Thursday, May 24, 2007
By Mike Bolton
News staff writer Alabama
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Barnett Lawley said Wednesday he will sign into law a controversial Conservation Advisory Board proposal that will do away with the state's long-standing one buck-a-day deer limit and replace it with a three buck-per-season limit.
The new law would in effect reduce Alabama's buck limit from more than 100 per season to three.
The board, which makes recommendations for changes in Alabama's hunting and fishing laws, voted 7-2 in favor of the change Saturday in Montgomery.
The new law restricts Alabama deer hunters to three bucks per season with two of those being bucks of any size and one having at least four points on one side.
Lawley said the three-buck limit will encourage hunters to take more does and create a more mature buck population statewide.
"I've had a mixed response," Lawley said of the reaction he's received from Alabama's hunters. "Some are very happy and others are unsure what the change means. Most negative responses I have gotten are from hunting clubs that have more restrictive rules than that. Hunting clubs can still have rules that are more restrictive."
The three-buck limit by the CAB brought a stream of emotions from Alabama deer hunters ranging from jubilation to outrage.
Ronnie Smith of Moody, the host of the Ronnie Smith Outdoors Adventures television show on CSS, says the buck limit takes away the management tool landowners use to create a quality deer herd.
He says he has worked for years to create a haven for trophy bucks on the 8,000 acres he leases in Barbour County by harvesting genetically deficient deer.
"I take a lot more than three cull bucks per season," he said. "My hands are now tied."
Steve Ditchkoff, an associate professor of wildlife at Auburn University, was on the Committee on Buck Limits that made a recommendation to the CAB to pass the proposal. He says a three-buck limit in Alabama would accomplish several objectives, including reducing the buck harvest.
"Reducing the buck harvest creates a more mature buck population and that in turn creates a more balanced ratio of male and female deer," Ditchkoff said.
"More mature bucks will suppress the breeding of younger bucks. It will reduce the length of the breeding season and that will allow young deer to be in better condition and have better antler growth."
Tennessee reduced its buck limit from 11 to two several years ago and hunters in that state are seeing higher quality bucks, he said.
"The age of bucks being harvested in Tennessee has gone up considerably," he said. "Hunters there are taking older and better bucks now.
"It's going to take some time for everyone in Alabama to get on board. You can't tell them about the effects. The hunters are going to have to see it for themselves. The hunters will adjust.
"Once they see the results they'll start saving their tags for quality bucks. They'll start letting 6-pointers walk because they will understand what that deer will become with one or two more years of age. Hunters in Alabama will buy into it in time."
Smith says he's all for management of trophy bucks but believes the state is going about it in the wrong way.
"The No. 1 tool for deer management is harvesting genetically inferior bucks and they're taking that tool away.
"Say that you have already taken two bucks and it's the rut and you're waiting for the big one. Then you see an older, mature buck with three points on one side and a spike on the other. What are you going to do? Are you going to use your last tag on a cull buck?"
Lawley said there will be no tag system as other states have, where bucks are tagged as they are harvested. Instead, Alabama hunting licenses will have punch holes that will be punched as soon as a buck is harvested.
"Hunters must initial and date those punch holes as soon as a buck is taken," Lawley said. "Any hunter caught with a buck and an unpunched license will be charged for illegally taking a buck."
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