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Barbour Countians Give Buck Restrictions Thumbs Up

By DAVID RAINER

Kenny Childree had witnessed first-hand the positive impact an antler restriction had on the deer herd at Barbour County Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and he was one of the leaders who pushed for similar regulations for the entire county.

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board heeded that request and set up a five-year program that would try to measure the impact of the regulations.

As data collection enters its final year in the current 2009-10 season, Childree has already drawn his own conclusions from a layman’s perspective.

“When you know that somebody right next to you is going to shoot whatever crosses the fence, whether it’s a one-inch spike or whatever, there was no incentive for us to be on a management program when everybody else around you is not on a management program,” Childree said. “Now that we’re on this (three points on one side restriction), we’ve seen a tremendous difference in antler size. We have a buck on our property that looks like those bucks you see in Sports Afield. I don’t think we’d see this kind of deer if we didn’t have these restrictions. That’s why we have speed limits because people can’t regulate themselves.

“I think the antler restriction has been good for our county, and I wish it would go statewide. I’m certainly going to push to continue this in our county. Some of the hunters I’ve talked to and visited with have said, ‘I wish we had gone four on one side.’ I think this has been a really big plus for our county. There was a magazine article that came out a few months ago that named Barbour WMA as one of the top 10 public hunting areas in the nation to kill a quality buck. You can’t get that rating in the county that shoots anything that walks.”

Childree said there have been very few complaints about the restrictions.

“The only concern I’ve heard is that the kids couldn’t kill their first buck no matter what size it was,” he said. “But one father said if you start them off conserving and wanting to do the right thing to improve the buck quality, then it was not an issue for them.”

Bill Gray, supervising biologist for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s District VI, witnessed a remarkable turnaround in the buck age-class structure at the Barbour WMA during the first 10 years of antler restrictions. Gray said there was a 500-percent reduction in the harvest of 1.5-year-old bucks, and a 375-percent increase in the number of 3.5-year-old and older bucks harvested. The number of man-days required to harvest a 3.5-year-old buck was reduced significantly. For comparison, Gray said that during the 1995-96 season (before restrictions), more 1.5-year-old bucks were harvested (118) than 3.5-plus-year-old bucks during the 10 years prior to the restrictions combined (109).

Gray has also been involved in checking the data gathered by Auburn University wildlife students for the sampling in the county-wide study commissioned by the Advisory Board. The students not only sampled deer taken in Barbour County but also included neighboring counties. Gray said there are several factors that make drawing conclusions much more difficult for the county, including the ability to collect data on the harvested deer in a central location and the number of deer checked.

“We did have somewhat small sample sizes, but it appears that the percentage of the oldest bucks 4.5 years or older is increasing each year for Barbour County,” Gray said. “They’re taking about twice as many, as a percentage, in Barbour as they are in the other counties. We kind of had a fallback for 2008-09, but we were taking almost two does for every buck in Barbour and two bucks for every doe in the other counties.

“The percentage of year and half old bucks has gone down in Barbour and gone up in the other counties. The percentage of 3.5-year-old and older bucks declined in the other counties and increased in Barbour. But, some of this may be a result of sampling. The thing you can point to is the doe to buck kill, in Barbour County we were shooting, up until last year, more does than bucks, an average of 1.75 does for every buck. Historically, they’ve taken more bucks than does in the counties without restrictions, at least that’s what’s showing up at the processors.”

The 2009-10 season will be the last year for collecting data in Barbour County under the Advisory Board directive. When the data is analyzed, a final report with be presented to the board.

“We will summarize that information and try to determine anything that might be a trend, taking into consideration the sample sizes,” Gray said.

Gray said the summary from Barbour County as a whole won’t be nearly as dramatic as the Barbour WMA for obvious reasons.

“On the WMA it was pretty easy to measure what was going on,” he said. “There was a long history of heavy, heavy harvest on the 1.5-year-old age class prior to restrictions. When we took those deer out of play and passed that age class along, it didn’t take long to see an improvement in the age structure of the deer harvested on the area.”

Gray said that Barbour County as a whole was unlikely to have experienced nearly as heavy a harvest on the 1.5-year-old age class, compared to the WMA.

“This is the 21st century and people are cognizant of management issues – don’t shoot every little buck you see,” he said. “Whereas, on the management area, it’s public hunting with people with limited opportunity and maybe they had different parameters of what they determined as a successful hunting experience, which may have been the first buck they could successfully harvest. It’s no mystery you see such a shift.

“In the county, where some of that (quality management) was going on, the results won’t be that rapid or dramatic. Over time, if people adhere to it, there should be improvement in the age structure of the deer harvested. If you look at the first year from the county, there were no bucks 4.5 or older harvested. The next year it was 10 percent, the next 13 percent and then 14 percent. It was the same for 3.5-year-old bucks, a slight trending upward in those years. You cannot draw any immutable scientific conclusions, but looking at it intuitively, it appears encouraging.”

Gray said whether or not there scientific data to back it up, people in Barbour County insist they’re seeing better bucks.

One such person is Grady Hartzog, a member of the Alabama Advisory Board who lives in Barbour County.

“All I get is positive feedback,” Hartzog said. “I’ll be honest, I had people last year say they saw more and bigger bucks than they’ve ever seen in their lives here. They felt like the decision to do the buck limit and antler limit were the right things to do. They love it.

“From everything I’m hearing, there are more bucks and they’re getting bigger. I know at my place, I can go out on my porch every morning and see a big buck. I couldn’t do that five years ago.”

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