the 2005-06 season, his preparation, experience and knowledge all came together: While hunting the WMAs, he took an incredible 10 deer -- seven of them racked bucks. His harvest included a 158-inch, 10-pointer from Black Warrior WMA and a 140-inch 9-pointer from the Oakmulgee WMA.

"I've been hunting public lands with my dad since I was 8 or 9 years old," Perry said. "I like the freedom that it gives you. You've got a lot of room on a WMA that covers thousands of acres."

He now hunts four WMAs almost exclusively: Sam R. Murphy,

n Lamar and Marion counties; Black Warrior, in Winston and Lawrence counties; Oakmulgee, in Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties; and Wolf Creek, in Walker and Fayette counties. Perry copes with a scheduling disadvantage that many of us don't face: He works 12-hour swing shifts at his place of employment, which means he's on four days and then off four days. Though it sounds like a deer hunter's dream schedule, it requires that he work two weekends every month -- and most of the WMA gun hunts are held on weekends.

Still, when the WMA schedule comes out each year, Perry gets out a calendar, writes down the dates of the gun hunts and focuses plans for the ones he wants to make. He uses his old calendars from previous years also to check and see when he has harvested deer on each WMA.

His favorite area of the four he hunts is Black Warrior. "It's the biggest and the toughest," he said. "But it's where I killed the big one and I also got my biggest deer with a bow there. You don't see near as many deer on it as you do the others, but when you see one, it could be a real big one."

He averages about five deer a year on public ground, so the 2005-06 season was, in his own words, "just unreal." On some of his hunts, he killed deer on back-to-back days at the same WMA. There were also stretches when he killed a buck one weekend on one WMA and then got another the very next weekend at a different WMA.

Perry focuses on hunting thick woods -- places where you typically can't see more than 50 yards. He calls them transition areas between bedding and feeding zones for the deer. He looks for places where the deer are likely to travel naturally. But he also plays the hunting pressure, counting on other hunters to move deer towards him.

"Some places I hunt are way off," he said, with regard to

the "beaten path." "Others are not. I've got a tree I hunt at Sam R. Murphy that is only 100 yards off a gravel road. I've killed 14 deer out of that tree, including a good 9-point. The first antlered deer I ever killed -- a spike -- was taken from that tree. I go check on it every year before the season to make sure they haven't cut it down."

Years of trial and error have taught him the best times to hunt on the different WMAs, he said. Deer tend to rut earlier at Black Warrior than at most other places in the state, so it's often where Perry starts. He opens the season bowhunting there and then hunts it until right before Christmas. "After Christmas, I won't go there," he said.

He likes to go to Oakmulgee and Sam R. Murphy from the week before Christmas through mid-January. "Wolf Creek gets really hot the last of the season," he added.

In February, he goes squirrel hunting on the WMAs just to scout and find new places for next season. "A lot of bucks are still making scrapes in February," he noted.

He also visits the WMAs to turkey hunt in March and April. "I haven't killed the first turkey on any of the WMAs," he mused. "I get to looking for shed antlers and deer sign and sort of forget about the turkeys."

What's his take on the deer population on his WMAs? "Sam R. Murphy is overpopulated," he stated. "Wolf Creek has quite a few too. Oakmulgee also has real good numbers."

THE INCREDIBLE SEASON

Michael Perry's incredible 2005-06 season started at Wolf Creek on Oct. 28. "I shot a 4-point with my bow," he described. "It was cold that night, so I left it and went back with my wife the next morning. I shot a doe and killed it and then tracked down my buck from the night before."

Perry's wife, Kathy, is a frequent hunting partner, and he was proud to have her with him when he broke the ice that season.

His next deer was a doe he got at Sam R. Murphy on the morning of Nov. 20. He harvested her at about 10:50 in the morning. That late-morning harvest highlights another of Perry's tricks: On most hunts, he sits all day, or until he kills a deer.

The season was going pretty good so far, but it was about to get really interesting. At Black Warrior WMA on the morning of Dec. 2, Perry killed a 185-pound 10-pointer that scored 158 2/8 Boone and Crockett Club points. "I knew there was a big deer using the area," he recalled. "He left big tracks. There were also some rubs and scrapes when I'd gone in there before bow season."

Perry had actually found the deer's home territory the previous turkey season. There were two trails that came off a ridge going towards a greenfield. "I went in three days before the hunt and carried my stand halfway in," he said. "I came in from the backside to keep from spooking the deer on the walk in and it took me an hour and 15 minutes to get in there."

The long hike in the dark paid off: At 7:20 in the morning, a trio of does came trotting by. "The buck was way off behind them, about 60 yards to one side of the trail they were on," Perry said.

The buck paused in the thicket. Perry put the cross hairs of his scope on the white patch on the deer's neck, squeezed the trigger -- and missed! "He took off running, and I shot again and hit him in the spine, and put him down," Perry said.

A third shot finished off the brute. "I hit two out of the three shots," the hunter recalled.

Though he knew the general area where he got the buck, Perry had not hunted that particular tree until that day.

Just as Perry is a unique hunter, he hunts with a unique gun -- his grandfather's 1958 model Spanish Mauser 98 in .30-06.

"My dad was hunting on the edge of a pine thicket nearby and helped me get the buck out," Perry said. "We had to drag him at least a mile and a half. It took us six hours to get him out. I was worn out and I had to work that night."

