Why can't we gun hunt more often on WMAs?

BY ANDREW MAXWELL

We have very generous deer seasons across the Southeast, with my home state of Alabama boasting a deer season that lasts 117 days, with more than half of that time being rifle season! I love our nice long rifle season as it opens up a vast window of opportunities for people who are just getting into hunting, getting back into it, or have limited time to hunt. 

But there is a catch for us public land guys. 

Wildlife Management Areas, or WMAs, usually have pretty limited gun hunting opportunities. Most of the time this entails WMA regulations that say we are only allowed to gun hunt on certain dates, usually every other weekend. Likewise, on National Forest Lands in Alabama we can gun hunt for the entirety of the season, but we are only allowed to shoot does with a rifle for 15 days out of our lengthy rifle season. 

So why cant we rifle hunt for the full duration of the season? 

The most simple way to put the answer is this: supply and demand. Ill continue to use Alabama as an example since I live here. In our state we have several large urban areas, Mobile, Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, etc. Theres a huge amount of people in and around those urban centers and theres quite a few people in there that would love to go deer hunting, now add all the people that live outside urban areas who also like to hunt but may not have private land to go to. The amount of demand for places to hunt vastly outweighs the supply. Thats why we see hunting clubs charging $1200+ for a membership fee. 

Another way of looking at it is through the lens of “The tragedy of the Commons”, a paper written in regards to things held in public trust, such as our public hunting lands. 

The whole idea of that paper is to bring attention to the issue of the effect unrrgulated use has on “the commons”. Hardin (the writer) uses a public pasture as an example, If one herder adds +1 head of livestock to the pasture, his total gain is +1, but the loss (overgrazing) is distributed among all the people who use the pasture, so his loss is less than -1, therefor it makes sense for him to keep adding cattle. The issue is, that same principle applies to everyone using the pasture, so in an attempt to maximize gains, everyone continues to add livestock until the pasture is completely overgrazed and destroyed. 

The rifle regulations on WMAs and national forests are a good example of this. If I go out and just shoot one deer, I get deer meat and I didn’t have a huge impact on taking just one animal out of the herd. The issue arises when everyone else has that same mentality as well. Another quick example, if you use 1 dish and go put it in the sink without washing it, and so do the other 4 members of your family, before long the “commons” (kitchen sink in this example) is destroyed. That is a pretty extreme example, but it gets the point across. But what does all that have to do with deer hunting? 

Its no surprise that many more animals are killed with rifles than bows, so the solution to the issue of “the commons” is limiting the number of days you can gun hunt, or limiting the amount of days you can shoot does with a gun. This helps prevent over harvest while preserving opportunity. You can still gun hunt, maybe just not on weekdays, but the good news is that your free to do so without having to draw a tag (anyone who has tried to hunt Iowa is familiar with this, being that it could take 3 years, or more, to get a tag in Iowa as a nonresident). Better yet, if you go pick up a bow or crossbow you can hunt the full length of the season!

Simply put, they are trying to maximize opportunity by putting gun days on weekends and having the whole season open to bow/crossbow hunters, while keeping the harvest numbers at what they deem a sustainable level. With the advances in archery over the last few years, anyone can go buy a crossbow to hunt with. Many new crossbows have a crank that will cock the bow, so you dont have to bend over and pull the string back with your hands or a pull rope. 

I absolutely love to bow hunt, its definitely my biggest passion, but that does not mean I won’t take out the ruger a few times a year! I just simply bow hunt all season, and gun hunt on the days when I can. More good news for the Alabama resident is that the gun days on WMAs usually coincide with the rut! 

There are always times when I wish that I could just take out the rifle rather than bow hunt, but I understand why we have the systems we have in place. Im thankful for these systems and for the amount of opportunity I have in my own state, as well across the rest of the country.

Interested in hunting some public land but can't find a good source of information on hunting public land and other high pressure properties in the South? Check out our podcast and youtube channels. We just kicked things off with a velvet buck hunt on a small urban property in Tennessee, and as the season goes on we will feature hunts, tips and tactics on public land and small properties in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri!