Alabama DCNR plans Oak Mountain archery hunt

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has announced that after careful consideration it will hold an archery deer hunt at Oak Mountain State Park in January. The regulated hunt will take place on January 27-28, 2004, with 70 hunters chosen by a lottery system.

The decision to hold the hunt is a result of several factors according to DCNR officials. The deer population at Oak Mountain continues to increase, causing habitat degradation, deteriorating herd health and higher potential danger for vehicle collisions.

The State Parks personnel have been monitoring the deer population at Oak Mountain for several years. The DCNR brought in experts to conduct surveys in the park in 1999 and 2000. The result of plant surveys pointed to serious vegetative impact resulting from deer browsing. New growth of wildflowers, trees and shrubs is being eaten by deer before it has a chance to develop. This, in turn, affects the population of small mammals and nesting birds. Without the necessary habitat and food, these small animals will not be present in the park. The natural beauty of the park is also being damaged as a result of plant loss.

Biologists also point to a lack of food available to sustain the growing deer population. The herd health is deteriorating because the deer density is exceeding the nutritional carrying capacity of the land at Oak Mountain. A herd health check by the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study based at the University of Georgia was conducted at Oak Mountain in 1999. The results showed parasites, malnutrition and a presence of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in the deer. EHD is a highly infectious virus of whitetailed deer transmitted by biting flies.

Several tools to decrease the deer population were considered, including removal by DCNR marksmen, trapping and relocation, and contraception. These options were eliminated because of cost, poor expected results and the amount of labor required. Another option was to do nothing at this time and continue to monitor the situation, something DCNR biologists consider irresponsible. Wildlife Section Chief Gary Moody explained that the planned deer hunt is the best method for addressing the deer overpopulation at Oak Mountain State Park.

"Harvesting some of the deer is an opportunity to improve the herd health and ultimately, the habitat," Moody said.

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Director Corky Pugh agreed.

"Regulated hunting is the only practical method at our disposal to hold deer numbers in check," Pugh said. "Deer multiply rapidly, and without hunting, the population level exceeds what the land will support, resulting in severe habitat degradation due to excessive browsing. As the situation worsens, deer become emaciated and can die of starvation or disease. Unless corrected now, entire plant species may be permanently lost at Oak Mountain."

An archery hunt was chosen for a number of reasons.

"Hunting is the most accepted and widely used management tool for controlling deer populations," said Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley. "Oak Mountain is public land, the deer on the park are a resource that belongs to the public, and hunters have a right to harvest those deer. Although this one hunt will not eliminate the problems associated with deer at Oak Mountain State Park, it is a start."

Alabama residents are eligible to hunt provided they possess a current hunting license (required for those between the ages of 16 and 64) and legal archery equipment as defined by the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Before a bowhunter is allowed to hunt, he or she must pass an archery proficiency test.

The archery proficiency test consist of shooting several arrows at targets from designated distances. Bowhunters drawn from the lottery will be notified of a date and time when the proficiency test will be given, or they may take it at a specified time on the day of their hunt.

Hunters will be allowed to take up to two deer per day, only one of which may be antlered. Lawley said hunters are encouraged to donate their deer to the Hunters Helping the Hungry program, whereby the venison is distributed to local food banks.

"If a hunter takes his limit the first day and does not need any more venison, we encourage that hunter to return the second day and donate any deer to Hunters Helping the Hungry," Lawley said.

A $6 application fee is required of each potential hunter, and a $50 use fee will be required of hunters chosen by the lottery. The fees will be used to cover a portion of the costs associated with conducting the hunt and to recoup a portion of lost revenues due to the park's closure during the hunt.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is coordinating the hunt. Hunt details may be found on the Department's Web site, Applications are being taken online until 5 p.m. Jan. 8, 2004.