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SOA's, or Special Opportunity Areas.

Summer's put the heat on us pretty hard this year, and I'm itching for college football to kick back into gear. Aside from the usual, though, I'm also looking into something new called SOA's, or Special Opportunity Areas. It's a concept being established by Alabama DCNR's Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division and the Forever Wild Land Trust.

The problem being addressed is that, with the vast majority of land in the state of Alabama being privately owned instead of publically available, it's getting tougher and tougher for hunters to find a nice slice of public hunting land to go hunting on. The SOA would be a smaller, several hundred acre section of land that's been carefully maintained and managed for, for example, deer hunting.

The tracts of land would be purchased through Pittman-Robertson and Forever Wild Funding. Director Chuck Sykes of the WFF is spearheading this program, and David Ranier of Outdoor Alabama wrote an excellent article on it. Director Sykes is modeling this program after hunting lodges, but without the high costs. There is no charge for applying to hunt on an SOA, aside from having the proper hunting license and a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license. You gotta take care of your own food, lodging, gas, and other hunting necessities, of course, but aside from those things, it's basically free, but with no camping. Another neat feature is that non-residents can apply as well. I mean, they pay for a non-resident license to hunt in Alabama, so they're putting in a fair share as well.

You get your Conservation ID number, and you register. That's it. Once all the registrations are in, a computer will randomly select folks for hunting units on each SOA. As for the SOA's themselves, they are divided up into Hunting Units. Each unit will take a hunter or two for a 2 or 4 day hunt, then take a little time off to keep pressure down. After all, if you just keep chasing after deer in the same place, you won't have deer there for very long!

The new SOA's that will be available for this upcoming season are Cedar Creek in Dallas County, Uchee Creek in Russell County, and Crow Creek in Jackson County. The Fred T. Simpson SOA was available for youth hunts and limited adult archery, but has transitioned to full-on hunting for this coming season to help reduce deer population. Interestingly enough, Crow Creek will be open for waterfowl hunting, where a successful applicant can bring along three buddies to hunt with them.

Director Sykes believes that helping hunters with more manageable land sizes will make hunting on public land far more appealing. After all, grabbing a map and picking a place on a 20,000 acre lot isn't exactly the simplest matter. Who knows what you'll find, or who else will be there? This system takes a tremendous amount of guesswork out of the equation, making for a more enjoyable hunt, regardless of your experience.

Speaking of experience, Cedar Creek SOA will also be home to a new pilot project being introduced this year. For a few lucky folks, there will be mentored hunts this season. Aimed at college-aged young adults and the like, the idea is for folks who never really got into hunting or never learned how at a younger age to get a crash course on a weekend hunt, learning about the dos and don'ts of chasing after deer. Hunting safety, sighting in rifles, and learning to recognize signs of game animals are all included as lessons. A weekend style hunt, the hunter will hopefully harvest a deer. It'll get processed, and the hunter will spend the weekend at the lodge, eating wild game, and basically getting to experience all those things we more experienced hunters did growing up.

If that's the sort of thing that interests you, or maybe someone you know, applications can be made on Just search for mentored hunts on the website. Only a lucky few will be chosen, but that ought to be an experience they'll never forget!

Naturally, a big part of SOA's will be the boost to the local economy. These are 2 and 4 day hunts, and you gotta eat and sleep somewhere! The WFF always strives to make sure their projects are good for our local economies, and this one seems to fit the bill nicely.

That's a whole lot of stuff to digest at once, so feel free to visit for more info, and for David Ranier's excellent write-up. I've been pretty focused on the recent Buckmaster's Expo, along with all of my other usual work, and I'm looking forward to everything kicking into high gear this coming deer season. So get out there, get your hunting stuff ready, watch a little football in another week, and go get'em!


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