Outdoors

Outdoor Alabama Weekly
Alabama Deer Hunters Asked to Share the Hunt

(ADCNR) Alabama deer hunters 19 and older can Share the Hunt and possibly win a hunt with Jackie Bushman. WFF Outreach Coordinator Marianne Gauldin, left, helped Yvette Harris harvest a doe during a recent mentored hunt.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division is teaming with Buckmasters on an outreach program to promote hunting across social media platforms.

The Share the Hunt initiative (https://buckmasters.com/Share-the-Hunt), which kicks off November 19, encourages deer hunters to introduce new people to the hunting opportunities available in Alabama’s great outdoors and record the hunt to share on social media. Each hunting mentor who participates will receive a Buckmasters subscription and discount codes for some great hunting gear.

Don’t fret if you’re not a Buckmasters member. The Share the Hunt promotion is open to everyone!

All participants must be 19 years old or older, including the new hunters. A new hunter, or mentee, is defined as any adult who has not purchased a hunting license in the past three years. Mentors are required to submit photos of their hunt along with a brief description of the experience to be eligible for the rewards and be considered for Mentor of the Year. Bonus points will be given to mentors who share their experience on social media.

“I think everybody should know by now that hunters and license sales have been dwindling for the past several decades,” said Chuck Sykes, WFF Director. “We (WFF) created the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, Go Fish, Alabama!, and Shooting 101 to reach a new audience.”

Sykes said the Adult Mentored Hunting Program was started after he realized that even some WFF employees weren’t hunters. They wanted to learn to hunt but were hesitant to ask someone to take them. He hopes the partnership with Buckmasters will expand that outreach exponentially.

“With Share the Hunt, we’re working with Buckmasters, trying to reach their membership to stress to them how important it is to share their experience and teach someone new how to hunt,” he said. “Honestly, hunters I’ve seen over the years kind of live in an echo chamber. The people we associate with most are fairly like-minded, and most of us hunt. When you ask most hunters how many people buy a hunting license in Alabama, they think it’s 40 to 50% because that’s the group of people they hang around with. In reality, it’s 4% or less who buy a license.

“There are people we work with, go to church with, go to kids’ events with who would really like to learn to hunt and be more self-sufficient. They’re just a little hesitant to ask for that assistance. We need to step out of our comfort zone and ask people if they want to go and teach them what we know.”

Sykes cautioned new hunters’ expectations can be completely different from those of us who grew up hunting.

“Something we have discovered through the years is that the motivations for hunting for these late-onset hunters, people who didn’t grow up hunting, are not what our motivations are,” he said. “They have no hunting tradition. They didn’t learn it from their grandfather or their father. You can’t talk to them about the tradition of hunting, and, most of the time, you can’t talk to them about the thrill, the sportsmanship, the ability to hunt an animal in its own backyard and get a sense of accomplishment from that. That does not resonate with them.

“They’re all about the food. Food joins a bunch of people. That’s something we enjoy. So, we have to make that the center, not that challenge of killing a big deer, not the thrill of the hunt, not the tradition. It’s about providing quality protein for the family and being self-sufficient. That’s what motivates most of the late-onset hunters. Now they may eventually get to the tradition part if they like it and hand it down to their kids. Once they do it long enough, they may get to the excitement and thrill of the hunt. Right now, those messages are lost.”

Sykes said the partnership with Buckmasters on Share the Hunt is a pilot program that will capitalize on the deer-hunting organization’s expansive membership.

“We don’t have the manpower to scale up the effort,” he said. “We felt partnering with Buckmasters was a natural fit. They have the membership and can reach potentially hundreds of thousands of seasoned hunters who could easily take one person a year and make a difference. Where we (WFF) can take maybe 100 people per year, they can take maybe 100,000 a year. We’re just trying to scale up what we know works.”

Jackie Bushman, founder and CEO of Buckmasters, agreed his organization and WFF have the same goals with Share the Hunt.

“Chris Blankenship (Conservation Commissioner) and Chuck are personal friends, and I think we’re all looking at the same thing – increase the numbers in our sport,” Bushman said. “I’ve always made this comment, if the 11 to 12 million deer hunters in the U.S. took one person with them, we’d have 24 million hunters.”

Bushman said he understands the access issue with hunting land and the aging of current hunters, but those hurdles must be overcome.

“If we love the outdoors and what we look forward to each fall, are we willing to share a hunting lease or private land?” he asked. “We’re not talking about family members. We’re talking about somebody that might be at the ballpark with you, or somebody at church, or somebody in business who has never experienced a hunt or maybe never even thought about it.

“Are we willing to take someone 19 or over out and teach them how to shoot, teach them about the shooting sports, buy them a license, and then take them hunting to see if they can get their first deer? There’s a lot of landowners who have management programs to shoot does. It doesn’t have to be a buck, although it can be. A lot of folks are looking for people to come in and help shoot the does.”

Bushman agrees with Sykes that the best method of outreach to newcomers is through social media.

“We want you to take someone hunting and take plenty of pictures,” Bushman said. “We want you to share the experience online and give back to the sport you’ve been taking from. That’s what it’s about. We’ve got sponsors who are going to provide digital coupons to the mentor and mentee. And somebody is going to win a hunt with me just to say thank you. The question is how can we help our sport? How can we leave a legacy?”

Bushman, who started Buckmasters in 1986, has hunted deer all over North America and has bagged some giant bucks. He said people have asked him the same question for the past 30 years – what is his favorite buck?

“People are probably thinking that’s the Alberta (Canada) buck or the Montana buck,” he said. “No, it goes right back to Myrtlewood, Alabama, when I was 15 years old. We were doing a dog hunt, and that 6-inch spike came across the top of that ridge. I shot him with a 12-gauge and 00 buckshot. In my mind, it’s like it happened yesterday. That’s what got me hooked on deer hunting.

“That’s what I hope, that these mentees who go out for their first time will have the same feeling that you and I had on our first deer. It’s a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of being a part of the conservation movement. It’s a feeling that’s priceless.”

Black Vultures Test Positive for Avian Influenza in Montgomery County


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has confirmed Eurasian H5 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in wild black vultures in Montgomery County, Alabama. This is the second confirmation of HPAI in Alabama. In February 2022, a singular case of a wild, hunter harvested American wigeon tested positive in Limestone County.
In a statement from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier said: “We are aware of this detection and are partnering with ADCNR to assist in response. All poultry owners and growers should be reminded to maintain strict biosecurity and to report any sick birds to our office. For more information about poultry biosecurity and how to report sick birds, please go to our website www.agi.alabama.gov.”
Eurasian H5 HPAI was detected in the United States in January 2022 in South Carolina and has since been detected in 48 additional states, including Alabama. HPAI H5 viruses infect the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of birds, can spread rapidly, and cause high mortality in infected poultry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk to humans from Eurasian H5 HPAI is low. For more information about the risk of avian influenza to humans, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/h5n1-virus.htm.
The USDA monitors for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets, and migratory wild bird populations. Samples were collected for testing from a publicly reported die-off of black vultures in Montgomery County. Preliminary tests performed at the Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Lab discovered the non-negative cases, which were then confirmed positive for H5 HPAI by the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.
Wild birds can be infected with avian influenza without appearing sick. The public should avoid contact with any dead or dying bird. If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and other birds. Hunters who handle wild birds should dress game birds in the field when possible and practice good hygiene to prevent any potential disease spread. Remains from processed birds can be buried where the animal was harvested or double bagged and disposed along with normal household waste.
The public is encouraged to report dead or dying bird sightings to ADCNR for collection and testing. To report a sighting, call ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division at (334) 242-3469.
For information regarding HPAI and domestic poultry, please contact the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Contact information is available at www.agi.alabama.gov.
ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management, and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Pitts Hooked On Winter Crappie Fishing on Coosa Reservoirs

(David Rainer) Capt. Lee Pitts slides the landing net under a big white crappie at Neely Henry Reservoir. Pitts said Neely Henry and Weiss Lake have slab white crappie and black crappie. During the winter, the crappie are found on river and creek ledges in some kind of structure.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
If you love to head to the woods this time of year to pursue white-tailed deer, Capt. Lee Pitts is right there with you. However, if you want to take a break from the deer stand and catch crappie on Weiss or Neely Henry reservoirs, Pitts is your man.


“If you want to catch crappie this winter, I’m ready,” Pitts said as we headed out on Neely Henry, an 11,235-acre impoundment on the Coosa River in northeast Alabama. When he’s not on Neely Henry, he’s fishing Weiss, a 30,200-acre Coosa impoundment.


“Weiss has a lot more open bays and open water,” he said. “On the days you’re dealing with wind, Neely Henry is more of a river system. In the winter, the crappie tend to get more on the ledges and creek channels in that deeper water. So, on Neely Henry, you can get protection from some of that north wind. Also, on Neely Henry, there’s a 9-inch (minimum) length limit on crappie. If you’re looking to take some fish home for the freezer, Neely Henry has great options on that. I’m not saying Neely doesn’t have big fish, because Neely has some big white and black crappie.”


The minimum length limit is 10 inches on Weiss Lake, known as the “Crappie Capital of the World.”
Pitts said finding structure is the key to catching crappie during the colder months. The guides and serious crappie anglers work with Alabama Power Company to deploy fish habitat, such as cane beds with concrete blocks.


“On these ledges, I’m looking for the brush,” he said. “On Weiss and Neely, all the guys put their own brush in. We have multiple places with cane beds. We’re putting them out off the edges of the breaks in 10 to 12 feet of water, and we’ve got some even in 18 to 20 feet of water. That gives you options if the fish have not pulled up in the shallower water. If they’re still deep, you’ve still got plenty of structure to catch these fish.”


Pitts uses a drop-shot rig with the bait deployed about 6 inches above the lead. On tough days, he’ll go to minnows, but he prefers to use a variety of crappie jigs.


“I like the Bobby Garlands, the Slab Slayers and Baby Shads,” he said of his jig choices. “With this cold water, they don’t have to move a lot to make it have action. You can just quiver that rod tip, and you still get a lot of action without moving the bait out of the strike zone. That’s what I prefer.
“In December, we’ll start doing some trolling. Even though it’s still wintertime, these fish will start migrating toward the bays. The bait starts moving toward the bays, and these fish are just following them. Some fish will stay on the ledges, but a lot of them will start moving toward the bays.”
Pitts said his trolling technique depends on where the fish are located in the water column when they start heading for the bays.


“You may be in 20 to 30 feet of water, but these fish may be suspended at 10 or 12 feet,” he said. “That’s when you have to pay close attention. I watch my Humminbird electronics all through the day so I’ll know what depth those fish are staying in. I like to use either a 1/24th (ounce) or 1/16th jig head. That seems to give it more action even at a slow speed. If I have to, instead of going to 1/8th. I’ll go with a BB or some type of split shot above the bait, so I’m still getting the depth I need, but I’ve got a bait that will dance around in the water column.”


As far as weather, Pitts prefers days with some sunshine and a light ripple on the water. When it gets windy, it makes it difficult for a proper bait presentation.


“If the front of the boat is going up and down and the rod tip is jumping around, you’re not going to be very productive,” he said. “But I’ll go fishing with whatever weather we’ve got. If you’ve got a little ripple, that’ll push those fish onto the cover instead of just roaming and that will help you with the vertical bite.”
When the fishing starts to transition to the springtime bite, Pitts obviously changes tactics.
“You’re moving and covering more water,” he said. “You’re not fishing as slow or staying with vertical structure. The fish are not holding on the structure or anything in particular. They are following that bait. If you can find the right kind of bait when it starts getting to be spring, the fish are feeding up and getting ready for the spawn.”


Pitts said in late March and into April, the fish will start migrating from the bays and river channels into shallower water, heading to the backs of the creeks and tributaries.


“We’ll have two or three waves of fish that will come in during the spring,” he said. “If you follow a wave of fish as they come in and start feeding, you may find them at the mouths of the creeks and bays for a week or two. Then all of a sudden, they’re in on that secondary point, and then they’ll move all the way to the backs of the creeks and bust up in that shallow water and get on brush.
“Usually, the black crappie will come in first. So, in late January and February, most of what we’re catching will be black crappie. About a month later, you’ll start seeing white crappie. The white crappie will stay on the river longer than the black crappie.”


When the crappie spawn starts to wind down, the fish will start moving back out onto the main river and search for structure.


“That’s when dock-shooting starts coming into play, because Neely Henry has so many docks on the river, the backwaters and the bays,” Pitts said. “Dock-shooting is kind of like playing golf. You might hit 100 terrible shots before you hit that one. You hit that one cast just right and skip that bait under the dock and that line twitches; it’ll keep you coming back.


“Whether it’s a permanent dock or a floating dock, the fish like to get up under them and get out of the sunlight and feed up before they start migrating back to the river ledges.”


Pitts said when he gets clients from out of state, they don’t really understand the quality of crappie that live in Neely Henry and Weiss.


“I tell them we’ll catch some 12- to 14-inch fish, and they’ll say, ‘We’ve got those at home,’” he said. “I tell them our fish are pretty thick. All of a sudden, they’ll catch a 12-incher and say, ‘Look at the shoulders on that fish!’ Our fish have some meat on them.”


Not only is Pitts one of the top crappie guides in northeast Alabama, he’s also a cancer survivor. He’s convinced the great outdoors helped him through his recovery.


“I was having some health issues and, thank goodness, my wife (Laura) talked me into getting it checked out,” he said. “When they found the cancer, I was in surgery the next week to put a port in my chest. When I healed from that, they started an aggressive chemo treatment. I went through 12 rounds of chemo. They let me heal from that, and then I went through five weeks of radiation five days a week.”
Surgery followed the radiation, and Pitts said it was two weeks before he was back on his feet. The doctors told him the quicker he got up and got moving, the better it would be, but he wouldn’t be able to deer hunt that year and probably wouldn’t be able to guide that next spring.


“I had just leased a piece of property before the surgery, and it was all ridge property,” he said. “I had the surgery on September 23, and, by the last three weeks of bow season, I was climbing stands and shooting my bow. Then during the gun season, I would just sling a rifle over my shoulder and walk up and down those ridges, enjoying the woods. There were several days when I would sit on a rock and wonder if I was going to make it back or not. But I think just getting out with my hunting and fishing, I think that’s what helped me heal and keep going. I went right back into guiding. I wasn’t 100%, but I was out there pushing it.


“The biggest thing is my wife said God gave me a platform with my hunting and fishing and the people I’m in contact with. There’s been so many people who have come up to me at a tournament or on a guide trip and told me about a spouse or relative who was going through it. When they see me, I think it helps their anxiety about getting through it and being okay.”
Visit www.pittsoutdoors.com/ for information or call 256-390-4145 to book a trip.
“I’m not big on technology, so just call me and we’ll talk fishing,” Pitts said.

Special Waterfowl Hunting Days for Youth, Veterans and Active Military Personnel for 2022-2023

The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has designated Saturday, November 19, 2022, as one of the 2022-2023 hunting season’s Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days. The second of the two special waterfowl hunting days is scheduled for February 4, 2023.
On those days, military personnel on active duty, veterans (as defined in section 101 of U.S. Code: Title 38), and youth under age 16 who are accompanied by a licensed adult hunter may hunt for waterfowl statewide. Regular waterfowl season shooting hours, bag limits, legal arms and ammunitions apply to the special days. Hunting area rules and regulations also apply.
To participate in the hunt, youth must be accompanied by a licensed adult supervisor. Only one firearm will be allowed per youth and only the youth hunters will be permitted to utilize the firearm for hunting unless the adult meets the requirements of a veteran or active duty military personnel. The adult supervisor must remain within arm’s length of the youth at all times and may accompany up to two youth participants during the hunt. The adult is also expected to review the rules of firearm safety and hunter ethics with each youth and ensure they are followed.
Youth is defined as an individual age 15 years and younger. Adult is defined as an individual age 21 years and older, or as the parent of the youth. The adult must have a state hunting license, state and federal waterfowl stamp and a free Harvest Information Program registration. Veterans and active duty military personnel must be in possession of a valid proof of service such as a military ID, Veterans Administration ID, veteran ID, veteran validation on their driver’s license or a copy of their DD Form 214. Possession of the mandatory hunting licenses and stamps is also required.
For more information about the Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days, contact WFF Migratory Gamebird Coordinator Seth Maddox at Seth.Maddox@dcnr.alabama.gov or (334) 353-2057, or visit www.outdooralabama.com/waterfowl.
ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more www.outdooralabama.com.

Governor Ivey joins in celebration of new boating access

With a recreational boat in the background, Governor Kay Ivey joins in the celebration of the opening of Demopolis City Landing. Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship emphasizes the need for new access to public waters and public lands for hunting and other recreational use. Governor Ivey prepares to cut the ribbon at The Launch at ICW in Orange Beach last week. (David Rainer, Hal Yeager)

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey recently joined in the celebrations of major improvements in boating access in west central Alabama and at the Gulf Coast with ribbon-cutting ceremonies at Demopolis City Landing and The Launch at ICW.

