Well, if Alabama’s Black Belt region isn’t the best place to shoot a buck during the rut, it has to rank right up there.
Imagine a place where you can sit in a deer stand and see deer not only every sit, but several deer. Sometimes, you might even see more than a dozen. That’s exactly what can be expected when hunting some of the bigger parcels in Alabama’s Black Belt region.
This region is home to some of the best deer (and deer hunting opportunities) in the entire Southern region of the U.S. The term “Black Belt” originally referred to the region underlain by a thin layer of rich, black topsoil developed atop the chalk of the Selma Group, a geologic unit dating to the Cretaceous Period. The soils have been developing continuously at least since the Pliocene Epoch. Because the underlying chalk is nearly impermeable to groundwater, the black soils tend to dry out during the summer. The natural vegetation of the chalk belt consisted mainly of oak-hickory forest interspersed with shortgrass prairie, while the sandy ridges flanking the chalk belt supported pine forest.
I was fortunate to have spent the last week hunting whitetails in Alabama, and was even more fortunate to be on Black Belt ground dotted with some of the best food plots I’ve ever seen. The state’s deer season ended Tuesday, and we spent the four preceding days chasing rutting bucks. Very cool, considering I haven’t seen a buck chasing a doe in more than two months.
With videographer John McKelvain recording my every move, I managed to keep my composure long enough to make a killing shot on this wide-racked (what was an) 8-pointer on the final morning of our hunt. Morning temperatures were in the low 30s, and the food plots were covered with frost. Interestingly, the deer didn’t start moving until the sun was high enough in the sky to warm the plots and melt the frost.
When the frost melted, deer were up and moving in force. Their destination? The lush food plots planted in forage oats and Whitetail Clover. I’ve hunted the South many times over the past two decades, but I’ve never seen food plots in such good shape as they were this January. Local biologists credit that to an extended growing season and higher than average rainfall over the past month. The moisture, added with unseasonably warm weather, allowed the plots to really take hold and provide serious tonnage for the deer herd.
“Forage Oats are really cold-tolerant,” said biologist Justin Moore of the Whitetail Institute of North America. “Even better, they have a really high sugar content, which is what draws deer to them like a magnet during these late-season hunts. I like to top-seed in some Whitetail Clover to improve the hardiness and overall attraction.”
After seeing more than 40 deer come to these food plots during four days of hunting, I must say the tactic seems to be the ticket for late-season hunting in the South. Granted, most of those deer were does and fawns (and some were obviously deer I had seen previously), but they acted as live decoys on many occasions as curious bucks came to scent-check the plots even during the midday hours.
With so many deer using the plots — and at all times of the day — it gave us a chance to shoot some does and help the property owners manage their herd. And, to be honest, it was a good way to ease my nerves before the bucks started showing up. To further help with deer management efforts, we targeted does of several age classes. This is important when hunting does on any property. If you only target the big matriarchs, you run the risk of fragmenting female social groups. Research has shown that spacial relationships among related females is important to the whitetail’s social structure.
The final analysis? Ideal weather, which included high pressure, a healthy deer herd, and ample forage helped provide a great ending to the deer season in the Heart of Dixie.
Tips for Planting Oats in Deer Plots
1. Take the time to get your soil tested for acidity. The pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5.
2. Add the needed lime and fertilizer before planting.
3. Cover the seeds when planting by at least 1 inch.
4. Place a small wire basket in the field. This “exclosure” will show you how the plant is actually growing, and how heavy the rest of the field is being browsed by deer.
5. Fertilize the plot again after 30 to 45 days.