Bama's Other Hunts
August 31, 2011
Although deer season is still open through January, that's not the only game in town. Here are your options for some other hunting adventures!
Let's take a step back to a time when hunting was a less intense sport. Then it was a relaxing venture that also put some meat on the table.
These days' hunters often seem laser-focused on a single species or even a single animal. The entire sport appears more competitive and more intense.
In the past, one of the most exciting facets of hunting for me was having no idea what I'd find or the type of game I'd take. Whatever it turned out to be, the day would provide a fun experience.
A DOG FOR ALL SEASONS
I know there never will be another Butch, my half bulldog, half birddog hunting companion of many years. Black with white spots, Butch didn't earn his living as a species-specific dog. He had the ability and the know-how to hunt anything out there.
If we walked through a hardwood bottom, and Butch observed me shaking vines and looking up into the tops of trees, he became a rock-solid squirrel dog, using his eyes and nose to locate and tree them.
If I started moving through a sage field or a briar patch, kicking bushes or stomping briars, Butch immediately would change gears and become one of the finest rabbit dogs you'd ever seen.
Also in those same areas Butch would go on-point. His muscles would lock-up like a granite statute, his tail would point straight-out like a shiny new needle. He wouldn't move for any reason once he smelled a bird.
But, when I walked out in front of Butch, I knew only that I might flush a quail, woodcock or snipe. After the shot, Butch would retrieve the downed birds.
If I took Butch out before daylight and made him sit on the edge of a slough, a woods pond or a small creek, and I started looking into the sky for ducks, Butch understood the program for the morning. He'd start looking up also. If he whimpered, I knew he'd spotted ducks I didn't see. I generally could look in the same direction as Butch and see the webfoots as they came in. After the shot, Butch would spring into action like the finest Labrador retriever ever.
That dog had an uncanny ability to know exactly what I wanted to hunt, and he'd hunt that particular species at that time, on that day. When I'd change species to hunt, Butch also would switch species. I'd never seen a hunting dog with so much hunting savvy and the ability to hunt so many different types of animals and birds with the proficiency of a species-specific dog.
At night, I even could take Butch coon hunting, and he'd bark on a tree. If the coon had any fight left in it when the animal jumped down, Butch was ready for a brawl, proven by the numerous cuts on his ear from previous fights with coons.
Butch was a hunting dog, and he made all types of hunting fun for me, for my family and for my circle of hunting buddies.
The Cotton State still is full of options for such hunting today.
Whether its rabbits, squirrels, quail, woodcock, snipe, ducks, geese or raccoons there is excitement to be had. In some cases it's even possible to plan hunts combining several species.
Here's a look at several options for this kind of action this winter.
Many hunters gripe about not having enough land to hunt. But the national forests and wildlife management areas in Alabama offer plenty of public lands that are literally loaded with squirrels that rarely encounter a hunter.
Finding those bushytails isn't hard. Just choose a WMA with fewer planted pines and more hardwoods. Even on tracts dominated by pine stands you can hunt the streamside zones where hardwoods are left along creek and riverbanks.
In the winter months after the leaves have dropped from the trees, you can still or stalk hunt for the squirrels using a .22-caliber rifle.
Another productive and fun way to hunt in January is with a squirrel dog. A feist or cur can find and tree squirrels for you. This is a good way for group hunts, particularly including youngsters. You don't have to worry about the kids getting antsy while sitting still. Nor do you have to keep as quiet, which promotes more camaraderie.
In North Alabama the Bankhead NF and Black Warrior WMA offer excellent squirrel habitat. In this region target your hunt to the ridge tops.
In the Black Belt or the Delta sections of the state, hunt the hardwood bottoms and the stream edges for squirrels. Choccolocco or Oakmulgee WMAs in the mid-section of the state are good bets. Farther south, check out the Scotch and Upper Delta WMAs.
Though the landscape has changed in recent years, all areas of Alabama continue to hold plenty of cottontail and swamp rabbits. Photo by Polly Dean.
