Special Opportunity Areas increase the odds for Alabama hunters

DALLAS COUNTY, Ala. - Hunters everywhere covet having a prime hunting spot. The place where the odds of seeing the game you’re hunting are high and the pressure from other hunters is low.  That’s precisely the idea behind a relatively new concept in Alabama - Special Opportunity Areas (SOA).

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is undertaking a new strategic approach modeled after western states. The state has purchased small tracts of land and developed six Special Opportunity Areas around the state. Unlike Wildlife Management Areas, SOAs are just a few thousand acres that are sub-divided into 300 to 400-acre units.  “You apply online. You get selected.  Then, you and one hunting partner get one of those units,” for a 2 to 4-day hunt explained State Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes.

Sykes believes it’s an ideal experience for hunters who get drawn, “It’s low pressure, good quality and good quantity of animals as well. So, we’re able to provide that quality hunting opportunity from opening day until the end of the season.”

On September 21, the state invited a handful of qualified members of the media to check out the new Portland Landing SOA in Dallas County.  Sykes described the diverse habitat profile, “You’ve got the best of the best down here.  It goes from upland hardwood stands to mixed pine-hardwood stands and cedar glades native to the Black Belt prairie, down to Tupelo and Cypress sloughs.  Swamps, creeks, Alabama River frontage. It’s got everything.”

Portland Landing is one of two SOAs in Dallas County.  There are two in Clarke County and one in Russell County.  The only one in North Alabama is in Jackson County.

Special Opportunity Area Hunt Locations in Alabama (Courtesy: Alabama Dept of Conservation & Natural Resources)

State wildlife managers anticipate some criticism for not opening up the areas for general public hunts. Chris Blankenship, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner, explained that the properties are just not large enough to handle that much activity.  He added, “Not everyone can join a hunting camp or have time to do that. So, to be able to have some public hunting lands like this is really a good asset for our state.”

Affordability is also a factor. You just have to purchase an Alabama hunting license and a Wildlife Management permit.  “So for less than $50, you have the opportunity to hunt some of the finest property in Alabama. If you were in a hunting club leasing this, you’re talking about $20 to $25 an acre to hunt this piece of property. It’s unbelievable that we can offer this as public hunting for this low a price,” said Sykes.

It appears there is significant interest in these hunts.  Approximately, 3,000 people applied for just the deer hunts this year.  Sykes said, “That will equate probably to 400 to 500 people being able to hunt these SOAs just for deer.”  While the chance to get drawn for a deer tag is over this year, there is still time to apply for the 2018 waterfowl, small game and turkey SOA hunts.

Editor's Note: The author of this article is Denise Vickers, WHNT News 19 VP of News. Vickers is also a licensed hunter in the state of Alabama.  Read her personal account of the SOA Media Day dove hunt here.