Deer Home, Alabama
Classic qualifier Kilgore puts hopeful cast on state deer herd
All of these deer were harvested by David Kilgore on the family farm. (James Overstreet photo)
JASPER, Ala. -- David Kilgore is Alabama proud, from bass to bucks.
Kilgore won the B.A.S.S. Southern Open on Lake Logan Martin to qualify for his first Bassmaster Classic. He will stay within the confines of his state when he competes on Lake Guntersville in February. He insists deer hunters also should stay in state.
“If you could take the deer herd here, and in the surrounding four, five, six counties … not let anybody shoot a buck for a couple years, all you could shoot was a doe … It would blow your mind what would grow in this part of Alabama,” he said. “The people that usually leave Alabama to go hunt places like Illinois, they’d stay home to hunt because you wouldn’t have to go to Illinois. There would be some deer so big here it would just blow your mind.”
Kilgore thinks that because of the current state of deer hunting in his home state, and particularly from the changes he’s seen managing the family’s 2,220-acre farm in Walker County, Ala.
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“For years we wouldn’t see many deer,” Kilgore said. “In 1988-89 the deer population exploded. We went from seeing just a few deer to hundreds.”
Those kinds of deer numbers led to a very liberal deer limit in Alabama.
“It seemed like everybody around here had a gun and wanted to shoot a deer, any deer, and they could do it in their back yard. At the time you could shoot a buck a day in Alabama,” he said.
That changed in 2007 when Alabama reduced its ‘buck a day limit’ to three bucks for the season, one of which must have at least 4 points on one side. The Kilgores ramped up their management efforts and adopted a quality strategy based on keeping deer, particularly shooter bucks, on their property.
Kilgore keeps up with the bucks he has on the farm during the summer months with trail cameras.
"Overall, the deer pictures I take, and I take a lots of them … It seems from year to year you can keep about half of the deer you think will be good shooters’one day,” he said. “Half disappear, half are still here. That’s about all you can expect, you can’t keep them all. Some are going to wander off during the rut.”
Kilgore believes the management program they have in place keeps a healthy percentage of targeted bucks from leaving the property. The dozens of trophy deer mounted on the walls of David Kilgore’s home, and on that of his father’s, are proof of the plan’s success.
This is how Kilgore explains the implementation of their management program:
Supplemental Feed – Deer are fed corn year around -- tons of it in multiple feeders. Kilgore says they place feeders in areas they don’t hunt, focusing on the center of the property to try to keep deer on the farm.
Agriculture Practices – The Kilgore’s begin by planting approximately 200 acres of corn and soybeans in plots scattered about the farm. The plots range in size from ½ acre to 8 to 10 acres. Part of the crop is harvested; the rest is left for the deer. None of the fields are continuous. Wooded areas have been left between the plots to provide deer safe travel corridors as they move about the farm.
Green Fields – After the crops are harvested, the plots are overseeded with a blend of broadleaf plants, including clover and a mix of forage plants. On the recommendation of the local farmer’s co-op, they also seed the plant ‘kale.’ Kilgore said kale has proven to be a great plant to sustain deer during the winter months. “I’ve seen deer pull a foot of kale from the ground and eat it. After the first frost they really get on it,” he said.
Low Impact Hunting – During rifle season Kilgore prefers to practice what he calls ‘low impact hunting,’ describing the method as, “Place your shooting house, your stand … whatever, well away from your green field.
You don’t want that deer knowing you show up or when you leave, especially at night. If you can get down out of that stand with deer on the field, get out of there without them knowing you leave, that is the biggest deal. If you get down from your stand and walk across these fields -- blowing deer out of all of them -- it doesn’t take long because they’re not stupid. It won’t be long before they’ll quit showing up in daylight very much. If you’ll hunt that way, get in and out of there without spooking deer, it would really wake people up to what they could kill.”
Let Them Grow – Kilgore and the small group of hunters allowed on the farm are all in agreement about letting deer age before they are targeted. “I know we’re not in the Midwest, so our deer may not grow as fast. If you see a deer that’s reached a score in the 120s in Alabama, and he’s in the 4- to 4½-year-old range, that’s the kind of deer we want to shoot. If you have a deer in the 110’s, and he’s a 2 ½-year-old deer, and somebody shoots him … that will kind of get under your skin. That’s one of those deer that has the potential to be a really big one.
Provide a Sanctuary – “The way the roads access this property, we have an area that’s a little bit harder to access than the lower end of the farm. I could get in there, I just choose not to. When hunting season gets here, you put hunting pressure on these deer, you drive around after dark, your drive around before daylight, the deer get accustomed to not showing up at daylight when you put a little pressure on them unless they’re rutting.
“I just like to leave a big area without any pressure; the deer can just sorta be in there not bothered by human beings. If you got a big one in there, he might stick his head out during the rut and you end up killing a big deer you didn’t even know you had.”
Know your inventory – 8002-Kilgore believes the best place to place trail cameras in the summer is at salt licks. He creates his own salt licks by dumping two 50-pound bags of salt on the ground. “Those deer, they need that salt, that mineral back in their body, especially in the hot months, July and August. Over the summertime, if you want to find out the kind of bucks you have, your inventory will be pretty accurate if you have enough big salt licks scattered around your property. At some point all of them will show up at a salt lick and on your trail cameras.”
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