QUESTION: I am new to hunting Wildlife Management Areas and would like your input. Specifically, I will be trying out a bow-only WMA in south Alabama this year.
I scouted the area in pre-season. It's flat, with only a few square miles having clear-cut areas with secondary growth, so it's quite thick.
I'm afraid to put out trail cameras for fear of theft.
People who've hunted there tell me to basically pick a random oak tree and hope for the best, because the deer have no set patterns. I'm not buying that.
I welcome your suggestions for scouting and hunting WMAs! - John M.
ANSWER: John, it sounds like you have your work cut out for you.
I'd scout this WMA much the same as any other public or private land, only harder.
Start extensively, looking at aerial photos and topo maps to see where deer are likely to travel and hang out. It's flat in your area, so there isn't much topography to funnel deer movement, except perhaps river or stream bottoms.
Take a look at the cover. Deer will most likely stick to the thick areas.
Next, move on to the intensive. Get out and investigate the areas you picked out from maps and photos. Scour them and look for old and new sign.
Remember, bucks often use the same rubs and scrapes year after year, so last year's sign should apply to this season, too.
Look for potential food sources like mast trees. And don't overlook the cutovers!
In the first few years after cutting, hardwood regeneration will be an attractive food source. Later, as the planted trees grow up, it will be an attractive bedding area.
Think of it as a food plot and find out where deer are coming in and out of surrounding timber.
I understand your concern about trail cameras, but if you have one, or several that are lockable, use them. Cameras are a great source of MRI (most recent information).
Trail cam cable locks are now available for about $20; a wise investment.
Maybe the folks you've talked with are right, and the deer have no patterns. Or maybe those guys are weekend warriors who only hunt Saturdays, when the woods are crowded and deer are running willy nilly.
Try hunting weekdays and you may find a different situation.
In WMAs hosting both firearm and bow seasons, bowhunters have an early edge that should be taken advantage of.