There are a few things about deer hunting that are fairly certain. For starters, whitetail deer are the most popular big game animal sought by Louisiana hunters. Deer hunting in the Bayou State results in millions of dollars spent by state hunters in the purchase of hunting property, lease of hunting lands, the mushrooming sale of off-road utility vehicles, guns, ammo, and hunting gear. In a word, when the subject of the approach of the “season” is brought up in Louisiana each fall, it’s not all about football; the season many of us long for is deer season.
There is another given when the subject rolls around to deer hunting. It’s the relationship timber companies have in the success — or lack of it — in deer hunting.
A good example is what has happened on my own hunting club. Between the 2008-09 deer season and the 2009-10 season, something drastically changed on our 2,000-acre hunting lease in Jackson Parish. During the season two years ago, our hunting success was hardly worth the money and effort we expended. This past season, our production bordered on outstanding.
What was the difference? During the spring and summer between these seasons, the timber company leasing the land on which we hunt did an extensive thinning operation on our club. Whereas much of the property had become choked with not only mature pines, but a profusion of other vegetation, this past season was vastly different. In areas where you could scarcely see 10 feet earlier, the openings created by the thinning resulted in natural shooting lanes 200 yards long.
Granted, the deer loved the earlier scenario with abundant cover and browse, but deer hunting efforts were unrewarded because hunters didn’t have opportunities to see the deer in the thickets. Only during the rut when deer were more on the move was there much activity.
During the 2009-10 season our club bagged significantly more deer, both antlerless deer, as well as bucks. Much of the credit goes to the timber company’s thinning operation. (Continued)
While my hunting club enjoyed better success than the previous season, the state’s two-year-old reporting system based on a tagging system indicated a slight decline in the overall reported harvest for 2009-10.
“According to the reporting system in effect now, the overall harvest was down some 8 percent,” said Wildlife and Fisheries deer study leader Scott Durham. “The non-program private land harvest was the primary contributor to the reduced harvest, as this segment of the harvest report was 10 percent lower than the prior season. However, the public lands harvest was actually up 6 percent.”
Scott Durham also shed some light on the effect that adverse weather may have had on the overall deer harvest this past season.
“Incredible rainfall amounts in October and December hurt the harvest effort for sure, primarily in the northern parishes where there were frequent heavy rains and repeated flooding in areas where much of the state’s harvest occurs,” said Durham.
I can attest to that; the majority of our club consists of lands best described as upland mixed pine and hardwood with intermittent streams. I have a favorite deer stand I was never able to visit during the season. An adjacent stream that overflowed each time it rained kept the woods road I travel to the stand under water from October until season’s end, an occurrence that has not happened in that area in at least 10 years.
“We actually had to close the season for a short period around Christmas in some of the southern river parishes below Baton Rouge because of high water. Constant rains would not let the water recede. High water in these areas concentrated deer in smaller confined areas, which would give hunters an unfair advantage. In addition, we had to close several wildlife management areas for brief periods because of flooding and lack of access for hunters,” Durham added.
Another factor that contributed to the reduced harvest in some areas was having too many deer on areas where food resources had declined.
“In some of the pine dominant lands around the state, we saw a reduced carrying capacity which translated to a reduced harvest. Some of these lands couldn’t support the deer, with some disease outbreak evident. We had the highest number of cases of hemorrhagic disease that I have ever experienced on some areas. We had cases reported from nearly every parish,” said Durham.
Another factor that has resulted in increased competition for food sources as well as the spread of disease is the burgeoning explosion of the feral hog population. Virtually every parish in the state is experiencing this problem.
In an article in a Deer Management Assistance Program newsletter published by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, biologist N.J. Stafford reported on how feral hogs can virtually wipe out food sources utilized by deer.
“I first noticed their serious negative impact on native wildlife in 1984 on the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. It was October and the swamp cow oaks were dropping their best crop of acorns in years. You could hardly walk under the oaks for fear of twisting an ankle on the pecan-sized acorns. There were literally thousands of pounds of acorns strewn across the forest floor. Surely the deer, wild turkey, raccoons and squirrels would be maintained fat the healthy throughout the winter,” Stafford stated.
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