Governor Ivey joined local leaders and dignitaries on the banks of the Tombigbee River on Thursday to open Demopolis City Landing, enabling the area to capitalize on the increase in fishing participation and providing the ability to host local, regional and major fishing tournaments on the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers.

“I am honored to be here to cut the ribbon on the new boat ramp here in Demopolis,” Governor Ivey said. “Truly, this first-class project demonstrates the efficiency of Alabama cooperation. Working together with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the City of Demopolis and Marengo County brought this $3 million investment to west Alabama, which will provide millions of dollars of economic benefit to our Black Belt region of the state.”

The Demopolis City Landing provides a four-lane boat launch with 53 paved parking spots, three handicapped parking sports, green-space parking for hundreds more and 250 feet of docking space.

“Here in Alabama, we are presented with the unique opportunity to not only use our state’s bountiful natural resources to grow our economy but to improve the quality of life of Alabamians through the encouragement of the use of our outdoor recreation,” Governor Ivey said. “This project will allow the Demopolis community to capitalize on great fishing on the Black Warrior and Tombigbee rivers. In fact, with this facility, Marengo County can now host regional and national bass tournaments to help promote access to these waters. Our friends at Alabama Power Company and B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) have continued their longstanding partnership by providing a pavilion for a much-needed space for organizations, from local bass clubs to the largest tournaments, to hold their weigh-ins. And folks, I have participated in a bass weigh-in, so I know that having some space will be yet another plus.

“I fully expect to watch the tourism industry grow even more after the opening of this boat ramp here in Demopolis. We’re known as ‘Alabama the Beautiful’ for a reason, and this opening will allow more of our families, from far and near, to get out and experience our great state. Folks, this project is not an end but just the beginning. In the next few weeks, Commissioner (Chris) Blankenship and the Conservation Department will be developing more boating access like here in Demopolis, but I know this one here in Marengo County will be tough to beat. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.”

Marengo County Commissioner Jason Windham said the project went through many starts and stops before it reached fruition.

“I was about ready to throw my hands up, but Freddy (Padilla with Alabama Power) said you’ve got to finish it; you’ve got to do it,” Windham said. “Land the plane and get this project started.”

Bids for the project came in double the original estimate. To continue the project and complete the landing, ADCNR increased the funding they were providing, and the Marengo County Commission, the Marengo County Economic Development Authority, the Marengo Parks and Recreation Board, the Demopolis Parks and Recreation Board and the City of Demopolis formed a coalition to help fund the additional local match for the project. Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. provided funding toward the construction of two pavilions. Local businesses and companies provided other assets to complete the pavilions.

“It’s been an amazing adventure and amazing journey,” Windham said. “What we figured out was that when the City of Demopolis and Marengo County need to come together, they do. I’m proud to stand here today and say we landed the plane.”

Demopolis Mayor Woody Collins added, “If we tried to thank everybody, we’d be here for hours. There were so many people behind the scenes that have contributed. We know who you are, and we appreciate you so much.”

Commissioner Blankenship said he and Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos traveled to Demopolis and met with Padilla and Demopolis and Marengo County officials and quickly recognized the need for the launch facility and what it could mean for this area.

Commissioner Blankenship and Deputy Commissioner Poolos returned to Montgomery and met with ADCNR staff to devise a plan to find funding for the project and move it up in the priority list of other projects scheduled around the state. They also worked with the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers to speed up the permitting process to allow the work to proceed.

“The passion these guys have for their community and their plan to do something big like this was contagious,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “None of us had the money to do this project alone, but we figured that if we all pulled together, we could get it done. As with any project like this, there were challenges, but any time I called Jason or the mayor, these guys were great, and we worked through every problem. When the bids came in double, I was so thankful we were able to work together to make this happen. The river above flood stage, the bids over budget, soupy soil, rock that had to be drilled to put the pilings down, relocating endangered mussels and other issues were handled quickly and professionally, which goes to show that, if you’re interested in working together and want to make things happen, you can.”

Commissioner Blankenship said the improvements in access to Alabama’s great outdoors have numerous benefits that may not be readily recognized.

“Alabama is truly blessed with woods and waters from one end of the state to the other,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Black Belt is such a beautiful and important part of our state. I’m glad to be here to dedicate this new facility. With the spectacular fishing in all the various waterways, demand for boating access is through the roof here in Demopolis. Building public access is a priority for me as the Commissioner. Acquisition of public hunting land and other public recreational land, building tournament-style boat ramps and piers, trail-building and blueway creation are all in progress around the state.

“Expanding outdoor recreation is one of the biggest opportunities that we have to retain workers in Alabama,” he said. “Having a facility like this in west Alabama will really help this part of the state capitalize on the natural resources that God so richly blessed this area with.”

On Friday, Governor Ivey and Commissioner Blankenship headed to Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast and the dedication of The Launch at ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), just across the canal from The Wharf.

The new launch facility provides a great deal of access to the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach area with about 200 trailer parking spots and a multiple-lane boat ramp. The $19 million project was a joint effort with GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) funds from the State of Alabama and Baldwin County. Governor Ivey committed $10.1 million in state GOMESA funding, while the Baldwin County Commission committed an additional $8.1 million in county GOMESA funding. Another $750,000 from local county funds supported the project.

With more than 1,700 feet of water frontage, the 47-acre property in Orange Beach has a ramp capable of launching six boats at once with docking facilities. In addition to lighted parking, that facility has six covered pavilions with picnic table seating, a grand pavilion, and more than a mile of concrete sidewalks and boardwalks throughout the pavilion and launch areas.

“This large capacity boat ramp was much needed in Coastal Alabama,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “The project was done first-class. The design and beefy materials for the piers, boardwalks, pavilions and restroom facilities were designed to withstand the numerous tropical events that impact this area. It was built right and should be here to provide access to our great boating and fishing resources for decades to come. The Launch at ICW was a dream of Senator Chris Elliott and others. We had numerous conversations on how to make it happen. I am so glad to be here today with Governor Ivey to see this dream is now a reality.”

Eastern Portion of Gopher Tortoise Range Withdrawn from Endangered Species Act Consideration

On October 11, 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the decision to withdraw the petition to list the eastern portion of the gopher tortoise range under the endangered species act after a species status assessment indicated gopher tortoise populations in the eastern portion of its range in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and most of Alabama are robust.
However, gopher tortoise populations in the western portion of its range in Alabama are still federally listed as threatened. The western portion of its range in Alabama includes populations west of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers. The gopher tortoise’s western range also includes southern Mississippi and eastern Louisiana where it is also federally listed as threatened. It is important to remember the gopher tortoise continues to be protected by state regulations and is listed as a priority species of greatest conservation need throughout its range in Alabama.
“The partnerships between state and federal agencies, local and nongovernmental organizations and landowners have been crucial in developing a better understanding of gopher tortoise populations and helping to enhance those populations,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “We are grateful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our other partners for making gopher tortoise conservation a priority.”
The gopher tortoise plays an integral role in the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast. As a keystone species, more than 350 other species depend on its burrows for shelter. These burrows can go as deep as 12 feet, extend more than 60 feet, and provide protection from predators, extreme weather, and the prescribed fires necessary for the habitat to thrive. Actively managing longleaf pine forests not only benefits gopher tortoises, but it also benefits a variety of other wildlife, including the Eastern indigo snake, red-cockaded woodpecker, wild turkey and white-tailed deer.
“Alabama’s commitment to restoring longleaf habitat and enhancing its gopher tortoise populations has been an important factor in the stabilization of gopher tortoise numbers in the eastern part of its range in the state,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, USFWS Southeastern Regional Director. “We will continue to work with our partners in Alabama and throughout the gopher tortoise’s range to conserve this important keystone species.”
Historically, longleaf pine forest covered millions of acres from Texas to Virginia. Habitat fragmentation, degradation, and modification are the primary threats to animals that depend upon longleaf pine habitat. For decades, the USFWS and the six southeastern states in the gopher tortoise’s range have worked to restore longleaf pine forests and enhance gopher tortoise populations.
“The decision not to list the gopher tortoise is good news for Alabama and the other states within its range,” said Chuck Sykes, Director of ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “There are several factors that can make managing for gopher tortoise different in each state. This allows state wildlife agencies to determine the best conservation approach for their individual states, including the development of public-private partnerships that have been effective at enhancing gopher tortoise populations in south Alabama.”
Earlier this year, gopher tortoise conservation in Alabama received a boost when representatives from ADCNR, USFWS, Eckerd College and the Birmingham Zoo released 98 young tortoises into the Geneva State Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Covington County. Prior to the release, tortoise eggs were collected from nests at the WMA and sent to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, to hatch. The hatchlings were then raised at Eckerd College and the Birmingham Zoo for up to two years to increase their chances of survival in the wild – a process called head-starting. These tortoises will be monitored over the next several years to determine their survival rates and movement patterns.
For more information about the USFWS gopher tortoise announcement, click here.
ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at outdooralabama.com.

Reduction in Hunting Accidents Reaches Milestone

(Hunter Safety Systems) Using a quality harness and remaining attached to the tree at all times are keys to treestand safety. Products like the LifeLine keep hunters attached to the tree while climbing to or descending from a treestand. Always use a rope to pull up your bowhunting equipment or unloaded firearm to your treestand.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

More than 200,000 hunters will pursue the abundant game in Alabama this season, which means hunter safety should be at the forefront of any outdoors adventure. Captain Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, would love to see a repeat of the 2021-2022 season, when zero fatalities were reported for hunting accidents.

“Last year was a good year,” Futral said. “Everybody needs to keep up the good work. There were no fatalities in firearms or treestand accidents. We had fewer treestand accidents than firearms incidents, which is unusual.”

WFF Director Chuck Sykes hailed the milestone and recently emphasized the progress made in reducing accidents in the field.

“Hunter safety is a priority for us at WFF,” Sykes said. “So, at the February 2020 Conservation Advisory Board meeting, I made a special PowerPoint slide out of our yearly hunting accidents showing that we had been slowly decreasing the numbers for the past several years.

“Zero fatalities during last season was a monumental occurrence. That’s the first time since WFF began keeping records in 1973 that we have had zero hunting-related fatalities. I certainly hope we can carry this over to this upcoming season.” 

Futral said five treestand accidents and 10 firearms accidents were reported. Of the firearms accidents, four were self-inflicted.

“Those self-inflicted accidents include stumbling and falling, or the trigger got caught on an object,” she said. “The key is that the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Be aware of where the muzzle is pointed just in case of an accidental discharge.

“Also, no dove hunting accidents were reported, which was good. We had two waterfowl hunting incidents. One was self-inflicted, and one happened when the victim was covered by a shooter swinging on game.”

Two turkey hunting incidents were reported with the victims located behind the turkeys. One quail hunting incident and one hog hunting accident were reported, while four accidents occurred during deer hunts.

“The deer hunting incidents were basically careless handling of firearms,” Futral said. “The hog hunter stumbled and fell.”

Though not fatal last season, these accidents underscore there’s never a time to get complacent.

“Complacency will get you in trouble,” Futral said. “The number of treestand accidents are trending in the right direction. This is the lowest number of treestand accidents that we have had. We just need everyone to remain diligent about treestand safety. Most treestand accidents happen when you’re going up or coming down the tree. Make sure you have a quality safety harness, and the rule to follow is to remain attached to the tree when your feet leave the ground until your feet are back on the ground. We also had one accident happen when a hunter was moving a treestand, so be diligent when putting stands up and taking them down.

“I do think word is getting out about our safety outreach, on both treestands and firearms. Hunter education definitely helps, and our PSAs (public service announcements) are helping. I do think hunters are more aware of being safe when they’re hunting.”

Futral urges all hunters to follow the 12 guidelines for using a treestand safely:

  • Always wear a safety harness, also known as a fall-arrest system, when you are in a treestand, as well as when climbing into or out of a treestand. Statistics show that the majority of treestand incidents occur while climbing in and out of a stand.
  • A safety strap should be attached to the tree to prevent you from falling more than 12 inches.
  • Always inspect the safety harness for signs of wear or damage before each use.
  • Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for use of a safety harness and stand.
  • Follow the three-point rule of treestand safety. Always have three points of contact to the steps or ladder before moving. This could be two arms holding and one leg stepping on the ladder or one arm and two legs in contact with the ladder before moving. Be cautious that rain, frost, ice or snow can cause steps to become extremely slippery. Check the security of the step before placing your weight on it.
  • Always hunt with a plan and, if possible, a buddy. Before you leave home, let others know your exact hunting location, when you plan to return and who is with you.
  • Always carry emergency signal devices such as a cell phone, walkie-talkie, whistle, signal flare, PLD (personal locator device) and flashlight within reach even while you are suspended in your fall-arrest system. In the event of an incident, remain calm and seek help immediately.
  • Watch for changing weather conditions.
  • Always select the proper tree for use with your treestand. Select a live, straight tree that fits within the size limits recommended in your treestand’s instructions. Do not climb or place a treestand against a leaning tree.
  • Never leave a treestand installed for more than two weeks since damage could result from changing weather conditions and/or other factors not obvious with a visual inspection.
  • Always use a haul line to pull up your gear and (unloaded) firearm or bow to your treestand once you have reached your desired hunting height. Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back. Prior to descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree.
  • Always know your physical limitations. Don’t take chances. Do not climb when impaired by drugs, alcohol or if you’re sick or fatigued. If you start thinking about how high you are, stop climbing.

As for firearms safety, Futral stresses the 10 commandments of safe firearms use:

  • Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
  • Control the muzzle of your firearm. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction. Never point a firearm at anything that you do not wish to shoot, and insist that shooting and hunting companions do the same.
  • Be sure of your target and beyond. Positively identify your target before you fire, and make sure no people, livestock, roads or buildings are beyond the target.
  • Never shoot at water or a hard, flat surface. A ricocheting bullet cannot be controlled.
  • Don’t use a scope for target identification; use binoculars.
  • Never climb a tree, cross a fence or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.
  • Store guns and ammunition separately. Store firearms under lock and key, and use a gun case to transport firearms.
  • Make sure your barrel and action are clear of all obstructions.
  • Unload firearms when not in use. Never take someone else’s word that a firearm is unloaded. Check yourself.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol when hunting or shooting. Even some over-the-counter medicines can cause impairment.

Practicing fire safety in the fall

By Cole Sikes

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall is a popular season for bonfires, campfires and prescribed burning in Alabama. To spread the word on practicing fire safety, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent informs everyone about responsibly enjoying autumn’s beautiful weather.

Ryan Mitchell said a thoughtful planning and careful execution are key to safe burning.

The Fire Triangle

Fire needs three components to thrive: oxygen, fuel and heat. This trio is referred to as the fire triangle. Without the existence of all three elements, fire will not thrive. Removing only one of these items will cause any flame to slowly burn out or disappear completely.

The term fuel refers to any material—living or not—that fire can use to spread. This can include anything from light, flashy fuels such as grasses or shrubs, to larger materials like stumps and piled storm debris that take longer to extinguish. Of course, in dry conditions, the ignition rate for these fuels is exacerbated by the lack of moisture in the air and the material itself.

Prescribed Burning

When driving through Alabama in the fall and winter months, large clouds of smoke rising into the blue sky may be alarming. However, these clouds are likely prescribed burns – the intentional burning of forest or agricultural land.

The use of prescribed fire has proven to be a very beneficial tool in agriculture and forest management. In crop fields it removes debris prior to the next planting, controls weeds and reduces pests/diseases. In forestry, running a low-intensity fire through a forest floor reduces hazardous fuel loads, decreases natural competition for timber, allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, improves wildlife habitat and nourishes the soil.

Before intentionally setting a fire, experienced practitioners conduct hours of planning to create a prescription of conditions needed to meet specific objectives. Prescribed fire is a safe way to apply a natural process, ensuring ecosystem health and reducing future wildfire risk.

“If you choose to conduct a prescribed burn, safety is of the utmost importance,” Mitchell said. “Under the wrong conditions, fire can easily get out of hand and affect property and life.”

Mitchell said everyone should contact the Alabama Forestry Commission for a free burn permit before initiating a burn more than one quarter of an acre in size. Also, check the agency’s website for any potential burn restrictions in the area.

There is also a training course for those who aspire to become a certified prescribed burn manager. The Certified Prescribed Burn Manager course covers 32 hours of discussion, planning and study of Alabama fire laws. Any individual who is interested in the use of prescribed fire as a management tool is encouraged to participate in the program.

Bonfires, Campfires and Burn Piles

Most Alabamians enjoy sitting around a good campfire or bonfire. These events are a popular way to bring people together during this time of the year. However, they can become dangerous if not executed responsibly.

