Louisiana'™s Archery A-List

Deer season's not over yet -- at least, not for bowhunters. Here's a run-down of the hottest spots for stick and string in the Sportsman's Paradise.(January 2008).

Photo by BillKinney.com.

By the time January rolls around, most deer hunters have venison in the freezer and, if they're lucky, a head full of antlers being mounted at the local taxidermist. With the season winding down, they by and large begin putting away the deer gear and start focusing on other outdoor pursuits.

Undoubtedly, some brush the dust off their fishing equipment, finding that the state's lakes and streams have suddenly begun to appear more enticing; others begin practicing with their turkey calls, anticipating the spring season only a couple of months away.

But those outdoorsmen and women who live and die by stick and string are generally of a different breed. Archers know that they've still got a full month left to hunt, so most of them can be found riding a climbing stand through cold rain, sleet and biting north winds until the last day of January.

People who bowhunt are a lot like fly anglers: Both qualify as purists. In the view of the chenille-marabou-and-feathers party, a fish that won't hit a dry fly isn't worth catching; likewise, archers will say that while anyone can use a rifle to down a deer, it takes a truly special type of hunter to sit watching dozens of possible targets over the course of a whole season, holding out all the while for that one deer in 50 to step into just the right spot at the proper distance from the stand before releasing an arrow.

More than one bowhunter has explained to me their intense pickiness about taking a shot, and spoken passionately of the profound education in the ways of whitetails that archers acquire while on stand. "To me, a deer is too valuable an animal to shoot unless the animal presents the proper angle and is within the range of my bow," avid bowhunter Larry Pyle once told me. "While I'm waiting for just the right moment, I get to watch an awful lot of deer, and in so doing, I have learned so much about their behavior and why they act the way they do."

Louisiana bowhunters are fortunate to have such a lengthy season in which to try their hand at arrowing a deer. Over most of the state, the season begins on Oct. 1 and lasts until Jan. 31.

For most archers, bowhunting is a year-round sport. You can pick up a rifle, run a few rounds through it and make the adjustments necessary for drilling a deer at 200 yards -- but you don't have that luxury if your weapon is a bow. About the only muscle that the gun hunter uses is the one activating the trigger finger; the bowhunter, by comparison, must have muscles and reflexes trained to the point that drawing the bow and releasing the arrow becomes second nature.

Consider this scenario: Silent but alert, a bowhunter spots a trophy buck drifting his way. Whereas a hunter with a rifle can ease the weapon to his shoulder, look for an opening and squeeze the trigger, all within a matter of mere seconds, the archer has to wait -- sometimes for quite a while -- until the deer ventures within a comfortable range, which rarely exceeds 25 to 30 yards.

Having to wait until the deer gets this close brings other problems. A buck may not detect your subtle movement at 200 yards, but at 20, you can bet that it can see you blink. Therefore, the hunter has to come to full draw at just the right moment to avoid detection -- usually when the deer passes behind a tree trunk or heavy brush.

If the animal's next step puts it in an opening behind the hunter's sight pin, everything will have gone according to plan. If on the other hand, the deer grows suspicious and hesitates behind the cover, the hunter waiting at full draw has no choice but to make a quick decision. Just how long will his muscles enable him to hold the bow at full draw? Too often, a hunter makes the decision to ease off on the bow at the precise moment that the deer steps out. At 20 yards, you don't have to guess the likely outcome: a snort, a waving flag and a disappointed hunter -- busted.

Bowhunters, like athletes, have to train long before the season begins, which in the archer's case involves punching hundreds of holes in paper targets until the muscles are toned. Accordingly, many bowhunters never stop shooting, even after the season ends; being in shape for the shot all year marks the serious bowhunter.

Now that equipment and body are ready, the hunt's on for the next four months. January is an exciting time for bowhunters, who at that point in the season are freed from having to contend with other deer hunters in the woods; they have it all to themselves.

If a late-season bowhunter has no access to a private plot of land to hunt or is not a member of a hunting club, exactly where is he likely to have the best chance to collect his venison in January?

More than one bowhunter has explained to me their intense pickiness about taking a shot, and spoken passionately of the profound education in the ways of whitetails that archers acquire while on stand.

We contacted Emile LeBlanc, coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' Deer Management Assistance Program for two distinct reasons, one being his knowledge of the deer situation around the state. And the other? He's a serious bowhunter -- so serious that he shoots traditional archery equipment, the longbow and recurve.

"If I want to just shoot a deer, I'd rather use a gun than a compound bow," LeBlanc said. "There's something about bringing down a wild animal such as a whitetail deer with an arrow propelled by a stick and string that fires me up."

Asked to pick the best area of the state for late-season bowhunting, LeBlanc was quick to name the Red River and Three Rivers wildlife management areas in eastern Louisiana. "The gun season is over here by early January, and the bowhunter has these areas all to himself," he explained. "Usually by the last two weeks in January, does that didn't get bred during the earlier rut are experiencing a secondary estrous cycle, and it's not uncommon to see bucks chasing does here this late in the year. It can be pretty exciting to be sitting on your stand and hearing a buck grunt as he follows a hot doe here in late January."

Red River WMA lies about 35 miles south of Ferriday in lower Concordia Parish on state Route 15. All-weather access is provided via Route 15, state Route 910 and a gravel levee. A number of woods roads and gravel oil-field roads penetrate the interior. The WMA comprises 41,681 acres, 29,964 of those LDWF-owned and an additional 11,717 the property of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

. Owing to its low, flat orientation, the area drains poorly and faces the potential for annual floods from Cocodrie Bayou and the Mississippi and Red rivers.

