Outdoors: Attention deer hunters – State laws have changed
Several new laws affect deer hunters taking to the fields and forests of Alabama this fall and winter
For the past three years, sportsmen in southern Alabama could hunt deer through Feb. 10 each year after a 10-day season closure in December. For the 2016-17 season, however, the state extended deer season into February statewide and reopened the December days.
The state also changed archery season from Oct. 25 to Oct. 15. Archery season remains open through Feb. 10, 2017. A muzzleloader season runs from Nov. 14 to Nov. 18. In most of the state, the modern firearms season begins on Nov. 19 and continues through Feb. 10, 2017, but season dates may vary by hunting zone.
In addition, young Alabama sportsmen can get a jump on the adults. The state holds a special youth deer season on Nov. 12-13 before the regular season starts. Anyone 15 years old or younger can participate in the youth hunts as long as they are accompanied by licensed hunters at least 21 years old. Adults may not fire at deer during youth hunts.
In addition, the state established new standards for permitting the use of dogs to hunt deer and placed Baldwin and Marengo counties on the permit system. Since the 1980s, clubs that run dogs for deer in certain counties must apply for special permits. Dog clubs need at least 500 contiguous acres and must provide maps of the hunting area to the state. Dog owners must also mark all their dogs so people will know who owns them. Owners of dogs that cross property lines could face fines.
“We are not trying to eliminate dog hunting in Alabama,” explained Chuck Sykes, director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “I grew up hunting with dogs. The problem is not dog hunting, but dogs encroaching on neighboring private properties. We are working very closely with the leadership of the Alabama Dog Hunters Association to find amicable solutions to issues. We’re trying to protect the rights of dog hunters to do what they enjoy doing and we’re trying to protect the rights of property owners.”
Game Check now mandatory
In probably the biggest change, the state made Game Check mandatory. For the past three seasons, hunters could voluntarily report their deer and turkey kills. Few did. However, all hunters must now report their deer and turkey harvest data.
“The mandatory Game Check program should prove to be one the most progressive management tools implemented by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in decades,” Sykes says. “For the first time in history, all hunters in Alabama will be a part of the data collection process. Near real-time harvest data will be gathered on deer and turkey throughout the state. This data will be accessible to all hunters as well as our biologists. We are confident that over the next few years, trends observed in the harvest data will allow us to better set seasons and bag limits for Alabama hunters.”
Under the old system, each hunter could kill three bucks and five turkeys per season. The state required anyone who bagged a deer or turkey to record that kill on a harvest record form that comes with any hunting license, but that’s all. The paper harvest record did not provide state biologists with any information that they could use to manage the resources.
“A voluntary Game Check reporting system has been in use for the past three seasons with dismal participation,” Sykes says. “Game Check is not a novel idea created by the department. Many states throughout the country have similar systems. In fact, some states still require hunters to physically carry harvested game to a centralized check station where a biologist gathers valuable biological information.”
Now, hunters must report all their deer or turkey kills to the state within 48 hours. Sportsmen can do this with three methods: They can download the free Game Check app to a smartphone and report kills; or they can call 800-888-7690; or they can report online at www.outdooralabama.com/gamecheck.
“The primary reason for implementing the Game Check system is to collect harvest information on deer and turkeys in order to better manage those resources of our state for the sustainable benefit of all Alabamians,” Sykes says. “The data derived from Game Check will be available to anyone through the Outdoor Alabama website. Hunters will be able to access this information in almost real time to see the deer or turkey harvest in each county throughout the state.”
Some public areas may set different season dates or other regulations so check before hunting anywhere. For specific hunting zone boundaries, special regulations and other information on deer hunting in the Cotton State, see www.outdooralabama.com.
John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com