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State opens more lands for public hunting

By John N. Felsher

Alabama sportsmen recently gained a new public hunting property – a very special one. Portland Landing Special Opportunity Area covers 4,744 acres in the famed Black Belt region, with another 4,000 acres set to open for limited public hunting in the 2019-20 season.

Located in Dallas County about halfway between Selma and Camden on Highway 41, the property borders Wilcox County. The varied habitats support diverse wildlife species including whitetail deer, squirrels and turkeys. The original 4,744 acres already held some special hunts this season with more opportunities to come. The addition will offer similar types of hunts beginning in the 2019-20 season.

“The property is right in the heart of some of the best hunting in the state,” says Chuck Sykes, director of the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division.

“Habitats include cedar glades, the traditional Black Belt prairie habitat, pine stands, upland hardwoods and mixed forests with sloughs and creeks. The additional property has some frontage on the Alabama River. This area has absolutely produced some big deer in the past. The genetics are there. The numbers are there and the habitat is there. I was fortunate enough to hunt this property some years ago when it was private. It’s a special place.”

Cedar Creek mentor teaching woodsmanship. PHOTO by Billy Pope

At Portland Landing and other SOAs, sportsmen can apply to hunt designated game on specific days. Sportsmen can still apply for small game and turkey hunts at Portland Landing and other SOAs from Dec. 3, 2018, through Jan. 3, 2019. If selected, that person and a guest gain sole access to hunt a section of the property for designated days, all for the cost of an Alabama hunting license and a wildlife management area permit.

“When people apply and are selected to hunt, they get a designated area of around 500 acres all to themselves, but they can invite a friend to hunt with them,” Sykes explains. “We do not hunt every unit on each property each day. We rotate the areas to keep pressure to a minimum. A property like Portland Landing is not big enough to just open the gates and let everyone hunt when they want. We want this to really be a special area.”

Other small Special Opportunity Areas offering similar hunts include the 6,400-acre Cedar Creek in Dallas County and the 4,435-acre Uchee Creek in Russell County. Crow Creek, a 400-acre property in Jackson County, offers archery hunts for deer and waterfowl hunts. For waterfowl hunts, the permit holder can invite up to four guests.

People can also apply to hunt the Fred T. Stimpson and Upper State Sanctuary properties. Both in Clarke County, Fred T. Stimpson covers 5,200 acres and Upper State another 1,920 acres. To apply for SOA hunts, see outdooralabama.com/hunting/special-opportunity-areas.

“We’ve had Fred T. Stimpson and Upper State Sanctuary areas for a long time, but they were not hunted by the general public,” Sykes says. “When we were trapping deer and turkey to relocate them in other parts of the state years ago, many of them came from that area. The SOA program has something for every sportsman in the state. We are looking at adding more waterfowl, dove and other hunting opportunities in the future.”

Adult mentored hunts

Sportsmen can also sign up for “mentored” deer, squirrel and turkey hunts. In a mentored hunt, program officials will pair experienced hunters with novices at least 19 years old. The partners will hunt together so the novice will learn woodsmanship skills from the experienced one.

“For the pilot program in 2017-18, 100 men and women applied,” Sykes says. “They ranged in age from 19 years old to 75. In the first six weeks of registration for the 2018-19 season, we had more than 250 applications including people from six other states. Everybody stays at the camp together and enjoys good fellowship.”

Besides hunting, AWFFD representatives teach the participants firearms safety and training, plus how to scout for game and other topics. If someone shoots a deer, participants learn how to track, find and finally process it to eat. In the evening, state officials present some seminars and everyone enjoys a wild game supper.

“For decades, every state has been doing programs to educate people and build its base of hunters,” Sykes notes. “Nationwide, hunting license sales are declining and have been for years. Our department gets its funding from hunting and fishing license sales, not the general fund. We looked at efforts on how to grow the hunting base. Most state agencies including ours offer youth hunting opportunities and special youth hunting seasons to recruit the next generation of hunters.

“We’re trying to connect with a segment of the population that’s kind of overlooked. Many young adults have made up their minds that they want to try hunting and usually have enough financing to continue doing it.”

Mentored hunts will take place in several SOAs and traditional wildlife management areas. At Portland Landing, participants can stay at a lodge on the property. For more on the Adult Mentored Hunts, see outdooralabama.com/hunting/adult-mentored-hunting-program.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.