Louisiana's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2

Louisiana's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2

The Bayou State gives up great whitetails every year, and some areas are the consistent producers. Here's a statewide in-depth look at those regions.

The concept of "trophy" is in the eye of the beholder. A young hunter bagging his first yearling fork-horned buck has a "trophy." But as we gain more experience, expectations rise.

Plenty of deer hunters go afield with one goal in mind. They love venison and are only looking for back straps and tender loins. Should a trophy happen to cross such a hunter's path, he'll take it. But really, that's not what he's after.

There is another class of deer hunter who has nothing but trophy bucks on his mind. He plans, schemes and hunts big bucks all year, walking out trails, locating bedding areas and looking for the subtle sign that tell him the "bull of the woods" is still around.

He keeps his food plots planted and maintained all year long and his trail cameras out so that when the fall arrives, he's ready.

Both those classes of individuals were among the hunters in Louisiana that scored big during the 2009-10 deer season. There were hunters who, like the proverbial blind hog, found the acorn, while others bagged a specific trophy buck because it was the only one they wanted.

Some hunters, such as Darren Mouton who regularly travels from one end of the state to the other to deer hunt, combine their love for venison with an equally important quest to bring down a big buck.

Mouton, who lives in Breaux Bridge, does his deer hunting at the Trail's End Hunting Club in Winn Parish, nearly 200 miles to the north. Besides antlers and venison, Mouton has another goal when he heads for woods. He wants to turn his sons, 13-year-old Dylan and 8-year-old Cole into deer hunters.

During last year's Thanksgiving holidays, Mouton and his boys were in deer camp looking for venison, as well as a chance at a big buck.

It was Cole's turn to hunt with his dad on the morning of November 27. However, the youngster made a decision that morning he's likely regretting today. He decided to sleep in so Mouton went to his stand alone that morning.

A big buck stepped out and Mouton bagged the highest ranked typical buck scored by the Louisiana Division of Wildlife and Fisheries for last season. The 10-point bruiser stretched the tape to an impressive 167 Boone and Crockett Club score.

Monroe's L.E. Bower brought in another high scoring buck. He shot a buck with a rack consisting of 27 points, a 20-inch inside spread and scoring 228 6/8 B&C points.

These were just two of scores of impressive trophy bucks taken in Louisiana this past season. Although there are areas of the state that traditionally yield impressive animals, some of last season's highest scoring bucks came from areas not typically known as producing trophies.

Scott Durham, Deer Study Leader for the LDWF was not particularly shocked, however.

"I wasn't all that surprised that some big deer came from these areas. Big deer can show up anywhere," Durham said. "The majority of trophies each year typically come from areas with better soils, such as the bottomland hardwood areas."

Those are most often found amid the rich alluvial soils along the Mississippi Delta and the south-central Louisiana swamps

Retired Game Division head of LDWF, David Moreland, still keeps his finger on the pulse of the whitetail deer situation around the state and he agreed that while most of the trophies are taken in delta regions, others could show up in places not necessarily known for big deer.

"There was a real nice deer brought in from Calcasieu Parish, an area in southwest Louisiana not usually known for producing big bucks," Moreland said.

In fact, the top three typical bucks scored by LDWF officials this past season came from such areas.

Besides Mouton's 167 B&C trophy, John Lovell took the No. 2 rack in Winn Parish as well. It scored 164. Winn is more known for its red clay hills and pine forests, habitat not generally conducive to producing trophy bucks. Those bucks were taken one day apart, with Lovell's killed on November 26.

Todd Buffington of Minden bagged the third highest scoring buck. That rack measuring 163 2/8 B&C and was collected on November 13 in Webster Parish. Like Winn Parish, Webster is more known for it's hills and pines than dense hardwoods and rich soils that are more accommodating to big bucks.

Buffington downed his 11-point trophy under circumstances that gave him reason to believe the rut was beginning.

"In less than a minute, I'd seen four other smaller bucks the big one chased from the thicket before he stepped out and I got him," said Buffington.

Another buck with eye-popping numbers was taken in Claiborne Parish, which adjoins Webster. It's not known as a big buck producer.

Steve Lewis of Haynesville had planned to hunt ducks on nearby Corney Lake during the Thanksgiving holidays but warm, drizzly weather and the fact that the duck migration was behind schedule caused him to change his mind the morning of November 24. He decided to sit on a deer stand instead, a stand located in an area where trail cameras had captured images of two decent bucks.

