The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently launched an innovative approach to public land hunting in the state by providing new Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs). The SOAs properties, all in prime hunting locations, are intended to provide access, opportunity, and in some cases mentored hunting using a new approach.
This approach would include relatively smaller tracts of land broken down into individual units hunted by licensed-applicants chosen through a limited quota drawing for specific dates.
The new SOAs that will be available for the upcoming hunting seasons are the 6,500-acre Cedar Creek SOA in Dallas County, the 4,500-acre Uchee Creek SOA in Russell County, and the 400-acre Crow Creek SOA in Jackson County. The Fred T. Stimpson SOA, a 5,400-acre tract in Clarke County that previously had been open for youth hunts and limited adult archery deer hunts, has transitioned to this hunting program as well.
Different from the traditional large swaths of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), this new concept is meant to encourage public land hunting without presenting the potentially overwhelming size and perceived challenges associated with hunting WMAs all while presenting high-quality opportunities on public land. Licensed applicants selected for most of the various hunts will have the opportunity to participate in a 4-day deer or 2-day turkey hunt in a 300-400 acre designated hunt unit with one hunting partner. The exception is the Crow Creek SOA which is specifically focused on waterfowl opportunities and those selected can bring along three fellow hunters on each hunt.
Much of the new available land was purchased using monies derived from the Pittman-Robertson fund as well as Forever Wild funds. This year is the 80th anniversary of the historic Pittman-Robertson Act, which is a major component of the “user-pays, public-benefits” model of the American System of Conservation Funding.
The SOA program is fortunately provided free of cost, except for the proper hunting license and WMA license. The Special Opportunity Area Hunt registration process begins on August 28 with selection taking place on October 3.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?