Outdoors: Late season hunting
Sportsmen still have more to do in late season
For most Alabama sportsmen, hunting season begins and ends with deer season. Deer season goes through Feb. 10, but hunters can still find things to do after that season closes.
This year, the state gave small game hunters additional opportunities to pursue squirrels and rabbits. Both seasons opened on Sept. 15 and run through March 5 with a limit of eight each per day. After deer season ends, small game hunters will largely have the forests, fields and wetlands to themselves until turkey season begins in March.
“The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division recommended that the small game hunting seasons begin earlier and end later than in the past and the Conservation Advisory Board agreed,” explained N. Gunter Guy Jr., commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Alabama sportsmen can find many places to bag squirrels and rabbits all across the state. Just about any wildlife management area with abundant hardwood trees can offer good squirrel hunting. Some better WMAs for bagging bushytails include Black Warrior near Moulton, Cahaba River near West Blocton, Oakmulgee in Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties, Skyline near Scottsboro and Upper Delta near Stockton.
“The squirrel population is so dense in some areas of the state that they are a nuisance,” says Steve Bryant, a state wildlife biologist. “The habitat requirements for squirrels are minimal. A few nut or seed producing trees can sustain a squirrel. The more mast producing trees present, the greater the number of squirrels the area can support.”
Cottontail rabbits thrive throughout the state. Besides cottontails, Alabama sportsmen might also bag swamp or marsh rabbits. Large swamp rabbits occur statewide. Swampers can live in woodlands and grasslands like cottontails, but typically stay close to water. Swamp and marsh rabbits prefer floodplains, river shorelines, bottomlands, swamps, marshes and other wetlands in the southern half of the state.
Squirrel and rabbit hunting usually go together since the seasons run concurrently, but people traditionally hunt these two animals differently. Occasionally, a squirrel hunter kicks up a big swamp rabbit in a hardwood thicket or jumps a cottontail while walking along the wooded edge of a field, but for rabbits, look for thick cover, the thicker the better, since almost every predator wants to eat them.
Some better WMAs to hunt rabbits include Choccolocco near Heflin, the Jackson County WMAs, Lowndes near White Hall, Skyline and Swan Creek near Decatur. For the best chances at bagging a swamp or marsh rabbit, visit the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“Swan Creek WMA has historically provided good rabbit hunting,” Bryant says. “Any area that contains the appropriate habitat should be good. Cane cutter, or swamp rabbits, occur in low lying areas along streams and lakes where the high moisture content of the soil inhibits some species of trees.”
Late season hunters can also test their wing-shooting skills on bobwhite quail and snipe. Quail season runs through Feb. 28 with a daily limit of eight per day. Snipe season continues through Feb. 26, also with a limit of eight per day.
Quail like upland fields and piney woods. Not many places in the state hold good concentrations of wild quail any longer, but sportsmen might find some bobs on Barbour WMA near Clayton, Freedom Hills WMA near Cherokee, Geneva State Forest WMA near Florala and Blue Springs WMA near Andalusia.
With wild quail populations low, many people turn to hunting pen-raised birds at commercial preserves. After a quick internet search, sportsmen can find many such preserves all over Alabama. Besides quail, some preserves also offer opportunities to hunt pen-raised ducks, pheasants, chukar and other birds. The season on pen-raised birds runs through March 31.
Like ducks, snipe migrate to Alabama each winter. The swift, erratic fliers can humiliate even the best wing shots. The military term “sniper” for an expert marksman originally described hunters skilled enough to hit these birds in flight. The long-billed birds like moist soils, such as old crop fields, meadows and lake shorelines, but the best snipe hunting in Alabama probably occurs in the marshy lower part of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Mobile.
Besides those traditional game birds and animals, Alabama sportsmen can hunt bobcats, foxes, coyotes, feral pigs, raccoons, crows, blackbirds, starlings and Eurasian collared doves all year long with no bag limits on private lands. Before hunting anything, check the current regulations to stay out of trouble.
John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com