Better Late Than Never!

Sure, the early season was easy for lots of Louisiana deer hunters, but the late season's a great season -- provided you plan things right.

Photo by Bill Lea

The weeks during which late October shades into early November are an exciting time for Louisiana deer hunters. Food plots are lush and green; new deer stands have been erected, old ones refurbished. Scrape lines have been figured out and shooting lanes trimmed, while rifle scopes have been fine-tuned to tack-driving accuracy. New camo's been bought, and last year's outfits are now patched and mended. All that's needed now is for opening day to arrive. For most, the activities involved in getting ready for opening day can provide a rush not unlike that of actually sitting on the stand during the season.

While opening day and the first few days that follow generate the most obvious excitement of the season, it may be that the best hunting occurs in its waning weeks, most particularly in those areas that see the rut occur later in the year. In fact, some of the biggest bucks seen all season are taken in December and January.

WHY LATE IS GREAT FOR LOUISIANA DEER HUNTERS
Louisiana's climate allows for only a marginal amount of sleet, snow and bitter cold. However, if such conditions do descend on us, they're almost certainly to do so in December and January. Some of the state's biggest bucks are taken during the year's nastiest weather. Why?

Well, for one thing, the deer will naturally be moving when the rut is on, and in several areas of the state, the annual rut takes place during the coldest months. It can indeed be a challenge to sit still in a deer stand with a stiff north wind blowing sleet in your face, but if you're hunting in a portion of the state with the rut in full swing, you just might be fortunate enough to watch a big buck grunting away, nose to the ground, as he follows a receptive doe past your stand.

Another reason for the rewarding action afforded by the late season is that food supplies are on the wane by this time, which obliges deer to move about more in search of sustenance. Accordingly, just about the best thing that can happen if you're going to be on the stand in early winter is one of the weather events we most despise: the ice storm. During the big one that hit north Louisiana during the holidays in 1998, a number of tremendous trophies were taken. In practically every case, the bucks, sensing that food supplies would be encased in ice for the next several days, were running around in an attempt to fill their stomachs.

You can employ a variety of methods to hunt late-season bucks. Bowhunting, for instance: The state's archery season begins over most of the state on Oct. 1 and continues through Jan. 31. (As not all portions of the state have this liberal season, check hunting season dates and regulations for the areas you plan to bowhunt.) And then there's smokepoling: Muzzleloader hunters, in general, get the week before regular gun season opens and the week after gun season closes to try their hand at the sport. Some real wallhangers have been taken by blackpowder hunters during cold winter months. Modern gun hunters who like to go it alone have weeks of prime hunting available during the still-hunting-only segment of the season in portions of November and December. (Check regulations for dates in your area.)

One of the old traditional methods of taking deer in late season is hunting with dogs. While the constituency for this type of hunting has diminished somewhat over the years, there are yet parts of the state in which hunters feed their dogs all year for the chance to hear a Walker, beagle or bluetick hound hot on the trail of a big buck in the frosty woods for a few short weeks.

Fortunately, there are thousands of public acres around the state that give deerslayers access to some of these late-season buster bucks. Following is a round-up of some of the state's top public areas for deer hunting in December and early January.

DISTRICT ONE
Within this Minden-based district lie two prime deer hunting areas. Loggy Bayou Wildlife Management Area, southeast of Shreveport in Bossier and Red River parishes, is at 4,213 acres a small deer haven. It's also one of the more popular public hunting areas in northern Louisiana, especially for those out after quality bucks. Steve Hebert, district wildlife supervisor, explained why.

"Although this area is rather hard to hunt, it's a good place to bag a quality deer," he said. "Since it's not real close to any urban areas, Loggy Bayou doesn't get too much pressure. There is good soil fertility, as it lies adjacent to the Red River, so body weights and antler development are usually pretty good here.

"This is a bottomland area that is subject to flooding, so it's not easy to get around in there. However, it can be worthwhile for any hunter who doesn't mind the effort."

Another top area in District One: Jackson-Bienville WMA. This 32,000-acre area of mixed pine and hardwood stands is owned by Weyerhaeuser, a timber company that recently bought out former owner Willamette Industries. Unsurprisingly, logging operations are actively ongoing, but this just serves to create constant change in the habitat - something deer respond to positively; succulent browse is always available. Each year the area yields up lots of deer, among which are sure to be several trophy bucks.

For more information, contact Steve Hebert at (318) 371-3050.

DISTRICT TWO
Three of the top deer hunting areas in this district are the Russell Sage, Georgia-Pacific and Bayou Macon wildlife management areas. According to Jimmy Anthony, wildlife biologist for the office based in Monroe, Bayou Macon is probably the best of the three.

"Bayou Macon WMA, consisting of 6,940 acres and located in East Carroll Parish, has had intensive deer management going on and there is a very good adult buck population here," Anthony reported. "Our harvest is real close to being one-to-one, bucks to does. During the muzzleloader season, there is usually not too much pressure and there are some real trophies out there.

"Also, the rut here is in mid to late December, so late-season hunters have a chance to hunt during some pre-rut activity."

The 17,280 acres of Russell Sage WMA lie in Ouachita, Richland and Morehouse parishes just east of Monroe. The area thus sees more hunter participation than do other, more-remote areas. The annual rut occurs in December in this part of the state, and as a result, hunters stand a good chance at seeing a good buck during this time of year.

"Timber management is ongoing on Russell Sage, so there is lots of browse and mast available for deer here," Anthony added.

Georgia-Pacific WMA, northwest of Bastrop in Morehouse Parish, is a 25,480-acre area with a high deer population. Its proximity to Monroe and Bastrop means quite a bit of hunting pressure, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday gun hunt. Later in the season, activity drops off, and a hunter who has scouted deep into the area has a chance to have it virtually to himself.

