By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Mike Jones’ son, 12-year-old Chase, learned a valuable lesson about deer hunting recently – you can’t shoot ‘em if you’re lying in the bed.
The elder Jones said he decided to climb into a deer stand on his father-in-law Jerry Hill’s land after his son balked at rising early two days in a row. That decision paid off with one of the largest bucks taken in Alabama lately. Buckmasters scored the deer at 188 3/8, although the traditional Boone & Crockett scoring system will deduct for some irregular points, including a split brow tine.
“I told my son, I promise you’ll never kill one if you don’t get up,” Mike said. “I would have let him shoot that deer, but he just wouldn’t go with me that morning.”
“He just came walking right up the middle of the driveway about 10 minutes after daylight with his nose stuck in the air, trailing a doe,” he said. “I popped him. He ran about 50 yards and fell over. It was just that simple.”
Mike said his father-in-law has the deer’s shed antler from last year, so they knew there was a good buck in the area.
“The antler is almost exactly the same except it’s bigger this year,” he said. “That’s one thing I can say about Jerry. He lets the grandkids kill one small buck. After that it has to be mature bucks.”
In years past, rumors of big deer taken like Jones’ deer in Alabama were often quickly passed around the hunting community. Sometimes the big deer were confirmed kills, but many other fabulous tales of monster bucks faded away with no proof that the animals weren’t still prowling the hardwood bottoms and pine plantations that abound in our state.
Wow, how things have changed. With the advent of social media, especially Facebook, confirmation of the huge bucks that make Alabama home has been abundant this year. Almost every day since the start of archery season, a photo of a happy hunter and a big buck has adorned the usual pages on the Internet.
Chris Cook, Deer Project Study Leader with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, has also noticed all the big buck photos that have been posted. Two deer really got Cook’s attention, Jones’ buck and one from Walker County. Cook hopes to be able to measure both deer in the coming week.
“Those are some healthy deer,” said Cook, who teamed up with fellow Wildlife Biologist Bill Gray to produce “Biology and Management of White-Tailed Deer in Alabama” and “Effective Food Plots for White-Tailed Deer in Alabama.” Both are available for download at www.outdooralabama.com/white-tailed-deer-publications.
Cook said weather and habitat conditions are in favor of hunters this year, so far.
“This looks like one of those years when acorns are pretty scarce, and we’ve had an extremely long dry spell through the summer and into the hunting season,” Cook said. “It’s setting up to be one of those years that the deer kill should be outstanding, just because deer are having to get up and look for something to eat instead of stand up, eat and then lie back down.
“I suspect the season is going to be better and better as we go along, especially if we get out of this 75-degree weather pattern.”
The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board, based on recommendations from Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), expanded the south zone for deer hunting to most of the state south of Montgomery. The south zone season swapped 10 days of hunting in December for hunting the first 10 days of February. Right now, it appears it was a prudent swap.
“Based on the weather right now, they probably wouldn’t have killed many deer anyway,” Cook said of the high temperatures, which usually limit deer movement. “I don’t think they missed anything. I would suspect that little flurry of activity the first of the season, then getting a 10-day break, they’ll very likely have pretty good hunting when it comes back in, because the deer will be lulled into thinking the problem is over. They may not have been pressured enough to where they do that ‘go in a hole’ routine in December like they do in a lot of the state. There will probably be some more really good bucks killed because it may be more like a second opening day.”
Unless weather conditions deteriorate rapidly, Cook doesn’t think the deer population will be adversely affected.
“Deer in the South are pretty hardy,” he said. “Typically, we don’t have tough winters that take a toll on populations. The only thing the dry spell will do is make them more vulnerable to hunters. The last several years, it seems the harvest has been down.
“The dry weather will continue to put stress on the habitat and the deer. The native browse that was available is getting scarce and so are the acorns.”
“The food plots that many people plant to supplement the diet are getting pounded, the plots that are growing,” Cook said. “They’re still on the acorns that are there, but it won’t be long before that food source is going to be few and far between.
“It’s more likely that hunters are going to see deer in and around food plots at a much higher rate. If we get rain on food plots, it should be jam up for everybody. Unfortunately, that’s where everybody wants to hunt. The way it’s looking now, it’s going to be a great year to hunt food plots.”
Cook said next year conditions will likely be different with a better mast crop and browse conditions. If hunters continue to focus their attention on food plots, they could be disappointed.
“Then they’ll want to know why all the deer have disappeared,” laughed Cook. “That’s the curse of hunting food plots. But it’s hard to fault hunters for doing that in years like this.”
When hunters harvest a deer, it should be recorded on their licenses before the deer is moved. Also, WFF officials urge everyone who harvests a deer to participate in the Game Check program via Smartphone, online at www.outdooralabama.com or by calling toll-free at 1-800-888-7690.
“We encourage everybody to report what they harvest through Game Check,” Cook said. “Keep in mind it’s a tool to try improve the management of our deer population and help us get a better handle on what’s going on throughout the state.
“Again, it’s shaping up to be an excellent season because the things that are not so good for deer are good for hunters. Everybody should be optimistic. Just as soon as I say that, it’ll be 75 degrees for the rest of the season and deer won’t move until it gets black dark. But, really, weather affects hunters more than deer.”
Neither weather conditions nor lack of sleep will keep Chase Jones in bed for the rest of the season.
“He got up every day before that hunt and he’s gotten up every day since,” said his dad. “When I go hunting, I get in the woods about 4:45 and wait on daylight. I’ve just always done that. He went with me the day before, but I guess it was too much to get up again. Ever since then, though, he jumps right up like OK, I’m ready to go.”
PHOTOS: Mike Jones was hunting on his father-in-law’s land when this huge buck came walking up the driveway about 50 yards from his stand in Shelby County. According to Chris Cook, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Deer Study Project Leader, weather and habitat conditions appear to favor hunters this season.