Before grabbing those marshmallows, ensure the proper handling of fire – especially when starting it. Remove all flammable materials around a fire site including loose debris, brush, fuel cans, etc. before lighting a flame. This will mitigate the opportunity for fire to spread to undesirable places, such as vehicles or structures.

Never walk on top of a large pile to ignite it,” Mitchell said. “This action can potentially lead to falling or becoming stuck while fuel is rapidly burning.”

Mitchell adds that it is not a good idea to use gasoline or other accelerants that may give off explosive vapors. Using this method has the potential to cause severe injuries.

Feeling the Burn

Now that fall has come to stay, continue to practice responsibility when managing property or huddling around the fire.

For more information on burning techniques and safety tips, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.


Hunters Commended for Cooperation at CWD Meeting

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

One of the messages the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division wanted to convey last week at the CWD (chronic wasting disease) public meeting in Florence was to thank Alabama hunters for their response during the 2021-2022 white-tailed deer season.

WFF Outreach Coordinator Marianne Gauldin was among those greeting attendees at the meeting.

“It was great to see so many members of the community interested in the health and future of our wildlife resources,” Gauldin said. “Our staff also appreciates the opportunity to interact with them and openly discuss these topics and further understanding of this disease and related regulations.”

Amy Silvano, Assistant Chief of the WFF’s Wildlife Section, said last week’s meeting was a follow-up from the January 2022 public meeting held when the first case of CWD was confirmed in Lauderdale County in northwest Alabama.

When the first case was confirmed on January 6, an emergency regulation was signed the next day to establish the CWD Management Zone (CMZ) in Lauderdale and Colbert counties, encompassing the high-risk zone (HRZ) of Lauderdale County west of U.S. Highway 43 and the buffer zone (BZ), the remaining area east of Highway 43 in Lauderdale County and all of Colbert County. The emergency regulation also extended the either-sex deer season on all open permit, private, and WMA lands, removed the seasonal and daily bag limits for antlered and unantlered deer, and removed the antler restriction for deer harvest in the CMZ. It became mandatory for any deer harvested within the HRZ to be made available for sampling. Hunters were strongly encouraged that deer harvested in the BZ be sampled. Carcass restrictions were also put in place that prohibited the transport of deer carcasses and deer parts in the CMZ. Deer harvested in the HRZ must remain in the HRZ, and deer harvested in the BZ must remain in the CMZ.

“The reason for relaxing harvest regulations in Lauderdale and Colbert counties for the remainder of the season was to remove barriers for us to get samples,” Silvano said. “We were relying on our hunters to get those samples. We had 30 days left in the 2021-2022 season, so we wanted to engage our hunters, who have always been our best cooperators in managing the deer herd. When we had our first positive, we didn’t know what the extent or distribution of the disease could be in that area.”

Prior to last season’s emergency regulation, WFF had received 65 samples from the CMZ as part of their normal CWD surveillance sampling procedures. After the emergency regulation went into effect, a total of 968 samples were collected from hunter-harvested deer in the CMZ, with 499 coming from Lauderdale County and 469 coming from Colbert County. This increased number of samples meant that WFF had access to more information about the distribution of the disease. 

“We really do need to thank the hunters for providing us with that information,” Silvano said. “From those 968 samples, it wasn’t the best-case scenario – that we didn’t detect anything else – but we only detected one additional positive from a hunter-harvested deer, which was only a couple miles southeast of the original positive. That did not change any of our lines. It was detected in the HRZ and still 10 miles or more from Colbert County.”

Because the emergency regulation was only in effect for 120 days, it was replaced with a new CWD regulation that went into effect on July 15. The zones and carcass transport restrictions remained the same. Under the new regulation, the baiting or supplemental feeding of deer is banned within the CMZ.

“We put in the ban because, unfortunately, we detected a second case,” Silvano said. “This regulation is put into place to help minimize the risk of disease spread. Baiting and supplemental feeding congregate animals at a certain point. CWD is a highly contagious disease. The carcass transport and movement regulation also helps to minimize the risk of spread.”

During the final 30 days of the 2021-2022 season, all hunter-harvested deer in the HRZ were required to be submitted for sampling. Under the new regulation, WFF will conduct mandatory sampling on deer harvested on open permit and private land on two weekends in the HRZ and two weekends in the BZ. The mandatory weekends in the HRZ are November 19-20 and December 3-4, 2022. The mandatory weekends in the BZ are November 19-20, 2022, and January 7-8, 2023.

All deer harvested by hunters on public land in the CMZ are required to be sampled. Those public lands include the Freedom Hills WMA, Lauderdale WMA, Seven-Mile Island WMA and Riverton Community Hunting Area.

“Those mandatory weekends correspond to the weekends when we have peaks of harvest, opening weekend and during the rut,” Silvano said. “Outside of those weekends, we highly encourage people to voluntarily drop off hunter-harvested deer at the self-service freezer locations (www.outdooralabama.com/cwd/cwd-sampling). Those will be available 24/7. Check the interactive freezer location map. We are adding freezer locations as we get a new cooperator location. We have freezers in several counties throughout the state. You should be able to find one near you.”

Silvano said after the deer harvest regulations in the CMZ were relaxed during the last 30 days of the 2021-2022 season some hunters were concerned that too many deer would be harvested in the CMZ, impacting the population in the area. Silvano said that is not what happened at all. Game Check indicated harvest increased only about 15 percent during the last 30 days of the 2021-2022 season compared to same period during the 2020-2021 season.

“That was fantastic and is what we needed for us to get CWD samples,’ she said. “But Game Check numbers indicated we had an overall decrease for the entire season in the CMZ. In Lauderdale County alone, we had an estimated 20% decrease in total harvest from the 2020-2021 season. Overall, we took less deer out of that area compared to the previous year. We were not decimating the deer population.”

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said as hunters prepare for the 2022-2023 deer season, which starts in October with archery season, he hopes the prevalence of CWD in Alabama will remain very low.

“I can’t say we’re not going to find another positive; I just hope it’s slow to spread and slow to come in from a different area,” Sykes said. “Last year, when we announced the positive, there was a lot of speculation and misinformation that was stirred up. After the social media warriors slowed down and took a breath, it settled down. The hunters responded extremely well. They provided the samples needed. I think it went as well as it possibly could have. I’m hopeful this year will be the same. We just want people to be calm. I’m going to have my deer tested. If I take a deer off the farm in Choctaw County, I’m possibly going to cook it that evening. Unless something makes me consider otherwise, I’m not concerned. I will submit some heads off our property for testing to help with our statewide surveillance.

“We want people to continue hunting and enjoying the outdoors. Be smart about CWD. Be aware of the risks and challenges and act accordingly.”

For more information about CWD in Alabama, visit www.outdooralabama.com/cwd-info.

Youth hunt dates announced for Forever Wild Field Trial Area The State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) announces the youth deer and duck hunt schedules for the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) in Hale County. The hunts will take place late November 2022 through January 2023. Registration opened September 13 and runs until November 1. Hunters will be selected via a computerized, random drawing after registration closes.
“I am thrilled that we will have an opportunity again this year to introduce youth to the great deer and duck hunting on this Forever Wild property,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner and Chairman of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees. “Youth hunts like these create great bonding experiences for families and help young hunters become responsible stewards of our natural resources.” Youth Deer Hunt Dates: Nov. 19, 23, 30; Dec. 14, 17, 21, 28; Jan. 4, 7, 11, 18, 21, 25. Youth Duck Hunt Dates: December 14, 17, 21, 28; January 7, 11, 21, 25. To register for a hunt, visit https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/Public/AvailableHunts during the registration period listed above. Registration for the FWFTA youth hunts is only available to parents or adults who are at least 21 years old and have a Conservation ID number. A hunting license is not required at the time of registration. However, if selected during the random draw, you must have a valid hunting license to accept the hunt permit. If selected for a hunt, you will receive an email requesting that you validate/accept the permit. Once the permit is accepted, you will receive an email with the hunt details. To participate in the youth hunts, youth hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent). Adults must have a valid state hunting license and applicable duck stamp, if duck hunting. Hunters must obtain their license and duck stamp (if duck hunting) before the hunt since they will not be available on-site. Licenses are available for purchase at various retailers throughout the state or online at www.outdooralabama.com. All deer harvested during the FWFTA youth hunts must be reported via Alabama’s Game Check system. Hunters have 48 hours to Game Check their harvest through the Outdoor AL mobile app or online at www.outdooralabama.com. In addition to being required when registering for the FWFTA youth hunts, a Conservation ID number is the fastest and easiest way to report a deer or turkey harvest. This number is unique to each hunter and can also be used to purchase future licenses, obtain Harvest Information Program (HIP) permits, register for Special Opportunity Area hunts and more. For information about how to obtain a Conservation ID number, visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting. For more information about the hunt details or registration process, call Brae Buckner with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 868-1684, or email brae.buckner@dcnr.alabama.gov. The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area consists of 4,300 acres in Hale County and is managed as a nature preserve and recreation area. In addition to developing a sporting dog test ground and a youth hunting program, the ADCNR State Lands Division is currently restoring the tract’s native prairie grasslands and managing its numerous ponds for public fishing events.
ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Physically Disabled Hunt Dates Announced for Field Trial Area
The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) in Hale County, Alabama, will host a series of deer hunts for hunters with physical disabilities from late Nov. 2022 through Jan. 2023. To register for the hunts, call (334) 289-8030 starting Oct. 3. Hunt availability is limited and will be assigned on a first come, first served basis. Hunters are limited to registering for only one hunt for the season and may bring an assistant to help with the hunt. Hunters will need a hunting license and Conservation ID number prior to registering. FWFTA physically disabled hunt dates: Nov. 23, 30; Dec. 14, 17, 21, 28; Jan. 4, 7, 11, 18, 21, 25. Hunters with physical disabilities are required to fill out a Disabled Hunter Permit Application prior to the hunt dates. The permit can be downloaded from the Physically Disabled Hunting Areas section of www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/where-hunt-alabama. All deer harvested during the FWFTA physically disabled hunts must be reported via Alabama’s Game Check system. Hunters will have 48 hours to Game Check their harvest through the Outdoor AL mobile app or online at outdooralabama.com. For more information about the hunt details or registration process, call Brae Buckner with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 868-1684, or email brae.buckner@dcnr.alabama.gov.

Alabama Outdoors Weekly
Waterfowl survey produces mixed results

(Justin Grider, Billy Pope) Michael Horger bagged this gadwall from a layout boat on the Tennessee River.
(Justin Grider, Billy Pope) The most common waterfowl species encountered by Alabama is the wood duck like this one taken by B.J. Davis in Choctaw County.
Registration for sandhill crane hunts continues through 8 a.m. September 28.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
For the first time since 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was able to conduct the waterfowl breeding population survey, and the results were mixed. Overall waterfowl numbers in 2022 were down from the 2019 count, but the number of breeding ponds observed in 2022 was up 9%.
Seth Maddox, Migratory Bird Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, said the numbers were about what he expected.


“I’m not really surprised,” Maddox said. “It had been dry the previous year (2021) on the prairies, so there was a lot less water available for breeding. That would drive the population of a lot of these species down from the 2019 numbers. Most of it is habitat related.”


The overall estimate for 2022 was 34.2 million ducks, compared to 38.89 million in 2019. Numbers of mallards, considered the keystone duck species, declined 23% compared to 2019 numbers, down 9% from the long-term average. Gadwall numbers were down 18%, but they are still 30% above their long-term average. American wigeon was down 25%, 19% below the long-term average, and northern pintails were down 21%, 54% below their long-term average.


The pintail count of 1.78 million ducks is the number that concerns Maddox the most.
“The northern pintail is on a pretty precipitous decline,” he said. “We’re actually within 30,000 birds of closing the season down. That’s all tied to habitat on the prairies. They’re kind of a niche species. They like to nest in crop fields, and a lot of their nests get destroyed by agricultural implements when they are working those fields. Historically, they’ve nested in the short-grass prairies, but a lot of that short grass has been turned into agriculture, and the birds are not dealing very well with the transition to the new landscape up there. It is concerning. I expect that within the next couple of years we’ll see a closed season if there’s no change.”


It’s not all doom and gloom for waterfowl populations, however, because several species are doing well.
“A few species are up,” Maddox said. “Redheads are up. Blue-winged teal are way up, and their population continues to grow. Early teal season should be good. The count doesn’t tell the whole story because the habitat has now rebounded. So, we had a really good year of breeding this summer. All the counts were taken before nesting and breeding occurred. We should, based on the habitat conditions this year, have had a really good hatch, and we should have a good fall flight.”


The early teal season opened on September 10 and runs through September 25 with a six-bird daily bag limit. Hunting is from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
In the latest survey, blue-winged teal numbers increased 19% and are 27% above the long-term average. Redhead numbers were up 35% from 2019 and 36% over the long-term average.
“Most species are doing pretty good over the long term,” said Maddox, who recently attended a Mississippi Flyway Council meeting in Orange Beach, Alabama. “It doesn’t really concern me that much that we had a one-off incident of poor habitat conditions.


“What happens is those prairie potholes need to regenerate,” he said. “It’s a good thing that they dry out every once in a while. You get sunlight to the soil. The seeds in the soil can grow and put abundant vegetation back in those potholes and increase their food source for nesting and brood-rearing. It’s a good thing to have a reset, and we have good conditions this year. The rain and snow came back to the prairies in the winter and spring, so there’s plenty of water for brood-rearing. The fall flight should be up from what it was. We had a pretty poor season last year because there weren’t many birds in that fall flight, the winter migration South.”


Maddox said the liberal bag limit of six ducks per day will remain in effect for 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. That daily limit may include no more than 4 mallards (no more than 2 of which can be females), 3 wood ducks, 1 mottled duck, 2 black ducks, 2 redhead, 1 pintail, 2 canvasback and 1 scaup. The aggregate bag limit for dark geese (Canada, white-fronted, Brant) is 5 per day, which is the same limit for light geese (snow, blue and Ross’s). Visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/waterfowl-hunting-alabama and click on the link for the Alabama Waterfowl Hunting Guide for season dates.
“I just got back from the Flyway meeting where we set the frameworks for 2023-2024,” he said. “There are no closed seasons on any of the species. My guess is we could see a closed season on pintails for the 2024-2025 season.”
While the fall flight should be improved, Maddox always cautions that waterfowlers hunting in Alabama may not reap the full benefits of the fall flight.


“We’re at the southern end of the flyway in Alabama,” he said. “No matter how many ducks are on the landscape, we still need cold weather, snow and ice to have good numbers. We’ll always have some ducks, but to get good numbers, we need ice cover north of us.”


Unlike last year when many of the ducks that made it to Alabama had experienced previous hunting seasons, the good conditions in the prairie this past year could bring some less-savvy birds into the state.
“These birds that make their first migration south are kind of naïve to the area and the hunting pressure,” Maddox said. “Typically, those are the birds that get harvested. We typically harvest two young birds to every adult bird. Last year, with the poor fall flight, we saw a reduction in harvest because the birds had been here before and had experienced hunting pressure. The more young birds in the fall flight typically equates to better hunting.”


In other migratory bird news, registration for the sandhill crane season opened on September 7 and runs through 8 a.m. on September 28. Drawn hunters will have until 1 p.m. on October 5 to pass the ID and regulations test and accept their hunting status. The season dates are December 3, 2022, through January 8, 2023, and January 16-31, 2023. The daily bag, season and possession limit is three sandhill cranes per permit holder.
“The sandhill crane season is going really well,” Maddox said. “This will be our fourth season under the experimental season rules from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At the last flyway meeting, we asked for an operational season. Moving into the future, we’ll have a season in perpetuity as long as the population stays healthy.


“Along with that, starting in the 2023-24 season, we’ll be able to offer more opportunities. We’ll have more permits and tags to give out.”
The sandhill crane hunting zone is limited to North Alabama and encompasses the Tennessee Valley and Weiss Lake to ensure hunters don’t encounter any birds from experimental populations in Mississippi and Florida. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/sandhill-crane-hunting-alabama for more details.

Youth Hunt Dates Announced for Forever Wild Field Trial Area

Nick Anderson, his daughter Presley, and Brae Buckner with ADCNR’s State Lands Division after a successful youth deer hunt at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County.

The State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) announces the youth deer and duck hunt schedules for the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) in Hale County. The hunts will take place late November 2022 through January 2023. Registration opened September 13 and runs until November 1. Hunters will be selected via a computerized, random drawing after registration closes.

“I am thrilled that we will have an opportunity again this year to introduce youth to the great deer and duck hunting on this Forever Wild property,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner and Chairman of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees. “Youth hunts like these create great bonding experiences for families and help young hunters become responsible stewards of our natural resources.”