For more information, call Jerald Owens, District Two Supervisor at (318) 362-3160.

DISTRICT THREE
Its headquarters in Pineville, District Three encompasses at least three management areas offering worthwhile late-season hunting, according to district supervisor C.R. Newland.

"The Sabine WMA consists of 14,780 acres, and is a real popular place to hunt during the Thanksgiving holidays," Newland noted. "As a result, deer can be a bit spooky later in the season. However, a secondary rut involving does that were not bred earlier could be in progress during this time, so hunters could see some bucks chasing does.

"This area is not located near urban areas, so hunting pressure during December is not usually too high. There is the real potential to take a trophy buck here during December, and hunters should give it a try."

Owned by the Louisiana National Guard, Camp Beauregard is a parcel of some 10,000 acres lying in Rapides Parish. The rut usually begins anywhere from late November to mid-December, so Beauregard should be given serious consideration by late-season deer hunters. Bottomland tracts are basically intact and pine plantations see more timber thinning than clear-cuts," said Newland.

Dewey Wills Management Area, a 60,000-acre tract in LaSalle and Catahoula parishes, consists of hardwood bottomlands with rich soils. Newland noted that some really big-bodied bucks are taken at Dewey Wills.

"Hunters have a legitimate chance at a 250- to 300-pound buck here," he asserted. "However, since it is near Alexandria, it gets hunted pretty hard, so the deer will be extra-cautious during December."

For more information, contact C.R. Newland at (318) 487-5885.

DISTRICT FOUR
Where in the state can you find more than 215,000 acres of prime deer hunting habitat practically in one spot? District Four. Prime public lands such as the Big Lake, Boeuf, Buckhorn, Red River and Three Rivers WMAs, plus the Tensas and Cocodrie national wildlife refuges, are all in the region, and all offer topnotch deer hunting.

"These areas cover a lot of ground from Caldwell Parish to Concordia and on up to Tensas," said district supervisor Reggie Wycoff. "These areas have been under good deer management for a long time, and this results in both quantity and quality of deer. Deer herds in these areas are at or near carrying capacity, so the chances of seeing deer are quite good."

This part of the state features thick brush and heavy thickets. Thus, the deer you see will often be fairly close, calling for the best in alert senses, stealth and quick reflexes.

For more information, contact Reggie Wycoff at (318) 757-4571. For information on Tensas, contact George Chandler at (318) 574-2664. The contact for Cocodrie is Jerome Ford, (318) 336-7119.

DISTRICT FIVE
This portion of the state, the southwest quadrant, is not known for deer hunting of any great distinction, and Five is probably the least productive of all the districts. However, according to district supervisor John Robinette, two management areas are probably deserving of consideration.

"West Bay WMA is located in Allen Parish and consists of 62,115 acres," offered Robinette. "West of it in Vernon Parish is Boise-Vernon WMA with 54,269 acres. It's hard hunting here, because there is usually a lot of pressure during the early gun season, especially during Thanksgiving. The rut is over, and you have to hunt trails, feeding or bedding areas to stand a chance at bagging a deer during the late season."

For more information, get in touch with John Robinette, (318) 491-2575.

DISTRICT SIX
Running neck-and-neck with District Four (the Ferriday District) is south Louisiana's District Six. With headquarters in Opelousas, this area takes in some of the wildest country that holds some of the state's biggest bucks. Two management areas here are simply outstanding: Sherburne and Thistlethwaite WMAs. District supervisor Kerney Sonnier oversees both, and he doesn't mind saying that they're two of the best the Bayou State has to offer.

"Sherburne consists of 42,500 acres and is a combination of bottomland hardwoods and cypress/tupelo gum swamp," he said. "Because of its location, Sherburne has lots of water and in winter, water levels are usually high, making boat access necessary for much of the area.

"If you don't mind the rough terrain, there are not only lots of deer here but plenty of quality. It's not unusual to score deer coming off this area in the 150-160 class."

Thistlethwaite WMA, in the bottomlands of St. Landry Parish, comprises 11,000 acres. "This is another area with numbers of deer along with some good quality," Sonnier noted. "One thing that makes this area so good is there is hardly ever a mast failure. There are seven different species of oaks on Thistlethwaite, and some of them produce mast every year. You'll just have to scout and find which trees are producing.

"Timber management is good on this area, and as a result, there is seldom a lack of browse. The drawback on both these areas is the terrain, which can be challenging. However, with the deer we have here, it's well worth the effort.

"The rut occurs here in late December," he added, "so for hunters who head for the woods this time of year, it's a perfect time to find a good buck."

For more information, contact Kerney Sonnier at (318) 948-0255.

DISTRICT SEVEN
Three quality deer hunting spots grace this district: Tunica Hills, Pearl River, and Ben's Creek WMAs.

Sited in West Feliciana Parish, 3,300-acre Tunica Hills is governed by regulations that permit only primitive weapons, and, according to district supervisor John Mullins, is consequently a good bet for taking a smokepole deer during muzzleloader season.

"You'll see lots of deer here," he said. "The terrain is rough, with some of the highest hills in the state. Because of the fertility of the land, deer quality is good. We get some really big bucks off here every year."

Most of Pearl River WMA, a swamp area consisting of nearly 35,000 acres, is accessible only by boat. Mullins admits that high water makes hunting a task here, but it's worth it for the quality of the d

eer.

Ben's Creek, a 13,500-acre area, lies on timber company land in Washington Parish. The area is mostly one big pine plantation, Mullins reports, with hunting that's generally regarded as fair to good.

For more information, contact John Mullins at (225) 765-2360.

* * *
Early-season hunting is fun and exciting. For a chance at a real wallhanger, however, plan to be in your stand during the late season's coldest, most blustery days.



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