As a wildlife professional and especially as an area biologist overseeing a wildlife management area, I am often asked questions pertaining to wildlife identification, wildlife habitats and other related topics. During February, March and April, the number one asked question is, “How is the turkey population?” During the fall, there are always a few questions concerning squirrel or rabbit populations and where they may be readily found. However, the most frequently asked question concerning any wildlife management area is, “How is the deer herd looking this year?”
White-tailed deer remains the overwhelming number one big game animal in Alabama with wildlife management areas being the most popular places for public hunting in Alabama. Most areas offer big game hunting opportunities such as deer and turkey, as well as small game hunting such as rabbit and squirrel. Regardless of the area, the majority of hunting days spent on the management areas that offer big game hunting center around white-tailed deer.
Sam R. Murphy WMA is one such area where deer hunting is king. The Sam R. Murphy WMA is composed of approximately 17,785 acres. Unlike many of Alabama’s wildlife management areas, the Sam R. Murphy WMA is operated in solely in cooperation with private landowners.
Each fall and winter, hunters from across the state of Alabama and adjoining states make their way to the corners of Marion and Lamar counties to enjoy Sam R. Murphy WMA. Over the last several years, a number of those hunters have returned home with deer meat for the table. Over the last four years, hunters have averaged harvesting more than 200 deer per year just on gun deer hunts. With archery hunting factored in, the average harvest during that same period of time is over 260 deer per year.
The number of does harvested compared to the number of bucks harvested is generally a 1-1 ratio. With hunters harvesting about the same number of does as they do bucks, the deer herd on Sam R. Murphy WMA has maintained a fairly balanced adult sex ratio. This balance provides a better age structure, which corresponds to more mature deer in the herd. A better sex ratio combined with more mature deer in the deer herd also lends itself to more active, concentrated rutting activity. On the Sam R. Murphy WMA, this activity especially is seen during mid to late December (pre-rut) and carries over into early January when actual breeding takes place.
The balanced sex ratio also corresponds to a very good reproductive rate. During a recent deer herd study conducted on the WMA, adult does averaged 1.9 fetuses per doe with the average breeding date occurring in early January. All of the does selected during the study were in healthy conditions. They had an appropriate amount of body fat and were in good physical condition for late winter and early spring. The fairly balanced buck-doe ratio, accompanied by the good reproductive average, makes for a healthy deer herd and excellent hunting opportunities come hunting season.
The Sam R. Murphy WMA also contains an abundance of natural food sources. In addition to the natural browse that’s available, approximately 40 acres of wildlife openings are planted in winter wheat, clovers or small grains. With the available food sources and the healthy sex ratio and fawn production, the deer herd on the Sam R. Murphy WMA provides one of the best public hunting opportunities in Alabama. When you begin to plan your hunting trips this fall, don’t forget about a little corner in northwest Alabama known as the Sam R. Murphy wildlife management area.
For more information, contact: Kevin Pugh, 827 Cooner Road, Jasper, AL 35503.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR and Alabama’s WMAs visit www.outdooralabama.com.