Youth Deer Hunt Dates

  • November 19, 23, 30
  • December 14, 17, 21, 28
  • January 4, 7, 11, 18, 21, 25

Youth Duck Hunt Dates

  • December 14, 17, 21, 28
  • January 7, 11, 21, 25

To register for a hunt, visit https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/Public/AvailableHunts during the registration period listed above.

Registration for the FWFTA youth hunts is only available to parents or adults who are at least 21 years old and have a Conservation ID number. A hunting license is not required at the time of registration. However, if selected during the random draw, you must have a valid hunting license to accept the hunt permit. If selected for a hunt, you will receive an email requesting that you validate/accept the permit. Once the permit is accepted, you will receive an email with the hunt details.

To participate in the youth hunts, youth hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent). Adults must have a valid state hunting license and applicable duck stamp, if duck hunting. Hunters must obtain their license and duck stamp (if duck hunting) before the hunt since they will not be available on-site. Licenses are available for purchase at various retailers throughout the state or online at www.outdooralabama.com.

All deer harvested during the FWFTA youth hunts must be reported via Alabama’s Game Check system. Hunters have 48 hours to Game Check their harvest through the Outdoor AL mobile app or online at www.outdooralabama.com.

In addition to being required when registering for the FWFTA youth hunts, a Conservation ID number is the fastest and easiest way to report a deer or turkey harvest. This number is unique to each hunter and can also be used to purchase future licenses, obtain Harvest Information Program (HIP) permits, register for Special Opportunity Area hunts and more. For information about how to obtain a Conservation ID number, visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting.

For more information about the hunt details or registration process, call Brae Buckner with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 868-1684, or email brae.buckner@dcnr.alabama.gov.

The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area consists of 4,300 acres in Hale County and is managed as a nature preserve and recreation area. In addition to developing a sporting dog test ground and a youth hunting program, the ADCNR State Lands Division is currently restoring the tract’s native prairie grasslands and managing its numerous ponds for public fishing events.

ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Indian Meal Moth: A Pesky Pantry Pest

Care of @AlabamaCooperativeExtensionSystem

By Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall is one of the most important seasons to inspect your home for pesky pantry pests. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist urges everyone to be on the lookout for the common Indian meal moth.


Identification
Plodia interpunctella, also known as the Indian meal moth, is a household food pest. These moths get their name from their initial discovery in the United States after feeding on Indian corn, also referred to as maize. Their primary food source are grains and powdered products which are often found in food storage locations.
Adult moths can be identified by folded forewings containing three black stripes. Between each stripe is a brownish-red color that extends to the head. A fully-grown Indian meal moth can reach 12 to 13 millimeters in length.


Life Stages and Habitat
A female moth can lay up to 400 eggs in a lifetime. The moths will lay eggs on food sources such as grains, cereal, dog food and other stored foods.
“Infestations are year-round but are more common in the fall and winter when larger amounts of food are stored indoors,” said Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist.
After about seven days, the eggs hatch and the larvae will begin feeding on the source. Adults, however, do not feed on these grains. Signs of an Indian meal moth infestation are most commonly noticed after adults begin flying around homes or finding webbing in a stored food product. You may also find small pale-colored caterpillars
Hu said infestation inside homes can start from purchased food packages or outside populations.
“In neighborhoods with mature, nut-bearing trees, the moths can work their way indoors by first finding bird seed or pet food stored in a garage where the garage door remains open for extended periods,” Hu said. “Additionally, the moths are attracted to light and will self-spread from the pantry to any places with other foods.”


Moth Control
At full maturity, these moths live no more than 25 days. However, people don’t need to consider waiting for Indian meal moths to die off as a control method.
First things first, the best control method is prevention. To prevent Indian meal moths, remove the source of the infestation. This includes discarding infested products, bagged foods and any other identified sources.
The second hurdle is a deep cleaning process. Hu recommends using a vacuum to clean the corners of shelving, pantries and cabinets to eliminate any possible eggs. You may also consider utilizing a toothpick or a needle to clean out crevices, cracks and little pegs of adjustable shelving. Sanitizing pantries or other infested food storage areas is a necessity when treating Indian meal moths. These sites are notorious for collecting moth eggs, larval webs and pupal cocoons. Clean shelves and pantries with a wet cloth soaked in soapy water.
A final recommended step is to caulk and seal crevices and cracks inside the shelving.


More Information
Home pests can be difficult and frustrating to prevent and control. With proper education about these foes, everyone can be proactive in their home defense efforts. For more information about other home pests and how to prevent them, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

Gopher Tortoise Conservation Gets a Boost in South Alabama

Radio transmitters were attached to 90 of the gopher tortoises released in the Geneva State Forest WMA.
ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship, USFWS Gopher Tortoise Lead John Tupy, WFF Director Chuck Sykes, USFWS Southeast Region Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, and USFWS Alabama Section 6 Coordinator Shannon Holbrook participated in the tortoise release.
SFWS Southeast Region Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro and ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship release a young gopher tortoise into a starter burrow.
Work to improve gopher tortoise habitat at the Geneva State Forest WMA included thinning the pines and performing prescribed fires.
ADCNR, USFWS, Eckerd College and Birmingham Zoo partnered to release 98 young gopher tortoises into the Geneva State Forest WMA. The tortoises will be monitored as part of an ongoing conservation project.

Gopher tortoise conservation reached a new level recently when the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) teamed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Eckerd College and Birmingham Zoo to release 98 young tortoises into the Geneva State Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Covington County.

The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species, which impacts about 365 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates in the sandy-soil habitat across their southeastern range.

Jeff Goessling, an assistant professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, who is on the forefront of the tortoise conservation efforts, said the gopher tortoise burrow is the key to the species.

“This is an important animal for a lot of species,” Goessling said. “It’s the burrow that has that function. They spend about 98 percent of their life in that burrow.”

The Geneva State Forest WMA gopher tortoise project, led by Goessling, is funded through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (Section 6 program) with USFWS, which provides funds for conservation efforts for listed, at-risk and endangered species on non-federal land.

Amy Silvano, Assistant Chief of Wildlife for ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, thanked Eckerd College and the Birmingham Zoo for their contributions to the project.

“Both of these entities have stepped up to do the research and raise the headstart (hatchlings) tortoises that we released,” Silvano said. “And I also want to thank Dr. Craig Guyer for all his work on this project and his continued dedication towards gopher tortoise conservation in Alabama.”

WFF staff, Eckerd College representatives and Birmingham Zoo staff constructed starter burrows at the WMA in preparation for the release.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, WFF Director Chuck Sykes, USFWS Southeast Region Director Leopoldo “Leo” Miranda-Castro, USFWS Alabama Section 6 Coordinator Shannon Holbrook, and John Tupy, Gopher Tortoise Lead for the federally listed range out of the USFWS Hattiesburg office in Mississippi, participated in the tortoise release.

Goessling said pioneering work done by Guyer, professor emeritus at Auburn University, revealed that population density of gopher tortoises is an integral part of a viable population of the animals.

“When the state acquired this land, we started to think about how to conserve gopher tortoises here,” Goessling said. “It became clear that, while the number of tortoises here is probably viable, the density was far below what would normally be viable for a species in a habitat like this – open, high pines, xeric (low moisture) soils and maintained with prescribed fire. Craig had an idea a decade ago of how to intensively manage populations that were large enough but not dense enough with tortoises scattered in numerous small groups across large areas.

“We said what if we take a site like this with 100 to 200 adult gopher tortoises and intensively manage them. We could likely produce a population that has a high survivability for the foreseeable future.”

It took about two years for researchers to document the tortoises across the WMA. A 40-acre pen was constructed, and numerous tortoises from the 9,000-acre WMA were relocated to the pen.

“We thought this was a cool project, but 100 tortoises is not where we wanted to be,” Goessling said. “We wanted to get more if possible.”

The researchers then focused on females producing eggs, which are buried in the soft soil on the apron of the tortoise burrow. Eggs from six nests were collected the first year, followed by another 11 nests last year. The eggs went to Goessling’s lab at Eckerd College to hatch, and the young tortoises were then raised at both Goessling’s lab and the Birmingham Zoo.

The tortoises released at Geneva were 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds. Goessling said those tortoises exhibited a much faster growth rate than those of wild tortoises.

“Our biggest 2-year-old is about the size of a 10-year-old in the wild,” he said. “Our headstart tortoises, under captive conditions, have blown the growth rate out of the water for tortoises in the wild from either Alabama or Florida. Alabama tortoises for some unknown reason are really small as adults, and we are excited to see that their young were able to grow so fast.

“The work done by the state here has been great. We can raise tortoises in the lab, but at the end of the day, we can’t be tortoises for them. They need to be wild tortoises out here in open canopy, pine sand hills.”

Some of the young tortoises were released into a smaller pen, and the others were released on an adjacent site with no restrictions of movement.

Goessling said the next step will be monitoring the animals with radio transmitters affixed to one of the rear scutes (shell plates) on 90 tortoises, 30 of which are the animals head-started in captivity. Goessling said studies indicate that a population density of one female per acre is optimum because females are territorial.

“We can identify home range and spatial activity so that, when this pen goes down, we can find out if they’re staying here and are successful in building this core population,” he said. “Or, say, five years from now, we can find out if they are not maintaining fidelity. Long-term monitoring is the next step.”

Guyer applauded the recent efforts to enhance the gopher tortoise populations in Alabama.

“In my opinion, our state has taken a leading role in gopher tortoise conservation with interactions with the Fish and Wildlife Service and also the Gopher Tortoise Council,” Guyer said. “I’ve been studying gopher tortoises down here for the last 40 years, starting in the Conecuh National Forest and this new area down here. The data that are being used to make these life and death decisions about gopher tortoises, a bunch of it is coming from Alabama.

“Managing animals in Alabama is a lot different from the peninsula of Florida. Those studies in Conecuh indicate a smaller number of animals on a smaller land area, say 10 to 20 acres with 20 animals, can become stable or grow. But they have to be managed. We have to convince managers that if they’re doing prescribed fire on three-year intervals, they’re wasting their time. It has to be every two years. As long as we can maximize our efforts on these small areas with high intensity management, these smaller pockets are going to be viable. Most of this data is coming on the state level. Our hats should be doffed to the folks at the state level who have positioned us quite effectively in these leadership roles.”

WFF’s Ericha Nix, a non-game biologist who leads the gopher tortoise project team, said gopher tortoises have been petitioned for listing as threatened or endangered under USFWS guidelines.

“We looked at our lands to be proactive and create gopher tortoise populations,” Nix said. “We had surveys done on our public lands and found that some of our lands have 100 to 200 tortoises, but they don’t have the density needed to be viable.

“The Alabama Forestry Commission and its state forest next door does have a viable population of about 500 animals, but they have been managing for decades with prescribed fire. We found an area with suitable habitat with canopy and soils, which is how we got started with this project.”

Nix said WFF will continue to search for other sites to enhance the gopher tortoise habitat and possibly keep the animals off any imperiled lists.

“The more viable populations we create, the more we can prove to the Fish and Wildlife Service that we do have tortoises in viable populations, and we also take that regulatory burden off of private landowners,” she said. “We’re hoping we can show this as a demonstration area and show our industrial partners that they can take a 250-acre area and manage it for tortoises. We’re currently working with the (Alabama) Department of Corrections to assist in relocating tortoises from their project areas. We have developers reaching out to us with tortoises. It helps them and it helps us by building viable populations.

“For gopher tortoises, habitat loss continues to be our number one issue, either through development or the solar (panel) farms that are hitting us really hard right now. Every tortoise counts in Alabama. We do not have the animals that they do in Florida.”

Silvano said gopher tortoises aren’t the only species to benefit from the intense management practices on the home range of the tortoises.

“One of the other benefits for this particular site is we manage it both for game and non-game species,” Silvano said. “This is a good example of how, when you manage the landscape for ecosystem function, it’s going to be beneficial for all critters, not just game. We want the public to know that when we manage the habitat, it benefits all species.”

Zach Hayes, a wildlife biologist aide at Geneva State Forest WMA, said after ADCNR purchased the property in 2014, intense work was done to improve the habitat through thinning the pines and performing prescribed fires.

“We had to open this place up extensively,” Hayes said. “We couldn’t plant our wildlife openings because of all the gopher tortoise burrows in those areas. We needed more open property for the tortoises to utilize, so we opened the canopy to get some light on the forest floor. With prescribed fire, we were able to reclaim our wildlife openings and plant food sources for the other wildlife to use.

“I love being a part of this. What’s good for gopher tortoises is good for turkey, quail and deer.”

Down to Earth: Alabama farmers grow more while using less

Jordyn, Chris and Charlie Upchurch raise poultry, cattle and hay in Clay County. The Upchurch family — and families across Alabama – tap into a wealth of research from industry sources and their individual farms to efficiently, sustainably raise crops and animals.
Row crop farmer Brian Glenn said improved genetics have helped farmers increase yields with fewer inputs.
Cattle graze on pasture at Rockin’ U Farm, owned by Chris and Jordyn Upchurch in Clay County.

Growing more. Using less. For farmers, it’s just that simple.


“A lot of data is out there to help us make decisions to improve factors we can control on the farm,” said Jordyn Upchurch, who raises poultry, cattle and hay with husband Chris in Clay County.
For years, farmers and industry experts have analyzed that data to select superior traits in plants and animals. That’s created innately efficient crops and livestock that glean higher yields with fewer inputs.
Take the poultry industry. Today, it takes 1.82 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of chicken. Fifty years ago, that required 2.4 pounds of feed, per the National Chicken Council. Chickens are humanely and efficiently grown in houses, which saves water and energy — a boon in Alabama’s hot climate.
A low feed conversion rate and high average daily gains help farmers like the Upchurches raise more flocks, providing more protein for a growing population.


The U.S. is a global leader in beef production efficiency, too, producing 18% of the world’s beef with only 6% of the world’s cattle, according to the Beef Checkoff.


Thanks to improved genetics, nutrition and herd management, U.S. farmers produce more beef per animal. Today, farmers produce the same amount of beef with one-third fewer cattle than in 1977.
Farmers also pinpoint cattle breeds ideal for their farms and consider heat tolerance, mothering ability, weaning weights, yields and even what grass the animals can digest.


“We pick them for what works in our environment,” said Chris, who raises SimAngus cattle. “We have a lot of fescue grass (which has a seasonal toxicity), so we need animals that work in a fescue environment.”


Jordyn added, “And that makes our cattle more efficient. It’s hard to change what kind of grass grows on your place, but you can change your genetics. It’s almost like a process of elimination.”
Other than delicious and nutritious steaks, roasts and burgers, there are hundreds of uses for cattle byproducts — asphalt, ink, dyes, adhesives, plastics and more.
That waste-not-want-not outlook links row crop and livestock farmers. More than 95% of poultry bedding material is recycled and reused to fertilize hayfields or land for row crops, like cotton. Cotton lint, or fiber, is then made into clothes, towels and dollar bills. Meanwhile, cottonseed is used for oil and cattle feed because it’s rich in fiber, protein and fat.
Brian Glenn and his brother, Don, raise row crops in Lawrence and Morgan counties. They capitalize on biotechnology, such as genetic modification, to reduce costly inputs and improve weed management. Roughly 90% of corn, cotton and soybeans grown in the U.S. have been improved through biotechnology.


“Genetics have changed so much,” Brian said. “The potential is in the seed.”
Twenty-five years ago, the Glenns shot for a yield of 130 bushels per acre on corn. Today, they’re able to harvest 200 bushels an acre. Tools like variable rate technology help. Variable rate farming requires machinery that changes the rate at which it applies fertilizer, seed and other inputs across a field based on need.
“We are spoon-feeding plants,” Brian said. “We take last year’s yield map (or an average of several years) and calculate the removal of ingredients a plant will need to grow. That’s what we base our rates on.”


Data banks and a penchant for sustainable production helped farmers nearly triple production over the last 70 years, while inputs like land, fertilizer and energy have remained stable, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In 1990, farmers would have needed almost 100 million additional acres to harvest the same amount of corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat produced in 2018. That’s more than the land area of Montana.
As Brian looks across fields of non-irrigated, no-till corn and soybeans, he said he’s proud of the strides farmers continually make to efficiently use — and protect — the land.


“My goal is to leave the planet better than we found it, to make a living and ensure a wholesome, quality food crop,” Brian said.
Down to Earth partners include the Alabama Agribusiness Council, Alabama Association of RC&D Councils, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries, Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Forestry commission, Alabama Poultry & Egg Association and Sweet Grown Alabama.
Interact with @DowntoEarthAL on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit www.DowntoEarthAL.com for more information.


