By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

With the successful Alabama Avid Turkey Hunter Survey as its model, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division is recruiting another diehard group of hunters.

The Alabama Avid Bowhunter Survey will provide information to WFF biologists and managers to aid in management decisions for Alabama’s white-tailed deer herd, which is estimated at about 1.5 million animals.

The survey is not aimed at the casual bowhunter who might take his bow and arrow to the woods a few days of the season. WFF personnel are looking for bowhunters who will be in the field at least 10 days a year. Obviously, the more days in the woods the better the data will be.

The data gathered will be used to monitor deer populations and measure hunter satisfaction and success.

Participants in the Avid Bowhunter Survey will be asked to provide information on several aspects of their hunts: which county they hunted; the date and time of each hunt; the number of bucks, does, and/or fawns seen; the type of land being hunted (i.e. river bottom, pine plantation, upland hardwoods); and other basic information related to the hunt.

“We’re hoping the bowhunter survey will give us good information, like the turkey hunter survey is doing,” said Ray Metzler, WFF’s Assistant Chief of Wildlife. “If it gives us good trend data from what our hunters see throughout the season, from year to year, I think it will give us quality information.

“I think hunters will enjoy seeing this information as well. They can look at the average deer sightings and look at it in years past to see if it’s increasing or decreasing or seeing basically the same amount of game they were.”

Metzler said it will take several years of data to determine any trend lines, and hunters shouldn’t be greatly concerned with any single year’s information.

“In any given year, I don’t think that information is going to mean a whole lot,” he said. “From year to year, the more information we build, I believe it will provide very useful information.”

Metzler said this bowhunter survey shouldn’t be confused with the information hunters are urged to provide through the Game Check program.

“Game Check is really more about the harvest,” he said. “The avid bowhunter survey is more about the sightings. With Game Check, you could be hunting in a place where you see 50 deer in one afternoon and you don’t kill anything, then we won’t get any information.

“I think the information on the two programs might be a little similar. In places where you see a lot of deer, you would expect hunters to kill a lot of deer. Depending on what kind of management programs these clubs or landowners might be on, that might not necessarily be the case.”

Metzler said the change in Alabama’s deer season to two zones has changed the dynamics of the survey just a bit. The archery season in the north zone, basically that area north of Montgomery, opened on October 15. The south zone bow season opened on October 25, but the bowhunters in the south zone also get to take advantage of a deer season closing date of February 10.

The key for the data collection is continued participation throughout the hunting season.

“If they bowhunt 10 days or more, we want them to sign up,” Metzler said. “But if they put down their bow at the start of gun season, we still want them to continue to report what they see all the way to the end of the gun season. What that will do is give us sightings information over the course of the whole deer season.

“Most people will tell you that December is the doldrums for deer hunting in the state, especially the south half of the state. That’s something we can use to support that notion that sightings go down in December.”

Metzler said the Avid Bowhunter Survey will help WFF officials compile a broader data set on the whitetail sightings and harvest in Alabama.

“Between the mail survey, Deer Management Program data and the Avid Bowhunter Survey, we will be able to provide a much more comprehensive deer report,” he said. “If people will look at the Full Fans and Sharp Spurs report on turkeys, they will see the brood survey, the hunter harvest information and the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) harvest. We’re looking to produce something like that in the deer world. We may collect data for a while, and then produce our first publication after we have two or three years of data. Chris Cook (WFF Deer Studies Project Leader) and I have talked about that our goal is to provide a better deer report and provide better information regarding deer management in Alabama.”

Metzler said there are currently between 300 and 400 hunters signed up for the Avid Bowhunter Survey.

“Ultimately, we’d like to have 10,000 hunters signed up,” he said. “If we could get even 3,000 to participate, it would be pretty meaningful. When we start doing the publication, it will highlight the deer data from year to year. I’m sure there are a lot of hunters and hunting clubs that keep sightings from year to year. And I’m sure they look back at it to see what happened in previous years. What we’re trying to do is build something like that on a statewide level.”

To participate in the Avid Bowhunter Survey, contact WFF at 334-242-3469 or email Robin Heath at robin.heath@dcnr.alabama.gov. Bowhunters will be provided the information from WFF staff needed to complete the survey.

PHOTOS: If you bowhunt 10 or more days per season, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Division wants you to participate in the Avid Bowhunter Survey to gain better insight into the white-tailed deer population dynamics. The dates of when spotted fawns are seen give WFF biologists an idea of conception dates and rutting activity.