The Best Of Bayou State Bowhunting

With more than 1 million acres of public hunting land from which to choose, there's a Louisiana wildlife management area near you that has plenty of bowhunting potential this season. (September 2008)

The 38,000-plus bowhunters afield in Louisiana last season brought home 13,900 deer. Much of the same is expected this season.
Photo by Bill Lea.

In Louisiana, the good times seem always to be rolling, all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the northern hardwoods.


And in the Sportsman's Paradise, that's especially true every year when whitetail bowhunting season finally arrives.

"It's a good bowhunting state in terms of quality and numbers," agreed Scott Durham, deer program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "Quality edges it out a little bit, since some of our public lands are getting some real good age in the buck segment. Plus, we have a big bowhunting constituency that goes and hunts these areas and they do pretty good on them."


Durham expects that trend to continue this year. He saw no reason to believe that this fall's bowhunting campaign wouldn't be a good one.


"Things are looking OK -- except for it being a little dry in a few places -- but (for the most part) we're getting a good greenup," he said. "We're getting adequate rain to produce browse and set up acorns, so I don't see why we wouldn't have a good bow season."

That should come as good news for the string-and-stick enthusiasts in the Bayou State, and there are plenty of them. Last season's statistics were not available at press time, but more than 38,000 bowhunters went afield in 2006-07 and harvested nearly 14,000 deer.

"We won't deviate a lot from either number this fall," Durham predicted, adding that he has only one real concern in terms of the state's bowhunting heritage. "The only problem is that they're getting older, and there's not the level of recruitment (of younger hunters into the sport) that we'd like to see."

Plenty of top-quality public land is available for rookie and veteran hunters, young and old alike, thanks to the state's 63 wildlife management areas -- and that's not to mention a number of federally owned national wildlife refuges where various hunting activities are permitted.

"They're all good," Durham said. "We're blessed to have nearly a million acres of public hunting land in our state."

That said, what are the best options available for a Louisiana bowhunter wanting to send some venison to the freezer and a set of big antlers to the taxidermist?

BEST OF THE BAYOU
"The best deer typically come from the alluvial bottomlands of the Mississippi and Red River systems," Durham said, "especially where those systems converge."

LDWF deer management assistance program coordinator Emile LeBlanc said that a couple of WMAs jump off the map simply because of their names. "Red River and Three Rivers (WMAs)," LeBlanc suggested. "They are right in that river floodplain that produces some high-quality animals."

LeBlanc also said that the region -- a mixture of farmland and bottomland hardwoods -- can produce some pretty nice whitetails -- including some that meet the lofty standards of the Boone and Crockett and Pope & Young clubs.

A glance at the Louisiana Big Game Records program confirms the region's trophy potential. At Red River WMA (a 41,681-acre WMA in Concordia Parish) and Three Rivers WMA (a 26,295-acre WMA also in Concordia Parish), a total of eight bucks -- four from each area -- have been entered into the LBGR program. Those include Johnny Warren's Red River archery non-typical buck taken in 1993, a brute that net-scored 184 6/8 inches.

NORTH
Further north, the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge (a 64,012-acre tract spreading across Franklin, Madison and Tensas parishes) has produced 11 such record book entries including Joe Hatton's 1995 typical entry that net-scored 163 1/8 inches on the Pope & Young scale.

According to Durham, 11,262-acre Buckhorn WMA, sited in Tensas Parish not too far from Tensas River NWR, is another area for archers to consider.

Further west in the Red River basin is Loggy Bayou WMA (6,381 acres in Bossier Parish) not far from the Shreveport metro area. Durham says there are some good deer there too.

And staying in the northern part of the state, the LDWF's head deer biologist pointed to a couple of other areas that stick-and-string enthusiasts might want to consider. "Union WMA (11,113 acres in Union Parish) and Jackson-Bienville WMA (32,185 acres in Jackson, Bienville and Lincoln parishes) are good and have some outstanding deer," he said.

WEST-CENTRAL
In the west-central portion of the state, Fort Polk WMA (a 105,545-acre WMA on the Fort Polk Military Reservation in Vernon Parish) is a unit worthy of plenty of consideration by bowhunters.

"It's a really nice area, although it has a less-dense herd (than the river floodplain WMAs have)," Durham said. "But there is really nice antler development there for that part of the state. It's not a rich, highly productive area, but there is something about that area that makes for some really nice deer."

ATCHAFALAYA RIVER BASIN
Moving east-southeast from Fort Polk, one gets back into the alluvial region of the Atchafalaya River basin where Thistlethwaite WMA (11,000 acres in St. Landry Parish) is located north of Lafayette. The top LBGR typical buck from that unit was a 180 5/8 inch B&C bruiser taken with a gun by Shawn P. Ortego back in 1975.

Nearby, Atchafalaya NWR (15,220 acres in Pointe Coupee and Iberville parishes) and Sherburne WMA (11,780 acres in Pointe Coupee, St. Martin and Iberville parishes) give bowhunters a good one-two punch to think about on the drive not too far west of the Baton Rouge metro area.

"The Atchafalaya gets some pretty good hunter effort despite the fact that it is so remote," LeBlanc said. "Hunters have killed a couple of Pope & Young (bucks) off of it and it has some pretty good deer."

To the north of the Baton Rouge area, Tunica Hills WMA (5,905 acres in West Feliciana Parish) is another good bet for archers according to LeBlanc.

"Most of the season there is archery only," he said. "How good the season is really depends on the (Mississippi) River since there is an island refuge (Raccourci Island) to the south of there. "If the

river gets high, it pushes deer off the island and onto Tunica Hills and that influences success rates dramatically."

