The buck stops here: Something is terribly wrong with population

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 29, 2004

When it comes to deer hunting in West Alabama, Ronnie Willingham has heard it all from behind the counter of his sporting goods store in Demopolis, and he’s heard enough to form a pretty good opinion.

Hunting licenses are too cheap, doe season is too long and there are too many hunters in the woods blasting away at everything in sight could be just a few reasons why talk is thick this year in West Alabama.

Douglas Petite, who owns a deer-processing store in Jefferson, sees things from a different angle — but an angle that isn’t much better. According to Petite, 60 percent of the deer that come in his store are doe, and that’s a bad sign for the future of deer hunting in the state of Alabama.

Louis Gibbs, owner and operator of Buck Wild Hunting Products located in Demopolis, makes his living in the hunting industry, but this year he hasn’t seen that many deer in the woods of West Alabama.

And Willis McGee, who has lived in Greene County his entire life, says this is the first year he hasn’t shot a deer since he was 18 years old. He’s 47 now.

Something’s wrong, but what is it?

Where do you start?

For Willingham, there’s a list a green-field long.

Willingham Sporting Goods is the largest seller of hunting licenses in Marengo County and according to owner Ronnie Willingham, obtaining a hunting license in the state of Alabama is too easy and too cheap. “It cost $16 to get a hunting license in the state of Alabama. You can’t even fill up your car at the gas station with $16,” Willingham said.

Willingham also wonders about the kids and what we are teaching the future of the sport. “Whether we realize it or not, our kids are being trained to kill everything out there,” Willingham said.

Bu putting kids in tree stands isn’t the only problem. Big brother isn’t watching out for the deer population in Alabama.

Willingham also believes that the state could be one of the sports biggest problems. “When they opened that state-wide doe season it really put a dent in the deer population. Nobody really knows what the state wants,” Willingham said.

Gibbs is an avid deer hunter who has worked endlessly to preserve and promote the wonderful sport of deer hunting and he doesn’t miss many opportunities to hunt. From November to January, he spends his early mornings and late afternoons in the woods.

“I tend to do pretty good, but that’s because I’m out there a good bit. It’s my job and what I live for. But this year wasn’t good.

You’re just not seeing that many deer in the woods this year,” Gibbs said.

For Petite, the gender of his business tells the story.

“I’ve been processing deer for more than 20 years now and this year was the worst I’ve ever seen,” Petite said. “We have processed 20 to 30 percent less deer this year than last year and 60 percent of those were doe.”

And if those arguments don’t convince you of the problem, McGee — who splits his time between tree stands and the Eutaw Bait&Tackle — is the best closing argument.

“In our Big Buck Contest this season we have seen a decrease in both the number and size of deer scored. And if our current leading scored deer stands till Saturday, it will be the second smallest winner in the last ten years,” McGee said.

Hunting season ends Saturday in Alabama, and there are plenty who can’t wait to see this day come. But until the last shot is fired, The Demopolis Times will look into the problems with the deer population and what can be done to make not only next year, but also

the future of the sport better.

Coming tomorrow, a look at regulations — or lack thereof — from the state of Alabama and how that has damaged the deer population in West Alabama.