State adds acreage for public hunting opportunities

Alabama Living Magazine

Alabama opened more acreage to public hunting, thanks to a small, rare amphibian.

In 2020, the state received $9 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to buy critical habitat for the endangered Red Hills salamander. It lives in the Red Hills region of Butler, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Monroe and Wilcox counties and nowhere else in the world. In 2000, Alabama declared the salamander the state amphibian.

With that money and additional help from Forever Wild, the Nature Conservancy and other partners, Alabama expanded an existing Forever Wild property. As a result, the newest wildlife management area, Red Hills WMA, now totals 11,063 acres of Monroe County north of Monroeville.

“Red Hills was about 4,500 acres and people could hunt on it,” says Chris Smith, assistant chief of the Wildlife Section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Now that it has more acreage, we moved it into our WMA system. It has good deer and turkey populations. It also has some feral pigs on the property. It has some good mass-producing trees, so squirrel hunting should be good there. We have done some habitat management over the last several years, like tree thinning and fire, so it has a few coveys of wild quail on it.”

The area also holds some rabbits. For deer, the state will allow archery equipment and black powder rifles, but no centerfire firearms except shotguns loaded with slugs and no buckshot. The habitat consists mostly of mixed hardwood forests on steep hills. 

“Red Hills WMA should be pretty good for archery hunting,” says Jared Knight, an Alabama wildlife biologist in Spanish Fort. “It has a lot of terrain features that will make it more challenging to get into some remote locations. The hills might benefit archers. It’s very rugged terrain, but that can be an advantage in some cases.”

In addition, the state also added 1,100 acres to Grand Bay Savanna WMA in Mobile County. The property extends west from Henderson Camp Road. This puts the total acreage for the WMA at more than 6,200 acres. The new portion borders Mississippi Sound, so people can hunt waterfowl in open water, the marshes or the bays and small tributaries.

The state of Alabama added thousands of acres of new public hunting lands for the 2021-22 season including an entire new wildlife management area in Monroe County. Many of these lands will offer deer hunting. Here, a hunter aims her bow at a deer passing near her tree stand. PHOTO BY JOHN FELSHER

“The new portion of Grand Bay Savanna WMA was purchased through the R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act, which resulted from the oil spill in 2010,” Smith says. “The additional acreage was purchased by the Nature Conservancy and given to the state of Alabama. Most of that WMA is wet pine savanna habitat. No doubt, it will have some waterfowl hunting along Mississippi Sound and the bays. There are deer on the property and a good number of hogs. People can find turkeys on some higher ground on the tract.” 

The state also added the 140-acre Simmons Tract to the Upper Delta WMA. The new tract sits between the Mobile River and Tensaw Lake in Baldwin County. In addition, the state added 37 acres to Mobile Tensaw Delta & W.L. Holland WMA immediately south of I-65 near Dead Lake in Mobile County.

In addition, the state entered into an agreement with the USFWS to manage hunting on the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Choctaw County near Coffeeville. The state will offer limited archery hunts for deer on the federal property. The state also opened a 400-acre section of Frank Jackson State Park in Covington County for archery deer hunting.

“This will be the first year Choctaw NWR will be hunted,” Smith says. “We divided the refuge into four hunting units. Each person selected will be able to bring a guest. Those two hunters will have a nice-sized piece of property all to themselves.”

The state also created several new Special Opportunity Areas and expanded others. Among these new SOAs, the state designated the 165-acre Prairie Glades SOA in Montgomery County specifically for dove hunting and planted sorghum, millet and wheat for bird food.

“The Prairie Glades SOA should be really good for doves,” says Seth Maddox, the state migratory game bird coordinator. “It is in the Black Belt Region with that fertile clay component in the soil. There is abundant food out there for the birds.”

These smaller SOA properties offer limited hunts on certain days for varied game species. To hunt these public lands, sportsmen must apply to hunt specific days. Those randomly chosen can hunt an assigned section of land with a friend.

For more information on hunting Special Opportunity Areas, see outdooralabama.com/hunting/special-opportunity-areas.

John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at j.felsher@hotmail.com or through Facebook.

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