Louisiana's Late-Season Bucks

Louisiana's Late-Season Bucks

You can bag a Bayou State Buck in December -- as long as you know where to look. (Dec 2006)

I ordinarily go after deer in Louisiana at a hunting club south of Ruston. I'll try to collect my venison for the freezer in the form of a couple of fat does early in the season. Having the deer I've taken converted into neat packages labeled "backstrap," "tenderloin" and "venison hamburger" gives me a warm feeling, as their presence in the freezer provides constant assurance that my family will enjoy plenty of tasty meals with venison as the entrée.

Once I get my year's worth of deer frozen and ready for the table, I quit hunting and move on to other pursuits -- right? Wrong! I have my eye on the calendar for the approach of the Thanksgiving holidays, when I'll be spending as much time as I can in the woods, on one of my deer stands looking for Mr. Big to walk by.

I'll be out there for a week on either side of Thanksgiving for the simple reason that in the woods I hunt, Thanksgiving week characteristically sees the peak of the rut. Experience suggests that I'm more likely to encounter a lust-starved buck during this period than at any other time.

Most deer hunters feel the same way about hunting the rut, knowing that at this time more than any other, a big buck is apt to drop his guard and venture out during daylight hours, its single purpose to find and to breed receptive does.

In some areas of the state, however, hunters will be spending Thanksgiving with family, eating too much and lounging on the couch to watch football. It's not that they're not interested in hunting deer during the rut -- it's that the rut in their areas won't yet have begun.

The wide variation in peak breeding period from one region of our state to another has an interesting cause. This phenomenon was discovered in 1966, when researchers examined seven deer herds around the state and identified three distinct breeding seasons for Louisiana deer. Simplified, the peak breeding season for deer in southwest Louisiana is mid-September to October. In northwest and central Louisiana, peak breeding takes place between mid-October and November. Along the Mississippi Delta, in the Atchafalaya Basin, and in southeast Louisiana, peak breeding season is during December and January.

David Moreland, a former deer study leader who now heads up the Wildlife Division for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, believes that this phenomenon has to do with relocating of deer from one region of the state to another during the state's restocking program.

"Factors that generally influence breeding activity include photoperiodism, the diminishing ratio of daylight to darkness," he said. "Also, latitude plays a part. In the U.S., breeding begins in the northern states in November and goes through March in the Southern states. However, a look at the breeding seasons for Louisiana shows that something else is at work. That 'something else' is genetics.

"This is the factor that has resulted in our state having different breeding seasons. Deer relocated from one area of the state to the next maintained their inherent breeding schedule.

"Another factor influencing breeding periods has to do with nutrition. Poor nutrition causes deer to be stressed and causes late breeding. Herd densities, sex ratios, etc., might also figure into this situation."

Moreland observed that the majority of Louisiana's deer relocation work involved deer trapped at Red Dirt National Wildlife Preserve, the old Chicago Mill property in Madison and Tensas parishes and the Delta Refuge around Pass-a-Loutre near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

"Breeding behavior of deer around the state has a direct correlation to where they came from, and the old traditional breeding periods didn't just happen; there are reasons why we believe some herds breed earlier and some breed later," he noted. "For example, deer living in the coastal areas of the state breed earlier, which allows their fawns to be up and going before hurricane season begins. Along the Mississippi Delta parishes, peak breeding occurs later, which prevents does bearing fawns from being caught in spring floods."

Now that we know that all breeding seasons for Louisiana deer are not created equal, let's concentrate on the region most likely to produce good-quality bucks late in the season. Current deer study leader Scott Durham recently offered a few clues as to where to concentrate your efforts if you hope to bring in a wallhanger this season.

"Some of our bottomland areas should be good," he said. "I feel that wildlife management areas such as Red River, Three Rivers, Sherburne, Thistlethwaite and Fort Polk ought to be good places to hunt. The numbers seem to be in good balance on these areas. Coupled with a good balance between numbers of deer and habitat, I'd think a good many quality deer could come off these areas."

