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Forecast By Kody Chase

Louisiana has a healthy deer herd, and according to biologists leading the deer study program, the recent decline in deer harvest numbers is likely the result of a number of factors. Scott Durham, biologist and deer study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, believes that the decline in harvest numbers is beginning to level off.

The state conducts several surveys each year attempting to accurately gather hunter information and harvest numbers. A mail survey of 6 percent of hunters between 18 and 59, along with a mandatory phone reporting system, and mandatory deer checks at wildlife management areas help to assure that biologist and the commissioners have accurate numbers on which to implement season and limits.

Durham believes that the overall decline is the result of the combined effects of some hunters not reporting their kills, which is illegal.

“The old system we had in place with an automated message and reporting system has been a flop. It simply did not work. People want to speak with a person not a machine,”

During this season, 2013-2014, the department has allotted funds to employing an operator to take information.

Biologists for the LDWF have described the states varying terrain and habitats and recognize six broad eco-regions within the state. Deer populations in each region reflect the availability of food, cover, and human influences.

PINE/HARDWOODS REGION

Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, Desoto, Jackson, Lasalle, Lincoln Red River, Union and Webster Parishes form the northwest corner of the Bayou State. The region is home to an expanse of habitat comprised of piney hills and densely forested bottomlands.

Private land in this part of the state is more or less locked up in hunting leases. Fortunately, public lands abound here and offer hunters many opportunities.

There are plenty of deer in this region. Union, Bienville, and Webster parishes, for example have been in the top 10 deer producing parishes over the last few years.

Loggy Bayou is located in the southernmost part of Bossier Parish. The 6,381-acre WMA is small compared to Mississippi Delta WMAs, but what the area lacks in size it makes up for with a healthy deer population. For a three year period, the WMA provided a 4.0 hunter success rate, the best of the WMAs in the state. This means that hunter here spent less time in the woods and implies that deer are plentiful.

The area is flat and prone to flooding. However the reforestation of former agricultural lands in the 1980s and 1990s is now producing quality hardwood mast.

Union WMA is located in Union Parish, roughly 4 miles west of Marion. This WMA not only had a relatively low effort-to-kill ratio of 8.1 over the last three years, but also is situated in the top deer-producing parish in the state.

Coupling historically liberal either-sex hunts with mast producing forest cover and advanced timber practices produces an apparently healthy herd, and increases hunters’ chances of tagging a buck or doe on this WMA. John Hanks, a LDWF biologist, advised that finding and hunting areas with limited pressure from other hunters increases your chances at filling a tag.

As with nearly all WMAs, Bodcau WMA is open for bow hunting all season. Bodcau, which is located 17 miles northeast of Bossier, is approximately 33,700 acres in size, all of which is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The area contains a wide range of wildlife habitat ranging from cypress swamps to upland pine and hardwood forests interspersed with grasslands and open fields. Ongoing habitat management on the WMA consists of prescribed burning, fallow disking, supplemental food plantings, water level manipulation and timber harvest. These practices help to provide quality habitat for game and non-game species.

Look for deer in areas transitioning from cover to feed. Aerial photography provided by Google Earth is a good resource to use to “pre-scout” Bodcau.

Bodcau has historically offered very liberal either-sex opportunities, including last season’s month long either-sex firearms season from October through November and a season-long either-sex bow hunting.

Jackson Bienville WMA is another option. This WMA is located south of Ruston off State Route 167. The tract sports a generous network of year-round roads.

Jackson Bienville is owned by the Weyerhaeuser Corporation and is an active, working forest. Logging results in a patchwork of habitat in various stages of growth and providing plenty of edge and cover — exactly what deer want. Though hilltop vegetation changes regularly though forestry practices, the densely forested riparian areas located at the bottom of the ridges remain consistent.

A liberal either-sex firearms season has been offered here in the past.

NORTH MISSISSIPPI DELTA

The parishes in this part of the state are Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, and West Carroll Parishes. Here, rich fertile soil, yields hearty, nutrient rich plants, which in turn produces fat healthy does, and bucks with big bodies and good antler mass.

A mix of land use patterns and large areas of undeveloped woods are some of the reasons the North Delta region produces a number of deer year after year.

Biologist John Hanks said, “The DMAP is popular in this region and is likely a contributing factor in the healthy deer numbers in this part of the state.”

However, deer hunters generally lease virtually all the private land. Your best bet for tagging a deer this year might take place on one of the regions WMAs or National Wildlife Refuges.

Public land hunting opportunities abound in this region of the Bayou State. Bayou Macon WMA is an oasis of deep timber nestled among thousands of acres of fertile soils of East Carroll Parish, just east of the border with West Carroll Parish along SR 2.

The WMA offers nearly 7,000 acres of mast producing oaks and hickories, a characteristic that has influenced its average 6.3 hunter effort to kill ratio. Areas of former cropland are available and provide thick cover and browse and are sure to keep deer nearby. The property is poorly drained and two seasonal creeks provide natural obstacles to the interior of the WMA.

Russell Sage WMA, located only 5 miles from Monroe, historically draws quite a few hunters. Russell Sage is located on both sides of I-20 and is composed entirely or bottomland hardwoods. Numerous sloughs and creeks coupled with the WMAs flat terrain and poor drainage require a good pair of rubber boots.

Harvest numbers from managed hunts show a 7.7 hunter success rate.

Charles Booth, LDWF Biologist overseeing hunter activities at Russell Sage.

“Deer numbers and hunter success rates should remain at or above last previous numbers,” he said. “We had a mild winter, a quick green up, and a disturbance free fawning period this go round”.

Booth also oversees Ouachita WMA.

