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Alabama Bucks Have Hunters Excited

By DAVID RAINER

Although the statewide three-buck limit hasn’t been in place long enough for current scientific studies to draw definitive conclusions, early data on its effect on the Alabama deer herd is encouraging, while anecdotal evidence indicates a significant positive result for both the whitetails and hunters, according to Dan Moultrie, chairman of the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board.

Moultrie, who has been dealing with white-tailed deer for more than 30 years in both the hunting and manufacturing fields, said – with apologies to B.B. King – the thrill is back.

“We do all these radio shows, including Rick and Bubba, and we’re getting all this positive feedback,” Moultrie said of the buck limit and the changing attitudes of Alabama hunters. “I also get the hunting e-mails and it’s unbelievable the amount of people who are calling me and e-mailing me about the bucks they’re seeing. They’re saying it’s like the old days in Alabama. These people are sending all these pictures from trail cameras with bucks they want me to age. When you’re not seeing bucks, it’s hard to be stewards of the resource. But now that they’re seeing some they understand – Hey, let's not kill all these year-and-a-half-old bucks or the two-and-a-half bucks. With the limit, they’re getting much more selective and they’re letting these young bucks live.

“If I remember correctly, we were taking about 85 percent of the year-and-a-half-old bucks before the limit went into effect. That was such an overutilization of the resource. Now people want to grow bigger deer and be stewards of the resource. That was the biggest step. And we had a governor and commissioner willing to stand up and take the heat. And we had an advisory board that stepped up and voted it in. Now it’s paying benefits.”

Although there has been a push by some to extend deer season into February to take advantage of the rut in some areas, Moultrie considers such a move would be a big mistake.

“Once we get the buck-doe ratio down closer to that magic one-to-one, it’ll do two things,” he said. “One, you’ll have a more intense rut that all our (Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division) management staff has been saying for years. They said let’s not go into February. You get the buck-doe ratio right and you’ll see them in January. Looking at how the herd is improving, it would have been a huge mistake to open a February season.”

Moultrie said just about anybody can grow deer, but it takes a significant effort to manage the resource properly.

“To do it right, it takes a lot of different steps that are not always the most popular, but they’re necessary,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t think this was the answer, but now it’s absolutely the most popular thing out there. People love it. They’re seeing bucks. It’s getting like it used to be and like it ought to be. The buck-to-doe ratio is getting right.”

Moultrie, who has helped manage deer herds all over the United States during his career, said his deer management philosophy for Alabama is relatively simple.

“One of the things we had to get done – first, we were killing way too many bucks,” he said. “Thus you were having inferior bucks breeding. The survival of the fittest that Mother Nature put in place was being monkeyed with. The whole thing was out of kilter.”

Moultrie said when you consider natural mortality from post-rut stress, it doesn’t take long to decimate the gene pool when only 15-percent of the buck crop survives to two-and-a-half.

“Even if a bullet wasn’t fired, those bucks probably have a less than 50 percent chance to reach six-and-a-half because of post-rut mortality,” he said. “Those adjustments had to be made with the buck limit. In doing that, it made people a lot more selective. Whereas people used to go out and shoot just any spike or four-point and say, ‘Well, I’ll come back tomorrow and get the big one.’ Problem is, there weren’t any big ones. They were killing off the recruitment. It’s just like recruiting these kids to hunt. If we don’t get them out there, we’re not going to have hunting. It’s the same thing with the deer, if you don’t get these young deer out there and let them live, we’re not going to have deer hunting.

“Now that most of the bucks are living to two-and-a-half, people are starting to see these deer. And with the buck restriction, people are starting to harvest does like they should and are improving the deer herd. It’s really putting excitement back in deer hunting in Alabama.”

Barry Howton, who helps oversee Hickory Hill Hunting Club in Sumter County, said he has seen a great revival in deer hunting enthusiasm in their 8,000-acre club since the buck limit went into effect.

“I’ve been at Hickory Hill Hunting Club for 37 years and I remember the way it was back then,” Howton said. “You couldn’t go out without seeing some deer and killing some really nice bucks back then. I’ve also seen things, over the last years, really decline to the point we were wondering what was going on with our deer herd. We weren’t seeing any good deer, much less killing any good deer. We just weren’t seeing a lot of deer of any kind. We were really frustrated and didn’t know what to do to make it better.”

The club decided to pursue an aggressive feeding program by planting peas and soybeans, which was part of the club’s three-pronged approach to boost the deer herd. The other two areas had to do with the bucks being taken on the club.

“That was about the time the three-buck limit was coming in,” Howton said. “Some of our older guys didn’t like it. They thought it was too restrictive and wasn’t going to help anything. But some of our younger guys were for it. We also changed our rules to make sure they were taking bucks three-and-a-half and older. We still had a lot of people who were skeptical, but we have a strict enforcement of Alabama game laws. When they’re on our club they must abide by the buck limit of three and one has to be four on one side.

“Last year we had a good year, better than in a number of years. It was surprising because we didn’t expect to see improvement that quick.”

Howton said some club members filled their buck limit by the middle of January, effectively ending their seasons early because they didn’t want to harvest does.

“Now we’re seeing deer on trail cams and visual sightings when we’re out planting food plots and when we’re bowhunting,” he said. “We’re seeing deer like we used to a long time ago. And we’re seeing some fine bucks. We saw one last weekend in the 150-inch class. We’ve seen numbers of rack bucks crossing the road. We’re just seeing lot of deer in general.

“Instead of being frustrated and wondering if we were even going to be able to keep this club going, now everybody down here is excited again. People just wanted the chance to kill a good deer. It was real obvious to look at our harvest record and see that we were hitting these young bucks hard. We were killing a big percentage of our young buck population. With the three-buck limit, our people have become selective now. They don’t want to shoot just anything and use up their three bucks. Even our bowhunters are passing up bucks. And those guys who packed and went home in January will be more selective this season. We’ve got guys who had just about lost interest. Now, everybody is excited, really excited.”

PHOTOS: Game camera photos of nice bucks have Alabama’s deer hunters excited about the upcoming season.

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