Down To Earth Definitions
Feed conversion rate: A ratio of the amount of feed required to the amount of weight gained by a farm animal
Average daily gains: Amount of weight a farm animal gains in a 24-hour period
Inputs: Farm business expenses, such as fertilizer or feed
SimAngus: A mix breed of Simmental and Angus cattle

Preparing for the fall and winter hunting season

*Correction: A previous version stated “planting fields by broadcasting seed for the sole purpose of attracting and hunting doves is not prohibited.” That statement is incorrect. The article now correctly reflects dove hunting law. Planting fields by broadcasting seed for the sole purpose of attracting and hunting doves is prohibited. 

By Tanner Hood
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall is almost here and avid game hunters are looking forward to a season of sitting by the dove field or in the deer stand. Doves are in season, and it won’t be long before deer hunters can hit the woods with bows and firearms. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System wildlife expert says it is important to properly prepare before setting out on your first hunt.

Dove season is a favorite of many Alabama hunters. For most, it is less labor intensive and time consuming than other types of hunting. The two dove game bird species in Alabama are the mourning and white-winged doves. Mourning dove is the most common during hunting season.
“Dove diets consist heavily of seeds, which makes agricultural fields and food plots attractive for feeding locations,” said Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension regional agent.
Many dove enthusiasts hunt over harvested soybeans, corn, peanuts and other small grains or planted food plots. However, it is illegal to trespass onto another person’s land, especially for hunting. Always ask for permission to use any agricultural lands for dove hunting from the appropriate landowner before planning a hunt.
In preparation for dove season, Carter said to scout ahead to make sure doves are present on the fields. It is also important for hunters to make sure their firearm is clean and ready for use. Hunters should also practice using their firearms with sporting clays.
“Planting fields by broadcasting seed for the sole purpose of attracting and hunting doves is not prohibited,” Carter said.

Deer season is another popular Alabama pastime and is a natural source of food for many families. Mark Smith, an Auburn University professor of forestry and wildlife sciences, said there are several things hunters can do to begin preparing for the upcoming deer season.
“Hunters should take their rifles out to the range, begin planting food plots and make sure their hunting areas are ready and accessible,” Smith said.
White-tailed deer is the only deer species in Alabama. Smith, who is also an Extension wildlife expert, said one of the most important things for hunters to do this year is to watch out for deer displaying symptoms of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
“Common symptoms of CWD include weight loss over time, emaciation, lack of wariness, difficulty moving or standing, lowering of the head, tremors, listlessness and excessive salivation and urination,” Smith said. “However, perfectly healthy-looking deer can be infected because it takes time for symptoms to develop.”

Hunters should always practice firearm safety before and during hunting seasons. Smith and Carter both said that visiting a shooting range and becoming acquainted with your firearm is vitally important.
Hunters should conduct target practice and make sure their firearms are clean and safe for hunting. Also, discuss shooting etiquette with other hunters in a group to effectively ensure no one is injured by firearms during a hunt.

Each hunting season has laws such as bag limits, necessary licenses, legal shooting hours and season opening and closing dates. In Alabama, dove season is divided into multiple zones that begin on different days. Deer season has different periods allotted for the use of certain firearm types and exclusively harvesting does or bucks.
“All hunters should follow the rules, regulations and bag limits to have a good and successful hunting season,” Carter said.
To view these laws, regulations and dates, visit the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) website at www.outdooralabama.com.

Continue to prepare yourself and others for the first hunt of the 2022 hunting season. More information regarding hunting seasons, firearm safety and preparation is available at www.aces.edu.

Kalee’s whopper of a yellow catfish: Kalee Long with her fishing guide on the Tennessee River where she came in third in theTennessee River Productions fishing tournament and first in her Outdoor Hope group. It was the largest of her three catches weighing in at 31 pounds.
Send us your outdoors photos! Not only will you get in the paper, but also on our award winning outdoors page on recordjournal.net. We post new stories every week. Email them to scrjmedia@yahoo.com. Photo submitted by Claire Smith, Livingston Lines.

Cicada killers: not your average wasp

By Cole Sikes
Eastern cicada killers, scientifically known as Sphecius speciosus, is the largest species of wasp in Alabama. These insects are also referred to as cicada hawks and known for preying on – you guessed it – cicadas.


Their size, transparent amber color wings and black abdomens featuring three uneven and jagged yellow bands are distinct characteristics of cicada killer wasps. At a quick glance they are easily mistaken for hornets. These wasps can measure from one to a whopping two inches in length.
“Cicada killers are solitary digger wasps, meaning they will build nests in the ground and hunt prey to feed their young,” said Xing Ping Hu, Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist. “Adults will typically emerge in summer and die off in October or even late September.”


Females, which are typically larger than males, are commonly seen skimming around lawns and trees seeking burrow sites and hunting cicadas. Their burrows are characteristic of soil piles accumulated around nest entrances.


Nests are typically made in areas with full sun exposure and little vegetation. These homes can reach depths of 10 to 20 inches and contain up to 16 individual chambers. Be sure to monitor any window boxes, flower beds or planters as these insects may nest in these areas.
Adults feed on flower nectar and drink tree sap. The menu of choice for cicada killer larvae are dog-day cicadas, which feed on deciduous trees. This means that the cicada hawk is a beneficial insect by regulating populations of cicadas.


They attack their prey in-flight in mid-air by delivering a sting. The cicada is then immobilized and carried back to the burrow cells. The female lays one egg on the paralyzed cicada and seals the cell. When the egg hatches, the larvae will slowly consume their meal.


It may be hard to believe that a wasp of such size rarely stings humans. In fact, male cicada killers do not have the ability to sting at all. Females do the hunting and have the potential to deliver a blow.
“Though they look terrible, cicada killers are not aggressive and rarely sting,” Hu said.
There are not many options when it comes to controlling populations of cicada hawks. One of the best techniques is to mitigate habitat.


Since this species of wasp prefers little vegetation and sunlight, keep the lawn around your home properly fertilized. This will increase density, taking away ideal locations for wasp digging sites.
Chemical application is technically on the table as a control method. However, since the wasp nest in ground holes, spraying can be labor-intensive. There is also no guarantee that the wasps won’t return each year if the habitat remains ideal for cicada killers. Hu said as always, homeowners should follow the appropriate directions on any insecticide product.


Cicada killer wasps will not hurt humans if they’re left alone. Take the necessary measures to protect your property from being their future home.


For more information on cicada hawks and many other flying insect species, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

Registration for Sandhill Crane Season Opens September 7

Sandhill cranes take off en masse over an Indiana cornfield in late fall.

Registration for Sandhill Crane Season Opens September 7
Alabama’s sandhill crane season returns for 2022-2023 with 400 permit holders having the opportunity to hunt sandhill cranes in north Alabama. Registration for the limited quota permits opens on September 7, 2022, at 8 a.m. The 2022-2023 season is split in two segments. The first segment runs from December 3 to January 8. The second segment runs from January 16-31.
Registration is limited to Alabama residents ages 16 or older or Alabama lifetime hunting license holders. Applicants must also have their regular hunting license and a lifetime or annual state duck stamp to register. Exempt resident landowners or residents over 65 must obtain a free Game Check H.E.L.P. number to apply. A $10 registration fee applies for everyone.
If selected through a computerized drawing, hunters must then complete an online test that includes species identification and regulations. After passing the test, The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will issue the permit and tags. In addition to a hunting license and state duck stamp, selected hunters must also obtain a federal duck stamp, a Harvest Information Program license, and a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license, if applicable.
Sandhill crane hunting is restricted to a specified hunt zone in north Alabama. The daily, season and possession limit is three birds per permit. Hunters can harvest all three birds in one day if they choose. Both state and federal wildlife refuges are closed to sandhill crane and waterfowl hunting.
Prior to the 2019-2020 season, the last sandhill crane hunting season in Alabama was in 1916. Since then, conservation efforts focused on improving habitat have helped sandhill crane numbers rebound more than 500% over the past 40 years. Those numbers have continued to increase as multiple states opened sandhill crane hunting seasons.
WFF’s Wildlife Section is primarily funded through a portion of hunting license sales that is matched on a three-to-one basis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the federal Pittman-Robertson Act. Alabama State Duck Stamp sales are also matched through the same process but earmarked by state law to be utilized for wetlands and waterfowl conservation.
Funding from those two revenue sources directly benefit sandhill cranes by providing habitat protection, management and restoration work in the areas of Alabama that cranes utilize as migration routes and wintering habitat. Over the long term, conservation of habitat has played an integral part in the population growth of sandhill cranes.
For more information about the 2022-2023 sandhill crane hunting season, including the hunting zone location, how to register and how the permit holders are selected, visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/sandhill-crane-hunting-alabama.
ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Steve Forehand Installed as Alabama Wildlife Federation President

 Steve Forehand, Alexander City, was installed as President of the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) at the organization’s Annual Meeting on August 6, 2022. Steve has served on the AWF Board of Directors since 2007 and brings to AWF a passion and commitment for the conservation of Alabama’s wildlife, related natural resources, and outdoor pursuits.

“Steve has been an outstanding board member and leader. We are fortunate to have someone with his experience, talent, and energy serve as the next President of AWF. He will be an asset to AWF and we are looking forward to a productive year under his guidance.” stated Tim L. Gothard, Executive Director of AWF.

As AWF President, Mr. Forehand serves on the AWF Executive Committee, the AWF Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards Committee, and a variety of other AWF committees.  Throughout his tenure on the AWF Board, he has been a key leader in the success of AWF statewide and growing AWF membership and support in the Alexander City and Lake Martin area in particular.

Mr. Forehand serves as Vice President and General Counsel with Russell Lands. He is a graduate of Auburn University and the Cumberland and University of Alabama Schools of Law. He has also served his community through the years, including service to the Russell Medical Center, Alexander City Schools Education Foundation, Alexander City Board of Education, Alabama Water Resources Commission, Lake Martin Resource Association, Lake Martin Area United Way, and the Alexander City Boys and Girls Club.

Outside of work, Steve enjoys outdoor pursuits including quail and turkey hunting, golf, boating on Lake Martin, and spending time with his family. He and his wife Connie have two children and three grandchildren.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation, established by sportsmen in 1935, is the state’s oldest and largest citizens’ conservation organization.  The mission of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, a 501(c) 3 non-profit group supported by membership dues and donations, is to promote conservation and wise use of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources as a basis for economic and social prosperity.  To learn more about Alabama Wildlife Federation, including membership details, programs, and projects, contact AWF at 1-800-822-WILD or visit www.alabamawildlife.org.

Fresh Fish Dominates in AWF Wild Game Cook-Off State Finals

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Alabama’s abundant freshwater fish took center stage recently at the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) Wild Game Cook-Off State Finals at AWF’s Lanark Pavilion in Millbrook.

Two of the top three recipes used spotted bass as their centerpieces, while a tasty bream dish rounded out the winners.

“AWF’s Wild Game Cook-Offs prominently display that responsible hunters and anglers properly utilize the game and fish that they harvest, and it makes great and healthy table fare,” said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard. “At the State Finals, the best of the best is on full display.”

Alabama Ag Credit’s Taco Lot team, which created Taco del Lago with spotted bass, was crowned champion among the 10 teams that qualified for the finals by winning their regional events held across the state.

“We used spotted bass caught yesterday (the day before the finals) and cleaned,” said Andrew Harp, head cook on the team from Lake Martin. “They’re fresh. We took a flour tortilla, topped it with shredded cheese and put it on the grill to melt the cheese. We love the grill taste. The base is Conecuh sausage, followed by the fried fish. We use a Zatarain’s fish fry with a little added spice. Then we top that with a custom slaw with green and red cabbage. Then we drizzle Sriracha mayo and cocktail sauce on the top. And we top that off with a lot of love.”

Although the competition was stiff, with a variety of dishes across the wild spectrum – venison, elk, wild hog, catfish and wild turkey – Harp was confident in the team’s dish.

“It was extremely exciting,” Harp said. “It was nice to be validated with a trophy. We didn’t come here to lose.”

Harp’s team had been participating in the Wild Game Cook-Offs for years, preparing dishes made to ensure the spectators didn’t leave the event hungry. The 2022 regional competition was the first time they got serious about the contest.

“At Lake Martin, we decided to enter something fun, and it won,” Harp said. “We entered the same dish in the finals, so that taco is undefeated. Where this recipe starts is the only thing in that taco that really matters – the Lake Martin spotted bass. Let me tell you where you catch them. Right in the mouth.

“The best time to catch spotted bass is in the spring when they’re going to bed. But in August, they’re extremely difficult to catch. But we did catch enough fresh fish the day before the finals. We caught them at night on lights. We use underwater lights, which attract bait fish, and the big fish come down below.”

TACO DEL LAGO

Serving size eight

Two 2-pound spotted bass, filleted (four fillets will make eight pieces of fish)

1 quart buttermilk

Zatarain’s Crispy Cajun Fish Fri

1 gallon peanut oil

8 small flour tortillas

8 ounces Colby Jack cheese

8 pieces Conecuh sausage about 4-5 inches each, butterflied

½ head red cabbage

½ head green cabbage

1 bell pepper, thin-sliced

½ cup sugar

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Sriracha mayonnaise to taste

Cocktail sauce to taste

“When we clean the fish, we drop the fillets in buttermilk,” Harp said. “When we get ready to fry the fish, we take them out of the buttermilk and dust them with the Zatarain’s fish fry. We drop them in the peanut oil at 350 degrees and fry them until they’re golden brown.”

While the fish is frying, Harp takes a small flour tortilla and sprinkles it with cheese and places it on a hot grill. Leave the tortilla on the grill only long enough to melt the cheese, about 10-15 seconds. The tortilla will become tough if grilled too long.

The Conecuh sausage is butterflied and placed on the grill. When the sausage sizzles, it’s ready to go.

“My marketing assistant, Brooklyn George, made the slaw at the Cook-Off,” Harp said. “She took half and half shredded red and green cabbage, sliced bell peppers, sugar, black pepper and the Greek yogurt and combined. You have to be careful about the amount of yogurt you use. I don’t like a lot of moisture in my slaw on fish tacos. Just a splash or two of apple cider vinegar adds just little more acidity. We didn’t use any onions at the event, but sometimes I will add onions to the slaw. If you want the leftover slaw as a side, add a little yogurt to make it a little wetter.

“We used already bottled Sriracha mayonnaise and cocktail sauce. When I make my own cocktail sauce, I use ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco to taste. I use one run of the mayo and about a teaspoon of cocktail sauce for each taco. It doesn’t take much.”

Harp admits the winning taco was not developed by trial and error. It actually came about by mixing random ingredients after he and his brother, Dustin, had finished a day of Lake Martin bass fishing.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has never seen or thought about putting Conecuh sausage in a fish taco,” he said. “I can tell where this came up one day. This spring my brother and I caught some fish, and 99 percent of the time, when we eat fish, it’s the day we catch it. We catch them, clean them and dip them in buttermilk. At the Lake Martin Cook-Off, we cleaned them about two hours before we cooked them.

“My brother and I were frying fish one night, and we had just randomly thrown some Conecuh sausage on the griddle as an appetizer. I looked at Dustin and said, ‘Let’s make fish tacos. We can put the tortillas on the griddle. Let’s just do something different.’ With those Conecuh sausages laying around, I threw one on the bottom of the taco. That was the first time I’d ever made it. The Lake Martin Cook-Off was the second time I made it, and the state finals was the third time.”

Harp said Taco del Lago likely will be retired from competition because he has something else in mind for next year.

“We’ll probably have some Lake Martin bass there to taste, but there’s a 99 percent chance the next dish will have alligator in it,” he said. “Gator is a real clean white meat, and it tastes good too. What might taste good is gator and Lake Martin bass in the same dish. I might do that.”

The runner-up trophy went to Consolidated Cookers from Madison County with their Big Pond Bream Taco. Head cook Phillip Hall presented the judges with tacos filled with crispy fried bream fillets with three different toppings – mango salsa, pico de gallo and coleslaw.

“The key is the fresh bream,” Hall said.

A fish dish that wasn’t in a taco took third place. The Spotted Bass and Grits Cakes dish was prepared by Co-Op Cut-Ups, winners at the Selma Cook-Off. The team also won the award for best presentation. Smokin’ Aces from Talladega was runner-up for best presentation.

Curt Green of the Cut-Ups said their preparation started just like Harp’s.

“We took fresh-caught spotted bass and filleted them,” Green said. “We coated the fillets in Zatarain’s fish fry and fried them.

“We made our Pontchartrain sauce with cream of mushroom soup, onions, cream-style corn, shoepeg corn, crab boil and some other Cajun seasonings. We also put crawfish tails, shrimp and crab meat in it. Depending on how much you want to make, you start with one can of each and add a capful of liquid crab boil, which is a different flavor most people don’t understand. Then we add a tablespoon of Tony Chachere’s.”

The day before the event, the team prepared jalapeńo cheese grits, placed them in a bread pan and chilled it overnight.

