October 18, 2017
Fall is a great time to be a sportsman or woman in Alabama, as there are so many hunting opportunities from which to choose.
It's not often that I'm lost when it comes to making decisions. After a couple years in the military and 20 as an officer in a fire department with over 4,000 alarms a year, I'm used to making them quickly. However, once November arrives, my brain's decision-making process makes an abrupt left turn!
I mean, let's be honest, with deer, duck, dove, turkey, rabbit, squirrel and more in season throughout various parts of the Cotton State, a hard-core hunter can get a headache just trying to decide which game to pursue.
When it comes down to it, I suppose, regardless of what I'm after, as long as I'm in the outdoors taking advantage of Alabama's vast opportunities afield, I'm happy.
Of course, it's a pretty good bet that a lot of hunters will be hunting white-tailed deer come November. And from mid-October until the gun opener, hunters will be heading to blinds or treestands in Alabama to partake in bow season. Unfortunately, just how many will be harvested this year is an unknown.
"I'd love to be able give you the number of deer taken from year-to-year," said Jud Easterwood, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources biologist. "However, we don't receive near the number of reports we should get in the mandatory game check each year. We likely receive between 30 to 35 percent of people who actually call us but, even then, that's just a guess."
Deciding where to hunt can be as challenging as what game to chase. Alabama offers 36 wildlife management areas, and more than 22 million acres of timberland, much of which hold good numbers of deer. Of the WMAs, 24 are open to whitetail hunters.
One WMA that is considered a prime spot for wallhangers is Black Warrior WMA. This management area has over 91,000 acres of big buck habitat, with trophies taken each year to prove it.
"Some of the largest bucks killed in Alabama come from Warrior WMA," said John Wydner, president and founder of Hunter Safety System Inc. "Years ago, a number of deer were transplanted from Michigan into this area. These were deer that had to grow large in order to survive the severe winters of the north. Once in Alabama, they did exceptionally well. Warrior has produced some real monsters."
However, taking a big buck on Black Warrior requires a lot of scouting and walking to get away from the crowd. Joe Laseter, from Winston County, also recommends getting up high in a tree.
"These wily bucks didn't get big by being stupid," Laseter said. "They've had years of experience avoiding an onslaught of hunters hunting them from above. I recommend getting up there above their line of vision, typically 25 feet, and keeping limbs or self-attached brush as a background. If I have a good spot that doesn't allow me to get high, I try to find a tree with plenty of cover. If that's not available, I'll attach brush beside me that will camouflage my silhouette."
If there's any sound in the woods that can be as riveting and additive as a buck's grunt, it has to be the baying of a beagle hot on the trail of a rabbit. That yelp and bay is unlike any other dog and signals to stand fast and keep eyes peeled.
"Using beagles is the only way I'd go," said Jeremy Partain, an avid rabbit hunter. "It's not about the kill. To me, hunting rabbits is all about running dogs and training the young pups. That's what makes me excited about getting out there. It's a lot more of a thrill when you hear the dogs on a hot chase and know what's ahead of them and coming at you. I'll often run eight to 10 dogs at a time. That way, the pups get to learn what it's all about from the older ones."
Partain often hunts at Kenshaw's Cove in Paint Rock Valley, a Forever Wild area in Jackson County, when he isn't chasing hares on private land. He particularly likes areas that have hardwood bottoms mixed with some swamp, especially areas with thick cover around the edges and some open space in the middle. Hunters might have to walk through some water, but rabbits feel at home in these areas. Other areas to consider are places where rabbits look for food.
"Rabbits are both browsers and grazers, so anytime you've got a winter wheat crop or most any other young, green field nearby, there's a pretty good chance that a fair number of rabbits will be around," said Easterwood. "I'd suggest hunting around the outskirts of these, focusing on briar thickets, dips or any kind of cover vegetation. Rabbits do best in real thick, early succession habitat, such as two or three year old cutovers. Any dense vegetation on private property or one of the WMAs will probably have a good number or rabbits."
There are even some WMAs and refuges in the state that cater specifically to small-game hunting, such as Swan Creek, Mallard/Fox Creek and Seven Mile Island. In fact, Jackson County has five WMAs that are designated for small-game hunting only. Many have brush thickets as a border around food plots, which is designed to attract and hold small game.
While there are a lot of guys with loyalty to hunting a variety of game, none seem as hardcore as turkey hunters. And while only six counties in Alabama are open to fall turkey hunting, die-hard turkey hunters still have some opportunities to get in the fall woods, even though decoys are not allowed this time of year.
Eddie Salter, world champion turkey caller and TV host, says fall is a great time in the woods to really learn about the largest game bird in North America.
"You can actually get a better education on turkey hunting in the fall of the year, as far as hearing turkeys call, than you can at any other time, especially hen calls," Salter explained. "Every call a turkey makes can be heard during the fall season. The calling can explode real early in the morning and again late in the afternoon when they fly up to roost. A person just needs to get out there and listen. After hearing what the birds are doing and when they're doing it, you can begin to mimic them."
According to Salter, the most important factor to fall turkey hunting is scouting, a lot scouting. Find birds by driving around and checking out various fields, particularly cut crop fields, in the morning, where birds are coming off the roost and beginning to gather. Those who find a field or two with birds have a good chance of success. Food plots are another good location, especially those planted in clover.
It is actually easier to pattern birds in the fall than many hunters realize. Then it is just a matter of either scattering them and calling them back or trying to ambush them as they travel around feeding.
"In the fall, it's not uncommon to see, perhaps, 40 or 50 turkeys in a single flock." Saulter said. "You're not going to sneak up close enough for a shot on that many birds. There are just way too many eyes in a flock like that. When I come across this situation, I like to run up and scatter the bunch. Then I'll sit down nearby, wait a bit and then begin some soft calling. Because the turkeys want to be together as a group, they'll begin to return to the area they just left trying to hook up again."
When heading afield to one of Alabama's WMAs, be sure to check on specific WMA rules, regulations and information at www.outdooralabama.com/wildlife-management-areas as they may differ from private areas.
Another option is private property leases. These can be especially good since it gives club members or lease holders the opportunity to manage the game and plant food plots. Good hunting this November.