By John Felsher
Alabama deer hunters should check the regulations before hunting this year. The state made some changes to game laws including creating two new deer hunting zones.
Zone D centers around Bankhead National Forest northwest of Birmingham. It includes parts of Lawrence, Winston, Cullman and Franklin counties. Zone E includes two separated tracts in extreme eastern Alabama. One includes parts of Calhoun and Cleburne counties. The other sits in Barbour and Russell counties.
Deer typically rut earlier in these two new zones than in the rest of the state. Therefore, people can begin hunting in these zones about two weeks sooner than other parts of Alabama. Season dates and regulations on public hunting properties may differ from established state dates and regulations so always check first before hunting anywhere.
“Last season, our state deer harvest was up 14 percent from the previous year based on Game Check numbers,” says Chris Cook, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Deer Program coordinator. “I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to people just getting more used to using Game Check or the change where they could use bait. I’m sure it was a combination of both.”
The state also made a change to deer possession. Anyone who bags a deer or a turkey must report that kill through Game Check within 48 hours. To report game, many sportsmen use the app available at outdooralabama.com. Frequently, a hunter bags a deer and drops it off at a processor. When that animal changes hands, it must include written documentation of the transfer.
“When a hunter kills a deer, that hunter must still report the deer to Game Check and receive a confirmation number,” Cook says. “When the processor takes possession of that deer, that person has to record the hunter’s name and the confirmation number associated with that deer to prove that the deer has been reported in Game Check as required. For anybody to take possession of a deer or turkey that he or she didn’t kill, that person must have that information from the person who killed it, but the person in possession doesn’t have to report anything.”
The state manages more than 700,000 acres of wildlife management areas for public hunting. Sportsmen can also hunt national wildlife refuges, other federal lands and other public properties. Good habitat conditions and a good mast crop should mean abundant, healthy deer across much of Alabama.
“The quality of the deer depends on what they’ve been eating and they’ve had plenty of groceries this year,” Cook says. “Some wildlife management areas that typically have the highest deer harvests each year include Oakmulgee and Barbour. Sam Murphy is also one of the better ones. It’s an area that produces a lot of deer and some pretty good ones too. In the southern half of the state, Geneva State Forest and Lowndes are two of the better places to hunt.”
People might also find good deer hunting in Black Warrior, Blue Spring, David K. Nelson, Perdido and Upper Delta WMAs. Sportsmen can also apply to hunt various Special Opportunity areas. For details, see outdooralabama.com/hunting/special-opportunity-areas.
“Some really good deer are taken off those Special Opportunity Areas as well as deer for the freezer,” Cook says. “I’m more familiar with Cedar Creek and Portland Landing areas. Those areas are covered up with deer.”
In any property, get out early and often to scout. Go where deer already want to go. On public properties, pick several hunting spots. One person’s favorite place might also be another person’s favorite place. To avoid the crowds on public lands, hunt in the afternoon or during the week.
Sportsmen can also apply for a public dog hunting opportunity on Geneva State Forest near Florala. Sportsmen do not need to bring their own dogs. Dog handlers will release their dogs in the area. Each hunter selected for the hunt will be assigned a stand where that person can wait for deer. Watch outdooralabama.com for details.
Sportsmen who bag a deer this season might want to let the experts check it for chronic wasting disease, or CWD. So far, the debilitating disease similar to mad cow disease has NOT been confirmed in Alabama, but deer in Tennessee and Mississippi have tested positive for it. Hunters can bring deer to CWD testing stations across the state.
For more information on deer hunting in Alabama, see outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/deer-season.