By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Contrary to what your buddies at the hunting camp have said or what you’ve read on social media, it is still illegal to bait deer in Alabama.
Similar to previous years, the so-called “corn” bill that was introduced in the Alabama Legislature this year did not become law. Yes, the bill passed the House of Representatives, but that’s as far as it went.
“A lot of folks still think it’s going to be legal to hunt over corn this year,” said Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. “There was a buzz around Facebook and on social media that the House passed the baiting bill.
“But it takes confirmation by the Alabama Senate and then the signature of the governor to become law. So it missed two of the three, and it takes all three. There are a lot of folks who are going to be disappointed on opening day.”
However, that doesn’t mean Alabama landowners and hunters can’t proceed with their supplemental feeding plans for wildlife.
“Feeding is fine as long as you stay within the area definition,” Sykes said.
The area definition was refined several years ago to give hunters and landowners a better understanding of what is deemed supplemental feeding and what constitutes baiting.
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.”
“Out of sight doesn’t mean putting up a piece a piece of tin in the edge of the food plot where you can’t see the feeder,” Sykes said. “Nor does it mean throwing corn in tall grass. That’s not the essence of the regulation. It has to be natural vegetation or natural terrain.”
Unfortunately, the regulation clarification has not affected the number of tickets that are written annually for baiting.
“Some people are still putting out corn 50 yards from their stand in the wide open,” Sykes said. “They’re just basically ignoring the regulation.”
Another “huge” misconception that Sykes has encountered during interaction with the public at deer shows and other public events is WFF’s ability to change the baiting regulations. He said baiting made up 99 percent of the questions WFF fielded at the public events.
“People are coming up to me and asking when we are going to change the baiting laws,” he said. “Well, we can’t. That’s a legislative matter. The members of the Legislature are the ones who have the power to change the law. We can’t do anything about it.
“The Alabama law says you cannot hunt deer in the area of bait. The only thing we could do at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was define what that area was. That area is within 100 yards and/or line of sight. If you’re outside of 100 yards, and the feed is out of sight because of natural vegetation or terrain, you’re okay. That’s as far as the Department could take it with a regulation.”
As he did last year, Sykes is touring the state to give hunters and landowners updates on the mandatory Game Check system that is used to report the harvest of white-tailed deer and turkeys.
Another misconception is this year’s seminars are repeats of last year’s. Sykes, who has held six seminars so far this year, said a great deal of new information is included in this year’s seminars.
“Participation in the seminars is about half what it was last year,” he said. “People think it’s the same seminar they heard last year, and it’s not. We’re going over the Game Check results from last year, and some of the tweaks we’re making to the system and additional programs we’re offering this year, so it’s not the same seminar.”
Those at this year’s seminars who used Game Check last year reported it was an easy process and didn’t have any complaints, Sykes said.
According to the analysis of data, Sykes said about 35 percent of deer hunters reported their harvest through Game Check, while about 40 percent of turkey hunters used Game Check. According to Game Check data, 45,561 bucks and 36,867 does were taken, while 9,174 turkeys were harvested. With other information factored in, the total estimate of deer harvested was 130,000 bucks and 105,000 does. Turkey harvest was estimated at 23,000.
“Deer numbers were down a little, but we’re attributing that to the drought,” Sykes said. “It’s not that it negatively impacted the deer herd, but it negatively impacted people’s deer hunting.”
One of the tweaks WFF made for this year’s Game Check adds another definition in the possibilities for deer harvest. Previously, the options were antlered or unantlered.
“We have had quite a few questions on what to do with button bucks,” Sykes said. “Now, we’ve added another option. Under antlerless deer, you get another option as to whether it was male or female. That will give hunters the answer of how to report button bucks, and it’s also going to give us some good information.
“If we find out that 60 percent of the antlerless harvest turns out to be button bucks, that’s something the public needs to know. That’s something we need to know. We may need to adjust some things, because we don’t need to be hitting that age class of bucks that hard.”
Another Game Check tweak will add more options to the type of land hunted, whether private or public. If public land is clicked, a drop-down box will give options on which public land was hunted, based on the county.
“This helps us drill down to see where people are utilizing public land,” Sykes said.
Additional information will be needed to report turkey harvests as well. Now Game Check will ask for beard length and spur length.
“This will help us determine the age class of turkeys being harvested,” Sykes said.
Deer season dates are basically unchanged from last year with the exception of calendar dates. Bag limits remain the same at three bucks per season. One of those three bucks must have at least four points (1 inch or longer) on one side. Barbour County has a special antler restriction in force in that each buck of the three-buck limit must have at least three points on one side.
A special WMA (Wildlife Management Area) Bonus Buck Program will be in effect this season on specific public land – Lauderdale WMA, William R. Ireland-Cahaba WMA, Lowndes WMA, Barbour WMA, Geneva State Forest WMA and Perdido River WMA.
On those specific WMAs, hunters will have the opportunity to harvest an additional buck on the specific Bonus Buck day. This additional buck will not count against the three-buck limit. To qualify, hunters must obtain a daily permit from the check station at the participating WMA on the Bonus Buck day. Following the harvest, the hunter must bring the animal to the check station for WMA personnel to collect data from the buck and validate the animal. Only WMA personnel can validate the bonus bucks.
The other big addition for the upcoming seasons is the advent of Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) that offer a different experience for public-land hunters. The new SOAs available are the 6,500-acre Cedar Creek SOA in Dallas County, the 4,500-acre Uchee Creek SOA in Russell County and the 400-acre Crow Creek SOA in Jackson County. The Fred T. Stimpson SOA, a 5,400-acre tract in Clarke County that had been open for youth hunts and limited adult archery deer hunts has transitioned to this hunting mode to assist in reducing deer densities on the area.
Visit https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/Public/AvailableHunts to register for the limited draw hunts. The computer-controlled, random drawing will occur on October 3.
“The SOA hunts are going to be a big deal,” Sykes said. “Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s outstanding. Of course, we’re not going to make everybody happy, but this is a unique opportunity for folks.”
PHOTOS: (David Rainer, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries) It is still illegal to hunt deer over bait in Alabama, and the Game Check reporting system is mandatory for the second year. The use of the Outdoor Alabama app on your smartphone is the easiest and fastest way to comply with Game Check.