- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Big changes are in store for Alabama hunters during the upcoming season.

Mandatory reporting of all deer and turkey harvests through Alabama’s Game Check System goes into effect this fall. Deer season will also be extended through Feb. 10 statewide.

“We live in a data-driven world,” said Chuck Sykes, director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ wildlife and freshwater fisheries division. “That applies to wildlife management as well. Over time, the information collected through Game Check will give us a better understanding of Alabama’s deer and turkey populations, which will ultimately benefit hunters for generations to come.”

Alabama joins 47 other states that have a mandatory harvest reporting system.

Hunting is big business in Alabama, and whitetail deer are the state’s most popular game animal. According to the 2013 report Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation, annual retail sales associated with hunting in Alabama are $1.18 billion, with a total annual economic impact of $1.8 billion.

Evan James, a Prattville hunter, has no problems with Game Check being mandatory.

“I’ve lived in other states where you had to apply for tags, and if you didn’t get the draw you just didn’t deer hunt that season,” he said while browsing recently at Prattville’s Bass Pro Shops location. “I’ve also lived in states where you had to take your deer to check stations. This doesn’t seem to be too much of an imposition.”

Game Check was implemented three years ago on a voluntary basis, and has had very little participation, Sykes said.

Through Game Check, hunters have 48 hours to report harvests three ways: through the Outdoor Alabama smartphone app, online or by calling a toll-free number. Information required is date of harvest, type of animal, sex of deer, whether the turkey was a gobbler or jake, county of harvest, whether it was taken on public or private land and a hunting license or Hunter Exempt License Privilege number. There is no fee to use Game Check.

Alabama is known for having one of the longest deer seasons in the country, with bow season beginning mid-October, and firearms season usually coming in the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Deer season has traditionally ended Jan. 31.

But the past three seasons in southern portions of the state the time frame has been extended to Feb. 10. This upcoming season the extension will be in effect statewide, with no closed season in December in areas of south Alabama where the Feb. 10 extension was previously in place.

Data shows that deer in the southern area of the state entered into rut, or breeding season, later in the year. Hunters feel they’re more likely to harvest a trophy buck during the rut, because deer are more active during that time.

Dan Headley is worried that the deer herd may be getting too much pressure with the extended season.

“I mean deer are hunted hard from mid-October on,” he said. “I’m concerned we are putting too much pressure on the resource. I don’t want my sons and grandsons to be seeing fewer deer 10 or 20 years from now.”

Landowners should have the ultimate say on how hard deer are hunted, Sykes said.

“We’re giving you a framework to work within,” he said. “How you choose to hunt on your property, that’s up to you. We had some people in south Alabama that even though they had the extended season, they didn’t hunt in February. Because with their management plan on their property they didn’t think it was a wise thing to do.

“In north Alabama, just because it’s February, it doesn’t mean that the deer are automatically going to relax because they know it’s the end of January. It’s not going to happen. Pressure is what the hunter puts on his property not just the length of the season.”

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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