LeBlanc says that like most of Louisiana's public-land deer hunting, he wouldn't be surprised to see something in the 140 to 150 range come out of Tunica Hills, but those animals tend to be harder to come by.

"After all, it's hard enough to kill a deer with a bow anyways," he said.

LeBlanc should know -- he's a longtime bowhunter himself.

BETWEEN THE CITIES
Moving on between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a top area to consider, according to Durham, is the 67,712-acre Maurepas Swamp WMA. "It's a big area, more of a forested wetland," he said. "Access on this area is a little tougher and you'll need a boat to get up in there. But since it is a little less accessible for people in that region, it's one of our best overall (deer harvest) numbers WMAs in that portion of the state."

The really adventurous -- and those looking for a sleeper area to consider -- should keep the Pearl River WMA (35,032 acres in St. Tammany Parish) east of New Orleans in mind. "It is a jungle in there after Hurricane Katrina came through," Durham said. "Katrina basically blew that place down, making it extremely difficult to access. It is definitely a place for a fit, ambitious hunter. But with the amount of cover in there, the good habitat and sunlight now reaching the (forest) floor, those deer are going to get some age in there. There is the potential for some big deer to be killed in there."

But before someone dubs Pearl River the next best WMA for taking a Boone & Crockett, Durham points out that the term "big" is somewhat relative.

"It's not going to be like Red River or Three Rivers," he advised, "but those deer in there, they'll reach their maximum potential because there are a lot of groceries in there and right now, it's just too tough to get into."

COASTAL LOUISIANA
In the southern coastal reaches of the Bayou State, LeBlanc said, archers should take a long look at the Pass-a-Loutre WMA (66,000 acres in Plaquemines Parish). While this WMA was hammered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, LeBlanc says there is reason for hunters to be encouraged when considering a visit to the rugged and remote WMA.

"We've been down there after Katrina catching, tagging, and looking at deer through camera surveys," he said. "There are quite a few deer that made it through the hurricane pretty well."

BE PREPARED
Considering that north-to-south tour of the Sportsman's Paradise, how does a prospective archer go about hunting such an amazing amount and variety of deer habitat?

First and foremost, according to LeBlanc, is to make sure that you have all of the proper licenses, tags, and permits. Louisiana has moved to a new tagging system this season (see Louisiana's 2008/2009 hunting regulations for complete details). And remember that public hunting is often a first-come, first-served resource at the check station's sign-in box.

Next, get out and lay down some serious boot leather.

"Scouting is the most crucial thing you can do," LeBlanc said. "I've been a bowhunter since I was 19 years old, and there is no substitute for actually getting out in the woods and finding out where they are. And finding them can be a challenge.

"A lot of people that drop these big deer, they never see them until they put their scope or their sight pin on them."

To make that tough scouting chore a bit easier, Durham said, hunters should focus on finding preferred food sources and well-used travel routes and funnels during their scouting efforts.

"Early on, if you can find the trees that are dropping the acorns that they are feeding on, that's (a good place to start)," he said. "White oaks drop first, generally speaking, so they are good early season spots to get to."

In addition to mast trees, Durham says that persimmons and fruiting trees are also good initial options to consider as the archery season begins.

But don't forget to play the preferred food source card as the season wanes. "Later in the year, the nuttall oaks are the last to drop their acorns. And deer will be coming to those, so late oaks can be important too."

Scouting for travel routes between bedding and feeding areas and for funnels that pinch down deer movement can be important for early archery season success. But it becomes even more important as the Bayou State's various rutting cycles play out from early October all the way to the end of January.

Just remember that as the state's habitat changes, so does the scouting process used for these travel corridors that guide big bucks to food and love.

"Scouting depends on the habitat from the coastal marshes to the swamps to the hills to the flatland," LeBlanc said. "It just depends on where you are, what type of habitat you have and what type of surrounding property you have. Out in these marshes, you've got to get out there and look for trails through the cattails and across the ridges. And different habitat types can be confusing, which is why you've got to spend some time in the habitat to find and learn where the deer want to be and how they are traveling."

Speaking of time, that's another key to successfully bowhunting the WMAs.

"Generally, in the end, it all comes down to going down and spending time on stand," LeBlanc said. "When the bucks are running, you've got to be there when they pass you by. Spend the most time hunting that you can in the mornings, afternoons, and midday."

Timing with respect to midday and midweek is an important consideration for the archer looking to better the WMA bowhunting odds. "The typical hunter hunts in the morning and the evening," Durham said. "A lot of times, maybe hunting in the middle of the day is a good break in the routine to try. And since there tend to be more hunters out on the weekends, hunting during the week can help."

Two of the best times to be out hunting are during the rut and when the weather is cooperating.

"Most of our areas have seasons that will fall around the peak of the breeding season after the either-sex (hunting days)," Durham said. "And that, of course, is when these bucks get more careless and become more vulnerable during the rut."

The other good time to maximize your potential is when cooler weather is expected to arrive.

"The deer down here, when the temperature is 60 (degrees) or below -- and preferably in the 30s and 40s -- tend to start moving," Durham said. "But when the temperature gets above 70, they tend to shut down because it's hot and not too economical for them to move. So pick those good weather days to go -- when it is going to be colder

and the deer will be more active."

With an abundance of deer, ample public hunting opportunity, a strong bowhunting heritage, and the chance to tag meat for the freezer and a wallhanger for the den, what's not to like about Louisiana's tremendous bowhunting potential this fall?

With that in mind, get your bow tuned up, practice your shooting skills until they're honed to a razor-sharp edge and get out there among them this fall!

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