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Deer Hunting Reports from the Alabama Woods
Hunt Advisors from across the state report on deer hunting, rut status and food-source conditions.
 
By AON Staff
Originally published in the January 2008 issue of AON
 
Wesley Hardin, 11, of Birmingham killed this nice 5-pointer in a food plot while hunting in Dallas County on opening day. Before Wesley shot, the buck was sparring with an 8-pointer. This 5-pointer ran the 8-pointer out of the field. Wesley killed the 5-pointer with one shot, living up to his nickname, “One-Shot Wesley.”
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The deer hunting has been very slow the past week or so, but it’s fixin’ to get right!

Across most of the state, hunters are looking forward to the long-awaited rut and a break from ridiculously warm weather in December.

How warm was it? One deer processor we spoke with had to turn off the lawn mower to tell us how slow the hunting had been.

The rut will change things in a hurry, and for the better. With acorns playing out across the northern part of the state, hunters are eyeing their green fields and waiting on the first signs of chasing activity.

Here’s a look at reports compiled from AON’s Hunt Advisors across the state.

NORTH ALABAMA

Cherokee Co.: “Hunting in Cherokee County is cranking up a little more with deer moving good when the weather is right,” said John Boggs. “The hot spell has put a damper on the movement during the first and second week of December, but bucks of average size have been taken along with a lot of people taking does.”

John said most of the deer have been seen in the morning, but a few reports of deer right at dark are coming in.

“Most deer seem to be finding a few nuts to eat on, but browse and greenery seem to be what a lot of hunters are saying,” said John. “Most buck are ‘just wandering,’ and hunters are taking those. A lot of the does are being shot off green fields.

“In my case on the land I hunt, I have seen a couple small bucks on green fields and in the woods along with does. I have witnessed one sparring match between two small bucks but nothing chasing does or acting like the rut is in swing.”

Cold fronts that come through after a few days of warm weather should generate deer activity.

“It is usually this time of year when the rut starts hitting in my neck of the woods,” said John. “The green fields I have are eaten to the ground, and I have seen some deer in the honeysuckle patches, where I usually hunt in late January. Get ready, it’s fixing to break loose.”

Cullman/Blount Cos.: Nate Ayers said that fluctuating temperatures have made the deer difficult to pattern. However, green fields should be getting hot.

“With virtually the entire acorn crop gone, good green fields seem to be more important this year than ever,” said Nate. “Water is also a premium for those who want to take a deer before the rut.

“The early stages of the rut are starting to show but not enough to get me excited yet. There have been a few rubs spotted, and I have found two decent scrapes. The rut sign that has been found has been scattered out with no big numbers of rub or scrape lines forming yet.”

The only rub line he’s seen is from a mature buck he’s been hunting for three years.

“I’m hoping nobody beats me to him this year,” said Nate. “I am not too worried yet because our rut in this area usually starts in the last week of December and carries on into the first couple of weeks in January.

“I have never been so ready for the rut. Maybe when the deer have something other than the weather on their minds, they will begin to move more.”

Fayette Co.:
Chris Gladden at Sipsey Deer Processing said the quality of bucks coming in has spiked since the new moon in December.

“It has been slow this past week because of the heat, but I just skinned a 200-lb. 9-pointer that was killed chasing a doe,” said Chris.

He said every buck that’s come in has been killed behind a doe or was called in with grunt tubes or can calls.

“The few does that are coming in are showing signs of coming in heat or being in heat,” said Chris.

Sipsey has been in business for 15 years, and Chris said the period between the new moon and the first quarter in December kicks off the rut.

“Last year it was like a light switch,” said Chris. “We took 308 deer starting on Dec. 23. For 10 days, it was wide open.”

He looks for Christmas week to be the heart of the rut, and it’ll drag over into January.

Madison Co.: It’s been dead slow in the southeastern part of Madison County, according to Keith Witherow of Owens Cross Roads.

“It’s too hot to be sitting in a deer stand,” Keith said on Dec. 12 from his cell phone while he was about to hang a stand. “It’s dead. This is the worst year that I’ve seen in a long time. There’s no food hardly at all.”

