By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
With the weather unseasonably warm for the opening weekend of gun deer season, hunters in the counties in the CWD (chronic wasting disease) Management Zone (CMZ), Lauderdale and Colbert, did not harvest whitetails at the same rate as last season’s opening weekend.
Wildlife biologists with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division collected 127 samples as part of the weekend of mandatory CWD testing. Last year 207 deer were sampled in those two adjacent counties. Three cases of CWD have been confirmed in Lauderdale County, the first two in early 2022 and the third in early 2023. No other cases of CWD have been confirmed in Alabama.
As part of the CWD surveillance effort, mandatory sampling weekends were set for the 2023-2024 season in Lauderdale and Colbert counties. The first mandatory weekend for both counties was this past week’s opening weekend. The second mandatory testing weekend for Lauderdale County in the high-risk zone (HRZ) is December 2-3, 2023. The second mandatory weekend for the buffer zone (BZ), all of Colbert County, is January 6-7, 2024.
“We had folks at two of the processors in that area, like we did last year,” said WFF Deer Program Coordinator Chris Cook. “I was at Florence Frozen Meats, which is the busiest processor in the area. I think that this year’s 127 deer sampled was probably more attributed to the weather. Last year, opening weekend was cold. This year, the weather was pretty and clear, but it was warmer than last year. That can affect deer movement.
“As far as compliance, I think we did pretty good.”
Cook said when you compare the sampling data to the Game Check data, the compliance rate was between 73% and 74%.
People in northwest Alabama appeared to be enjoying a nice day in the outdoors, but other activities reduced the number of hunters in the woods, according to Cook.
“What was reported statewide in deer harvested was 11,672 for last season’s opening weekend,” he said. “This year, there were a little less than 9,000 deer harvested on opening weekend. So, it was a little off statewide. I think the mild weather had a lot to do with that. I know we saw a lot of people fishing when we were coming over the bridge going into Florence.
“But it was a good weekend. We talked to a lot of folks and answered questions, which is always good at these in-person sampling events. By doing it this way, we get a good random sample of age classes of both sexes. It was a really good distribution of samples based on the locations the people gave us. They were scattered all over the county.”
Other than the Florence site, WFF had sampling locations set up at the Lauderdale WMA (wildlife management area) near Waterloo, Freedom Hills WMA near Cherokee and North Alabama Deer Shack Processor in Rogersville.
Cook said some of the samples collected were from counties outside of but near the CMZ.
“We got deer from Lauderdale, Colbert, Franklin, Lawrence, Madison and Marion,” he said. “Lawrence and Limestone are also high priority counties. Hopefully, the weather for the next mandatory weekend will be a little more conducive for hunting and we’ll get more samples. We should get more samples from Colbert County during the January mandatory weekend. That’s when the hunting picks up down there.”
When the first CWD case was confirmed on January 6, 2022, an emergency regulation was signed the next day to establish the CMZ in Lauderdale and Colbert counties. The initial HRZ of Lauderdale County was west of U.S. Highway 43. However, the HRZ was expanded to include all of Lauderdale County. Carcass restrictions were also put in place that prohibit the transport of deer carcasses and deer parts in the CMZ. Deer harvested in the HRZ must remain in the HRZ, and deer harvested in the BZ must remain in the CMZ.
Supplemental wildlife feeding and baiting privileges have been suspended within all of Colbert and Lauderdale counties. The suspension of supplemental feeding will not apply to bird feeders within 100 feet of a building or occupied dwelling or feed inside an active feral hog trap. Supplemental feeding and baiting privileges will still be allowed outside of the CMZ.