Perry often hunts with his dad, Ray, and was certainly glad to have him along that day.

Three weeks later, on Dec. 23, Perry got his public land streak rolling again by harvesting a doe with his rifle at Sam R. Murphy. His harvest total for the season had now reached five -- 3 does and 2 bucks.

"On Dec. 30, my wife, my father and I went to Oakmulgee," Perry recounted. "My wife was in a tree about 100 yards from me. I heard her shoot at 7:20. Then at 8:00, in the fog, I saw a buck rubbing a tree about 125 or 130 yards away. He stepped up, I shot and he took off running. I thought, 'Not again,' but a minute or so later, I thought I heard crashing."

He went to his wife's tree at about 11:00. She had killed a spike. Then they tracked his deer.

"He had only gone 20 yards," Perry said. "He was a 9-pointer that scored 140 6/8."

Oddly enough, Perry was hunting within 200 yards of where his brother, Matt, had killed an 18-pointer that scored 181 B&C points several seasons earlier.

While hunting from his lucky tree at Sam R. Murphy WMA on Jan. 5, 2006, Perry got a bonus animal -- a bobcat. He also got a 3 1/2-year-old 9-pointer that was the 13th deer he'd harvested from the tree. He viewed the bobcat as a trophy and got it mounted.

The very next day, on Jan. 6, he drove to Oakmulgee and hunted the same tree where he'd taken the big 9-pointer. He killed a 6 1/2 year-old 8-pointer.

"He was a nice deer, but you could tell he was going downhill," Perry said. "He scored about 115."

With the last two weeks of the season coming up, it was time for Perry to start hunting his favorite late season haunt.

"It was Jan. 14 at Wolf Creek when I got the biggest body-weight deer I'd ever gotten -- a 190-pound 6-point," Perry said. "I got him at 7:56 in the morning. I was in a good area, a high ridge with a real thick bedding area. I like to hunt the trails that come off the ridge going to a nearby creek bottom. I've been hunting this place three or four years."

He had a "dry spell" after that and didn't take another deer until Jan. 27, again at Wolf Creek.

"It was a 3 1/2 year old with a big, thick beam, but one side was broke off," he said. "It should have been an eight."

The real oddity from the entire season was that Perry's 62-year-old dad had accompanied him nearly every time he had hunted, with the elder Perry setting up fairly close to his son.

"He didn't kill one deer," Michael Perry said. "But I don't know that he really wanted to. I think he was just going to be with me."

The land is there for the hunting, and you too can be a public-land buck wizard if you're willing to go the distance with the diligence and tenacity of a Michael Perry.

"The number of people hunting the WMAs has dropped off," he explained. "I believe that makes for some older-class deer."

Perry studies maps of his hunting areas. He wants to know where the green fields are, even though he doesn't hunt them.

"I like to look for thick areas with trails," he stated. "The off season -- February and turkey season -- is when I see the most sign. I find a lot of my places to hunt while turkey hunting."

He takes a compass and some supplies in case he has to spend the night in the big woods.

"You can't be scared of the woods and find bucks," he mused.

He also recommended that you get on a first-name basis with the wildlife biologists in charge of the various WMAs. "They can steer you to some places to check out," he offered.

Perry has a camper on the back of his truck and he lives in it for a few days if he can when he goes on a WMA hunt. But he sometimes also drives all the way to Oakmulgee and hunts a half-day if that's all he can squeeze in.

His camper is outfitted with a piece of plywood for a bed, covered by a foam mat and an Army sleeping bag. It's rare that anyone beats him to the spot where he wants to go. He makes a point of being one of the very first hunters to check in on a gun hunt.

"I kill a lot of deer in the mornings, but I'll sit all day on a gun hunt," he said. "People like to walk around at lunch and it's a good time to be up a tree."

If he's bowhunting early in the year, he doesn't pull the all-day vigil until after Nov. 1, when he's at Black Warrior. You can definitely see some pre-rut cruising at midday at that WMA, he noted.

Perry is meticulous about minimizing human odor. He wears a ScentLok suit and rubber boots and regularly sprays scent killer on himself while he's hunting.

He rarely hunts the same stand two days in a row. If you want to maximize your hunting success, he said it's important to hunt with all the different weapons -- bow, muzzleloader and rifle. Other than the Mauser 98, his weapons if choice are a Mathews Legacy bow and a Remington 700 .50 caliber inline muzzleloader. He hunts from an API Grand Slam Supreme tree stand, which he likes because it has a bar that surrounds the hunter. "I'm scared of heights," he admitted. "I usually climb up in the dark so I can't see down."

Perry's next goal for the future is getting his 14-year-old son Perry a buck. The boy just started hunting this year.

"We hunt out of the same tree, using two different climbing stands," the father said.

For Michael Perry, going the extra mile is the difference in jus

t hunting or succeeding.

"I put in a lot of time and effort," Perry said. "It really means a lot to me that my brother Matt and I both have bucks now that make the Alabama Record Book."

Matt is in the Army, stationed in Korea, and has not gotten to hunt in the last two seasons. But Michael is looking forward to the day when the two of them can once again roam Alabama's public wild lands together in search of big bucks. l

Find more about Alabama fishing and hunting at: www.alabamagameandfish.com

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