“We cut squares of grits cakes, dipped them in egg wash and rolled them in Panko bread crumbs,” Green said. “We fried the grits cakes and put the fried fish on top and poured the Pontchartrain sauce over all of it.”

Trust me, it was delicious.

If you missed the state finals, the AWF Wild Game Cook-Off regionals crank back up this fall. The first event is on September 15 at the Birmingham Zoo. Visit www.alabamawildlife.org/wild-game-cook-off/ for a list of upcoming events.

Alabama Wildlife Federation awards to the
Partners for Agricultural Innovation and Sustainability
Land Conservationist of the Year Award

Accepting the award on behalf of Partners for Agricultural Innovation and Sustainability were Dr. Lee Stanton, Mr. John Besh, and Dr. John McCall. Presenting the awards were Horace Horn with PowerSouth Energy; Susan Comensky with Alabama Power Company; and Jesse Vogtle, AWF President.

Partners for Agricultural Innovation and Sustainability was presented the Land Conservationist of the Year Award at the 2022 Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet. The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) held the banquet, co-sponsored by Alabama Power Company and PowerSouth Energy on Friday, August 5, 2022, at The Marriott Legends at Capitol Hill in Prattville. Governor Kay Ivey provided a congratulatory video prepared specifically for the 2022 Award Recipients.
The AWF Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards (GCAA) are the most respected conservation honors in the state of Alabama. Over the past 50 years, AWF has presented these awards to individuals and organizations that make great contributions to the conservation of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources.
Partners for Agricultural Innovation and Sustainability was founded by the University West Alabama and the Sumter County Soil and Water Conservation District.
In 2018, the partnership utilized education and outreach to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to draw attention to landscape problems and solutions associated with invasive cogongrass and Feral Swine.
First phase activities yielded 115 acres of cogongrass control and the removal of 100’s of feral swine from the landscape. At the same time, UWA students were engaged through the process which led to a measurable increase in conservation and agricultural sciences enrollments at the University.
Phase 2 of the partnership is currently underway with a broader geographic, subject matter, and partner focus. Additional control of cogongrass and feral swine have been accomplished and the initiative now includes pollinator habitat, forest management, and soil quality education and assessment.
Presenting Sponsors for the event were Alabama Power Company and PowerSouth Energy. The Westervelt Company, Lockheed Martin, and Alabama Farm Credit sponsored the food and refreshments for the event. Alabama Gulf Seafood was sponsored by the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission. Additional sponsor support was provided by the National Wildlife Federation, Southeast Region, David & Kelly Thomas, Ralph & Catherine Martin, III, CDG Engineers & Associates, Consolidated Construction Company, David McGiffert, First South Farm Credit, Josh & Mary Virginia Mandell, Lee Thuston, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Russell Lands, and Stifel.
AWF’s GCAA was created to promote leadership by example and in turn increase conservation of the natural resources in the state of Alabama including its wildlife, forests, soils, water and air. The program is designed to bring about a greater knowledge and awareness of conservation practices and projects and to give proper recognition to those persons and organizations that make outstanding contributions to the natural resource welfare of their community and state.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation, established by sportsmen in 1935, is the state’s oldest and largest citizens’ conservation organization.  The mission of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, a 501(c) 3 non-profit group supported by membership dues and donations, is to promote conservation and wise use of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources as a basis for economic and social prosperity.  To learn more about AWF, including membership details, programs and projects, contact Alabama Wildlife Federation at 334-285-4550 or visit www.alabamawildlife.org.

SC Treasure Forest Assoc. sets meeting for Aug. 23

The Sumter County Treasure Forest Association will host a meeting Tuesday, August 23, at 6:00 p.m. at the Alfa Building on the University of West Alabama campus.
“Please come join us on Tuesday, August 23 at 6:00 p.m, enjoy great fellowship, and learn about the exciting things taking place in West Alabama and Sumter County,” said SCTF president Elliot Pool.
Mike Davis and his wife, Becky will join us, and Mike will give us a history lesson on early timber production in Sumter County, some of the people involved, the location of the first lumber mill in Sumter County, and the surrounding area.
Mike, who is the senior District Manager for Chemical Waste Management at Emelle, Chairman of the Board for the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of the Board of West Alabama Foundation, board member of the University Charter School, and the University of West Alabama School of Business Advisory Board member. Thus, he is very aware of the changes taking place in Livingston, Epes, Sumter County, and West Alabama, while Becky is a teacher, cattle rancher, hunter as is Mike.
Here are just a few facts and items that he may cover while giving us a great history of early timber production, and processing in Sumter County while showing that Sumter County is on the cusp of great things for the future.
Enviva was just highlighted in the online business section of The Wall Street Journal with the article regarding their “largest in the world pellet production plant being constructed in Epes” in Monday’s Aug. 8 edition, and their stock jumped over 4 percent the day of the announcement on the NYSE.
A public land sale in Sumter County resulted in a large acreage bringing $5,000.00 per acre, while in Iowa in a very recent sale 122 acres of farmland sold for $22,200.00 an acre. The land that you own is worth more than you might know.
You are all aware of the new construction at the University Charter School, while numerous new construction and renovation projects are going on at The University of West Alabama.
Partners for Agricultural Innovation and Sustainability, which was founded by the University of West Alabama and The Sumter County Soil and Water Conservation District as a project for the control of wild hogs, and eradication of cogongrass received an award at the AWF Governor’s Achievement Awards Dinner in Montgomery, for their work in eliminating hundreds of wild hogs, and many acres of cogongrass.
New homes are being constructed across Sumter County, and have you noticed the number of new entrepreneurs in Sumter County including the offspring of some of our members who are starting or continuing service companies such as electrical, heating, and air conditioning as well as others.
We have all been privileged to live in a safe, rural environment during this period of the Covid-19 outbreak, and we have much to be thankful for.

Livingston gets Tree City designation

The council voted to approve the Tree City resolution designating their status as a Tree City. The mayor read the proclamation into the minutes for the record.

Tiny surprise house guest

This little black-chinned hummingbird accidentally flew into the house during the hummingbird migration Tues., Aug. 16. Don’t worry. After holding a broom upside down, the bird climbed onto the bristles and gently was taken to the door where it flew out and had a drink at the hummingbird feeder. In Alabama the hummingbird migration goes from mid August – September. “In the fall, leave your feeders up as long as the birds use them. Hummingbirds are migratory and travel south across the Gulf of Mexico and Central America when weather conditions are favorable in the winter. A rubythroated hummingbird can migrate 2,000 miles from breeding site to wintering grounds. Don’t worry about keeping hummingbirds here longer than they need to stay. They know when it is time to leave for their winter quarters. In the late summer or early fall, just before migration, a lot of hummingbirds may use the feeders and then disappear overnight,” according to Jim Armstrong and H. Lee Stribling, from Alabama Extension. Visit aces.edu/blog/topics/forestry-wildlife/hummingbirds-in-alabama/ for more hummingbird information and to learn about the 14 species you might be able to see right now, and hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-migration.htm to help catalog your sightings. Send us your outdoors photos! Not only will you get in the paper, but also on our award winning outdoors page on recordjournal.net. We post new stories every week. Photo by Kasey DeCastra, SCRJ Community News Editor

Registration for 2022 Youth Dove Hunts opens August 15

Dosson, Jennifer and Jamie McKemie enjoyed hunting as a family at a 2017 Youth Dove Hunt on the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County. Dosson (left) and Jamie McKemie wait for action at a 2019 Youth Dove Hunt on the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County. Photos courtesy of Jennifer McKemie

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) provides several youth dove hunt opportunities throughout the state each fall. A simple hunting setup combined with a fun, family-friendly atmosphere makes WFF’s youth dove hunts an ideal way to introduce young people to the outdoors.

Registration for this year’s hunts will open at 8 a.m. on August 15, 2022. Although the hunts are free, online registration is required. The first youth dove hunts of the season begin on September 3. For more information including a complete hunt schedule, visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/youth-hunting/youth-dove-hunts.

Jennifer McKemie’s father, Bill Mason, recently retired as manager of the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) that is used for the WFF youth dove hunts in Hale County. Her family has participated in the annual event since 2014.

A hunter herself since early childhood, Jennifer is also actively involved in four bird dog field trial events at the FWFTA. “I’ve been outdoors all my life,” she said.

The McKemie family participates in a variety of hunting throughout the year, from deer and turkey to dove and duck. Jennifer’s husband Jamie did not grow up hunting but has joined the family tradition and especially enjoys turkey season. Their son Dosson, now 15 years old, began hunting when he was 6.

“Dosson enjoys being outdoors, having fun and spending time with friends,” Jennifer said. “But when he goes hunting, he wants to put meat on the table. And he is an excellent shot!”

For those who have never attended a youth dove hunt, Jennifer advises to just do it.

“So many kids don’t have the opportunity to go hunting,” she said. “There’s always someone willing to help, and they’re so much fun.”

To participate in the hunts, youth hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent) who has a valid state hunting license, a Harvest Information Program (HIP) stamp and a Conservation ID number. Alabama’s youth dove hunt events are held in open fields and staffed by WFF personnel, which encourages a safe, secure environment for both parents and participants. Before each hunt, a short welcome session with reminders on hunting safety is conducted. All hunters are encouraged to wear eye and ear protection.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit https://www.outdooralabama.com.

Alabama Outdoors Weekly
Scientists at 89th ADSFR Collect Samples from 15 Sharks

Billy Pope) Marine scientists were able to gain extensive data from the 15 sharks weighed in at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. The ADSFR was also an opportunity to gather information on Alabama’s signature reef fish, red snapper. Boats head to the ADSFR weigh station at Dauphin Island, known as the sunset capital of Alabama.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The return of the shark category to the 89th annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR) was a rousing success with 15 sharks weighed in during the three-day event, with one riding the ferry from Fort Morgan in the back of a pickup to get to the rodeo site on Dauphin Island.

Tiger sharks pretty much reigned taking the top nine places on the leaderboard. James Mullek-Russell weighed in a 674.2-pound tiger to win the category, followed by Ethan Miller’s 658.4-pounder and Brett Rutledge’s 630.8-pounder. The top bull shark of the rodeo was a 434.2-pounder weighed in by Eric Vandrlessche.

As excited spectators and anglers waited for the sharks come to the weigh station, a bevy of marine scientists and students waited to advance the science on these predatory species.

Assistant rodeo judge Dr. Marcus Drymon of Mississippi State University and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium is renowned for his knowledge of the shark species in the northern Gulf of Mexico. He said sharks weighed in at the rodeo certainly provided a unique opportunity to gather a variety of samples from each species.

“I’ve been researching sharks in the north-central area of the Gulf along with Dr. (Sean) Powers for almost 20 years,” Drymon said. “A lot of the research we do is tracking their trends, their relative abundance and distribution as well as doing studies on their age and growth, reproduction, movements and migrations, post-release mortality and things of that sort.

“Here at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, we’re taking the opportunity to take vertebrae from these very large individuals.”

Sharks don’t have bones; their skeletons are completely made up of cartilage. However, Drymon said scientists have a way of aging these fish other than counting the growth rings on the otoliths (ear bones) that are present in most fish species.

“Their vertebrae are calcified but not completely ossified,” he said. “It’s kind of a fine line, but technically speaking, sharks have no bones. The cartilage in their backbones and the cartilage in their jaws are the closest they have to true bones. Sharks don’t have otoliths like a bony fish. That’s how you determine the age of, say, a red snapper. Since we don’t have those, we use the next best things, which are the vertebrae. We section those and count the concentric band pairs to age those fish.”

Drymon said the scientists were able to gather samples from the reproductive organs, fins, livers and muscle tissue. Samples of bile, gall bladders and kidneys also were taken to assess overall health.  

“We look at their stomachs, but they are usually empty,” he said. “They’ve evacuated their stomachs during the process of being captured.”

 Most of the sharks weighed at the ADSFR were males, which are usually similar in length to but weigh less than the females, Drymon said. The rodeo placed stringent length requirements on the shark category with an 80-inch minimum for tiger, bull and hammerhead sharks and a 60-inch minimum on blacktips.

“These sharks are great samples, especially because they are the larger individuals of those species, so they’re a little more rare in the population,” he said. “So, for example, having the vertebrae from those individuals is very valuable in trying to determine the maximum age of that species.”

Drymon said the impact of the rodeo harvest will have a minimal effect on the shark populations.

“For the species being caught, their populations in the north-central Gulf of Mexico are in good shape,” he said. “We know this because we’ve seen their population trajectories slowly increase after decades of overharvesting. Due to strong management measures from NOAA Fisheries and the State of Alabama, we see these shark populations are starting to recover and can stand a limited, sustainable harvest.”

Of course, sharks weren’t the only species being studied. Marine scientists gathered samples from a variety of fish during the rodeo, which experienced near-perfect fishing conditions with calm seas and diminishing squalls.

Dr. Powers, professor and director of the new University of South Alabama School of Marine and Environmental Sciences and head rodeo judge, said about 800 samples were collected each day of the rodeo.

“We’re collecting samples from all the (33) species at the rodeo,” Powers said. “We look at mercury levels, which is something routine we do. We don’t expect any problems.

“We’re looking at flounder. We’ve seen a lot more flounder in the last two years, at least in my memory. We’ve seen a lot of big gray (mangrove) snapper.”

Research was also focused on Alabama’s signature reef fish, red snapper, which were weighed in at the rodeo in significant numbers.

“The really big red snapper specimens from the rodeo are excellent because one of the things we’re trying to look at is to see if the big females slow down their production of the eggs,” Powers said. “The idea is the bigger the female, the better, but that really hasn’t been tested that much. We think it is, but there is some evidence that as the fish get really old, they don’t produce as many eggs.”

Powers said a 20-inch red snapper is about 5 to 6 years old, and the oldest red snapper recorded was 56 years old and came from Alabama waters.

“Red snapper become sexually mature between 3 and 4 years old,” he said. “Essentially, the older and bigger they are, the more eggs they produce. That’s why we want to see those big females. Most of our fishery off Alabama is probably 3- to 6-year-olds, about four to six or seven pounds. Once they get to about 15 pounds, they’re probably producing the maximum number of eggs. We need to see a lot of 10-plus-year-old fish, which is why we’re doing the aging here.”

The largest red snapper at this year’s rodeo was a 27.2-pounder weighed in by Hyler Krebs. Clint Sheppard had a 26.77-pounder, followed by Edgar Miller with a 25.75-pounder.

“These are smaller than what we had five or six years ago,” Powers said. “Back then, if you didn’t have a 30-pound-plus, you didn’t have a chance. Not surprising, what I hear from the fishermen is they have to go farther offshore to catch the bigger red snapper. That’s a product of the state managing for the number of days. We could manage for a bigger fish, but you wouldn’t have as many days. It’s a tradeoff. You can’t have both.”

Not only did marine scientists collect otoliths from the red snapper, they also collected tissue samples, reproductive organs and stomach contents.

“The tissue sample will let us know what it’s eating,” Powers said. “We do chemical analyses, and different forage species have different chemicals.”

Powers said new technology will allow scientists to gain much more information from the flounder otoliths than was previously possible.

“For flounder, we have a new system where we take the chemistry across the otoliths from when it was a little baby fish all the way to however old it was when it was caught, 5 or 6 years old,” he said. “We can construct the chemical environment that fish was exposed to. This is new instrumentation that the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources helped us purchase. That system will tell us the salinity history and answer questions like, did these fish grow up in the (Mobile-Tensaw) Delta or did they come from Dog River or lower in Mobile Bay?

“One of the things we want to find out is how important that Delta area is. It is unique in chemical composition. With this, we can tell the proportion of the fish that use the Delta. I think the Delta may explain how good the recruitment is for flounder. Is the Delta salty enough? That Delta has so much habitat and so much vegetation, just a change of a few parts per thousand in salinity can make that area accessible or inaccessible to these fish.”

Visit www.adsfr.com for the complete leaderboard for the 33 fish species, jackpots and cash prizes.

A guide to Alabama’s venomous snakes

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Summertime is in full throttle, and outdoor enthusiasts are being extra cautious because of snakes. Most native Alabama snake species are not venomous. However, there are several toxic species that you need to be able to identify.

Venomous Snakes in Alabama

According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Alabama is home to six venomous snake species. A bite from any of them is considered a medical emergency, and a victim must immediately seek treatment.

“Although snakebites are a serious issue around the world, only about five people die each year in the United States after an encounter with a venomous snake,” said Wesley Anderson, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System forestry, wildlife and natural resources specialist.

Snake Identification

Most of the state’s 44 snake species are harmless. The most important tool to safety is the skill to identify the snakes in your area.

Always use multiple characteristics whenever identifying a snake,” Anderson said. “Nonvenomous snakes will often act in ways that mimic venomous snakes.”