Rabbit hunting has changed. In the past, you could turn a pack of beagles loose in Alabama's hedges and fencerows and take a limit of rabbits quickly. But modern farming techniques call for huge fields that are plowed fence-to-fence, eliminating that edge cover. That means fewer rabbits and makes the ones present harder to locate.
A modern alternative to that field edge hunting is to focus on the edges of green fields planted for deer and turkeys or planted dove fields. Also you can try the briar patches along stream and river edges or 1 to 3 years old clear-cuts. In the case of these latter two habitats, they can even be found on public land.
Successful rabbit hunting today requires more scouting than it has in the past. Anywhere you can locate thick briars and agricultural crops like you see in much of the Black Belt section of the state, you'll encounter cottontails and swamp rabbits.
Releasing some beagles in that kind of cover is guaranteed to produce some cottontails.
DUCKS AND GEESE
The weather will determine when and where you see the most ducks and migratory geese. But regardless of the weather, native wood ducks and our homegrown Canada geese will offer some shooting options.
Prolonged freezes up north and e
nough rain here in Alabama to cause creeks and rivers to flood translate to outstanding duck hunting here.
You can find plenty of places in north Alabama along the Tennessee River to look for waterfowl. The Crow Creek, Mud Creek and Raccoon Creek WMAs, along with the North Sauty and Crow Creek Refuges are all in Jackson County. The Swan Creek and Mallard/Fox Creek WMAs in Limestone, Morgan and Lawrence counties, and Seven Mile Island WMA in Lauderdale County are other options along the river.
In west Alabama along the Tombigbee River you find the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Sumter and Choctaw counties,
To the south, the Alabama River and Mobile Delta are the most consistent options for waterfowl
Migrating flyway ducks are the least dependable, because they're weather driven. On the other hand, wood ducks always are present. A hardwood bottom that consistently floods every winter generally has a good population of wood ducks.
I like to duck hunt any of the lakes from Demopolis northwest up to Pickwick Lake along the Tombigbee River and the Tenn-Tom Waterway.
Down in south Bama at Lake Eufaula is the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern side of the state. That property is generally a solid bet for some wingshooting as well.
For the last few years, the bobwhite quail has lost ground in the state of Alabama, since habitat is the key to the survival and growth of quail. There are a few rays of hope.
"Longleaf pine restoration is happening in Barbour WMA, Skyline WMA and Coosa WMA," Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Griff Johnson noted. "At Freedom Hills WMA, shortleaf pine and blue stem restoration projects are being conducted. By replanting longleaf and shortleaf pines and blue stem, we're bringing back some native timber and foliage that will be advantageous for quail. To have a great place to quail hunt, locate quality quail habitat. But in Alabama, that's hard to find."
Quail populations have declined statewide for some time, but the number of shooting preserves that provide quail hunting has increased. To help offset the high cost of quail management, some landowners have decided that operating a shooting preserve may be a better alternative than trying to raise wild quail.
On the other hand, if you want to run your dogs on public land, Griff Johnson pointed to the waterfowl WMAs in Jackson County as probably your best bet for finding wild quail.
SNIPE AND WOODCOCKS
You rarely run across a snipe or woodcock hunter in the Cotton State. Hunters familiar with this pair of long-beaked migratory birds have simply flushed them by accident when hunting quail or rabbits in wet, boggy areas.
When a corn or bean field gets flooded for several weeks, and then the water begins to recede, you often see birds with sharp wing tips and pointed beaks running through or flying over such fields. Those birds are snipe. You also can find snipe along drainage ditches, small creeks and anywhere you find standing water.
On the other hand, woodcock generally prefer damp hardwood areas. They also frequent clear cuts that are less than 5 years old and located on the edges of creeks and rivers.
Woodcock are much bigger birds than the snipe and have the ability to fly amid trees, dodging and turning to create problems for even the best of shots.
Hunters who walk hardwood bottoms hunting squirrels or who hunt field edges for rabbits after major rain events often flush these birds.
Woodcocks come up with a ruffle of wings and a screech that will cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand-up. They're fun to try to shoot and can provide some tasty meals.