“Ouachita WMA sports varied habitat including some pines and reforested agriculture fields,” he noted. “If you want to put meat in the freezer Ouachita is as good a place as any to hunt. Doe are plentiful and good bucks come around too.”

Ouachita adjoins the southern end of Russell Sage WMA in the eastern and southern portion of Ouachita Parish. The WMA has former agriculture fields turned fallow, pine thickets and some very large mast producing trees. It is easily accessible as well.

Staying near Monroe, Black Bayou Lake NWR borders on the 2,000-acre lake. It offers a long bowhunting season, and lots of deer provide amble opportunities. Pine-hardwoods and bottomlands provide plenty of cover and lots of food, making this a good place to visit.

Hunting is carefully regulated and, in addition to state licenses, you need a signed copy of the refuge’s hunting brochure for use as a permit.

Download refuge specific regulations and season dates at www.usfws.gov/northlouisiana/blackbayoulake.

Boeuf WMA is another option in this corner of Louisiana. Boeuf is a 50,000-acre tract composed of bottomland hardwoods. Plenty of thick cover and fawning areas are found on the refuge. Those facts, coupled with ample mast trees and recent timber harvesting, combine to continue producing healthy deer numbers.

In recent years, during the two-day managed hunts on the refuge, hunters have killed an average of 200 deer per hunt, which translates into a three-year average success rate of 6.2.

WESTERN LONGLEAF


This 9-pointer was taken in the 2007 Mississippi rut. Photo via North American Whitetail.
This region holds Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Grant, Jefferson Davis, Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon, and Winn parishes.

Louisiana’s historic longleaf pine forests once dominated this region of the state. Intensive logging through the 1900s and wildfire suppression have reduced the longleaf pine ecosystems to protected refuges and national forests.

Other land uses, including farming, have had negative impacts on deer, despite the occasional patch of Conservation Reserve Program tracts.

In the region of the state, nearly 600,00 acres of national forest exist. Extensive swaths of undeveloped timberlands and deep hardwoods and riparian zones producing mast and other browse are still found.

Fort Polk WMA, at 105,500 acres, is owned by the US Army and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The site is an active military installation located 10 miles southeast of Leesville in Vernon Parish, just east of U.S. 171.

The area contains many all-weather roads, which make all portions accessible to hunters. The terrain is primarily rolling hills with flood plains between high areas. There are several large stream bottoms, in addition to numerous small creeks.

Approximately 70 percent of the area is covered by longleaf pine. According to its website, the LDWF maintains 100 acres or so of wildlife attracting browse using, cowpea, winter wheat, browntop millet, sunflowers, and sorghum.

The WMAs three-year hunter success number is 5.9. Vernon Parish has long been in the top 10 deer producing parishes list, as well.

Alexander Forest WMA is another option. The WMA is small, at around 8,000 acres. Areas of the southern portion of the WMA are developed as a state fish hatchery. However, rolling hills covered in pine plantations, and bottoms containing mast trees and other browse can be found. The site is an experimental forest.

Either-sex bow hunting is offered all season, and historically, an either-sex primitive weapon hunt occurs as well.

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI DELTA – ATCHAFALAYA DELTA

Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and West Baton Rouge parishes make up this region and are low lying and poorly drained.

Here, according to Scott Durham, disastrous flooding associated with hurricane Issac may have killed up to 90 percent of last year’s fawn drop. Hunting will be as tough as it has been in the last few years simply due to the damage to the deer population from natural events.

Also, the aforementioned outbreak of EHD caused even higher rates of mortality, as stressed deer are more susceptible to infection.

Maurepas Swamp WMA produces deer year after year. Changes to the hunting season in this area were made post Issac last year as a result of flooding and subsequent pressure upon the deer herd. Though the season here is shortened this year compared to years past, drier areas of the WMA hold deer through the season.

Sherburne Wildlife Management Area is located in the Morganza Floodway system of the Atchafalaya Basin. Parts of the WMA are located in Pointe Coupee, St. Martin, and Iberville parishes and lie between the Atchafalaya River and the East Protection Guide Levee. The LDWF, the USFWS, and the Army COE own the WMA property.

Bottomland hardwoods dominate Sherburne. Entrance to the interior of the area is possible through a series of all-weather roads, ATV trails, and Big and Little Alabama Bayous. Several boat launches are available as well.

More information can be obtained from the LDWF website at www.wlf.louisiana.gov.

SOUTHEASTERN LOBLOLLY

The Florida parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana comprise this eco-region.

Corridors of development and changes in land use patterns over the last decades have made their impacts on this region. Areas north of Lake Pontchartrain are suburbs of the New Orleans metropolitan area, and portions of the region east and northeast of the lake are suburbs of the Baton Rouge. Changes from farm land and mixed pine hardwood forests have lessened the availably of browse and have forced deer into smaller and smaller blocks. Though deer are fully capable of hiding and potentially thriving in suburban areas, another factor greatly affects deer numbers, too. Wild hogs compete for the food supply, are destructive of the habitat, and have been known to search for and devour fawns.

Though it is a relatively small WMA, Tunica Hills WMA offers plenty of room to set up on a well-traveled trail deer trail.

Tunica Hills offers an abundant assortment of high quality natural forage. The area is located away from major population centers and its heavily forested ridges, hills and valleys offer plenty of places to hunt.

A youth deer season and an either-sex deer rifle hunt occur in the middle of the long, bow season lasting from October through January 31.

Chances are the WMA closest to you or the one you frequent carries deer. The WMAs outlined in this article represent a fraction of the WMAs and other public lands in the state.

Don’t forget to upload your best deer photos to our Camera Corner!