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Hunting
Oakmulgee WMA: Go Hunt The Deer Factory
For numbers and quality, it’s hard to beat this central Bama WMA.
 
By Paul Sims
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of AON
 
Here’s a map of the Oakmulgee Wildlife Management Area.
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If you’re looking for venison or a set of mounting antlers, Oakmulgee WMA in west-central Alabama is arguable one of the top public-land destinations in the state.

“Our extensive food-plot program, gated areas, timber harvest and aggressive prescribed-burning program are what set the WMA apart from many other areas,” said Jeff L. Makemson, WFF’s certified wildlife biologist over Oakmulgee.

According to AON’s WMA Special in the August issue, Oakmulgee was No. 3 in the state in the “Best WMAs For Venison” ranking. With a 9.6 “Man-Days Per Kill” number, it placed only behind Sam R. Murphy (8.5) and Wolf Creek WMAs (8.2).

In 1937, Oakmuglee became Alabama’s first WMA. Located in portions of Tuscaloosa, Hale, Perry and Bibb counties, it encompasses 45,000 acres of the 157,000 acres that make up the U.S. Forest Service Oakmulgee District.

Oakmulgee is located 25 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa. The topography is rolling hills with steep to moderate slopes. Expect mature hardwoods in the bottomlands and a hardwood/pine mix on the slopes. The ridges are predominately longleaf pines.

“Small-patch clearcuts are present on the area, with a great diversity in stand age class found throughout the area,” said Jeff. “Beaver ponds and thick swamps are located in many of our bottomlands to add to the habitat diversity.”

It’s all this diversity that helps make Oakmulgee a deer factory that’s consistent in producing high hunter-success numbers. Jeff said Oakmuglee deer hunters can expect more food plots than they’d normally see on the average WMA.

“We have 94 on Oakmulgee and 80 miles of roads located behind gates leading to food plots,” said Jeff. “A deer cart is very handy and recommended for getting your harvest out of the woods and to the truck on Oakmulgee.”

Oakmulgee hunter Stuart Payne, of Vestavia Hills, speaks favorably of all the food plots on the WMA. However, when deer hunting Oakmulgee, Stuart’s stand-location choices won’t match those of the many Oakmulgee hunters.

“I don’t hunt food plots. Lazy hunters hunt the food plots,” said Stuart. “The food plots get pressured because people are too lazy to get out there and work and find a funnel or food source other than what has been planted.”

Stuart spent more than 30 days at Oakmulgee deer hunting last year. Last year he took six deer and a hog, and the year before he killed 11 Oakmulgee deer and four hogs.

“If you look on a map, and anywhere you can find a place where it’s about a mile in from any known road, that’s probably where I’m going to be,” said Stuart.

Once he’s a mile deep, 95 percent of Stuart’s hunting areas are centered around a food source, even if it’s during the rut.

“We don’t have a good defined rut,” said Stuart. “I’ve seen it in other places, and we don’t have it. If you’re going to be successful, you need to hunt the food sources all the way through January.

“What I try to find is a variety of oaks all close together. Typically you’ll have different trees dropping at different times of the year, so there’s a continuous food source. They’re hard to find, but when you do, they’re gold mines. I have one area called ‘The Oak Flat’ that has about every kind of oak I can name while standing in one location. You have the blackjack oaks, white oaks, all kinds of red oaks, you name it, they’re there.”

As acorns begin to play out, Stuart moves to areas where deer are feeding on honeysuckle.

“There’s a lot of honeysuckle to be found down there,” said Stuart. “Once everything else is gone, they’ll work the honeysuckle a lot.”

According to Jeff, you’ve got a chance to shoot a good-racked buck while hunting Oakmulgee.

“The body sizes of our deer harvested are usually not very large, with a mature buck weighing approximately 160 pounds,” said Jeff.

Jeff said that despite a lack of heavyweight deer, some bucks will have beautiful racks.

“Typically we will harvest a couple of bucks in the 140-plus class each year, and many exceeding 120 class,” said Jeff. “Last year while patrolling during our primitive weapons hunt, I pulled up on a man and his daughter who were hunting from Florida. They had just gotten to the truck with two deer from a long haul using a deer cart. She had harvested a nice 9-point, and her father had harvested a nice 8-point.”

If you like what you see at Oakmulgee this season, plan a February scouting trip to prepare for future seasons.

“Scouting in February is the best time to scout for next year,” said Stuart. “The green is off the trees, and you can see real well through the woods. You can see the scrape lines, all the rubs and what they’ve fed on.”

Stuart isn’t just deer scouting. He’s gathering the main ingredient for squirrel dumplings.

“There’s a tremendous amount of squirrels,” said Stuart. “There are gray squirrels and a pretty good population of fox squirrels. Personally, I don’t shoot the fox squirrels, but there’s plenty in there.”

If Jeff has a complaint about Oakmuglee, it’s the hogs.

“Unfortunately, we have some feral hogs on the area,” said Jeff. “Hunters are encouraged to legally harvest them during any game in season with the firearm and permit for the game. As an example, during squirrel season a hunter would have to hunt hogs with the firearm and ammunition permitted for squirrels. Centerfire rifles are only allowed during our gun deer hunts or our special feral hog season.”

Stuart has killed five hogs over the last two deer seasons and says these destructive critters can be hit or miss. If you can find a food source they’re hitting pretty regularly, your chances go way up.

Oakmulgee WMA offers an above-average chance at killing a spring gobbler. With an estimated 800 man-days of turkey hunting last year, an estimated 85 turkeys (70 verified) were killed. With just 9.4 man-days hunted per turkey harvested, Oakmulgee ranks No. 6 out of 25 WMAs in overall turkey-hunter success.

“I was down there two weekends ago (scouting) and saw two different flocks of turkeys and four deer,” said Stuart. “There are a few acorns starting to fall, so life is looking good.”

With a predicted banner year of acorns on Oakmulgee, Stuart said to expect healthy deer, but you may have to work a little harder to kill one since the deer won’t have to move as much to eat. But since you’re hunting one of Bama’s public-land deer factories, your odds are still way up.
 
 
 
 
 
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