2009 Louisiana Deer Outlook Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

2009 Louisiana Deer Outlook Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

Across the Bayou State, deer are found in every parish, but some areas hold more whitetails than others. Here's an in-depth look at the best places to hunt. (October 2009)

By the time October arrives in the Bayou State, Louisiana's deer hunters are in the hardwoods, piney woods, prairies, swamps and marshes either preparing for the deer gun season -- or actually hunting whitetails with archery gear.

Much preparation has occurred by this time, including preparing green­fields and choosing stand sites.

On public lands, biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have also been busy repairing trails and primitive campsites on wildlife management areas for a flood of hunters seeking venison.

The LDWF deer study leader Scott Durham said that 160,000 licensed deer hunters would be hunting the Bayou State's estimated 700,000 whitetails this year.

"I continue to look toward a deer harvest at around 200,000 whitetails statewide," Durham said. "Unfortunately last season, our military land WMAs (Fort Polk and Peason Ridge) were unavailable during our scheduled management hunts due to training maneuvers on site at the time."

Those tracts are the Fort Polk and Pearson Ridge WMAs.

"Also, some of our either-sex management hunts on a few WMAs opened at the time we were receiving heavy rainfall, so our statewide 2008-09 deer harvests were down an estimated 16 percent overall when compared to the previous season," Durham explained. "In 2008-09, some 2,589 deer were taken on WMA managed hunts as opposed to the 3,094 taken in 2007-08."

In predicting hunter success on public lands for the 2009-2010 season, Durham was guardedly optimistic.

"It all depends on our weather," he said. "If we continue to have adequate rainfall this spring and summer, we will carry over many deer with a good batch of fawns.

"There is no problem with habitat here as all the hurricanes we have experienced since 2005 have removed much of the thick forest canopy and supplied undergrowth, browse and cover in many locations to include southeast and southwest Louisiana and areas within the Atchafalaya Basin."

Durham also associated colder weather with deer movement, and it is his hope that Louisiana will experience cold snaps coinciding with the WMA management hunts in October and November.

For 2009, approximately 80 percent of Louisiana's whitetails reside on private lands. The highest densities of deer per acre on private lands appear to occur in northwestern, north-central and western Louisiana, as well as along the Mississippi River Delta.

The Bayou State also boasts more than a million acres of diverse, public lands available to deer hunters. These lands are managed by the LDWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Forest Service, or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On these public lands, some 5,000 whitetails are harvested each year during managed hunts, which typically occur on holidays and weekends in October through December. Access to a few of these hunts is by lottery only.

According to Deer Study Leader Durham, deer hunters using these lands may actually find more white-tailed deer available than last season because of less hunting pressure then on military lands and other WMAs affected by torrential rainfall during management hunts.

Durham also pointed out that for the second consecutive year, all harvested deer must be immediately tagged at the location where they were taken.

As in seasons past, regulations allow for the taking of one antlerless and one antlered deer per day, except on some public lands. Hunters are advised to read regulations specific to WMAs they plan to hunt before heading out.

Sportsman's Paradise
The forest products and timber industry owns and leases expansive tracts of pine and mixed hardwoods forests in this region. That gives Louisiana hunters access to property managed with woodland rotation that energizes a healthy deer herd.

Situated across the northern tier of parishes, much of this private land is managed using prescribed management strategies under the state's Deer Management Assistance Program.

Also, supplemental forage in the form of greenfields and food plots planted by hunters have had an effect in increasing the carrying capacity of these timberlands for white-tailed deer.

Public lands here, too, have a tendency to deliver many whitetails. The top ones were Jackson-Bienville, Union and Ouachita WMAs.

Some 32,185 acres of pine-blanketed hills make up the Jackson-Bienville WMA, located 12 miles south of Ruston in Jackson, Bienville and Lincoln parishes. Within this WMA's interior, bottomland regions also occur in streamside management zones and have mast-bearing trees that attract deer.

In 2008, managed hunts here produced 134 whitetails for 926 hunter efforts. That's one deer per 6.9 days efforts.

Dates for gun hunting begin in late November and progress through December with many either-sex days.

Union WMA in Union Parish offers 11,113 acres for public hunting on tracts of loblolly pine forests mixed with hardwoods. This area is located approximately four miles west of Marion, and access is by State Route 549, SR 551 and Concord Road.

In 2008, hunters took 297 white­tails in 1,990 hunting efforts for a ration of one deer per 6.7 efforts. That was during 18 days of managed, either-sex hunting. Those hunts occurred in October and late November.

Ouachita WMA, located in Ouachita Parish, is six miles northeast of Monroe. At only 10,389 acres in size, the WMA delivered 55 whitetails to 533 hunting efforts, for a rate of 9.7 hunting efforts per deer in 2008.

This is a hardwood area with two major timber types: oak-elm-ash and overcup oak-bitter pecan.

Managed either-sex hunts occur the three days following Thanksgiving, and a bucks-only segment is usually slated from mid to late December.