"I was hoping one of the two would show up that morning," said Lewis. "I caught a glimpse of a deer moving along a ridge out front and from the way it moved, I thought it was probably a yearling."

However, the "yearling" turned out to be a humongous non-typical buck. Lewis bagged the buck as it was making a scrape under a holly tree, a buck that LDWF personnel scored at 206 2/8.

One reason for the good success with big bucks this past season apparently had much to do with Mother Nature.

"The weather last year was excellent," said David Moreland. "We had plenty of good cold weather that kept the deer on the move."

According to Moreland, there were other factors in some parts of the state that tended to work in the favor of hunters last season.

"W

e are beginning to see a few nice older deer in southeast Louisiana, probably as a result of Katrina and other hurricanes that knocked down the timber and let in sunlight, which provided a lot of food and cover," Moreland added.

Another factor that is improving the overall quality of trophy buck harvest in Louisiana has to do with hunters being more selective of the animals they chose to take.

"More hunters are passing on younger bucks and allowing them to get to the age it takes to grow bigger antlers. The new three-buck season limit is likely a part of this improvement, as well," Durham noted.

Moreland went on to say that many factors have to fall into place for overall success to be realized.

"In areas of the state where heavy pine timber dominates, there may be an overall decline from a habitat standpoint and deer numbers are lower as a result.

"However, in some pine-dominant areas," Moreland continued, "such as the Jackson Bienville Wildlife Management Area, the habitat is improving because of periodic timber thinning and fertilization. This seems to be improving habitat quality on this area and the deer are responding."

The hunting club where I hold membership is located adjacent to the Jackson Bienville WMA, with the majority of the area owned and managed for timber production by Weyerhaeuser Company.

For the past several seasons, our club has experienced a decline in the number of bucks we were able to see and harvest. This lack of production seems to be related to the age of much of the predominately pine timber. The stands were not yet ready for harvest and the under story was a virtually impenetrable thicket where deer could feed and hide out of sight of hunters.

During the spring and summer of 2009, Weyerhaeuser conducted a thinning operation of the timber on our club. It turned out to be a win-win situation. The company benefited from the sale of timber. For our club the benefits were equally productive. Last season our club brought a number of quality bucks to the skinning rack, whereas the season before we didn't harvest a single buck. The thinning operation not only opened up lanes throughout our club where deer were more visible, the openings created a veritable smorgasbord of succulent deer food.

David Moreland mentioned other situations that are occurring around the state that have an effect on the production of good bucks.

"On the opposite side of the spectrum, areas in the eastern part of the state have a unique set of problems. Hunters on private lands in that part of the state are complaining about the increase in the black bear population. These animals can be destructive to wildlife feeders and unsecured hunting camps and equipment.

"In addition," Moreland added, "the timber has been allowed to grow unchecked on some of the refuges and some of the timber needs to be thinned to open the canopy allowing sunlight to spur on the growth of tender vegetation at ground level.

"On areas where the habitat does not provide adequate ground cover, we continue to receive reports of the predation of coyotes on newborn fawns."

There are some areas of the state that are considered "sleepers" when considering the potential to produce outstanding bucks. Moreland pointed out one particular area, the Thistlethwaite WMA located in St. Landry parish in south-central Louisiana.

"There is an experimental antler program going on there that has yet to produce great results," Moreland said. "However, many of us expect to see a Boone and Crockett buck come off this area."

The rules for Thistlethwaite require a buck to have four points of at least one inch on each side of its rack to be legal.

But, Moreland does have one concern about that program.

"I believe the season there needs to be a little later during the second peak of the rut when the big bucks are really moving in search of the few does that have not been bred," he offered. "We are trying to get a later season for the upper portion of Area 6 and allow some gun hunting into February. This will allow hunters to take advantage of this second rut."

What do Louisiana trophy buck hunters have to look forward to this coming fall and winter? We asked Scott Durham and David Moreland each provided their best guess regarding the prospects hunters will face when they take to the field looking for trophy bucks this year.

"I am very optimistic about hunters being able to continue the trend of taking some top-notch bucks in Louisiana this coming hunting season," said Durham.

"If the weather cooperates, this coming hunting season should be another good one," Moreland suggested.

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