Waterfowl Resources in ALabama
Alabama Hunting & Fishing
When conversations arise regarding major waterfowl hunting hotspots, Alabama generally is not included. Never would you associate any town in Alabama with Stuttgart, Lake Charles or any of the small towns that dot the Mississippi Delta. Location is as important with duck hunting as it is in real estate. Alabamians have the unfortunate aspect of being located between two of the major migration flyways, the Mississippi and Atlantic, and to add, we are at their terminal end. Be that as it may, many of those interested in pursuing waterfowl in Alabama would be surprised by the opportunities available. In reference to our increase in state duck stamp sales, it’s vividly apparent that many have already discovered these abundant opportunities.
If you are one of the many that participates in this challenging sport, you have likely noticed an increase in the number of duckboat trailers at boat ramps or decoy spreads in your favorite sloughs. There is certainly a reason, we simply have more duck hunters now….a lot more. Based on state duck stamp sales from the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), Alabama’s duck hunter numbers have increased nearly every year for the past 10 years. Specifically, duck stamp sales numbers have increased from 17,800 in 2006 to 29,369 in 2016, a 65% increase. If you reference the lowest amount of sales by year in the decade (16,989 in 2007) compared to the number of stamps sold in 2016, the difference is a 73% increase. Alabama is one of only two states (Louisiana) with increasing waterfowl hunter numbers out of 14 states in the Mississippi Flyway.
So why is there an increase? Some attribute it to the popularity of the TV show Duck Dynasty, which first aired in 2012. This show certainly fueled the fire in the popularity of waterfowl hunting, but it does not explain the totality of the increase in popularity. Other factors such as social media, internet videos, hunting TV shows, increased waterfowl populations, increased and improved waterfowl hunting accessories, and an increase in advertisement for waterfowl hunting, are all factors that have led to the growth in and attractiveness of waterfowl hunting. The social factor has probably been one of the largest contributing factors to the increase in waterfowl hunters. There are not many other hunting activities where one can sit with all their friends in one location, the duck blind, and chew the fat, while waiting for shooting opportunities.
The funding accrued from the sale of state duck stamps, by law, is required to be utilized for the State’s waterfowl conservation programs and the conservation of waterfowl habitat. Additionally, the Division may enter into contracts with non-profit organizations for the use of up to one-half of such funds outside of the United States. WFF has entered into multiple contracts with Ducks Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited Canada to cooperatively leverage funding for many waterfowl habitat projects in Canada to preserve and expand nesting grounds. All projects are located on the breeding grounds where nesting waterfowl eventually migrate to Alabama or adjacent States and other southerly wintering grounds. WFF has also utilized the state duck stamp funding as a stand-alone funding source to purchase waterfowl habitat tracts in the State, serving as additions to the WMA system.
Alabama’s state duck stamp funds have also served as a State matching fund source for federal programs such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) to further leverage our state dollars to acquire waterfowl habitat in purchasing over 12,000 acres in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. This acquisition was part of an overall purchase in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta of over 47,000 acres involving Forever Wild, WFF, Florida Gas, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and the Alabama Wildlife Federation. WFF plans to further utilize the NAWCA program in submitting additional grant requests to assist in the habitat renovations on our Waterfowl Management Areas.
Improving Public Opportunities
Wildlife biologists with the Division have been working diligently on planning and implementing positive changes on improving public hunting opportunities on our WMAs. These changes include purchasing and establishing contractual agreements for more waterfowl habitat to be added to the WMA system; creation of Special Opportunity Quota Hunt Areas; revamping our Dewatering Units on our WMAs to provide better water management and encourage more waterfowl use; implementing Moist-Soil Management efforts focusing on natural vegetation and invertebrate management providing high sources of protein for wintering waterfowl; implementing a Wood Duck nest box program providing greater nesting potential for hens and collecting reproductive data; increasing Wood Duck banding efforts to provide harvest, survival, and movement data; developing more cooperative waterfowl research efforts to assist WFF in making scientifically informed decisions on waterfowl management; and increased efforts in providing technical assistance to private landowners for waterfowl habitat enhancement opportunities. With these implementations, WFF plans to continue the positive impact on waterfowl habitats and populations across the state and positive experiences for waterfowl hunters in the field.
