By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Two years ago, the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board approved a change in the definition of “area” where it is legal to hunt deer and feral hogs when supplemental feed is on the property.
The regulation states: “As it applies to the hunting of deer and feral swine, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that any bait or feed . . . located beyond 100 yards from the hunter and not within the line of sight of the hunter is not a lure, attraction or enticement to, on or over the area which the hunter is attempting to kill or take the deer or feral swine. This regulation does not apply to public land. Out of line of sight means obscured from view by natural vegetation or naturally occurring terrain features.”
Since that “area” definition was spelled out, a couple of conclusions can now be made: Hunters who abide by the rules and regulations have a much better understanding about when and how supplemental feed can be distributed to wildlife, and there are still outlaws who don’t follow the rules no matter how well they are defined.
“The ones we’re ticketing now are doing the same thing they’ve always done,” said Kevin Dodd, Chief of Enforcement for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. “They’re pouring out a pile of corn about 15 to 20 yards in front of their stand, sitting there and staring at it all day. Now that the regulations allow people to feed as long as it’s 100 yards away and out of sight, you’d think that a lot of people would seize upon that opportunity. No, they just want to hunt over bait, and 100 yards is too far for them to shoot, I guess.
“The ‘area’ definition has clarified the regulations for the landowners who want to legitimately participate in supplemental feeding and be able to hunt on the same piece of property. For those who want to hunt over bait, it hasn’t changed much.”
Dodd said some of his Enforcement Officers have reported that some hunters are stretching the rule change to its limits.
“We are seeing several instances where people are pushing the envelope,” he said. “They’re putting the feed 101 yards away behind a clump of bushes. But for the most part, people are feeding well beyond 100 yards and clearly out of sight. Either that or the feed is 18 to 20 yards in front of them. Ninety-nine percent of the tickets we’re writing are for bait within 60 yards or less. I worked with an officer last weekend who said he made more than 15 deer-baiting cases last year, and the farthest one was for 45 yards on a food plot. And we’re not talking about a sprinkling of corn. We’re talking a five-gallon bucket of corn piled on the ground.”
A “rebuttable presumption” clause was also included in the regulation. That means if a Conservation Enforcement Officer finds evidence of baiting then the hunter can still be ticketed.
WFF Director Chuck Sykes, who was in private wildlife management before he joined the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said hunters and landowners have an option when it comes to supplemental feeding.
“Here’s the way I look at it: The Legislature was going to pass a bill for this to happen,” Sykes said. “We don’t need the Legislature to be involved in wildlife management issues. Philosophically, whether you agree with the feeding or not, the best situation for hunters in Alabama is if the Conservation Department controls it. We can administer the program.
“For example, heaven forbid we have some kind of disease break out in Alabama in October and the Legislature is not in session. We would have to wait until the Legislature was back in session in February to try to change that law that would ban feeding where it would not concentrate animals. It would probably never happen. The way it is now, if we see a problem during hunting season, the Commissioner can enact an emergency regulation where we can shut down the area definition overnight. This would give us an opportunity to educate the hunters as to why they need to stop feeding. We need to be able regulate and change on the fly. If it’s by statute, it may never get changed.”
Sykes did point out that supplemental feeding is not a panacea for every landowner or piece of property.
“Supplemental feeding, when used properly, is a great management tool,” he said. “When it’s used improperly, it’s terrible. It’s just like anything else; it’s how you use it. It’s not a magic bullet. You can’t go out and pour a pile of corn and expect to kill a 160-inch deer. It doesn’t work that way. It’s one piece of a management program. If you want to use it, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. We’re not making you put feed out. It’s a choice.
“There’s been corn out since I was big enough to walk. Every convenience store, feed store and grocery store sells corn. If there’s a problem with a disease, you’re concentrating animals by placing feed, so it has an increased opportunity to spread. As far as I know, that hasn’t happened in Alabama. I’m not as concerned about the deer as I am the turkeys and birds. If people will just make sure they have aflatoxin-free corn and it’s clean, that should reduce the chances.”
Sykes points out that corn isn’t going to do much for the deer herd in terms of overall health and antler growth.
“You need feed with 16- to 18-percent protein from February through October,” he said. “When the does have little ones and are lactating, and the bucks’ antlers are growing, you’ve got to have protein. Corn is like candy. It’s energy. In the winter, when it gets cold, corn will help them out when they need energy to stay warm.
“But a supplemental-feeding program is totally different than baiting. With supplemental feeding, you’re doing it for the wildlife. With baiting, you’re being selfish and trying to kill something instead of getting out and hunting. That’s just being lazy, and it’s against the law.”
As the opening day of the archery deer season fast approaches, Chief Dodd reminds hunters that harvest records are mandatory for anyone who is hunting deer or turkeys.
“We’re still running into folks who don’t have their harvest records or they’re not maintaining their harvest records,” Dodd said. “They have to have the harvest record on their person whether they kill one or not. But if they shoot a deer, they have to record that harvest before they move it.”
The harvest record still must be maintained whether or not hunters participate in the Game Check program.
“Game Check is voluntary, but the harvest record is mandatory,” Dodd said. “I think we’ve had the harvest record in force for nine years now, so everybody should be familiar with it.”
Dodd also encourages hunters to make sure they follow the hunter orange requirement to wear either a hunter orange vest with 144 square inches of orange or a full-sized hunter orange hat. A small logo or printing can be on the hat, but camo orange is not considered legal.
“And don’t forget about treestand safety,” Dodd said. “Wear a high-quality safety harness. And take a few minutes to inspect your climbing stand or ladder stand that you left in the swamp last year.”
Dodd also reminds hunters and concerned citizens to call GameWatch at 800-272-GAME (4263) to report any game-law violations.