In the mountains where Keith hunts, he said the acorns have been gone for a month.

“There are probably some acorns in the bottoms, but I don’t hunt in the bottoms so I don’t know for sure. There were a few trees that were very spotty. By the time you found them, they’d be finished dropping,” he said.

Keith said they’re counting on food plots and the rut for their chance at a good buck.

“When we first planted our plots, they were pretty rough,” said Keith. “I thought they were going to die. But we got a few good rains on them. The food plots are about all the deer have to eat, and they’re tearing them up — eating them down to nothing with no rain.

“Historically the big deer start the first to middle of January, but to be honest the biggest deer are seen after the season, maybe because the pressure is off, but I believe that’s when a lot of the does go in.

“When the rut comes in, and when it cools down again, hopefully we’ll have one or two good bucks cruising. The only big mature buck we’ve ever shot around here before the middle of January was on Dec. 31. That was the earliest we’ve ever killed a big, old mature buck,” Keith said.

Steve Martin was in the Madison County woods for the entire week of Dec. 3-8.

“There are no acorns,” said Steve. “I have some late-season small food plots that are being hit decently. Deer activity was good with a lot of rubs being laid down and a couple of scrapes as well. The young bucks were on the move.

“One of the men I took hunting shot two 7-points on consecutive days, Friday the 7th and Saturday the 8th.”

Steve said the bucks they saw were still traveling with other bucks.

“I look for the rut to kick in harder and sooner this year than last,” said Steve. “The cold snap we had last week really seemed to stir them up. The next cold snap we have I will be in the woods — it should be good. I am convinced that late December is going to see the brunt of the rut this year in Madison County.”


MIDDLE ALABAMA


Chambers Co.: James Hardee said his deer season is going well.

“We’re seeing plenty of deer but not the mature bucks yet that we know to be on our properties,” said James. “The deer are hammering our plots, and we’ve done a good bit of doe thinning with the bows. I’m still trying to go bow only except when hunting the cutovers.”

James has some trail-camera photos of some really nice bucks, but only a few photos were taken during the daytime.

“If I was going to take a week off, I would be in the woods during the week of Jan. 14-18. Traditionally, the second week of January is our best time to see the more mature bucks on their feet during daylight hours.

“We try to hunt all day as we have taken some good bucks in the middle of the day. I actually believe this to be true regardless of the particular moon phase. Hunt the does, get out of the thick cover and find a place where you can see a good ways — a cutover or good hardwood ridge or saddle. The best is yet to come.”

Coosa Co.: Steve Taylor reports that his season started off with a bang, but the recent heat wave has put a damper on deer movement.

“The deer movement has dwindled, if not totally stopped,” said Steve. “I went by Heavy’s Deer Processing to check on the deer total brought in, and he said it started off exceptionally well, but the past week and a half has been slim to none. On a good note, he said all the deer that have been brought in have been very healthy.

“The local hunting has still been focused on the acorns. We have a huge crop of acorns in central Alabama. In my personal hunting locations, there are trees that are still dropping acorns. There are even some hollows that the deer are yet to start feeding through. We should be able to continue hunting the acorns for a few more weeks. Cutovers were starting to produce, but the latest heat wave has kept the deer in the shadows of the big woods.”

Steve reports a good turn-out of hunters on the first hunt at Coosa WMA.

“Eighteen deer were killed with one man killing a big 8-pointer on Saturday and a big 9-pointer on Sunday,” said Steve. “Both deer came from the same stand location. Scouting paid big dividends for that hunter.

“As far as the rut is concerned, get ready early this season. I predict that we will experience pre-rut activity as early as the Christmas holidays. I expect the peak rut to hit during the second week in January. My predictions are based on an early rut in the northern states as well as an early rut in some southern regions. How will the heat affect the rut? Hopefully by January we won’t even have to humor that question. We desperately need rain and cooler weather. But, even with the high temperatures, boys will be boys. Therefore, I think we should get ready to get out there early this year. In fact, I wouldn’t be afraid to start doing a little rattling right now.”

