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Deer Take Advantage of Another Good Acorn Crop

November 22, 2012

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
 
 
Beautiful weather greeted Alabama hunters for the opening day of the gun deer season, and it appears the opening weekend yielded good results.

Whether that continues for the remainder of the season will be determined by several factors, according to Bill Gray, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) District IV Supervising Wildlife Biologist.

Last year, hunters could barely walk in the woods without stepping on acorns, and that hasn’t changed much in southeast Alabama, where Gray lives.

“We’ve got another pretty abundant acorn crop in southeast and east central Alabama,” Gray said. “The deer are concentrating on those acorns pretty heavily. Deer movement right now seems to be feast or famine. Some people are reporting seeing a lot of deer and some people are not seeing much.”

Gray said summer rains were abundant and there was plenty of ground moisture for most of the food plot plantings, although the timing of the plantings will determine how much the deer use the plots. For the past two months, conditions have been relatively dry, which has diminished the quality of the browse for the deer.

“That is a good thing for the hunters,” Gray said. “That means the deer will concentrate on the acorns and then eventually move to the green fields when the acorns are depleted. The fields planted late will probably fare a lot better than those planted early. The fields planted early have grown and grown and grown because of the abundant acorn crop. So the grass will be tall and tough by the time the deer get off the acorns. Those fields planted late will have more tender vegetation, which the deer obviously prefer.”

The acorn crop in west Alabama is still abundant, but nothing like last year, according to District III Wildlife Biologist Chris Cook, who teamed up with Gray to create two valuable publications for deer hunters – “Biology and Management of White-Tailed Deer in Alabama” and “Effective Food Plots for White-Tailed Deer in Alabama.” Both are available for download at www.outdooralabama.com

“It doesn’t appear that there are as many acorns as there were last year, but there are quite a few,” Cook said. “That should play out well for hunters as the season progresses. Last year there were so many acorns it was ridiculous. This year, the deer won’t be able to find acorns everywhere they turn. The movement in relation to food should be better this year. Ideally, from a hunter’s perspective, there would be a few acorns out there. The deer love them. The hunters love it when they find that particular oak tree the deer are keying on.

“The deer should be in good shape. There was nothing unusual about this summer. It was not unreasonably dry or unreasonably hot. That could mean there will be some bigger, quality deer killed this year. There were some really good deer killed last year, but the numbers weren’t that great. Maybe this year we’ll have more balance of quality deer and the number of deer.”

Ray Metzler, Assistant Chief of the WFF’s Wildlife Section, said last year’s extravagant acorn crop substantially affected the deer harvest with a reduction in the total deer harvest. Licensed hunters took 337,000 deer during the 2010-2011 seasons, while the numbers taken during the 2011-2012 seasons fell to 281,700.

“That happens when you have that many acorns,” Metzler said. “The good thing is we’re continuing to harvest does. Last year, there were 121,800 bucks taken and 159,900 does. We need to keep that doe harvest at or above 50 percent to keep the herd dynamics in good shape.”

Gray said there was a drop in the number of deer harvested when Alabama went to a three-buck limit for the 2007-2008 season. Hunters may take three bucks per season, one of which must have four points on one side, except for Barbour County. All bucks taken in Barbour County, except during the statewide special youth deer hunts, must have a minimum of three points at least one-inch long on one side. Gray said the vast majority of the public has made an easy transition to the new limit, which has resulted in a noticeable difference in the harvest.

“One trend that continues to stick out is hunters tend to take a greater number of mature, quality bucks,” Gray said. “The number of big deer we have reported and are asked to score continues to grow. I think the public acceptance of the buck limit is high.”

Barbour County voted for additional buck restrictions before the statewide regulations were implemented.

“In Barbour County, we kind of turned our buck harvest upside down,” Gray said. “We continue to see a very small percentage of year-and-a-half-old bucks. The older bucks comprise the bulk of our harvest. Probably at least a third of our harvest are 3 1/2-year-old and older bucks. This has been in effect for so long it’s become part and parcel of hunting in Barbour County.

“The Barbour County WMA (Wildlife Management Area) was named one of the top public hunting areas in the nation by ‘Field & Stream’ magazine. Adam Pritchett (WMA Manager) and his staff have done a super job of managing the habitat.”

Barbour is also one of the largest WMAs in the state at slightly more than 28,000 acres. Gray was recently marking boundaries on a 500-acre addition to the area.

“When I started working in the district in 1994, Barbour had about 14,000 acres, so it’s essentially doubled,” he said. “Forever Wild has been extremely good to Barbour, and our division has also purchased a good bit of land.”

Gray is surprised that people don’t take advantage of the public hunting opportunities available in Alabama.

“In terms of just public land hunting, it’s really an underutilized resource,” he said. “Each area is different. Each region is different. Some are primarily for waterfowl. Some are better deer hunting destinations. Some areas give hunters a better chance to kill a deer of any description. Some areas, like Barbour, are managed for better quality deer. I think we do a good job of providing a variety of hunting experiences with our public lands program in terms of the variety of species available and the variety of hunting for the specific species like deer.”

Wherever Alabama hunters are pursuing deer, the main determining factor of success as the season progresses will be the weather.

“Anytime you’ve got a big acorn crop, it’s usually going to start out pretty slow because hunters have become so accustomed to hunting green fields,” Gray said. “I’m guilty of this myself – hunters hunt where they want the deer to be instead of hunting where the deer are. If we get some cold weather, and deer are active and foraging, I think we’ll finish up pretty strong. If we get a warm, wet winter, hunters may be a little disappointed.”

PHOTOS: (ADCNR) The Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Lawrence and Winston counties produced several trophy bucks during the opening-weekend hunt recently. Howard Simpson checked in with this wide-racked 9-point, while Nicholas Landers bagged this tall 8-point. Wildlife Biologist Bill Gray of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division thinks the WMA system in Alabama is underutilized.

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