By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The Alabama hunting seasons for 2016-2017 are significantly different from the past, with changes in the season dates for several popular species and the adoption of the mandatory reporting of deer and turkey harvests through the Game Check system.
Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division Director Chuck Sykes has been on a whirlwind tour of the state to help hunters become familiar with the changes for the upcoming seasons with specific instructions on how to comply with the Game Check requirements.
Sykes cautioned hunters about where they get their information on the upcoming seasons because of an abundance of misinformation that is being spread by uninformed individuals.
“There are a ton of misconceptions about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Sykes said. “Our hunting buddies can sometimes give us really bad advice. Most of the issues I’m dealing come from people who say, ‘My hunting buddy told me this,’ or ‘I heard this at the hunting camp.’ Please ask one of our officers or biologists, go to the outdooralabama.com website or pick up one of the hunting and fishing digests that are available all over the state.
“And let me get this out of the way: No matter what you’ve heard, no matter what you’ve read, or what your hunting buddy told you, you cannot hunt over bait this year. That legislation didn’t pass. The House (of Representatives) passed it, but it takes both houses of the Legislature to pass a bill. The Senate has to pass it as well. It didn’t make it through the Senate, so the regulation is still that supplemental feed must be at least 100 yards away and out of the line of the sight of the hunter through natural vegetation or naturally occurring changes in the terrain. So, make sure all of your hunting partners know the truth, because we don’t want any of them to get a citation due to misinformation.”
Speaking of Game Check, WFF recommended that the harvest information reporting system become mandatory to the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board, which unanimously passed the proposal. The change went through the legislative review process and became effective on July 19.
“Starting in October, hunters will have to report their deer and turkey harvests,” Sykes said. “This is a huge education process for us, our staff and the public. It’s my job to show the easiest way to comply that gives us the best data.”
Sykes said 60 to 80 percent of hunters who have attended the more than 30 seminars he has conducted across the state have a smartphone, which is the easiest and most reliable way to report the harvest. The second way is to go online to outdooralabama.com and follow the prompts. The third way, which costs WFF money, is to call 1-800-888-7690.
“In the three years we had the voluntary system, about 50 percent of the data we received through the phone service was inaccurate,” he said. “We couldn’t use it. So please help your kids and your buddies to go online or use the app to do the reporting.”
Even those hunters who are exempt from having a license, those 65 or older or 15 and younger or residents hunting on their own property, will still have to report their harvests. Those hunters will have to go online and obtain a HELP (Hunter Exempt License Privilege) number. It is free, like the HIP permit required to hunt migratory birds, but it will be required to access the Game Check system.
After the hunter accesses Game Check with a hunting license or HELP number, the information that is required is the county where the deer or turkey was taken, whether the turkey was an adult or jake, whether the deer was a buck or a doe, the date and whether the animal was taken on public or private land.
Sykes said hunters who use Game Check through the Outdoor Alabama app can kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. If the app is used, it will comply with both the requirement that the harvest is recorded before the animal is moved and the reporting regulation for Game Check.
Those who do not use the app must write down the kill information on their harvest records before the animals are moved and then must obtain confirmation numbers from Game Check within 48 hours. The harvest information for both bucks and does is required this year.
Sykes also recommends that hunters take the time to get a Conservation ID number that will shorten the online reporting process and reduce the number of errors of entering hunting license numbers.
“A lot of changes hinged on whether Game Check became mandatory,” Sykes said. “On July 19, we were able to determine the deer seasons dates. Hunters can hunt deer statewide until February 10. It’s not a mandate. You don’t have to do it. But if you choose to do so, you can. There will be no closure in December. We are setting a season framework where landowners and managers can more effectively manage the deer on their property.
“Archery season in the South Zone will start on Oct. 15 instead of Oct. 25 like it has been the past couple of years, but the first 10 days will be buck-only to stay in line with our fetal data.”
Another change for deer season is in Zone C (see map), where hunters had requested a reduction in the number of antlerless hunting days.
“The habitat is a lot more open with a lot of agricultural fields and small wood lots,” Sykes said. “The hunters and our biologists were reporting that deer numbers were down. So, we reduced the firearms season for antlerless deer in that zone.”
The antlerless season in Zone C on privately owned or leased land is Nov. 19-Nov. 27 and Dec. 23 through Jan. 2. On open-permit and public land, the antlerless season in Zone C is Dec. 23 through Jan. 2.
“If you hunt in that area or own property in Zone C and you have a bunch of deer on your place, it’s not a problem,” Sykes said. “Get with our technical assistance guys and get signed up on the Deer Management Assistance Program. If you need to harvest more does, they will write you a permit to do so.”
Dog deer season is set for Nov. 19 through Jan. 15 statewide, except for Talladega National Forest, which will have a reduced number of days and dog deer hunting must end at noon.
Legal shooting hours for deer were also clarified. Instead of “during daylight hours,” the regulation now reads 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.
For those worried about coyotes, Sykes said there is no closed season on coyotes. Night hunting permits for coyotes will be issued on a case-by-case basis. There are also no closed seasons on raccoons and opossums.