To ensure the interest of Alabama’s waterfowling community is represented in continent-wide waterfowl management, waterfowl biologists with the Division represent Alabama on the Mississippi Flyway Council with one serving as the State’s Flyway Council Representative and one serving as Alabama’s Technical Section Representative. The role of the Technical Section is to discuss research, analyze population data and trends, and generate recommendations based on these data to improve and enhance migratory gamebird populations and opportunities for hunting enthusiasts. The Council is typically comprised of administrative level biologists who discuss recommendations passed by the Technical Section and vote whether to forward the recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who ultimately has the final decision and regulatory recommendation. Our participation in the Council ensures Alabama has a voice in waterfowl management decisions regarding the populations in the Mississippi Flyway and are implemented with keeping Alabama’s duck hunter interests in mind.
While it is certainly a welcomed sight to experience an increased sales of state duck stamps and a sector of the hunting community utilizing public hunting opportunities, the challenge faced by WFF is how to manage increased use of a finite resource. For those hunters who have been taking advantage of public waterfowl hunting opportunities provided by WFF, you have likely noticed the recent regulation modifications to some areas. These include reduction of shells in possession, modification of hunting hours/days on the WMAs and restricted use of gasoline-powered motors in certain locations. While WFF certainly understands the limitations this places on the hunter, actions were required to reduce pressure on our waterfowl resources while encouraging their continued use. If no restrictions were implemented, we would continue the cycle of an outstanding opening weekend then substandard hunting thereafter. The effect of these regulatory subjects will be monitored and analyzed and adjusted as needed to provide optimal conditions for both the waterfowl resources utilizing these public areas and for the hunters who pursue them.
For those interested in pursuing waterfowl in Alabama, the public hunting opportunities are abound statewide. While the Waterfowl Management Areas such as the Jackson County WMAs (Mud Creek, Crow Creek, & Raccoon Creek WMAs), Swan Creek and Mallard-Fox WMAs located along the Tennessee River are specifically managed for waterfowl, numerous other WMAs across the State can provide quality duck hunting. Wildlife Management Areas such as David K. Nelson-Demopolis, Lowndes, Upper Delta and the W.L. Holland/Mobile –Tensaw Delta are all located along major rivers and provide ample wintering waterfowl habitats consisting of temporal swamps, tupelo gum wetlands, flooded hardwood bottoms and beaver ponds which produce productive hunting opportunities. The open marshes of the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, with its expansive beds of submerged aquatic vegetation, provides an expansive assortment of food sources highly attractive to wintering waterfowl. The saline waters of Mobile Bay, coastal marshes and Mississippi Sound have long been considered a destination location for those that pursue the diver species of waterfowl. In addition, the Alabama, Tennessee-Tombigbee, Black Warrior, Coosa, Tallapoosa and Chattahoochee Rivers and their backwaters have the potential to produce limits of puddle ducks for those who conduct the necessary preliminary aerial imagery assessments and on the ground scouting efforts.
Although Alabama may not be included in discussions of waterfowl hotspots, one can find many levels of waterfowl hunting enjoyment. Ranging from a simple morning of pass shooting wood ducks in a beaver pond to a full day of hunting from a boat blind in Mobile Bay complete with an elaborate spread of hundreds of decoys. If interested in entering the waterfowl hunting arena, the best thing one could do is learn the nuances and ethics of waterfowl hunting from an experienced hunter. There are specific rules and regulations associated with waterfowl hunting, and becoming knowledgeable of them is the first step one should accomplish before going afield. From the Tennessee Valley to Mobile Bay, WFF’s wildlife management areas provide a chance for anyone to enter the realm of waterfowl hunting. Contacting the Division’s district offices can also shorten this learning curve in providing waterfowl hunting information and on your local public hunting opportunities.