Cook: Deer activity is nearing its peak in most of Alabama

David Heatherly bagged this 200-pound buck at the Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area. (ADCNR)

Montgomery, Ala. – In most parts of the state, Alabama deer hunters are in the middle of peak hunting season when deer are moving with heightened rutting activity. Chris Cook, deer program coordinator at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), says hunters need to spend as much time in the forest as possible for the rest of the season.

“If we have normal weather for the rest of the season, there’s likely to be a lot of deer being killed,” Cook said. “In the southern part of the state, the rut is preparing to start. When things go like this and the weather is good, the hunters are in the woods. That’s usually the big factor. It’s not necessarily deer activity; it is also the hunting activity. Hunters are much more likely to persevere and spend more time in the forest when the weather is in the 40’s as opposed to the 70’s or teens and it’s not raining. The weather really plays a big part in the hunting activity.

“The bucks become interested when the rut begins. This is the time to go hunting if you’re in the bottom two-thirds of the state.”

Deer season runs through February 10 in most parts of the state. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/deer-season for details on deer season dates in Alabama’s various deer zones.

Cook said the hunting season didn’t start well because of the fall weather and an unusual cold spell around Christmas.

“It was very dry in much of the state early in the hunting season,” he said. “That will always have an impact on wildlife, particularly deer. The acorn crop was hit or missed. It was pretty good in some areas, just average in some, and below average in some.

“These four or five days of freezing cold weather have really hurt everyone’s food plantations. Most people don’t plant enough acreage to affect the carrying capacity or overall food supply of the deer herd, but it could definitely affect people’s hunting success as many people rely heavily on these food fields.”

Cook said to have a noticeable impact on the deer herd, landowners and tenant farmers would need to keep a significant portion of the land area in wildlife openings.

“Most people plant to attract deer during hunting season,” he said. “For them, it’s all about finding the right place to allow the hunters access. If you are cultivating forage plots to improve overall habitat quality, improve land carrying capacity and affect deer health, then you will likely need at least 5% of the cultivated area in quality forage plots year-round. An absolute minimum would be 2-3%. Most lots have 1% or less of food lots, especially leased land. If you can plant enough acreage, the challenge is planting the right stuff so the deer have food all year round, not just during hunting season.”

As temperatures moderate recently, Cook said some of the feeding plots will recover. As other search material is scarce, the surviving feeders may be the place to go.

“If they have a few forage plots that are recovering and growing well, maybe they can end the season in a great way,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. This sustained warmer weather should support everything. It will take a while, but I’ve already had reports that some of the clover is coming back.”

In years past, a 200-pound stag wasn’t particularly common. That has changed in recent years. Anyone keeping up with Alabama deer season via social media has seen another year of really big deer, not just in terms of antlers but also in body size with numerous deer over the 200 pound mark.

“Anytime you see a deer that big, it’s usually a combination of age and good food,” Cook said. “A lot of people manage their wildlife properties, and that includes not just the forage plots, but also the way they manage the wood stocks with burning and thinning.”

Source