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CAB Passes February Extension in SW Alabama

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

An extension of deer season into February in southwest Alabama, the Outdoor Alabama Game Check system and a definition of “area” for purposes of supplemental feeding for deer and feral hogs were among the items approved by the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board Saturday at Vestavia Hills, Ala.

Starting in 2014, the February deer season would allow deer hunting until February 10 in all of Baldwin, Mobile, Washington and Escambia counties, most of Monroe and Conecuh counties and portions of Choctaw, Clarke, Wilcox, Butler and Covington counties (see map). Those areas would be closed to gun deer hunting December 2-11 to offset the extension into February.

The Alabama Dog Hunting Association opposed the extension because the number of days of deer hunting with dogs would be reduced.

Hunters in other areas of the state also expressed an interest in extending the season into February, but Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. said there isn’t enough data to support an extension at this time.

“We need to have data to support what we do,” Commissioner Guy said. “Currently we don’t have the data to support (extending the season in other counties). If we’re going to do it right, and we’re going to, we need that data. We have a plan for this year to do the deer fetal studies in the other counties that are not on the map. We got calls from about every county south of Montgomery that wanted the extension, too, and I understand that. But we need to have the data.”

Commissioner Guy also said he understood that dog deer hunters were upset because the end of dog deer hunting remains January 15 statewide.

“We did that because we didn’t feel it was appropriate for the resource or for the hunters in the rest of the state to give that area extra days,” he said. “The dog hunters who stalk hunt will still be able to hunt the same number of days. Now my commitment to those who have an interest in this is that if we extend the season into other areas of the state next year, we will be obviously including more of those who are affected by dog deer hunting days. My commitment is to try somehow to address that, so that you don’t lose that many days, or you lose less days. It’s very complicated. It’s not simple. But I’m not saying we won’t go back and look at that.”

Commissioner Guy said the implementation of the Outdoor Alabama Game Check system, whereby hunters in Alabama will be required to report their deer or turkey harvests within 24 hours of the kill, will increase the data collection and allow the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to respond more quickly to the changing dynamics of the wildlife herds and hunter activities, which will be particularly pertinent to the season extension.

“With Game Check we’re going to be able to see how many bucks and does are being taken in this extended season,” he said. “You will be required to report the bucks you kill. You’re not getting extra bucks. It’s the same three-buck limit.

“When it comes to does, if you don’t want to shoot does, don’t shoot does. Certainly, you need to manage your properties. For private land, this will provide the ability to hunt into what the data shows in this area is a later rut. The information we have supports it.”

The board also approved a reduction in the daily bag limit of unantlered deer in a portion of north Alabama. The daily harvest during gun season of unantlered deer would be reduced from two per day to one per day. One area that was included in the original proposal – the area west of Highway 431 to the Tennessee River and Highway 231 – was removed from the area with reduced doe harvest.

The other major action taken by the board was to define the “area” where it is legal to hunt deer and feral hogs when supplemental feed is on the property. The proposal unanimously passed by the board would make it legal to hunt an area if the feed is more than 100 yards away from and out of the line of sight of the hunter because of natural vegetation and/or naturally-occurring terrain features. The regulation also includes a “rebuttable presumption” clause that means that if the Conservation Enforcement Officer deems there is evidence of baiting that a citation can still be issued.

“Our Conservation Enforcement Officers do a great job, but under the law, there is no clear definition of what the area is,” Commissioner Guy said. “For some officers, that could be the size of the auditorium. For others, it could be the size of the parking lot. It’s not a problem with the officers; it’s because it’s not defined in the law.”

Commissioner Guy said the department researched how surrounding states deal with the issue of “area” and found that Mississippi has the 100-yard regulation, while Tennessee’s regulation stipulates the hunter must be 250 yards away from the feed. North Georgia’s regulation prohibits hunting when feed is less than 200 yards away. The regulation applies to deer and feral swine only.

“This proposed area definition does not allow baiting,” he said. “This is not a circumvention of the law that says that you can’t bait. You still can’t bait. The purpose of this is to allow the officers and public an opportunity to do what is already allowed. You can feed 365 days a year in Alabama. Supplemental feeding is allowed. People want to feed on their property and do it in a lawful manner, but they don’t know what the parameters are. So we’re trying to set the parameters with this.

“Now if you go out and try to circumvent this by pouring corn out behind a bale of hay, that’s not going to work. That’s baiting. …We are not allowing baiting.”

In other action, board member Bill Hatley of Gulf Shores made a motion to eliminate fall turkey season in the six counties – Clarke, Clay, Covington, Monroe, Randolph and Talladega – where it is currently allowed. Those affected counties will have a spring turkey season only from March 15 to April 30, starting in 2014. The board also voted to remove a portion of Mobile County from a restriction on turkey hunting.

The board passed a motion to increase hunting and fishing licenses according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase of 1.6 percent, which means the cost of an annual resident all-game hunting license will increase about 40 cents.

Adjustments were made to the bag limit for gray triggerfish. To match federal regulation, the daily bag for triggerfish was set at two fish per person. The use of laser sights for hunters who are legally blind was also approved.

In other deer news, the board approved allocating funding for a deer mortality study through the use of collared deer in a collaborative project involving Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and the School of Forestry and Wildlife at Auburn University. Also, a portion of Elmore County and all of Wilcox County were placed on the permit system for dog deer hunting.

All action taken by the board must be approved by Commissioner Guy before it is implemented.

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