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February Deer Season Proposed for SW Alabama

February 14, 2013

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

At the first Alabama Conservation Advisory Board meeting of 2013, Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. unveiled an ambitious plan to improve the data collection for white-tailed deer and wild turkeys as well as a proposal to shift deer season into February in southwest Alabama.

Commissioner Guy’s presentation during the meeting Saturday in Montgomery highlighted the various facets of the new “Outdoor Alabama Game Check” system that will give Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ managers and biologists more definitive information on the game harvest in addition to the traditional mail survey used currently to estimate the harvest.

Hunters will have three ways to record their harvests on the proposed system – the Outdoor Alabama app that is available for download for iPhones and Android-based phones, online reporting at www.outdooralabama.com and a toll-free voice response call. In each case, hunters are required to report their harvest within 24 hours. Each report will generate a confirmation number that must be recorded and kept on the person.

Smartphone users can find links at outdooralabama.com to download the respective apps, or you can go to iPhone or Android app stores and search for Outdoor Alabama. Users can open the application and navigate to the hunting tab, which will present a link to Report Your Harvest. Hunters will then fill in the harvest data for deer and turkeys. The deer information includes hunting license number, deer gender, harvest location (public or private land) and county. The turkey harvest information includes hunting license number, whether the gobbler is an adult or jake and the county of harvest. Once the data has been submitted, it cannot be changed. Links to moon phases are also located on the reporting page. Also, the smartphone app gives information on hunting at the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

“What we’re trying to do is make the outdoors experience a little nicer with this app,” Commissioner Guy said. “Some of you don’t have smartphones, but the way the industry is going, you’re probably going to have one sooner or later.”

Those who wish to report the harvest online can go to outdooralabama.com and navigate to the Game Harvest Menu for four choices – Report Deer Harvest, Report Turkey, Seasonal Harvest Report and Feeding Times & Moon Phases. The same reporting requirements as the smartphone app are required. Those who use the online method can also enter an email address and have a copy of the report sent to their inbox. Under the Seasonal Harvest Report, hunters can view statistical reports by county or for the whole state.

The toll-free voice response call requires a touchtone phone. Hunters should have their license number ready and know the county where the animal was harvested. The hunter’s license number will be entered. For those who are under age 16, 65 or older or have a lifetime license, a registration process similar to the Harvest Information Program (HIP) will be required to report the harvest data. The harvest information remains the same for deer and turkey.

Hunting licenses for the 2013-2014 seasons will include an area where the harvest date, number of points on each side and confirmation number must be recorded for each buck as well as the harvest date and confirmation number for each unantlered deer taken. Should hunters take more than five unantlered deer during the season, the back of the license may be used to record the date and confirmation number. Turkey harvest will include date and confirmation number. Hunters are still required to fill in the pertinent information of the harvest record on the hunting license for deer and turkey before the animal is moved.

“This proposal is the result of a lot of hard work by the staff to improve the reporting of your deer and turkey harvest,” Commissioner Guy said. “Right now, for instance, I live in Lowndes County and I can’t tell you how many bucks and does have been harvested. We’ve been doing a mail survey where we take the number and extrapolate to get an estimate.

“We want to add this tool to help with the data. Some people have suggested tags for the bucks, but they are very costly. This harvest information collection will help us manage the deer herd better for the public. And hunters will have more information available to them. The Seasonal Harvest Report will have information gathered from all the hunters in the state. You can go to the report and see your harvest or harvest information from any other area of the state. You can see in real time, basically, the number of deer that are being harvested in each county and the state.”

Commissioner Guy also presented a proposal to shift the deer season in southwest Alabama that would swap 10 days of hunting in December for 10 days of hunting in February starting in 2014. The gun season would be closed Dec. 2-11 and extended to Feb. 10. Bowhunters in the affected area would start the season 10 days later on Oct. 25, 2013.

The proposed area for the February season includes all of Baldwin, Mobile, Washington and Escambia counties, most of Monroe and Conecuh counties and portions of Choctaw, Clarke, Wilcox, Butler and Covington counties (see map).

“This wasn’t arbitrarily picked out,” Commissioner Guy said. “We’ve heard from the public, and we’ve listened to the public that they don’t think they’re getting to hunt the rut. With our Wildlife Section and everybody involved, we have data and field studies about when the rut occurs in Alabama. We have good information that we have a comfort level with, that we can extend the season and won’t hurt the resource. We spent a lot of time on this.

“This is not to say that there are not other areas in Alabama that will warrant this in the near future, but we don’t have the data needed to afford it at this time. Nobody in the Department nor you want us to make a mistake and damage our resources that are so valuable to us. We’ll get there if it’s warranted. Just give us time. We want to respond to you to make the hunting experience better, but we’ve got to do it right. We have to balance the hunting experience against what’s best for the resource.”

Commissioner Guy also proposed a reduction in the daily bag limit of unantlered deer in a portion of north Alabama. The daily harvest during gun season of unantlered deer would be reduced from two per day to one per day. The number of days for doe harvest will also be reduced – Dec. 14, 2013, through Jan. 4, 2014.

“Just like the extended season in southwest Alabama, there’s also been an issue expressed to us about the deer herd in north Alabama, that numbers are not as great as they have been in the past,” he said. “Our biologists have been working with people in that area to gather the information. This will be a restricted doe harvest in this area. For the rest of the state, there will be no reduction in doe harvest.

“This is all about managing our resources. Natural resources are dynamic, everybody knows that. Every year is different. If you have some mortality event, we need to know about it and react to it quickly or we may overharvest. Turkeys are the same way. Other states have had a problem where they didn’t know about it until it was too late. That’s why we want this reporting system so we can keep up with the numbers in real time. If we see a decline, we can adjust the seasons and bag limits accordingly.”

PHOTO: (By David Rainer) Tom Boatwright of Perdido, who has won the Field & Stream Total Outdoorsman Challenge twice and finished runner-up this year, was honored with certificates of recognition by State Rep. Harry Shiver of Bay Minette, right, and John McMillan, Agriculture & Industry Commissioner, during the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board meeting in Montgomery.

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