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Looking Back - Perspectives of a Retiring Wildlife Biologist
By David K. Nelson
Looking back over the past 35 years as a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division brings back many memories. Foremost of those memories are all the dedicated people that I had the good fortune to work with. For the most part, employees of WFF view their employment not as just a job, but as a career. They take on the responsibilities of management and protection of the State’s natural resources in a personal and serious manner. During the 1950s and 1960s, the focus of the Game and Fish Division, as it was known then, was the restoration of deer and turkey populations through restocking and protection.
Prior to my employment in 1972, antlerless deer hunting was essentially nonexistent. Deer numbers in some areas of the state were very high and damage to agricultural crops and overbrowsing of native plants were serious problems. Antlerless deer hunts were needed to control deer numbers, but it was a difficult sell to a public that had been educated to hunt only bucks. The focus of deer management would need to evolve from restoration and protection to control and management. Over time, the hard work of many of our biologists began to gain support. With education, guidance from a trained staff of wildlife professionals, and liberalization of antlerless hunting opportunities, primarily though the Alabama Deer Management Assistance Program, the hunting public demonstrated they were the best stewards of the deer herd.
Alabama’s wildlife resources are dynamic in that they change over time, and public attitudes toward the resources change as well. I have witnessed many changes during the past 35 years. In deer hunting alone, archery hunting has evolved from sitting on a tree limb with a recurve bow and cedar shaft arrow to the high-tech archery equipment of today. Dog deer hunting with buckshot has mostly given way to shooting houses, food plots, centerfire rifles and scopes. Modern muzzleloading rifles were developed to meet the public demand for the increased hunting opportunities of primitive weapons hunts. The days of harvesting all the antlered bucks you can shoot has been replaced with quality deer management and a buck restriction.