According to the LDWF, the area's timber consists of mixed bottomland hardwoods. Among Red River's primary overstory species are bitter pecan, overcup oak, Nuttall oak, cypress, sweet pecan, honey locust, willow, hackberry, cottonwood, sycamore and green ash. Heavy cutting operations prior to the area's purchase by the LDWF has resulted in a relatively sparse timber stand over much of the WMA. Understory species include swamp privet, water elm, buttonbush, box elder, smilax, trumpet creeper, poison ivy, peppervine, rough leaf dogwood, deciduous holly, hawthorn, rattan, dewberry and blackberry, plus seedlings of the overstory species.

Red River WMA lies adjacent to Three Rivers WMA, the two tracts offering in the aggregate more than 50,000 acres of some of the state's best bowhunting lands.

For most archers, bowhunting is a year-round sport. You can pick up a rifle, run a few rounds through it and make the adjustments necessary for drilling a deer at 200 yards -- but you don't have that luxury if your weapon is a bow.

At present containing up of 27,380 acres --26,000 of LDWF land, more than 1,000 of Corps property -- Three Rivers is approximately 50 miles south of Vidalia in the southern tip of Concordia Parish. Situated between the Mississippi and Red Rivers north of Lower Old River, it can be accessed via state routes 15 and 910. An all-weather shell road provides access to the interior, crossing the entire area north of the Old River outflow channel. Hunters also can gain access by boat through numerous bayous and the Red River.

LeBlanc was ready with recommendations for some other areas that make a chance at a deer available to late-season bowhunters. "Another popular area is the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area," he said. "This area consists of about 141,000 acres located at the mouths of the Atchafalaya River and the Wax Lake Outlet in St. Mary Parish. The area is located some 25 miles south of the towns of Morgan City and Calumet and is accessible only by boat. This area can be tough to hunt, but it's basically bowhunting only. So there is very little other competition for hunters who want to try this area.

"Another interesting spot to hunt is one you may not think would be good. Hurricane Katrina devastated the Pass-à-Loutre Wildlife Management Area, located in southern Plaquemines Parish at the mouth of the Mississippi River, in 2005. However, the recovery has been remarkable, and there are lots of wildlife species -- including deer -- that are doing quite well there.

"Hunting Pass-à-Loutre is an experience in itself, because to get there requires a 45-minute boat ride down the river. It can get a bit hairy in January when fog rolls in ahead of a cold front. Extreme caution is called for, especially during inclement weather. Because the land there is so low and there are not many trees large enough to support a climbing stand, lots of bowhunters pack in tri-pod stands or short ladder stands."

Pass-à-Loutre bowhunters enjoy an exceptionally long season. Bucks only may be hunted Oct. 1-15, while either sex may be taken from Oct. 16 through Feb. 15.

"The gun season is over here by early January, and the bowhunter has these areas all to himself. Usually by the last two weeks in January, does that didn't get bred during the earlier rut are experiencing a secondary estrous cycle, and it's not uncommon to see bucks chasing does here this late in the year."

--Emile LeBlanc, LDWF

North Louisiana also has some prime bowhunting areas in which late-season opportunity abounds. "The Union Wildlife Management Area in Union Parish has a ton of deer," said LeBlanc. "In fact, the deer harvest on Union last year was the highest in the state, with nearly 5,000 deer checked in. Bowhunters willing to give this area a look in January are likely to have the opportunity to arrow a deer."

Consisting of more than 11,000 acres owned by Plum Creek Timber Corporation, Union is in the parish of the same name, four miles west of Marion. The area allows both gun and archery hunters, but the gun season ends Dec. 2, which gives the bowhunter nearly two months of deer hunting without pressure from other hunters. The archery season runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31.

In addition, Jackson-Bienville WMA, in north-central Louisiana, and the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, north of Three Rivers and Red River WMAs, also provide plenty of action for the bowhunter.

One unique feature of the Bayou State's deer herd is that the rut occurs at different times in different areas. A 1966 study of seven deer herds in Louisiana concluded that the state has three distinct breeding seasons. In southwest Louisiana, peak breeding runs from mid-September to October. Northwest and central Louisiana experience their peak between mid-October and November, and deer along the Mississippi Delta in the Atchafalaya Basin in southwest Louisiana are there during December and January.

The variation appears to result from the relocation of deer from one area of the state to another during the state's restocking program, said David Moreland, formerly deer study leader and now head of the LDWF's Wildlife Division.

Among the factors that ordinarily influence the timing of peak breeding season are the length of day and latitude; thus, Moreland observed, breeding typically begins in northern states in November and runs through March in the south. But in Louisiana, genes appear to have skewed the timing of peak breeding season, so deer relocated from one area of the state to another have maintained the breeding schedule prevalent in their original location.

Those inherent breeding schedules are not simply arbitrary, however. According to Moreland, some deer breed early and some late for specific reasons. He points to deer living in Louisiana's coastal areas, which tend to breed earlier in order that their fawns may be mobile prior to the arrival of hurricane season. Likewise, deer along the Mississippi Delta experience peak breeding season later, thus preventing does bearing fawns being caught by flood season. Determining the peak breeding season of deer in the area you plan to hunt can increase your odds of harvesting a first-quality buck.

Whatever the cause of the differences, the effect is that the archer opting to hunt areas with a late rut stands a good chance of getting in on some hot late-season action.

The majority of bowhunters will readily let you know that they avidly relish the opportunity to stretch the season out as far as is possible. And why? Simply because there's just something about sitting in a stand, stick and string in hand, waiting for the opportunity to make something happen.

It's thus little wonder that virtually all bowhunters are practically guaranteed to identify very strongly with what Emile LeBlanc meant when he remarked, "If I want to kill a deer, I'll use a rifle; if I want to hunt a deer, I'll be using my b

ow."

Find more about Louisiana

fishing and hunting at:

LAgameandfish.com/"

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