By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Alabama hunters could be in store for the longest white-tailed deer season in history if one stipulation becomes a reality.

At its second meeting of the year, the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board voted 7-3 to expand the February deer season to include the entire state. The February seasons were in effect last year in most of the state south of U.S. Hwy 80. The board’s recommended gun deer season would start on Nov. 19, 2016 and run through Feb. 10, 2017 without interruption.

The stipulation, which was introduced as an amendment by board member Patrick Cagle of Montgomery, is that the Game Check harvest reporting system becomes mandatory for hunters who pursue deer and turkeys. Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a motion to recommend mandatory Game Check. The board had previously recommended Game Check be mandatory, but the harvest reporting system was changed to voluntary because of objections during the Legislative Review process. However, participation in the voluntary Game Check program was disappointing, to say the least, with only about three percent of hunters reporting deer and turkey harvests.

Cagle’s approved amendment stated that if Game Check does not become mandatory, the season dates would revert to those similar to the 2015-2016 seasons with a January 31 end date for deer season in the north zone. In an earlier amendment introduced by Joey Dobbs of Birmingham, the board voted to add a sunset clause to the extended deer season that would require the board to reconsider the extension for the 2018-2019 seasons.

Board member Raymond Jones Jr. of Huntsville expressed opposition to the February extension, citing Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division research that only about 14 percent of the does in north Alabama are bred in February. Jones, who introduced the mandatory Game Check motion, was also concerned about post-rut mortality after a longer season.

Board member Austin Ainsworth of Guntersville, who introduced the February season motion, said the extension gives landowners more leeway to manage their deer populations.

Ainsworth’s motion would set archery seasons as Oct. 15, 2016 to Feb. 10, 2017 either sex in Zone A, while Zone B’s archery season would be Oct. 15-24, 2016 for bucks only and Oct. 25, 2016 through Feb. 10, 2017 for either sex. Firearms season statewide would be Nov. 19, 2016 through Feb. 10, 2017. The dog deer hunting season would be from Nov. 19, 2016 to Jan. 15, 2017.

 “I want to reiterate that this does not mandate that you hunt the 10 days in February,” Ainsworth said. “This puts the power in the landowners’ hands. If your rut is in the middle of January, generally, you’re not going to see a buck in February.”

“We’re allowed to kill three buck deer in the state of Alabama,” said Dobbs, who said some of his constituents who live very near the South Zone would like consistent seasons. “Whether you kill those deer at the beginning, middle or end of the season is up to you. Whether you continue to hunt until the end of January or into February is up to you.”

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said if Game Check becomes mandatory that he would be comfortable with the February extension.

“With Game Check mandatory, we would have near real-time data to keep track of any effect the changes have,” Sykes said. “Having the data in hand that should come from mandatory Game Check would allow for quicker responses in adapting season lengths to the local resource.”

Grady Hartzog, board member from Eufaula, made a motion to establish new standards for the dog deer hunting permit system. One standard would require those dog deer hunting clubs put on the permit system on or after the March 26, 2016, meeting to have a minimum of 500 contiguous acres. Hartzog also moved to put Baldwin and Marengo counties on the dog deer permit system for the upcoming season. Hartzog’s motions passed.

Waterfowl hunters in southwest Alabama will likely see new regulations for the 2016-2017 seasons after the board passed motions to restrict hunting days and hours on the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta and establish a refuge for a waterfowl rest area.

“I want to compliment Keith Gauldin (Wildlife Section Chief) and Chuck (Sykes) for having several meetings with the duck hunters in south Alabama,” said board member Ben Stimpson of Mobile. “They did a great job of getting feedback.”

Stimpson then made the motion to establish the Apalachee Refuge Area between Battleship Parkway (Causeway) and the Bayway (I-10 bridge) and make it off limits to waterfowl hunters. Stimpson also moved to prohibit the use of gasoline-powered motors in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta’s Big Bateau Bay from the second Saturday in November through the second Saturday in February.

Stimpson’s third motion would change hunting days and hours in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Waterfowl Management Zone. The proposed changes would close waterfowl hunting in that zone on Mondays and Tuesdays. Hunting hours for Wednesday through Sunday would be from one-half hour before sunrise until 1 p.m. All three Stimpson motions were passed unanimously.

The Board also approved proposed changes to the squirrel, rabbit and dove seasons as well as adding an open hunting season provision for raccoons and opossums. Squirrel and rabbit seasons would run from Sept. 15, 2016, to March 5, 2017. Dove season in the north zone would shift dates from the first season split to the second split to take advantage of late-migrating birds. The North Zone dates would be September 10 through October 30 and December 8 through January 15, 2017. South Zone dates would be September 17-25, October 8-23 and November 12 through January 15, 2017. Also approved was a reduction in the number of days for antlerless deer harvests in one area of north Alabama. The recommendation is a 20-day either-sex season in that area. The rest of the state would keep the daily bag limit of one antlerless deer per day. In fishing changes, the minimum length limit on sauger was increased to 15 inches stat

ewide. Also, the minimum length limit on largemouth bass in Pickwick Reservoir was increased to 15 inches.

Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. reiterated that no changes are proposed for the wild turkey seasons.

“Rumors, as they tend to do, ran wild after our last meeting,” Commissioner Guy said. “The Department has no plans at the present time to change any seasons or bag limits that involve turkeys. We will continue the good work I think the Department has started. We want to continue to collect the necessary data to make sure we have a great and viable turkey population for the public to hunt.”

PHOTO: The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board approved a recommendation by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division to reduce the number of days for the either-sex season in a portion of north Alabama.

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