For example, many harmless snakes will flatten their heads. Just because a snake has a triangular head, doesn’t mean its venomous. Also, many nonvenomous snakes–along with copperheads and cottonmouths–will shake their tails when frightened. In this case, if you are solely using sound as a factor, this faux movement could lead you to believe you’re in the presence of a rattlesnake. There are also existing color variations and mutations among snake species. So, always use multiple defining characteristics to be more confident in your decision.

To brush up on your venomous snake identification skills, review the list below.

Copperhead

Copperheads are the most common venomous snake throughout Alabama and the primary culprit of reported snakebites. Like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes, they are vipers. More specifically, they are pit vipers and use their heat-sensing pits on their head to see under low-light situations.

Their name is derived from the copper color of their heads. They aren’t large snakes, with most measuring 2 to 3 feet long. Aside from the copper head, another characteristic to look for are their unique bands. The dark bands have smooth lines along the edges. From the side, they’re compared to a Hershey’s Kiss candy. From the top, they look like an hourglass. Young copperheads will also have chartreuse-colored tails.

Cottonmouth

Cottonmouths are a more aquatic relative to the copperhead. The terms cottonmouth and water moccasin for this species are synonymous. They are common but tend to be found less frequently than copperheads since they are primarily near water sources.

Cottonmouths are named for their behavior to gape and expose their light, white mouth lining as a warning when threatened. Adults tend to be larger than their copperhead cousins. An average adult measures between 2 and 4 feet. They have a similar banded pattern, however the edges of the bands tend to have a ragged or pixelated appearance. This pattern is often lost or obscured as they get older.

This banding cannot be relied upon as the sole identifying characteristic. Cottonmouths also have a dark mask that extends from the back of the jaw to the eye. Also like copperheads, the young will have a chartreuse tail.

“Cottonmouths are frequently confused with water snakes,” Anderson said. “One good way to tell them apart is by looking at the mouth. Water snakes have dark vertical bars on their lip scales; cottonmouths do not. Cottonmouths also have blocky heads with a sharp angle from the top of the head to the front of the face, preventing someone from seeing their eyes if looking at them from above.”

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy rattlesnakes are Alabama’s smallest species of rattlesnake. Adults only grow one to one-and-a-half feet long. This species is also known as ground rattlers. They do have a rattle; however, it is so small that it often sounds more like a buzzing insect than a rattlesnake. Identifiers of pygmy rattlesnakes are blotches on both their back and sides and a potential reddish-brown stripe down the spine.

Timber Rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnakes are medium-to-large rattlesnakes found throughout much of the state. Average adults measure 3 to 5 feet in length. They can measure up to 6 feet, but that is exceedingly rare.

Their solid black tail is a diagnostic characteristic for this species. Another characteristic to look for are the chevron markings extending down the middle of their back. Base color varies from light gray to brown. A rusty colored dorsal stripe is sometimes present.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is Alabama’s largest species of venomous snake. Adults average 4 to 6 feet long but can reach nearly 8 feet in length. They are easily identified by the diamond pattern on their back that runs the length of their body. The diamondback and timber rattlesnake can both be found in the southern part of the state, but diamondbacks tend to be in drier, more upland areas – especially longleaf pine forests.

Eastern Coral Snake

In Alabama, Eastern coral snakes are the only snake in the elapid family. This is a group of snakes that include cobras and mambas. Their tricolored (i.e., red, yellow and black) pattern makes them easy to distinguish.

However, there are two nonvenomous snakes – the scarlet snake and scarlet kingsnake – that mimic this species. For the Eastern coral snake, the red bands touch yellow bands. For the coral snakes’ counterparts, red bands touch black bands. Many people have heard the rhyme to differentiate the two, but Anderson no longer encourages teaching it.

“There are a couple reasons for the change in the coral snake rhyme,” Anderson said. “There have been documented cases of people misremembering the rhyme and being bitten by coral snakes. The other reason is that abnormal coral snakes exist that might, for example, have dark, bordering on black, red bands.”

Coral snakes have a short, blunt head that starts with a black band. The other species will have longer heads starting with a red band. If there is any doubt, do not handle any tricolor snake. The Eastern coral snake averages 20 to 30 inches in length but can reach nearly 4 feet. They also possess a potent neurotoxic venom that can result in paralysis and asphyxiation. It is a myth that coral snakes need to chew to inject venom. Remember, they are cousins to cobras.

More Information

Remember, it is vital that any venomous snake bite be considered a medical emergency. For the scoop on serpents in Alabama, contact your local Extension agent or specialist to learn about which species are in your area. Also, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu to learn more about Alabama’s snake species.

Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Opens August 2

Elijah Lamb took first place in the Wildlife Category of the 2022 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest with this image of a bobcat in the Tuskegee National Forest.

The 2023 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest will begin accepting entries on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. This year’s contest is a joint project between the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the Alabama Tourism Department. The deadline to enter is October 31, 2022.

The 2023 photo contest will focus on traditional photography techniques and the use of handheld cameras. No cellphone, smartphone, game camera, or drone photography will be chosen as winning photos for nine of the 10 categories. Smartphone and tablet photos will be accepted in the Young Photographers category.

The photo contest is open to state residents and visitors alike, but qualifying photos must have been taken in Alabama in the past two years. Any amateur photographer not employed by ADCNR is encouraged to enter.

A total of eight photos per person may be entered in the following categories. You may enter all eight in one category or among several categories.

2023 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Categories

  • Alabama State Parks
  • Birds
  • Bugs and Butterflies
  • Cold-blooded Critters
  • Nature-Based Recreation
  • Scenic
  • Shoots and Roots
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • Wildlife
  • Young Photographers (ages 17 and under)

First, second, third and one honorable mention will be awarded in each category. Winning images will be featured online and in a traveling exhibit at various venues across the state during 2023.

Art teachers are encouraged to incorporate participation in the Young Photographers category into their art instruction this fall.

An exhibit of the 2022 winning photos is currently on display at the Downtown Huntsville Public Library until July 31, 2022. It then moves to the South Huntsville Public Library until August 31. To view the complete exhibit schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photo-exhibit.

For complete 2023 category descriptions and contest rules, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photocontest.

ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Brown Spot Needle Blight Affecting Pine Trees

Since early spring, the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) has been receiving phone calls from landowners and the public regarding pine needles suddenly turning brown. Many of these calls have been coming from counties in the northwest and northeast regions of the state. The culprit of the needle discoloration is believed to be the fungal disease known as brown spot needle blight. To date the disease has been confirmed in 36 of 67 counties in Alabama.

Historically, this disease has only infected longleaf pines (Pinus palustris). Brown spot needle blight can be killed using prescribed burns. However, this method is only effective for longleaf pine seedlings. In the last few years, the disease has also begun to infect loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) in young and mature stands. The cause for this change in behavior of the disease has yet to be determined, but it can be speculated that it may be a new sub-species that has evolved from the original fungal pest.

The first sign of infection is discoloration of the needles. Infected needles will contain circular lesions with a brown spot surrounded by a yellow halo. Over time, the infected area will turn brown with a dark red or dark green border. The discoloration begins in the lower portion of the crown and moves up as the disease spreads by rain and wind events. An easy way to identify the disease is if the pine needles look as if they have been scorched by fire, even though there has been no burn. This disease can reoccur over a couple of years and cause mortality to infected pines.

If you believe your pines are infected with brown spot needle blight and want needles tested, please contact your local Alabama Forestry Commission office. Laboratory tests can confirm the presence of the disease. Symptomatic needles are collected and brought to the Forest Health Dynamics Laboratory at Auburn University for confirmation.

The mission of the Alabama Forestry Commission is to protect and sustain Alabama’s forest resources using professionally applied stewardship principles and education, ensuring that the state’s forests contribute to abundant timber and wildlife, clean air and water, and a healthy economy.

Alabama Outdoor Weekly
Jacobs gains mobility freedom through Outdoor Ability Foundation

PHOTOS: (Scott Phillips) Nate Jacobs now has the freedom to play in the creek in his new track chair. Nate was presented the chair by Outdoor Ability Foundation’s Scott Phillips, left, Grayson Phillips, right, and Donnie Yates. Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Lt. Brian Fisher and Officer Logan Black joined in the celebration with Jacobs.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Logan Black, a Conservation Enforcement Officer with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, approached Nate Jacobs and said she’d heard about him hunting a certain piece of property. Black played her part in the ruse well and had Nate squirming, wondering where he’d run afoul of the law.

That’s when Outdoor Ability Foundation’s Scott Phillips unveiled a new Action Trackchair that was being presented to Nate for his 16th birthday. The look of concern on Nate’s face quickly turned into a wide grin when he realized he wasn’t in trouble and the all-terrain wheelchair was for him.

Jacobs has been in a wheelchair since he suffered a stroke during heart surgery when he was 5 years old. He’s always loved to hunt and fish, but mobility has been a serious obstacle.

The way Outdoor Ability Foundation found out about Nate was through the Kidz Outdoors (kidzoutdoors.org) program, an organization started by Carol and Rick Clark of Hueytown to help kids with disabilities get outdoors.

“Nate had gone hunting with Kidz Outdoors, and Carol told me about him,” Phillips said. “I connected with Wes, Nate’s dad, and we made sure Nate didn’t know about the chair. We did the fundraising for the chair without him knowing it.

“We set the organization up based on our model, what happened to us. We go out and find the track chairs or whatever equipment is needed. I’m usually able to get these chairs at less than retail. We ask the families to raise half the money, and we raise the other half because it gets more people involved. It also lets more people know about the needs of the disabled kids who want their freedom to go hunting and fishing. You get family, friends and the community involved with the focus of let’s get this kid outdoors.

“Nate loves to fish and hunt. I told Wes not to stress about the money, that God will provide it. Once people know what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it, it will happen. It happened within a month.”

With fundraising just short of the goal, Donnie Yates, Phillips’ right-hand man at the foundation, reached out to Vance Wood, WFF officer and member of the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA), and asked if the association could provide the remaining funds for the chair. Wood made the presentation to the ACEOA board, which approved the funding.

The ACEOA has 140 members from State Parks, State Lands, Marine Resources and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

“Our mission is to perform public education and outreach and enhance professional standards,” Wood said of the ACEOA. “It was very satisfying to see Nate get the chair. We’re happy when we can help give a child the ability to enjoy what our great outdoors has to offer.”

Phillips added, “We got wildlife officers (Black and Lt. Brian Fisher) to help us present the chair. What was neat about it was Wes had trained Officer Black when she went through the police academy. We had that connection also.”

Phillips’ son, 23-year-old Grayson, has spina bifida, which led to the formation of Outdoor Ability Foundation in Gardendale.

“At the age of 10 Grayson wanted to go hunting,” Phillips said. “I did not grow up hunting, but we said okay if that’s what he wanted to do. We’ve told him all his life that he can do anything he wanted to, but he’ll have to do it differently. We connected with several organizations that took him hunting, and we’re very grateful for that. It gave him the bug to do more and more, but we didn’t have a way to get him from point A to point B.”

The lack of mobility was highlighted on a turkey hunt with Grayson.

“The guides had a popup blind for him,” Phillips said. “We knew where the turkeys were, but they wouldn’t come to us. We decided to take Grayson to a point a little closer to the birds. I had to throw Grayson over my shoulder and drag his wheelchair. The guides were gathering all the stuff they needed to get to the next position. It had rained and it was muddy, not good conditions to try to be doing this.

“I thought there’s got to be a better way to get someone in a wheelchair from point A to point B. I started to do some research and ran across Action Trackchairs.”

Phillips called the Action Trackchair rep in Georgia and asked about the chairs and the cost. When the rep quoted $12,000, he knew the family couldn’t afford it.

“I think Grayson was 13 or 14 at the time, and we didn’t have that kind of cash,” he said.

The Phillips family met the chair rep at a basketball tournament, where Grayson was playing for the Lakeshore Foundation, and he brought a chair for Grayson to test.

“He tried it and loved it, but we still didn’t have $12,000,” the elder Phillips said. “A few months later, I get a lead on a used chair. I called the people. It was their father’s chair, and he had just passed away. They wanted $8,500 for it. I told them I didn’t have $8,500, but if they’d give me a little time, I would try to raise that money.”

Phillips started a GoFundMe account, sold brownies, held car washes and other fundraising events. About half the money needed was raised from those efforts, and the deadline was coming up quickly. Then a private donor stepped in and graciously provided the remainder of the funds needed to purchase the chair.

“We met the people with the chair in Florida, where they lived,” he said. “Grayson got on the beach in the chair, and he was all over the place. It gave him the freedom to just go. We get back home, and he takes it to the woods, going everywhere he can go. He got his independence.

“When Grayson got his first deer after getting his chair, he wanted to drag the deer out of the woods, so that’s what he did. We decided at that time that we needed to help other disabled kids with the same desire to go hunting and fishing.”

Outdoor Ability Foundation was formed in 2014, and the first mobility chair was presented in 2016 to a youth in Gardendale. Nate’s presentation was the 14th for the foundation in seven states. Phillips also found out it wasn’t one-size-fits-all when it comes to dealing with disabilities.

“One of the kids had autism, so it’s not just mobility,” he said. “We try to find whatever adaptive equipment is necessary to help the kids. The father said he wouldn’t be able to mount the rifle to his shoulder and look through the scope, so we got him a screen that attached to the scope, and he was able to go hunting that way.

“The thing I talk about is being the game changer. When kids get these chairs or equipment, it’s a game changer, not only for the kids but for the parents.”

Wes Jacobs, a Tuscaloosa police officer who is involved with training at the Tuscaloosa Police Academy, agrees wholeheartedly with Phillips’ last statement.

“It’s made life so much easier for Nate and us,” Jacobs said. “It’s pretty much opened the door to so many opportunities for him to be independent that he would have never had without it.

“We live out in the country, so if we ever wanted to get outside and do something, we’d have to get him on the Polaris or get in the Jeep. The electronic chair he had is not made for the outdoors. A manual chair is not going to go over roots or through creeks with you trying to push it.

“Now we can put him in the track chair in the carport and he goes where he wants. He’s as happy as he can be. We took him to the beach, and he was able to go on the sand. It’s been great. It’s been a blessing, plain and simple. We’re very thankful to Kidz Outdoors and Outdoor Ability Foundation. They work well together on helping kids.”

Wes said Nate is a student at Berry High School, makes good grades and loves being around his friends.

“I love it,” Nate said of the track chair. “I can play in the creek and help Papa (his grandfather Arthur Williams) in the garden.”

Phillips added, “We need people to understand that it’s okay to go outside and have fun.”

WFF Breaks New Ground with Night Shoot

PHOTOS: (Clint Patterson, Michael Weathers, William Malone) The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division recently held its first Night Shoot at the Cahaba River WMA Shooting Range.
William Malone uses thermal optics to control feral hogs on his property near Camden.
A look through Chief Weathers night vision optics reveals a warm barrel as the shooter continues to fire.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) continues to provide citizens with groundbreaking opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in new, innovative ways.

The ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s (WFF) Law Enforcement Section recently held a Night Shoot at the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Shooting Range.

From what Law Enforcement Chief Michael Weathers can determine, Alabama is leading the way in this event, which allowed those who signed up to bring their night vision and thermal optics to the range to shoot at night.

“Number one, we think it’s very likely this is the first time a game and fish agency has ever hosted an event like this, where we open one of our state shooting ranges during what are normally closed hours and staff it,” Weathers said. “We did this so members of the public who own rifles with night vision or thermal sights can shoot or zero their guns in a safe environment.

“We had good public turnout and a lot of enthusiasm. The guys who came out and shot were glad to have the opportunity, and several traveled a pretty good distance to get there. We had one gentleman drive up from Lee County. He brought a rifle with a thermal sight. We got him zeroed, and he was very complimentary of us for opening the range, providing that opportunity. It’s hard to find a place to shoot, let alone a place to shoot at night.”

The WFF staff opened the Cahaba River Range at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night and brought in numerous WFF officers to oversee the range to ensure safety under the low-light conditions. Unlike the WFF Law Enforcement’s Firearms 101 sessions, where new or inexperienced shooters are provided with .22-caliber firearms and taught how to handle a firearm safely and improve their shooting efficiency, the Night Shoot officers did not offer instruction.

“We brought in some of our firearms instructors, not to teach, but to run the range and ensure safety on the range,” Weathers said. “We kept it open until 2 a.m. We had folks coming and going for most of the night.”

Weathers said shooting at night also presents challenges because of the low-light conditions that make safety paramount.

“Shooting on a range at night is a lot different than in the daytime,” he said. “If you’re downrange changing targets or scoring targets, you can’t see what anybody on the firing line is doing. And the firing line people can’t see that there are people downrange.

“We wanted to make sure that the folks who came out wouldn’t have any concerns or worries, that it was a safe environment. We used red lights. Any time the red lights were on, people had to step away from their firearms. If the red lights were on, that freed up people to go downrange and work on targets.”