Our next step is to take a look at the particular management areas pinpointed by Durham in an effort to help serious deer hunters home in on the best areas for waylaying a trophy buck this season.

RED RIVER WMA

This popular area lies approximately 35 miles south of Ferriday on state Highway 15 in lower Concordia Parish. State Highway 15, Highway 910, and a gravel levee provide all weather access. Gravel oilfield roads and numerous woods roads traverse the interior.

Red River Wildlife Management Area consists of 41,681 acres. The LDWF owns 29,964 acres, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns an additional 11,717.

Low, flat and poorly drained, the area is annually subject to flooding by the Red and Mississippi rivers and Bayou Cocodrie.

Approximately 265,000 desirable hardwood seedlings have been planted on approximately 800 acres. Abandoned oil-well sites and rights of way are clipped annually and maintained as wildlife openings.

In addition to an abundant population of deer, other game species, including turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, woodcock, dove, snipe and waterfowl, are present here.

Two primitive camping areas have been constructed and are maintained by the LDWF. All-weather access is provided. For more information on hunting Red River WMA, contact the Region 4 office in Ferriday at (318) 757-4571.

THREE RIVERS WMA

Three Rivers represents the other half of the dynamic duo of prime deer hunting areas in eastern Louisiana. This area is adjacent to Red River, and the two are often spoken of as a single management area.

At the southern tip of Concordia Parish approximately 50 m

iles south of Vidalia, the WMA lies between the Mississippi and Red Rivers just north of Lower Old River. Primary access routes are state highways 15 and 910. Interior access is provided by an all-weather shell road that traverses the entire width of the area just north of the Old River outflow channel, and a network of unimproved roads and trails. Additional access is afforded by boat along Red River and the numerous bayous of this tract.

Three Rivers WMA at present consists of 26,295 acres of LDWF property and 1,085 acres of Corps property, for a total of 27,380 acres.

The terrain, much like that of Red River WMA, is typically flat to depressed, with the only significant changes in relief being elevated roads, levees, and a large artificial sand ridge. Numerous small lakes and bayous are formed by this relatively poor drainage pattern, and a large portion of the land is subject to annual spring flooding. Spring's highly productive overflow conditions produce excellent sport angling and commercial fishing. The forest overstory is classified as bottomland hardwoods.

The game species attracting the greatest hunter participation is deer, but turkey, squirrels, waterfowl, rabbits and woodcock are also sought after.

Three primitive camping areas have been constructed and are maintained by the department. All-weather access, potable water and comfort stations are available at the Shell Road camping area. For more information, contact the Region 4 office in Ferriday at (318) 757-4571.

SHERBURNE WMA

This area is in the Morganza Floodway system of the Atchafalaya Basin in the lower and upper portions of Pointe Coupee, St. Martin, and Iberville parishes respectively, between the Atchafalaya River and the East Protection Guide Levee. It combines with the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge and Corps land to form a 43,618-acre tract that the LDWF manages as one unit.

Access to the Sherburne is had via Highway 975, which connects on the north with highway 190 at Krotz Springs and on the south with Interstate 10 at Whiskey Bay.

Entrance to the interior of the area is possible through a series of all-weather roads, ATV trails, and Big and Little Alabama bayous. Two private boat launches are on the northern portion of Big Alabama Bayou; two public launches are available, one on the northern portion of Little Alabama Bayou and the other on the southern portion of Big Alabama Bayou.

The area is classified as a bottomland-hardwoods type featuring four dominant tree-species associations: cottonwood-sycamore: oak-gum-hackberry-ash, willow-cypress-ash and overcup oak-bitter pecan.

Wildlife biologists rate deer hunting at this area as quite good; excellent to good turkey, squirrel, and woodcock hunting will also be found here. Development and management have improved access, habitat, wildlife populations and public use on the Sherburne complex.

