September 28, 2010
Wolf Creek Wildlife Management Area is a tract of North Alabama land that has traditionally offered good deer hunting prospects. If anything, the hunting has gotten better in the last several seasons, in terms of both quantity and quality.
Wolf Creek does not make the list of the state's top WMAs for deer harvest most seasons, but do not let that fool you. This 14,000-acre tract in the northwest comer of the state is a solid producer of both deer numbers and good quality bucks. It consistently ranks in the top half of the state's 32 WMAs in the harvest of 2 1/2-year-old and older bucks.
"We probably had the best year that we've had in a long time last season," area biologist Kevin Pugh said. "We had several really good bucks killed. We saw some body weights in the 200-pound range. We had a 2 1/2-year-old 10-point killed that weighed 140 pounds."
Pugh added that the area isn't overrun with deer, but he believes the population is growing. Hunters generally do not have any problem seeing deer.
"I think we've got about twice the number of deer that we had just seven years ago," he pointed out. "I see deer all the time right around the checking station. We've got a good deer population. We're killing the same number of deer today that we killed eight years ago, and we've got half the land base and half the pressure that we used to have. I think that's a reflection that the population has really gone up."
Wolf Creek WMA is located in Walker and Fayette counties. It is not really close to any of the state's population centers, and that is probably one reason that it does not get more hunting pressure.
Statistics published by the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries indicate that only six other areas in the state got less hunting pressure last year. Those other under-hunted sites are in remote locations.
Pugh's general observations about hunter participation belie the lack of pressure.
"We generally have about 200 people on our opening weekend gun hunt," he said. "On a typical Saturday gun hunt during the season, we'll draw 150 people. On Fridays, we only have half that. Saturday is the better day to hunt. It's also the day we issue either-sex permits."
The tags are supposed to be issued on a draw basis, but everyone showing up for a Saturday gun hunt at Wolf Creek last season got an either-sex tag. Despite the liberal issuance of those tags, Pugh has a hard time getting his hunters to kill does.
"We issue a lot of doe tags because we know the does are out there," he said. "We see them. But the hunters simply aren't killing them. We checked in 47 deer last season. There were 16 or 17 does. The rest were bucks. I talked to one hunter who had an either-sex tag and saw nine does. He didn't shoot one."
Pugh said part of the reluctance to shoot does is that hunters are holding out for bucks. Another part is because there are areas on this rugged WMA where hunters question whether they want a doe bad enough to drag it out.
"There are places here where you don't want to drag one out," he admitted.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
The biologist classifies the terrain as hilly and rough. A lot of timber work has been done on the area over the years, so it's quite possible to down a deer in thick, nasty cover, as well as steep terrain.
"We've got cutovers. We've got hardwoods," Pugh noted. "We've got a little bit of everything."
A variety of owners hold title to the land the WMA sits on, including some timber companies and some private individuals.
"Basically, all the timber that could be cut has been cut," he said. "There's a lot of land where the timber couldn't be cut because it was too steep. We've still got several good hardwood drains. There's some good hardwood timber in places."
While 47 deer were actually checked in at the checking station last season, the estimated harvest was 74 - 59 with guns and 15 with bows. Bowhunters and gun hunters during a special weeklong hunt at the end of the season write down deer harvested on a log book at the checking station rather than having to have their deer actually checked by state personnel.
It is perhaps worth pointing out that the deer on Wolf Creek appeared to be in outstanding shape in 2003-04, Both the does and bucks checked in had heavier weights for their age-class than the average deer in good condition in the rest of Alabama.
A 2 1/2-year-old doe on the area tips the scales at 100 pounds, while a 3 1/2-year-old doe goes 114 pounds.
A 3 1/2-year-old buck weighs 148 pounds, about 3 to 5 pounds heavier than the typical Alabama buck of that age. On average, such a buck on Wolf Creek has a 16-inch spread, 19-inch main beams and 8 points.
For hunters wanting to try the area for the first time, Pugh recommended a visit ahead of their hunt to do some scouting.
"I would get away from the road and hunt the edges of clearcuts or some of the hardwood draws between pine plantations," he said. "I would get there early and stay late. When people start walking around, they're likely to run deer towards you. There's good hunting on this area, if you're willing to hunt hard."
There are 65 to 70 green fields on Wolf Creek WMA. Last season, a young boy killed a 10-point buck on one of the fields during an afternoon gun hunt, so that should tell you something about the lack of hunting pressure. In a heavily hunted area, such a buck would be unlikely to appear in an open field during daylight.
"The buck walked out on the field and the boy shot him at about 40 yards," Pugh said.
A new wrinkle for Wolf Creek last season is that eight or nine wild hogs were killed. One old boar hog weighed 275 pounds.
"We've never had hogs here before," Pugh noted. "There are rumors floating around about how they got here, but I can assure you that we didn't turn them loose."
The roads on the WMA are generally easy to get around on. They underwent some work during the summer. Many of the side roads are gated off during deer season.
"Walk-in use is welcomed,
and we see a lot of deer killed behind the closed gates," Pugh offered. "If a hunter comes over and scouts and does his homework, he shouldn't have a problem killing deer here."
Archery hunting is allowed on Wolf Creek from the beginning of the season through Jan. 31.
The area typically hosts a one-day gun hunt on opening day, then a series of Friday and Saturday hunts throughout the season. Most of the Friday-Saturday gun hunts are held at two-week intervals.
There are usually two hunts in December and two in January. The Saturday hunts are either-sex draw hunts. As mentioned, last year every hunter who showed up on Saturday got an either-sex tag.
The Wolf Creek gun hunting season concludes with a full week of buck-only hunting the last week of the season.
"The last week is an excellent time to hunt at Wolf Creek," Pugh said. "Our rut starts about the middle of January. We see a lot of rubs and scrapes the first of January. The last week is when you can see bucks chasing does. It's when you want to be in the woods."
He also added that there is very little hunting pressure during that last week.
In the grand scope of all WMA deer hunting in Alabama, Wolf Creek could easily be classified as a sleeper. With a growing deer population and high quality bucks, it's worth a look if a late season hunt on state lands is in your plans this year.