If there’s a downside to this year’s rut, it’s the abundant acorn crop.

“You really have to find which tree the deer are using instead of finding a hollow or ridge,” said Steve. “They haven’t had to move much to find a plate full of groceries.”

Tallapoosa Co.: Woody Baird said the 80-degree temperatures in early December were killing the deer hunting.

“Nobody is hunting,” he said. “They are fishing. The game warden came by today, and he said no one is in the woods. It is too hot. Our deer contest only has 30 people entered. Usually we would have more than 100. And so far only one deer has been brought in (as of Dec. 12).”

One of the best reports Woody heard was of four guys walking a cutover on the Rocky Creek Hunt Club who jumped a bachelor group of bucks — and killed four.

Rutting activity in the surrounding counties has been slow.

“It hasn’t started yet,” said Woody. “The bucks are still running in bachelor groups. I think the rut will be late — from late December into mid January.”

There was good news in the weather forecast.

“There is some rain and a cold front coming in this weekend, and that is what we need to get the rut kicked off.

Finding food in the woods isn’t a problem.

“There are acorns everywhere — you can hardly walk in the woods for all the acorns. The deer we have seen have been rolling in fat. They aren’t having to move much.”

As for green fields, those who persisted in planting are finally doing OK.

“Some people planted as many as three times during the drought. I planted one last month during the second or third week of November, and it got enough rain that it looks pretty good.”

Greene Co.: “We are in the so-called December lull,” said Jeff Hurwitzh. “There have been five does killed at the club so far. A lot of young bucks are being seen, but the big boys still haven’t showed. This isn’t unusual for this time of year. We’re starting to see some small scrapes, but nothing major. The best time to catch the big boys on our club is Dec. 28 through about Jan. 15. There’s a ton of acorns in our woods right now, and it’s really hurting our deer sightings. The deer don’t have to move much. Acorns are everywhere. Green fields are not being hit real hard due to all the food in the woods.”

SOUTH ALABAMA


Clarke Co.: “Acorns, acorns and more acorns just keep falling, and the deer just keep feeding on them,” said Al Robinson. “We have noticed a lot of deer in the hardwoods just feeding all day long. This has led to the deer only coming into the patches late in the afternoon or right at dusk.”

Al said he’s seen a good number of young bucks this year. However, the folks he’s hunting with aren’t pulling the trigger because of the new three-buck limit.

“No one wants to use up their tags right now,” said Al. “The does on the other hand have been taken. The first part of the season I was seeing nice buck activity, like big scrapes and rubs, but with the hot weather the signs have slowed down a lot. In our area the rut normally starts the last couple weeks of January, and it would seem unless we get some cold weather it will be the same this year.”

Henry Co.: Doug Wolfe said the cooler weather during the first week of December had the deer moving.

“The bucks have been opening up scrapes, and I have seen signs of them fighting in the food plots since the middle of November,” said Doug. “I got two nice bucks fighting on the trail cam. I saw three small bucks and numerous does during that cold week while sitting in the stand. I also rattled in a young 6-pointer. He came running out of the creek bottom immediately after I stopped rattling. He came back again during my second rattling sequence about 30 minutes later. This buck actually bumped the ladder stand when he stopped under me. Then when I started my final rattling sequence about 20 minutes before dark, he came running right back under my stand again. Now he is at the processor soon to become jalapeno-and-cheese smoked sausage.”

Doug spoke with a local processor who told him he had processed 30 percent fewer deer compared to this time last year.

“He said everyone is complaining about the lack of both rain and cold weather,” said Doug. “When the weather warmed up, the deer shut off. The bucks are not refreshing scrapes, and I have not gotten any daylight trail-cam pictures.

“We still have a few white oaks dropping acorns, and the water oaks that have acorns are dropping them like rain. The deer have been hitting the green fields hard, but the lack of rain is taking its toll on them. I just hope they make it through the winter.”

The rut should be about gone by Christmas, Doug said.

