Bowhunters of America helps ADCNR

Published 11:12 pm Sunday, January 4, 2009

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Another one of those partnerships that helps the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reach certain goals has been forged with the Bowhunters of Alabama.
The particular goal of this partnership is to reduce the deer herd at Oak Mountain State Park through a series of archery hunts. State Parks and the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division had handled the archery hunts at Oak Mountain for the first two years, but public interest in the hunts had begun to wane, according to Forrest Bailey, State Parks' Natural Resource Manager.
“From an administrative standpoint, it was a very energy-intensive program for State Parks and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. We decided that we would try a different approach. That was based on decisions made by Commissioner (Barnett) Lawley, Corky Pugh (WFF Director), Gary Moody (Chief of Wildlife) and myself.”
The decision was made to let BHA come up with a format to handle the registration process, which includes rigorous proficiency test and an interview procedure for each hunter that determines the number of years hunted with bow and arrow, the number of animals taken and experience in the field.
BHA set up two proficiency tests at Oak Mountain and one at Autauga Bow Range to establish its approved list of 95 hunters.
Bailey said, “We've very pleased with the way this worked. We have a very responsible group of bowhunters, spearheaded by Barry Estes.”
The only problem encountered so far has been the weather.
One of the BHA hunters suggested anyone who needed rain should contact the bow hunters and schedule an event.
 “The first hunt, we had terrible weather,” Bailey said. “We had tornado warnings, shifting winds and sporadic rain throughout the day.
But at 4 o'clock in the morning, when we opened registration, there were 12 hunters waiting for us to open the doors. We ended up with 75 hunters that participated.
The archery hunts were two-day events for the first two years, but deer adapted very quickly to the crowd in the park.
“We decided to go to one-day hunts because of the spook factor the second day,” Bailey said. “We noticed since the first series of hunts that the take the second day is not as productive. The deer recognize the increased activity in the woods and don't move as much as they typically do. These are wild deer. It doesn't matter that they live in the park.”
Estes said BHA made it very plain that the main goal was to reduce the deer herd at Oak Mountain, which has severely stressed the park's fragile ecosystem.
“The people were awesome,” Estes said. “We talked about what we were trying to accomplish. We explained that this was by no means a trophy hunt - we were up here to take as many does as we could, but to take deer off the land. That is what Commissioner Lawley stressed. He wanted to take mouths off Oak Mountain.”
Bailey said there has been a noticeable, albeit small improvement in reducing the damage done by the deer herd.
One of the five deer taken during the second hunt was a 2 ?-year-old 6-point buck that weighed 170 pounds. The other deer harvested also appeared to be in very good shape.
“The condition of the deer that have been taken is really good compared to the past,” said Chris Cook, WFF wildlife biologist. “Last year we had a super acorn crop, so they were able to go into the winter in pretty good shape with a lot of fat reserves. They came out of winter pretty well, and then we went into the summer and we had better-than-average rainfall. Browse conditions were about as good as could be expected, and we had another good acorn crop this year.
Estes said he just hopes the weather will cooperate for the two hunts remaining in January and that both sides will be happy with the results.