While many trophy bucks are taken outside of the rut, the breeding time of deer still leads to increased activity in most parts of the state, providing some of the best chances for trophies for most hunters.
While Louisiana doesn't have the legendary status for trophies as some other states, it still has everything needed to grow trophy whitetails — genetics, nutrition and age.
Nutrition is a vital component. Diverse foods contain nutrients and minerals necessary for deer to thrive. As they mature, deer will be able to grow impressive bodies and antlers to match, as long as there is an excess of nutrients.
The right genes are also needed to grow big bucks, though they are not as important as nutrition. Natural selection favors strong deer, as these bucks are more likely to reproduce. A deer with the genetic predisposition of a large body and heavy antlers will produce hardy offspring.
Finally, managing a population increases the likelihood that well fed deer are able to reach maturity and reproduce, passing their genes to the next generation.
While it may take nutrition, genes, and management to grow bug bucks on paper, crossing tracks with a veteran buck in the field requires good fortune, split second timing and a certain level of tenacity.
Kelsie Ward, a 17-year-old Natchitoches teenager, knows exactly how good fortune plays into harvesting a trophy whitetail. On November 15, while hunting family property in Natchitoches Parish, she hit home when with a 175-inch bruiser. The bottomland property she hunted is filled with oaks and productive browse and has produced other bucks in the past, but none like this.
"It was cool, but only because the morning air was damp," said Ward. "Dad set me up in a tripod stand overlooking a draw. The tripod stand did not have a railing on it, so I had to improvise, and rested my rifle on a pair of shooting sticks."
Settling in for the morning hunt, she grunted a few times and sat back letting the woods settle with the sunrise. Just as the sun was starting to break, she heard what she thought was some squirrels shuffling in the leaves. Then she caught movement of a buck hooking branches about 50 yards through the trees. As Kelsie raised her rifle, the shooting sticks fell to the ground. She grunted to cover the disturbance, and the buck turned and headed her way.
At 35 yards, she placed the crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The Remington Model 6 in.243 did its job. With the echo of the shot hanging in the air, she was in contact with her dad, Marcus, who was hunting the same drainage from a stand about 300 yards away.
"When I got off the stand and walked up to him, I could not believe how big his antlers were," said Kelsie.
Neither could her father. The buck dressed a bit shy of 200 pounds.
When not hunting, Kelsie is often on the softball diamond. In fact, she entered the buck into a big buck contest between games during a tournament in Monroe.
While Natchitoches Parish is not normally known for its buck producing habitat, areas with highly productive bottomland hardwoods, found in large river drainages and moderately productive habitat like pine/hardwoods forests, prove that big bucks can be found from corner to corner of the state.
In Lincoln Parish, many hunters have seen the threat posed by wild hogs in real time. Hogs have pushed their way into most parts of Louisiana and have caused considerable impacts to agriculture, on top of their competition with deer for available natural resources.
Matt Byrnside and his father Tom were doing their part on the local hog population when they inadvertently crossed paths with a beautiful 157-inch buck. According to the Ruston High School sophomore, the tale of how this deer became a trophy is a bizarre story of split second timing.
"On December 1, Dad and I went out to the lease to sit over an eight-year-old cutover and shoot some hogs," Matt said. "We killed nearly 70 hogs there last year, and we were ready to kill a few more."
They had just dropped off Matt's older brother on the other side of the property, and were hanging out near the truck, getting ready for the afternoon hunt and talking; they were not whispering. Matt's dad walked to the back of the truck to get a drink and just happened to spot the deer.
"I was leaning on the hood looking one way and suddenly I hear dad say something like, 'Get your gun — there's a buck!'" Matt said. "I don't even remember doing it, but I grabbed by gun from the cab and loaded a round. I started looking and, of course, the adrenaline started up right then. That deer came out of the woods, crossed the cutting and disappeared down a steep hill to my right before I could get my gun on him."
Just when it seemed that the deer had disappeared as easily as it appeared, it popped out in the hollow down the hill. At 125 yards, Matt put the crosshairs on its shoulder and squeezed the trigger. It was obvious that the shot found its mark. However, the beginning of the track showed very little blood. They only found blood specks about 10 feet apart before finally finding a real blood trail, so much that they knew he couldn't be far. They found the buck in a thicket, antlers obscured by honeysuckle and briar vines.
"When I pulled that stuff off his antlers, I'm not going lie, I welled up a bit," Matt said. "That was the coolest thing I had ever done."
The deer had a smaller-than-average weight — coming in at 140 pounds — but the antlers made up for it with mass, measuring 157 5/8 inches.
Dr. Travis Links has been watching a particular deer come of age in the ridges and hardwoods of West Feliciana for a few years. In fact, the deer had become a legend among his friends. Originally from Houma, Links hunts an area outside of St. Francisville. Three years ago, Links drew on a young but solid looking 9-point buck. Unfortunately, the shot hit high and back. Fortunately, the deer lived, and the legend of "Scar" began.
"Thereafter, we watched this deer show up on game cameras," said Links. "We all knew it was the same deer because my arrow left a scar, and also he had a double throat patch. So when we saw him on camera there was no doubt among us, it was obviously him."
Links, along with A.J. Daigle, watched as Scar grew into a respectable 150- to 160-inch 3 1/2-year-old buck.
Last season, among this circle of hunters, the intensity level of this buck jumped to new levels. The group had some bucks on camera, including a nice 8-point that was should up regularly. Then, one of the cameras got a photo of Scar.
"We couldn't believe what we were seeing," Links said. "His antlers simply exploded in growth. He had an extra main beam, kickers and double eye guards. I was in shock! I couldn't sleep, knowing he was out there. I wanted to go after that deer day and night and my wife though I was nuts."
On October 7th, Links was finally able to climb the pin oak doubling as his evening stand. This stand location was chosen after careful planning and was appropriate for a northerly wind; the conditions were right. However, nothing was moving.
"Usually I see deer on this property — does, yearlings, something comes by — but this time there were no deer, or birds for that matter," Links said.
Still, Links remained patient and stayed in the stand. In the last remnants of light, Scar walked out and started heading toward Link, who got ready to draw his bow. At 47 yards, Scar stopped and picked up his head. Light was fading fast, so Link put his 50-yard pin on the vitals and released an arrow.
A missed opportunity from three years ago, followed by intense planning and preparation, came down to the flight of an arrow in the last bit of shooting light.
"He turned and headed back to where he came from," said Links. "I waited a few minutes and spent the time texting everybody about what had just happened. I climbed down walked to the spot where Scar last stood and saw thick, bright blood. Then, I pulled back and headed back to camp. I was not going to push it."
After an hour, the hunting group headed back to track the deer, many doubting the 50-yard shot. However, the deer was lying about 35 yards from where the Rage Hypodermic broadhead found its mark in the heart, lungs and liver.
Scar was scored several times over the course of the year, but LDWF scorers gave the deer an official score of 180 7/8, more than enough for recognition by Pope and Young.