Marengo Co.:
Billy Boothe said his hunting has been been pretty slow so far with the mild weather, but he said it should pick up as we head in to January.

“There’s still a decent amount of acorns around, so they’re not in the food plots that hard yet,” said Billy. “Most of the activity we’re seeing right now is in the mornings in transition areas between food sources and bedding areas. We’ve harvested a few does, and that’s about it. The mature bucks seem to be holding tight waiting for the rut. I haven’t seen much sign, but I don’t expect to until right after Christmas. If we get some cold weather that will hang around, January will bust wide open. The rut should come in the second to third week depending on the weather. I’m looking forward to Jan. 18. The moon will be full, and the does should be in estrus. That will make for some excellent midday hunting.”

Corey Smith reports that because of the recent hot weather the deer are not moving now as they were earlier in the season, and the hunters are just not seeing many deer. He also stated that the deer are already feeling the pressure of the hunting season and are not coming into the green fields until dark or later. Most of the activity, according to his game cameras, is occurring late at night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“There are too many acorns still in the woods, and the majority of the deer are not coming to the feeders or the green fields. We need some good rain for a few days to sour the acorns. This would get the deer back into the green fields,” Corey said.

Corey has seen several big bucks, and they are still running together.

“I have seen several 2 1/2-year-old bucks starting to chase does, but the older, larger bucks are still together,” said Corey. “I have seen a good many scrapes and rubs, so the bucks are getting ready. In this area, I would have to say the last two weekends of January are always the best. That is when the majority of the biggest deer are killed.”

Monroe/Wilcox Cos.: Scott Boone said there’s still plenty of browse in the woods and lots of acorns still falling. His deer aren’t using food plots very much.

“We’re seeing plenty of movement in the woods at dusk and dawn, but that’s about it,” said Scott. “Extremely warm weather has really shut down the midday movement that we normally experience this time of year.

“I’ve found lots of fresh rubs the last two weeks and a few scrapes. Unfortunately, my trail cams are telling me that most of this activity is taking place at night. I’m looking forward to some cooler weather.”

Pike Co.: Gabe Jackson hunted the weekend of Dec. 8 in Brundidge, and the weather was surprisingly hot.

“It was 61 degrees when I left our camp to hunt on Saturday morning, and I didn’t see any deer. On Saturday afternoon, it was close to 80 degrees when my wife and I went to the stand. We were hunting a food plot that was planted with a mix of rye, wheat, oats, rape, winter peas and crimson clover. For some reason, we have a natural stand of watermelons that have come up in the fallow part of this field.

“About 5:10, I had a doe and her fawn enter the back side of the field. I shot the doe, and she tipped the scales at 105 pounds, which is actually a little on the low side for most of the does that we shoot.”

The next morning Gabe hunted another food plot and shot a 100-lb. doe.

“I was blessed last weekend with 205 pounds of does,” said Gabe. “The deer seem to be hitting our fields pretty good, despite a bumper crop of acorns in the woods. I’m not sure why we have so many acorns with the dry summer.

“We usually don’t see much buck activity at all on our place until the last couple weeks of January, so we have about another month before the fun starts.”

Wilcox Co.:
Paul Sims talked with several hunters, and all agreed that the hunting has been tough for the past couple of weeks.

“One owner of a processing plant admitted that even though the deer were coming in he was way behind from the number that he had gotten in by this time last year,” said Paul. “Most of the hunters are having activity in the green fields, but the majority of it is all occurring at night. You may see deer move into the fields, but it will be dusk to dark. In less-pressured fields they may be coming in a little earlier. The good bucks that have been killed recently have been killed on trails or on acorns in the woods. Many of the hunters have gone back to fishing, due to the warm beautiful weather, waiting on a change in temperature before hunting again. Hopefully by the holidays the weather will have cooled off, and the deer will be moving again. By mid January, the rut will begin and run through the end of the hunting season. With the big bucks on the move this is when the serious hunting begins.”

Editor’s Note: To be considered for AON’s team of Hunt Advisors, send an e-mail to gill@aonmag.com.
 
 
 
 
 
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