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CAB Considers February Deer Season, Doe Bag Limit

March 6, 2014

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The expansion of the February deer season to cover most of Alabama south of Montgomery and a reduction in the daily bag limit for antlerless deer statewide were among the recommendations presented by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division to the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) for the 2014-2015 hunting seasons.

In the first meeting of 2014, CAB members meeting in Montgomery heard a presentation from WFF Director Chuck Sykes that included the reasons the Division recommends that north and south zones be created for deer season in the state. The south zone (see maps) deer season would include 10 days of hunting in February, which is the same season that portions of southwest Alabama had during the 2013-2014 season.

Sykes said the decision to expand the February deer season shift, which swaps 10 days of hunting in December for 10 days in February, was based on the deer reproductive study that has been conducted since 1995.

“We really stepped (the reproductive study) up last year and approximately 500 does were sampled in 2013,” Sykes said. “From all indications, the (February deer) season was a success in southwest Alabama.”

WFF staff concentrated their efforts for the reproductive study in the areas south of Montgomery to determine if a February season shift was scientifically justified.

“Our challenge to the staff was to sample every county south of Highway 80, two spots per county,” Sykes said. “The summary of the data is convincing that south of Highway 80, with about 1,000 samples since 1995, the average conception date is January 28. North of Highway 80, with about 1,300 samples, the average conception date is January 11. Once you get over to the Chattahoochee (River) Valley, the sample is smaller at about 300 animals, and the average conception date is December 30.

“Unlike any area in the country, we have quite a variation from county to county and region to region as to the average rut time in the state,” said Sykes, who said the boundary for the proposed south zone for deer is the best that could be drawn using large roads or river systems.

“Keep in mind that we’re not going to be able to do this with 100-percent accuracy,” he said. “We’re looking for a clear-cut boundary so our officers know where the line is and hunters know where the line is. We’re not going to be able to make everybody happy, but we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Dog deer hunters in attendance were happy to hear that the 10 days of dog deer hunting that were not in the 2013-2014 season have been restored in the recommendations for the 2014-2015 season.

The proposed deer seasons for the south zone are: archery, Oct. 25 through Feb. 10; antlered bucks by stalk or dog hunting, Nov. 22-Nov. 30 and Dec. 11-Jan. 25; antlered bucks by stalk hunting only, Jan. 26-Feb. 10; unantlered deer on privately owned or leased land, Nov. 22-Nov. 30 and Dec. 11-Feb. 10; unantlered deer on open permit-public land, Dec. 15-Jan. 1; and the special muzzloader season, Nov. 17-21.

The north zone deer seasons are: archery, Oct. 15-Jan. 31; antlered bucks by stalk or dog hunting, Nov. 22-Jan. 15; antlered bucks by stalk hunting only, Jan. 16-Jan. 31; unantlered deer on privately owned or leased land, Nov. 22-Jan. 31. Unantlered deer on open permit-public land and special muzzleloader dates are the same as the south zone.

The reduction of the antlerless bag limit from two does per day to one doe per day statewide was in response to hunter requests and WFF biologists who felt the concerns were valid.

“Last year we did that in north Alabama,” Sykes said. “We had no complaints from that. It went off without a hitch. This is just an attempt to respond to the desires of the hunting public that’s been talking to our biologists and staff. I’ve been traveling throughout the state and had the same thing brought to my attention. The hunters feel like the doe numbers are not where they need to be, and we need to start by reducing the antlerless bag limit.”

Sykes said landowners who feel they need to harvest more than one doe per day can sign up for the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), which will survey the property and determine the number of antlerless tags to issue. Under the DMAP program, landowners can harvest up to three antlerless deer per day.

In other WFF recommendations, all of Morgan County will be opened for turkey season; the number of deer allowed to be harvested on National Forest Lands will be reduced to one per day; the prohibition on silenced firearms will be removed to allow for federally permitted silencers to be used; the bag limit for bobwhite quail will be reduced from 12 to 8; and trapping for raccoons and opossums by special permit will be allowed. The quail limit will not apply to licensed preserves.

“A special season permit will be available for landowners to trap raccoons and possums for wildlife management purposes,” Sykes said. “It will be issued in a manner similar to the wild hog permits we have now.”

Fall turkey hunters will again have 20 days to hunt in the recommendations for the 2014-2015 season.

Sykes also talked about the turkey population in Alabama, which has seen a decline in turkey recruitment in the last few years. He said the estimate of 500,000 wild turkeys in Alabama was based on observational data collected prior to 2006.

“Hunters across the state, just like the deer hunters, have been expressing concerns that turkey numbers are lower than what they have been,” he said. “In an attempt to look at that, our concerns were validated by the 2013 brood survey, which showed our recruitment rate was the lowest we’ve had in the past 24 years.

“With that being said, our Division has formed a turkey committee that is working with Auburn University to explore methods to measure turkey productivity and abundance in Alabama. We are also participating in a multi-state research project because that decline is not just in Alabama; it is throughout the Southeast.”

Concerning wildlife rehabilitation permits, Sykes said after meeting with wildlife rehabilitators in the state a new policy was developed for rabies-vector species. One wildlife rehabilitation facility will be licensed in each of the five WFF districts in the state.

“We have a dedicated employee on staff who is a rehab owner herself,” Sykes said. “She will be working with the Division and rehab facilities throughout the state to set up standard practices and procedures where it can be monitored. The new policy will require the rehabilitators to adhere to the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association caging and confinement standards and also require pre-exposure shots to handle rabies-vector species.”

In other recommendations, Chris Blankenship, Director of the Marine Resources Division, had two proposals. One was that the vermilion snapper bag limit be set at 10 per person per day to match federal regulations.

The other recommendation had to do with the harvest of red snapper. The proposed regulation would require the reporting of red snapper catches by the charter industry and the recreational anglers in the state.

Blankenship said the angler survey done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency, has been a point of contention for many years.

“The way (the survey) is managed by the federal government is inaccurate,” Blankenship said. “That is the largest topic of conversation of fishermen in Alabama. We’re working diligently to improve the management of red snapper and take over more of the management of red snapper because we believe we can do a better job here in the state.”

Blankenship said the federal survey has produced absurd swings in estimates of harvest from 400,000 pounds to last year’s 4 million pounds.

“The landings each year don’t fluctuate that much,” he said. “So it is imperative for us to know what is being landed in Alabama. With that, it may help us take over more of the management from the federal government.”

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