Let’s face the facts, the cost of finding top hunting property is increasing. Fees for land leases and hunting clubs continue to rise. There are waiting lists for well-managed hunting leases and trophy hunting clubs. These high-grade deer lands are becoming out of reach for the average hunter. However, there is an option for deer hunters seeking quality hunting land on a budget. For less than $20 bucks, hunters can have access to almost a million acres on Alabama’s WMAs. Alabama wildlife management areas are scattered across the state and a majority of this land is managed for trophy bucks. Much of the top Alabama WMA hunting is only a short drive for the majority of hunters in the Cotton State.
Some hunting clubs take on a few additional members each year to try to keep the dues affordable, but this increases the number of hunters in the same sized area. Bucks, especially ones with quality racks, become scarce. Some of the more popular clubs can see a number of hunters any day of the week. So Alabama WMA hunting can be, not only affordable, but can yield quality trophy bucks as well.
Why Hunt WMAs
There are 33 Alabama WMAs. A majority of those are set up for quality deer management. Some of the WMAs have had an antler restriction for the past several years and it is beginning to pay off. Larger body bucks with above average racks are becoming more common on many of the WMAs across the state.
“We have had an antler restriction in place since the 2013-2014 season,” mentions Brandon Howell, area biologist for Choccolocco WMA near Heflin, Ala. “Before then, 80-percent of the buck harvest was spikes. Since the implementation of the antler restriction, spike harvest has been essentially cut to zero. This has allowed the 1.5-year bucks to move into the next age class.”
A majority of the hunters were in favor of antler restrictions on WMAs. Before the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division enacted an antler restriction they conducted a survey among hunters.
From the mail survey, 71-percent of hunters were in favor of some type of antler restriction. Only 13 percent were opposed and around 16-percent of hunters were neutral. The antler restrictions have resulted in dividends of larger racked bucks.
Some WMAs have instituted hunting zones. These zones basically divide the area in half. This allows for better management of deer and other wildlife for a specific zone. On certain WMAs, there are some zones that have different buck restrictions. However, some management areas are removing the zones and using the same antler restrictions area wide. One of those WMAs is Oakmulgee.
Oakmulgee WMA is the oldest wildlife management area in Alabama. It was established in 1938. The ADCNR works closely with partners like the U. S. Forest Service to ensure hunters have quality public hunting land. At Oakmulgee there are 98 wildlife openings also known as food plots. Other WMAs around the state also partner with the USFS in creating a top hunting environment.
Each WMA has different antler restrictions. Hunters will need to have a WMA map and regulation sheet of the area they plan to hunt. These maps are free and are required for each licensed hunter. The maps will indicate roads, food plots, camp areas and check stations.
On the backside of the map are the hunting dates for all game and the regulations. Here the dates for zones (if applicable) and antler restrictions will be detailed. Also, archery, primitive weapon and guns seasons are listed. Maps are available at each WMA at check stations and kiosks locations.
Planning WMA Hunts
Deer hunting dates will vary depending on the WMA. Management areas in the northern region of the state will have some deer hunts during the early season. Areas in other portions of the state will have deer hunts into February. Hunters will want to plan out their hunts for the favorite Alabama WMAs.
In past seasons, Choccolocco WMA has had a special opportunity gun deer hunt around the first weekend in November. This gives deer hunters a chance to get a jump on the deer firearm season. As time of this writing, there is a proposal of two days for a special opportunity hunt on Choccolocco WMA.
“The early gun hunt on Choccolocco gets me fired up for deer season,” mentions Ken Ballard of Lincoln, Ala. “If the weather is good, the deer will be moving.”
The early gun hunt on Choccolocco allows hunters to take advantage of the rut. Deer in this region tend to rut from early to mid-November. The special opportunity deer hunt is a couple of weeks prior to black-powder season.
Ballard reports he can plan different hunts throughout the season based on the dates for different WMAs. He will usually hunt Choccolocco in November and December. Later, he will hunt both Hollins and Coosa WMAs. These two areas have hunts later in the season.
Planning different hunts on various Alabama WMAs allows deer hunters to take advantage of the rut throughout the season. Here in Alabama the peak of the rut can cover several weeks, depending on the region of the state. Management area maps and schedules are available online at www.outdooralabama.com/hunting.
“We usually plan a late season hunt to Barbour WMA,” reports Luke Wright of Munford, Ala. “Several of us will head down for weekend of hunting and camp out there.”
Wright says there are a couple of late hunt dates they can schedule around weather. Since Barbour WMA has had antler restrictions for the past several years, there is a good chance to take a nice buck. He says it is worth the 4-hour drive down there.
Long Range Scouting For WMAs
Alabama wildlife management areas vary in terrain and habitat. Across the northern and eastern area of the state, mixed forests of oak and pine grow. People also find some mountains. West and southwest areas have swamp and river bottoms. In the southern part of the state, WMAs are flat with thicker growth and some cutovers.
A hunter new to an Alabama WMA might be intimidated by choosing a location to hunt. Modern technology makes it simple and easy to scout out an area before leaving home. By going online to Google Earth or a topographical map website, hunters can view satellite photos and terrain features.
“Satellite maps of hunting areas are easy to find from the internet,” Ballard advises. “Google Maps is probably the most common site to find maps.”
Ballard says with the satellite maps or photos it is easy to see the types of trees, roads and open spots on the ground. Most websites will let the computer zoom in close detail. Certain sites will allow the user to toggle from satellite image to topo map. This will give a lay of land for the hunter and a potential starting point.
Old logging areas or cutovers o provide deer with a variety of plant forage. Open areas allow sunlight to filter in to the ground for additional growth of natural forbs. Old logging roads are also prime spots to check for various deer sign, tracks, rubs, scrapes, etc.
Examples of WMA Deer
As mentioned earlier, the success of the antler restrictions on Alabama WMAs have paid big dividends for deer hunters. Larger rack bucks are being killed and hunters are enjoying watching younger bucks on the WMAs. The ADCNR, WFF biologists work hard to maintain a healthy and viable deer herd.
Makemson reports there have been several nice racked bucks taken from Oakmulgee in recent years.
“In the 2016-2017 season, there was a 12-point buck taken,” Makemson advised. “It had a 22.25-inch beam length with a 3.6-inch basal circumference and a 14-inch inside spread.”
Also harvested at Oakmulgee WMA, there was a 9-point buck with a 20.75-inch beam, 4.5-inch bases and a 14 3/8-inch inside spread.
Over in Choccolocco WMA, Howell reports there were a couple of 12-point bucks with 4-inch bases and around 19-inch inside spread.
With the antler restrictions, younger age-class bucks have a chance to mature. As noted above the potential for big bucks on WMAs exists. Deer hunters are becoming more selective in their deer harvest. WMAs are a top choice for hunters on a budget to bag good bucks.
Even if a hunter may only get in two or three hunts on an Alabama wildlife management area during a season, the $17 and change investment is well worth it. That will make for a great day outdoors.
This article first appeared in the September 2017 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.