WFF will initiate the Game Check program for the 2013–14 hunting season. Game Check will allow all deer and turkey hunters, both licensed and exempt, to report all deer (i.e., bucks and does) and turkeys harvested in Alabama. All deer and turkey hunters will still be required to have a Harvest Record in their possession while hunting and be required to fill it out prior to moving the deer or turkey. Following completion of the harvest record, hunters will be able to report all deer and turkeys harvested. Harvests can be reported via the Outdoor Alabama app for iPhone and Droid smartphones, ADCNR’s website (www.outdooralabama.com/gamecheck), or by phone (1-800-888-7690).
When a hunter reports their deer kill to Game Check, they will provide their hunting license number, the county where the deer was killed, the sex of the deer, and whether the deer was killed on public or private property. Information from harvested turkeys reported through the Game Check process includes hunting license number, county, public or private land, and adult or jake. The hunter will be issued a verification number at the time they report their harvest. The verification number may be recorded on the harvest record.
Data collection is an important part of any deer or turkey management program. Data collection allows managers to monitor trends in the deer and turkey population’s physical condition, population numbers, harvest numbers, hunter success rates, and many other measures of a management program and it’s effectiveness. Not collecting the right types or amounts of data often adds many unnecessary challenges to an already difficult task. This is true for deer or turkeys on a small private property or across an entire state.
WFF biologists and administrators examine the agency’s data collection efforts each and every year to assess the effectiveness and efficacy of the deer and turkey management programs. One area where data collection efforts have been lacking is an understanding of how the state’s deer and turkey harvest is distributed across the state and throughout the season. Game Check will allow WFF to collect and evaluate these data better than any previous method they have employed. Knowing when and where people are harvesting deer and turkey, as well as when and where people are not, will be valuable when evaluating the effects of the timing and length of the various types of deer (e.g., archery, muzzleloader, either-sex, etc.) and turkey seasons on the harvest on a county and regional basis, rather than a statewide basis only.
WHITE-TAILED DEER REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH COLLECTIONS AND EXTENDED SEASON IN SouthWest ALABAMA
While the new Game Check system will affect all of Alabama’s deer hunters, another recent change will only impact hunters in a few counties in the southwestern corner of the state. Hunters in Baldwin, Escambia, Mobile, and Washington Counties, as well as hunters in portions of Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Monroe, and Wilcox Counties, will be allowed to deer hunt until February 10th. These hunters will not have more total days to deer hunt than hunters in the other parts of Alabama since the deer season will be closed December 2–11 in these areas. These ten days are being moved to early February in response to the desires of many hunters in the area, as well as data collected over the years by WFF wildlife biologists.
Hunters in several areas of Alabama have expressed displeasure with the traditional January 31st closing date of Alabama’s deer season for several years. Their complaints centered on their inability to hunt the rut in the area they hunted. Many felt most, if not all, deer breeding occurred after January 31. This was based on their inability to see and kill mature bucks during the season, lack of visible rut “sign” (i.e., scrapes, rubs, chasing behavior) during hunting season, and the increased deer activity they observed two to three weeks after the close of deer season. While much of their evidence for a late rut was anecdotal, some strong evidence existed that supported their concerns.
Since 1995, WFF staff members have collected data on the reproductive health of deer in many parts of Alabama. The majority of sites sampled showed the majority of deer breeding occurred during the traditional hunting season framework (i.e., October 15–January 31), but some sites did show average conception dates at the very end of January and early February. Even after collecting 15 years of data, many areas of the state remained poorly sampled as late as 2009.
Increased data collection efforts by WFF staff beginning in spring 2010 did a very good job of filling in many of the conception date data gaps. The increased data made it very clear most sites in some portions of the state had rut dates that went beyond January 31st. The one area where the late dates were most consistent from site to site was southwestern Alabama. Data collected since 1995 show the average conception date in the February season zone is January 31, with 49% of the deer in the sample having conception dates after January 31. For comparison, deer collected in the remainder of the state had an average conception date of January 15th, with 24% of the deer breeding after January 31st.
WFF’s Wildlife Section staff will continue to increase its reproductive health data collection efforts throughout the state in an effort to more clearly define areas with significantly early or late conception dates, but issues in certain regions dictated significantly increased sampling efforts beginning in 2013. One of these areas is the area surrounding the February season zone. The number of sites sampled in that area of the state was greatly increased in the spring of 2013. A minimum of two sites were targeted for sampling in each county located south of U.S. Highway 80. The increased effort will ultimately determine the extent of the February season zone.
Another area of the state where biologists intensified their data collection efforts is along the Chattahoochee River valley region from Lee County to Houston County. What makes this area unique is its distinctly earlier rut. Deer along the Chattahoochee River tend to breed in early to mid-December, rather than mid- January to early February. Shifting hunting days in this area from early in the season to February would not be justified based on conception date data, nor would it be well-received by hunters in the region. The increased sampling will determine where the early breeding (early to mid-December) ends and the later breeding (mid-January to early February) begins.
As areas with distinctly different average conception dates are identified across the state, additional management zones, such as the February season zone, may be identified. Several criteria will determine whether these areas warrant a different season structure, including the size of the area (i.e., is it large enough to be considered a separate zone) and factors effecting conception dates (e.g., deer stocking source, management activities, etc.) These items will ultimately determine where management zone lines are drawn.
REDUCTION OF EITHER SEX HUNTING OPPORTUNITIES IN NORTH ALABAMA
One final change that will affect deer hunters in a portion of Alabama is the reduction of either-sex hunting opportunities in a portion of northern Alabama. This area was delineated based on three primary items:
Situations where additional antlerless harvest opportunities are needed in the region can be addressed with the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). DMAP cooperators can acquire a permit to harvest antlerless deer throughout the deer season with an increased daily bag limit if the WFF Wildlife Biologist working with the Cooperator determines this is needed based on deer harvest data collected by the cooperator. DMAP is a free program with minimal requirements for participation.
Managing Alabama’s deer and turkey populations and their hunters is a unique and challenging process. WFF strives to be proactive with management strategies that keep the best interests of the deer and turkey populations and hunters at the forefront of the decision making process. Enhanced data collection efforts and tools such as Game Check will undoubtedly provide WFF with the best available information as we make decisions regarding season lengths, dates, bag limits, and other factors related to the management of our vast wildlife resources.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.