Louisiana's River Basins Deer
Bottomland hardwoods with expansive swamps within Louisiana's river basins region also hold high densities of whitetails for the hunters that can afford leasing privileges. But there are also plenty of opportunities for public land hunts along th

e rivers.

According to Scott Durham, Louisiana parishes bordering the Mississippi, Red and Atchafalaya rivers hold lots of deer. Nearby agriculture parcels within these areas also add to the diversity of forage on some of the richest soils to be found anywhere in the Bayou State.

These parishes include East Carroll, Madison, Franklin, Tensas, Concordia, Avoyelles, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin and Iberville.

Private lands, especially in northeastern Louisiana, have a historical legacy from having developed solid management practices in the late 1960s and 1970s. There are many famed hunting clubs and lodges in the areas, including Big Rack, Somerset, Giles Island and Glasscock Island.

There's also the famed Willow Point Islands in East Carroll Parish managed by Tara Wildlife -- an archery-only pay hunt area offering some of the finest bowhunting for deer in the South.

Private-land hunters and those who utilize lodges can expect to pay steep prices for access to this action. Pay hunts at some lodges along the Mississippi River range to more than $1,000 for a three-day hunt.

Regarding public lands in the river basins region, the top tracts are Big Lake, Three Rivers, Red River and Sherburne WMAs, as well as the Atchafalaya NWR.

Big Lake WMA located in Franklin, Madison and Tensas parishes, offers 19,231 acres that contain numerous whitetails of quality. Located a few miles east of Gilbert, the habitat here consists chiefly of bottomland hardwoods managed for timber production. On LDWF managed hunts at Big Lake WMA last season, 54 whitetails were taken by 784 hunting efforts for an effort-per-harvest ratio of 14.5 per deer.

The managed, either-sex gun hunt occurs during the two days following Thanksgiving. A later bucks-only season is usually slated for late December to early January.

To the south down the Mississippi River, where it meets with the Red and Atchafalaya deltas in Concordia Parish, both Three Rivers and Red River WMAs hold too many whitetails, according to Deer Study Leader Durham.

"We need hunters to improve the harvest at these WMAs," Durham lamented. "Getting the proper harvest in these areas is critical to keep the deer populations at or below their carrying capacities."

Durham is under the impression that fewer hunters are using these WMAs because of the misconception that they are crowded and therefore unsafe. Yet consistently, the statistics show that most hunting accidents actually take place on private land.

Some 70,000 acres here of poorly drained bottomland hardwoods offer good diversity in forage species for deer, particularly for mast-bearing trees.

In 2008, managed hunts on both WMAs resulted in a combined harvest of 231 whitetails taken by 3,278 hunting efforts. That's a 14.2 effort per deer on the managed hunts.

The either-sex gun hunt is usually scheduled the two days following Thanksgiving with a bucks-only segment slated in late December and early January. The primitive weapons hunt usually falls in early January.

Close to Cajun country, both Sherburne WMA and the Atchafalaya NWR offer 44,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods and swamps to hunters pursuing deer in the famed Atchafalaya Basin. Both of these public parcels are located in portions of Pointe Coupee, St. Martin and Iberville parishes.

The gun seasons here usually begin the weekend after Thanksgiving, with three additional either-sex days in December. A bucks-only season ordinarily is scheduled in late December through mid-January. Moderate to high numbers of whitetails often are sighted, and, as a result, the youth gun hunt here scheduled before the regular gun opener is very popular.

Last season on these two areas combined, hunters harvested 140 whitetails, with one taken for approximately every 23 hunter efforts during the managed either-sex hunts.

Tony Vidrine, LDWF District VI biologist manager, said these lands could produce even more whitetails for 2009-10. All that is needed is cold temperatures in November and December to keep the deer moving.

Southwestern Louisiana
Southwestern Louisiana is a choice place to hunt, as deer harvests have been very good over the last two years. This is mainly because of the excellent recruitment of whitetails following the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005.

Each season, gun hunts on select WMAs in southwest Louisiana are scheduled the last weekend in October. These are the earliest gun seasons in the state offered on public lands.

The parishes involved in the early-season schedule are Vernon, Beauregard, Allen, Jefferson Davis, Calcasieu, Cameron, Vermilion, Acadia, Evangeline, plus portions of Iberia and St. Mary.

Clear Creek WMA's 55,000 acres are in Vernon Parish. The results of 2008 either-sex gun hunts on this tract showed a harvest of 230 white­tails by 2,518 hunting efforts during all management hunts. That was a rate of a whitetail for every 11 efforts.

Managed gun hunts here are usually scheduled the last weekend of October and the three days following Thanksgiving.

In Allen Parish, West Bay WMA can produce good early gun hunting for whitetails. Covering 56,000 acres, the mainstay of the habitat is managed pine plantations, with some interior hardwoods along streams. This WMA is located just west of Oakdale, with the bulk of the land south of SR 10, north of SR 26, and east of Turner Road.

Last season, West Bay WMA delivered 148 whitetails for 1,999 hunting efforts on two managed hunts. That works out to 13.5 hunting efforts per deer.

Managed hunts here are scheduled the last weekend of October and for three days following Thanksgiving.

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