Steel targets were used for those with thermal imaging equipment, and range officers used propane torches to heat the steel to increase the thermal profile. “It works like a champ,” Weathers said.

After the targets are ready, before the firing line goes hot, WFF officials use their own night vision and thermal optics to ensure no one is downrange before the red lights are turned off and the firing resumes.

“We just walked around and helped where we could,” Weathers said. “It was a great event. For us, it’s better utilization of a state resource. Our state shooting ranges are a low-cost state resource for everybody.”

Ryan Russell from Helena was one of those who made the inaugural Night Shoot, and he was able to shoot his .300 Blackout at the range.

“It was an interesting experience to shoot with a thermal scope,” Russell said. “Several people were out there with night vision optics. I got to see the difference between thermal and night vision and what to expect. I was able to learn from other people how to effectively use night scopes, how they handle and things you need to be aware of. Thermal scopes are great as long as you have a warm target to shoot at. Shooting at paper is tough with thermal, but the night vision was pretty cool.

“For a first time, I thought it went well. Going to a range, you never know who you’re going to interact with, but there were plenty of officers on-site to keep everybody safe. They had really good control of the range. I had both of my children out there with me. We felt safe at all times. I really enjoyed it, and we had a wide range of people out there. A couple of people there didn’t shoot. They were there to watch and learn.”

State Shooting Ranges are open to anyone who holds a hunting or fishing license or purchases a Wildlife Heritage license for $11.70.

“With the explosion in nighttime predator control hunting and the ownership of night vision and thermal equipment, we hope to do a lot more of these events to give folks the opportunity to come out in a safe environment to shoot their firearms with their night vision or thermal optics,” Weathers said.

Landowners and leaseholders could previously apply for a depredation permit to shoot feral hogs and coyotes at night, but the process was somewhat restrictive.

The Alabama Legislature passed a law that allows Alabama residents to purchase a $15 license ($51 for non-residents) to hunt feral hogs and coyotes at night with night vision, thermal optics or lights attached to the firearms during a specific season. The 2022 season started on February 11 and runs through November 1.

“Last year, we got a dedicated feral hog and coyote nighttime hunting season on private or leased land,” Weathers said. “That’s been a real success. A lot of folks are taking advantage of that. It makes it easier for those landowners to control predators. If you’re a member of a hunting club and the landowner allows it, you can buy that license (www.outdooralabama.com) and participate in predator control hunting during the off season.

“Because of the popularity in nighttime feral swine and coyote hunting and the increase in people who own night vision and thermal optics, opening the range at night was a good way for us to work with the public. And when people buy night vision or thermal scopes and firearms, those tax dollars go into the Pittman-Robertson Fund that is distributed to the states for a variety of uses, including purchasing shooting ranges and staffing them. This gives everybody an equal chance to better use the resources they’re paying for.”

Weathers said the Night Shoot was a great learning experience for the public as well as the WFF staff, and he expects to hold several similar events in the future.

“We know there’s a demand for this, a need for it,” he said. “We plan to host more of these events and move them around the state. By nature, they have to be staffed, and we can’t do it everywhere all the time. But we intend to conduct as many of these events as possible.”

Follow the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Facebook page on future Night Shoots. Visit www.outdooralabama.com for information on State Shooting Ranges and the nighttime hunting license for feral hogs and coyotes.

Alligator hunt registration opens June 7

American Alligator photo by Billy Pope, ADCNR

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will open online registration for the state’s regulated alligator hunts on June 7, 2022, at 8 a.m. Registration must be completed by 8 a.m., July 13. For complete season information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/alligator-season.

A total of 260 Alligator Possession Tags will be distributed among five hunting zones. The administrative fee to apply for an Alligator Possession Tag is $22 and individuals may register one time per zone. While the tag is free, the selected hunters and their assistants are required to have valid hunting licenses in their possession while hunting.

Only Alabama residents and Alabama lifetime license holders ages 16 years or older may apply for tags. Alabama lifetime license holders may apply for an Alligator Possession Tag even if they have moved out of the state.

Hunters will be randomly selected by computer to receive one Alligator Possession Tag each (the tags are non-transferable). The random selection process will utilize a preference point system. The system increases the likelihood of repeat registrants being selected for a hunt as long as the applicant continues to apply. The more years an applicant participates in the registration, the higher the likelihood of being selected. If an applicant does not register for the hunt in a given year or is selected and accepts a tag for a hunt, the preference point status is forfeited.

Applicants can check their selection status on July 13, after 12 p.m., at https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/public. Those selected to receive a tag must confirm their acceptance online by 8 a.m., July 20. After that date, alternates will be notified to fill any vacancies. Applicants drawn for the hunt are required to complete an online Alligator Training Course prior to accepting their hunter/alternate status. The official course will be available on the applicant’s status page upon login.

If selected for an Alligator Possession Tag at two or more locations, hunters must choose which location they would like to hunt. The slot for locations not chosen will be filled from a list of randomly selected alternates.

Hunting zones, total tags issued per zone and hunt dates are as follows:

SOUTHWEST ALABAMA ZONE – 100 Tags
Locations: Private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties north of interstate 10, and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke and Monroe counties east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84. 2022 Dates: Sunset on August 11, until sunrise on August 14. Sunset on August 18, until sunrise on August 21.

COASTAL ZONE – 50 Tags
Locations: Private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties south of Interstate 10. 2022 Dates: Sunset on August 11, until sunrise on August 14. Sunset on August 18, until sunrise on August 21.

SOUTHEAST ALABAMA ZONE – 40 Tags
Locations: Private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties (excluding public Alabama state waters in Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries). 2022 Dates: Sunset on August 13, until sunrise on September 5.

WEST CENTRAL ALABAMA ZONE – 50 Tags
Locations: Private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox and Dallas counties. 2022 Dates: Sunset on August 11, until sunrise on August 14. Sunset on August 18, until sunrise on August 21.

LAKE EUFAULA ZONE – 20 Tags
Locations: Public state waters only in the Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries, south of Alabama Highway 208 at Omaha Bridge (excludes Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge). 2022 Dates: Sunset August 19, until sunrise October 3.

Each person receiving an Alligator Possession Tag will be allowed to harvest one alligator during the season. An 8-foot minimum length requirement is in effect for alligators harvested in the Lake Eufaula Zone. There is no minimum length for hunts in the other zones. The use of bait is prohibited. All alligator harvests must be immediately tagged with the temporary Alligator Possession Tag and reported as directed for each Zone. The permanent Alligator Possession Tag will be distributed after the hunt by Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division personnel.

Hunting hours are official sunset to official sunrise in the Southwest, Coastal, Southeast and West Central Zones. For the Lake Eufaula Zone, hunting is allowed both daytime and nighttime hours. All Alabama hunting and boating regulations must be followed.

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is the largest reptile in North America and can exceed 14 feet in length and 1,000 pounds. Known for its prized meat and leather, the species was threatened with extinction due to unregulated harvest during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. No regulations existed in those days to limit the number of alligators harvested. In 1938, it is believed that Alabama was the first state to protect alligators by outlawing these unlimited harvests. Other states soon followed and, in 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the American alligator on the endangered species list. By 1987, the species was removed from the endangered species list and the alligator population has continued to expand. Its history illustrates an excellent conservation success story.

ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

ALBBAA’s Best Fish Photo Contest

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association wants to see your fish photos again this year. The 2022 Best Fish Photo Contest allows anglers of all ages to showcase how they enjoy the bountiful fishing in the Black Belt. Photos submitted for the contest, which opens May 28 and runs through Aug. 31, can show any type of fish caught in the Black Belt during 2022. All photos for the contest must be entered through the Alabama Black Belt Adventures’ website. The contest winner will receive a prize package that includes a guided fishing trip for a day on Lake Eufaula sponsored by Tony Adams of Gone Fishing with Tony and a two-night stay at Lakepoint State Park. Voting will also be conducted exclusively on the same page — https://alabamablackbeltadventures.org/bestblackbeltfishcontest/. Visitors to the contest webpage may vote once per day, per entry, per IP address. In the case of any dispute, the decision of ALBBAA is final. ALBBAA reserves the right to approve or disapprove of the photo submitted. Cause for disqualification of photo can include, but is not limited to, the following: The photo content presents the subject in an unethical or disrespectful composition. The photo content is perceived to cast a negative perception of hunters or anglers and their contribution to the management of wildlife. Voting violation which imposes an unfair advantage to others. Previous winners of the Best Fish Photo Contest from the past three years are not eligible to take home the prize. Anglers are also reminded to comply with all fishing laws, including purchasing a valid Alabama fishing license.

Alabama Outdoors Weekly
Voters Overwhelmingly Approve State Parks Amendment

PHOTOS: (Billy Pope, Jason Smith, David Rainer) With the approval of the State Parks Amendment, work to improve and enhance campgrounds can proceed. Alabama’s private recreational red snapper season opens Friday for four-day weekends. The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board voted to allow the use of turkey decoys during the youth weekend and disabled hunts.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
By a wide margin, Alabama voters approved the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot to provide as much as $80 million in funding for improvements and enhancements to Alabama’s 21 State Parks.


“I would like to thank the voters of Alabama for their overwhelming support of our beautiful State Parks,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). “This will give us the funds to make much-needed improvements to the campgrounds across the state, bringing them into the 21st century. A lot of our campgrounds were built when camping was a pop-up camper and a tent. We’re way past that now with the larger motorhomes with three air conditioners that need 50-amp service. We want to make sure we provide for citizens and our guests moving forward. Our day use areas need some new bathroom facilities to try to expand the day use in our parks. We want to build some accessible playgrounds so that our citizens of all ability types will have the opportunity to play at our playgrounds and enjoy our parks.


“We have parks that don’t have cabins. If people don’t have an RV or motorhome, they are not able to enjoy our parks as much as we would like. Our State Parks have been very successful the last few years under (Director) Greg Lein and our new Deputy Director Matthew Capps. Every dime we make at the parks we put back into the parks to do good work.”


During last weekend’s Alabama Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) meeting at Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula, Commissioner Blankenship welcomed Governor Kay Ivey, who won Tuesday’s Republican nomination without a runoff, to the Board meeting and highlighted her accomplishments in outdoor recreation.
“In the time that Governor Ivey has been in office, we (DCNR) have acquired 63,000 acres of property that has gone into public ownership for conservation and enjoyment of our citizens forever,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Thank you, Governor, for your leadership in allowing ADCNR to do good work for the people and natural resources of Alabama. In my 28 years at Conservation, I don’t ever remember a governor joining us at one of our CAB meetings.”


Governor Ivey highlighted the impact outdoor recreation has on Alabama’s economy as well as reiterating her support for State Parks.


“Hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoor recreation, as managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is a $14 billion, with a B, economic driver for our state,” Governor Ivey said. “That’s especially important for rural areas. I thank the men and women of the DCNR for their hard work and their passion that they display every day to ensure we have fish, wildlife and access to public lands and waters, both today and tomorrow for future generations. Conservation also manages our beautiful Alabama State Parks, many of which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. With this bond money, we can make the needed improvements and upgrades to our State Parks.


“One thing is for sure. In a state like Alabama, folks are passionate about hunting, fishing and wildlife, and they have plenty of opinions of how they should be managed. Commissioner Blankenship and his team do a wonderful job of balancing long seasons with appropriate bag limits to ensure that we don’t overharvest the bounty that God has blessed us with. Alabama is truly a great place to hunt, fish, camp, hike and spend time in the great outdoors. So, y’all keep up the good work so that we remain Alabama the beautiful. Thank you for having me today, and may God bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.”


State Parks recently held ribbon cuttings at several parks, including Cathedral Caverns, where a new campground was opened. State Parks worked with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to use rubberized asphalt to pave roads and parking lots at Guntersville State Park. The Joe Wheeler State Park campgrounds that were destroyed by a tornado in 2019 have reopened, and a project at DeSoto Falls included dredging an area of the river there and a new beach for the day-use area. The rubberized asphalt will be used to pave the roads and parking lots at the day-use area. Also, all 1,300 overnight units at State Parks received new mattresses.“We also recently celebrated an addition of 1,650 acres (Belcher Tract) at Oak Mountain State Park, the largest park in our system, right there in fast-growing Shelby County,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “That was monumental. That was purchased by the Forever Wild Land Trust, which is managed by State Lands and Director Patti McCurdy. You don’t get those opportunities very often, and I’m thankful to the Forever Wild Board for moving on that.”


Commissioner Blankenship also provided an update on the effort to rebuild the portion of Gulf State Park Pier that was demolished by Hurricane Sally in 2020. The bids to do the work far exceeded expectations from the engineers.


“We thought the bids would come in between $4 million and $6 million; that was the estimated range from the engineering firm,” he said. “The lowest bid ended up being $12.5 million, so it was more than twice what we thought would be the high bid. We’re working with FEMA to get approval for the new amount. We’re not going to be shutting the pier down this summer to do the construction that we had planned. We’ll have to bid that again in late summer or early fall once we get the FEMA approvals.”
Alabama’s private recreational red snapper season opens Friday for four-day weekends (Friday-Monday) until the quota of 1.12 million pounds is expected to be reached.


“Just for information for the Board, NOAA Fisheries recently announced the South Atlantic red snapper season for 2022,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It will be July 8 and 9. That is their season – two days. The work that Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and Kevin (Anson, MRD Head Biologist) and their team have done with other Gulf states has made a huge difference. Had that work not taken place, our season in the Gulf would probably be two days. Our season last year was 124 days. That just shows tangibly that the work they do means so much for the economy and outdoor recreation in Alabama.”


Bannon said Alabama’s private recreational anglers will have an unusual opportunity during the Memorial Day Weekend to catch three of the state’s iconic offshore species – red snapper, greater amberjack and gray triggerfish. Triggerfish and amberjack seasons are open through May 31. Anglers are required to report the harvest of all three species through the Snapper Check feature on the Outdoor AL app.
“We call it the trifecta weekend for reef fish where you can catch all three species,” Bannon said. “If you plan to come to the Gulf Coast this weekend, the boat ramps will be congested, which is about the nicest word I can use. Bring your patience with you.


“Also, this year, reef fish fishermen must have a venting tool or descending device to reduce the number of dead discards.”


Bannon provided the Board with updates on recreational saltwater fishing license sales, red snapper and a much-improved oyster season. More than 140,000 recreational saltwater licenses were purchased for the current season.


“A lot of people are visiting the Gulf, and a lot of people are moving there,” Bannon said. “The increase in license sales reflects that. The Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement ($10 license) was created three years ago. We sold 23,000 the first year and more than doubled to 56,000 the second year. That helps identify the anglers participating in offshore reef fish fishing and those funds go directly to enhancing and managing offshore reef fisheries.”


Bannon also highlighted the recent work to expand Alabama’s already unparalleled artificial reef program. About 1,200 square miles off the coast of Alabama is designated artificial reef zones. The reef zones were increased about 115 square miles recently with the addition of the Christopher M. Blankenship Zone and additions to several nearshore reef zones. In the overall reef zone complex, MRD deployed 456 25-foot pyramid modules, 1,203 juvenile reef fish modules, 327 circalittoral (nearshore) modules and built four new inshore reefs.


MRD has also spent more than $10 million in recent years on oyster restoration, including the planting of cultch material and starting a “mounds and furrows” project that provides the oysters some relief from low-oxygen areas on the bottom.


“Oysters are not only important to catch and eat, I call them the foundational critters,” Bannon said. “In the estuaries, we need those oysters. They clean the water. They’re a sign of a healthy water system. They feed other species out there. Without oysters, the whole system is out of balance.”
The success of these oyster restoration efforts is revealed in the number of sacks oyster catchers have produced in recent years. The harvest went from zero for the fall 2018 through spring 2019 season to 11,333 sacks the following year. In the fall 2020 through spring 2021 season, 22,070 sacks were brought to market. In the most recent season, 50,020 sacks were harvested. That translates into more than $4 million going into the pockets of the oyster harvesters.


“With the grid system, we can close one 500-meter area at a time,” Bannon said. “Our original harvest estimate for 2022 was 22,000 sacks. We harvested more than 50,000 because we could keep the catchers moving to new areas, and that also keeps from overharvesting certain areas. They quickly figured out the benefit to them and the oyster reefs.”


On the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) side, the Alabama Legislature passed legislation to create an enclosure gun deer season. It sets the hunting dates for those enclosures that opt into that season, which will be October 15 through January 6.


The Board also voted to allow the use of turkey decoys during the special youth and disabled hunting dates. For 2023 in Zones 1 and 3, those dates are March 17 and 18 for youth and March 24 for disabled hunts. In Zone 2, the dates are March 25 and 26 and March 31.

Click on http://www.recordjournal.net/outdoors-2/ to read more outdoors stories.