Camping is permitted at two designated areas; the one on the southern portion of the area is strictly primitive, while the other, on the northern portion, makes running water available. For more information, contact the Region 6 LDWF office in Opelousas at (337) 948-0255.

THISTLETHWAITE WMA

Access to this well-liked area immediately northeast of Washington off Highway 10 in north-central St. Landry Parish is also possible by way of the Lebeau exit off I-49. Within the area, 17 miles of all-weather shell roads are maintained, allowing convenient access to virtually the entire tract. Approximately 11 miles of woods trails are also maintained for the convenience of hunters.

The 11,000-acre Thistlethwaite's terrain is generally flat bottomland, with a gentle north-to-south slope. Drainage is slow, with standing water present for considerable periods after heavy rains. Forest cover is predominantly oak, most commonly water oak, willow oak, overcup oak, white oak, cherrybark oak, nuttall oak, cow oak, and post oak.

Any serious deer hunter can see why this area attracts big bucks each year. Selective timber cuttings have enhanced a natural understory of dogwood, redbud, spice bush, French mulberry, greenbrier, rattan, blackberry, and many others. Choice browse plants are dogwood and wild lettuce, along with Japanese honeysuckle, which grows profusely.

The deer herd is outstanding in quality, with many trophy bucks being taken from it year after year.

Camping is not allowed at the area. Additional information, including possible nearby camping areas, can be obtained by calling the Region 6 office in Opelousas at (337) 948-0255.

FORT POLK WMA

Owned by the U.S. Army, this is one of the more interesting public sites for the deer hunter. Actually a military reservation, it's 10 miles southeast of Leesville in Vernon Parish just east of U.S. Highway 171, a mile south of state Highway 28 and a mile north of state Highway 10.

The area contains many all-weather roads that make the entire area accessible for hunting. The terrain consists primarily of rolling hills interspersed with flats. Several fairly large stream bottoms and numerous small creeks are present. In roughly 70 percent of the area, longleaf pines are dominant.

Approximately 110 acres are planted each year in wildlife foods such as browntop millet, sunflower, sorghum, cowpeas and winter wheat -- excellent attractants for deer and other species of wildlife.

Camping is not permitted at Fort Polk, but camping areas are available at nearby U.S. Forest Service lands. A free special use-permit from the Army is required, as is daily check-in. For more information, contact the Region 5 LDWF office in Lake Charles at (337) 491-2575.

You've learned the whereabouts of several areas prime for taking a bragging-grade buck straight from the horse's mouth, so now's the time to make plans to visit one of these topnotch areas in the latter part of this deer season.

Much of the southern portion of the state was devastated by hurricanes last year, but as of this writing, no other similarly fierce storm has marred 2006. The areas highlighted by Durham were generally spared the ravages of Katrina and Rita, so hunters should find the woods intact and ready for exploration and scouting.

As they would with any public hunting lands likely to see substantial hunting pressure once deer season arrives, hunters will do well to plan to hunt the interior of these areas for the best chance to waylay a buck.

The majority of hunters will take the easy way out, walking in only a few hundred yards before hanging stands. Successful hunters like Rayville's Eric Broadway follow deer trails into the heart of such public areas.

"I'll hang my stand far away from other hunters," he offered, "because I know the deer try to get as far away from hunting pressure as they can. This means I'll put in the miles on foot until I find the core area and funnels deep in the manageme

nt areas where deer are more likely to come through. I don't worry about other hunters; I let them push the deer my direction when they leave the woods around 9 a.m. or so."

Looking for a change of pace this hunting season? Well, get your venison in the freezer early on, and then spend the rest of the time visiting one or more of these promising areas that are widely celebrated for producing top-quality bucks. Expect to burn up some boot leather getting into the heart of the area, and plan on staying for the whole day. Your chances at having your buck of a lifetime walk out by your stand will improve significantly if you do.

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