ALABAMA DEER PRO'S SHARE THEIR SECRETS
By Mike Lambeth
A few years ago I was among a group of outdoor writers invited to Demopolis, AL for an October bow hunt. The weather was hot and dry and I soon learned that even with the exploding deer herd in the Black Belt area, this hunt was not going to be a “gimme.” Alabama deer are tough to hunt. And though there are definitely more of them per acre than in most states, they can be elusive.
Our hunting camp was phenomenal - a lodge that was nicer than most of the upscale hotels that I have stayed in. Accommodations were great, food was superb, and the camaraderie was second to none. Though I failed to arrow a swamp buck, I learned a tremendous amount about hunting the state’s wary whitetails.
My guide for the hunt was Alabaman, Eddie Salter. The hunting legend was assigned to watch over me, and we soon forged a friendship for life. I learned a tremendous amount of hunting savvy from Salter.
Alabama is also blessed with several deer experts, but I have chosen two for this article. Below are their hunting tips for the upcoming season.
I met Larry Norton several years ago at a turkey calling contest. A former world-champion turkey caller, I was amazed at Norton’s prowess with a turkey call. Since meeting him, I’ve gotten to know him better and I’ve learned he is one of the best deer hunters I have ever met.
Norton resides in Sumter County, and is an accomplished bowhunter who logs many days afield each season. He has taught me several things about bowhunting that has made me a better archer.
Norton believes the state’s deer hunters are in for a great season and has high hopes the state will receive some much needed rain this fall. When I interviewed Norton, he had concerns about the drought’s effect on the state’s buck population this fall. “The antlers are just starting to grow on our bucks, and now is the time that quality, mineral-rich food is required to sustain the best antlers, “opined Norton, a whitetail expert. “I expect we’ll have an increase in non-typical bucks this year due to the lack of nutrition caused by the dry weather.”
Norton has hunted the state since childhood and humbly admits to taking his fair share of bucks, but now hunts almost exclusively for trophy bucks with a bow. His best Bama buck netted 148 inches, and readily admits that Alabama is a tough state for hunting. “Our deer have learned to become very smart, and if hunters don’t take precautions and are methodical in their approach to deer hunting, they won’t see many deer,” said Norton.
Norton believes that archers who capitalize on waterholes this fall should have an easier time filling their tags. He explained, “Deer have to have water to survive, so creeks and springs are great places to hunt. Because of their close proximity to water, acorn trees growing near water sources are usually ripe with their tender round delicacy, and serve as magnets to attract the area’s deer.”
Norton scouts his hunting areas in February to avoid disturbing the bucks that will frequent his stand locations, and likes to hang his tree stands at least 20 to 25 feet high in a tree to avoid detection by any whitetails. “Our deer are very wary and I believe they can spot hunters that aren’t high enough in a tree,” said Norton. “Being higher in a tree also allows your scent to be less detectable.”
“I absolutely believe that hunters should stay completely out of the woods before season, because once a mature deer smells a human, they change their patterns,” Norton said. “However, I also believe that deer are more comfortable in the woods during archery season, because archers do not disturb them as much as other hunters do.”
Norton claims that most of the deer he has taken during archery season are taken between 8 and 11 a.m., and has learned that by studying the color of acorns in an area it is easy to predict when deer will be feeding on them. “When I see acorns start to fall that are green colored, I know in a week’s time the remaining acorns will turn brown, and the area’s deer will move in on that particular tree to feed,” stated Norton.
Being a trophy hunter, Norton believes that the first time he hunts a new tree stand his odds are the highest for taking a trophy buck there. Norton believes it is hard to beat a deer’s nose, and is a fan of deer scents, believing cover scents and lures will cause a deer to be confused long enough to give a hunter a shot.
Norton is turning his deer hunting prowess into a new business by hanging out his shingle as a hunting guide. “I have 8,000 acres of some of the most prime hunting land for deer and turkeys in Sumter County near Butler,” Norton stated. “We offer some great archery deer hunts, but also offer trips for gun and muzzleloader hunters. We are a family-oriented business and specialize in hunts for all, especially fathers and their children, as well as husband and wife hunts.”
Norton’s hunting operation is called The Shed Hunting Lodge, and though his deer hunts are a three-day minimum, he promised to tailor a hunt to meet anyone’s needs. I have already scheduled time to hunt with Norton this fall, and anxiously await my possibilities.
Eddie Salter is afforded the luxury of hunting some of the finest whitetail spots in North America, but the Alabama native still makes time to bow hunt the state’s whitetail deer. In fact, Salter estimates he spends at least six-weeks a year chasing the incredible bucks of Conecuh County, near his home.
Like Norton, Salter believes that food sources will be the key spots to finding deer this fall. “I believe Alabama hunters will need to be more aggressive this fall, when hunting near known food sources,” opined Salter. “Food sources will probably change often due to some areas being very dry, but perceptive hunters will lock in on the best foods available in their areas, and hopefully kill a good deer.”
Salter suggested that hunters with private land access consider planting a food plot for this fall. Eddie plants a seed blend comprised of sugar beets, turnips, two strains of rape, chicory, and Little Burnett. Salter claims since planting his food plots with the new seed mixtures, he has seen an increase in deer activity as well as in heavier body weights and better antlers
Salter encouraged all hunters hunting from tree stands to wear safety belts, and cited his own misfortune as an example. “If you care about your family and loved ones, you need to wear a safety belt every time you are in a tree to insure you aren’t permanently injured by a tree stand fall,” exhorted Salter. Two seasons ago, Salter fell after his tree stand broke and suffered a broken leg, sidelining the hunting pro for several months.
Salter believes, like Norton, that early-season hunters need to find out what the deer in their areas are eating. “In my area the bucks will sometimes lock in on kudzu - a vine-like plant that is a member of the legume family - and feed on it until the first frost kills it out,” said Salter. “I found a field of kudzu years ago where the deer were heavily feeding,” remembered Salter. “The area had antler rubs everywhere - normally a sign of a likely feeding area. The first time I hunted the spot I took a Pope & Young buck.”
Also a proponent of scent-free hunting, Salter believes that most hunters don’t spend enough time controlling their scent while in the woods. He also believes that hunters should be scent-free while scouting as well, citing most hunters ruin their spots when scouting by touching limbs and leaving their scent everywhere in the process. In fact, Salter also advocates using caution while scouting. “Little things like scent-free scouting can make a huge difference when you are hunting,” opined Salter.
Salter also added that hunters should consider changing their hunting caps often due to the heavy scent deposited in them, and to consider wearing a watch with a rubber band instead of a leather or nylon band which are notorious to hold sweat from everyday usage.
Dallas and Wilcox counties were named by Salter as areas having high deer densities.
CLOSING THOUGHTS BY THE EXPERTS
In closing, Salter and Norton both expect the upcoming season to be good, and have high hopes the state will receive some much needed moisture before deer season. Both experts suggested hunters spend more time doing their pre-season scouting from a distance, and to strive to keep their areas from being contaminated by human scent. Norton drove home the importance of scent-free hunting by citing an example he learned many years ago. “I stuck a stick into the ground to mark a specific yardage for a potential bow shot,” said Norton. “I wasn’t wearing gloves, and a week later I had a mature doe smell the stick - obviously holding my scent - causing her to blow and run from the area. I learned then that deer have an uncanny ability to detect human scent; after all, their nose is their number one defense mechanism.”
Hopefully, these expert hunting tips will help you tag more deer this season. As hunters and conservationists, remember as we have a role in ethical hunting by abiding wildlife laws and reporting those who don’t.