As the hunter topped the hill down a major power line, he noted the pines seemed to continue past the horizon. He was intimidated by a sea of green. Pines in various stages of growth meshed like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle.
A large percentage of land in Alabama and in the Southeast is dominated by pine plantations. Many areas have different growth stages of pines from a few years to over 20 years old. There are areas within the pine forests where deer hunters should focus.
One of the first things a hunter can do to assist in planning a hunt in a large pine area is to view a topographic map and a satellite photo of the hunt area. A topo map will show the terrain features, like ridges, flats and creeks.
A satellite photo of the hunting area can instantly show a hunter the layout of the pines and any adjoining timber. Also, younger, hence, shorter pines along with mature pine stands can be identified on the photo. Roads, trails and forest openings can also be picked out.
“Google Earth is the place to go to get detailed satellite photos,” said Matt Smith of Oxford. “The thicker pines can be easily spotted from the overhead view.”
Smith has been successful for 20-plus years hunting pine plantations.
Using a topo map and a satellite image, a hunter can narrow down a couple of spots to apply some scouting. One area Smith likes to begin is where a section of small pines joins a section of larger, mature pines. Usually there will be a firebreak/lane between these two stages of pines.
Timber harvesters can only cut trees to within about 50 feet on either side of a creek or tributary. These areas are known as stream management zones (SMZ).
“During the rut, bucks will use the SMZ areas to travel between the pine area looking for does,” Smith said.
Hunters will also want to scout along the creeks and streams looking for deer crossings. Look for tracks and trails leading in and out of the pines along the creek. In some cases, two or more trails may cross in the SMZ. During warmer days deer may use the creek bottom to bed down, especially if there is some thick cover.
Depending on the region of the state, acorns could still be available along the SMZ. White oaks and water oaks could still be dropping acorns to the forest floor. This will be a prime food source and will draw deer out of the piney woods.
Over the years, Smith has learned that deer in the pines can be more vocal than in other areas. This is especially true in thicker sections of short to medium sized pines.
“Calm days are perfect to give calling a try around thicker pine sections,” Smith said. “I’ll start with a few soft grunts and listen close for any response.”
Smith mentions most responses from other deer will not be very loud. In some cases, the deer may just step out from the short pines into a lane or trail without making a sound. At other times, Smith has had two or more deer answer his initial grunt call.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at email@example.com