October has arrived, and with it the early fall cold fronts bringing somewhat heat lower heat and humidity, and the opening day of deer season.
For many hunters, a summer’s worth of work and patient study has provided the information to target a buck or a doe. However, what hunters consider fun is a year-long biological experiment for wildlife managers, testing whether research and data collection efforts have paid off. Monitoring and managing the state deer herd is a year-round job and is accomplished from multiple office across the various regions of the state.
The Louisiana department of Wildlife and Fisheries Deer Program is headquartered in Pineville and lead by Jonathan Bordelon.
“Collecting harvest data and tracking habitat indices will aid in formulating successful harvest strategies,” said Bordelon. “This is currently producing the best results in the state at this time and will be essential moving forward under many challenges.”
Bordelon and his crew collect and analyze deer data all year and use the findings to adjust seasons, boundaries, etc., all for the benefit of Bayou State hunters.
DEER POPULATION TRENDS
The story of Louisiana’s deer herd goes back hundreds of years. American Indians used deer for food, as well as clothing and shelter. Early European settlers to the region harvested deer for protein until farms and infrastructure were established.
Soon market hunters made their mark by decimating the deer herd across the country. By the turn of the century, deer were actually quite rare within the eastern two thirds of the country. Finally, with the acceptance of data-driven wildlife management, the nation’s deer population slowly rebounded.
Louisiana’s expansive areas of deer habitat coupled with restocking efforts between the 1940s and 1960s produced a slowly expanding herd that has stabilized over the years. Hunters, acting as a management tool, have experienced a decreasing effort/per kill for nearly 50 years. This growth and stabilization has; however, not been without worry. Competition from invasive species and non-native plants, as well as threats posed by emerging wildlife diseases, and human caused habitat fragmentation are part of the story.
“Deer herds vary across Louisiana and herd condition is influenced by available nutrition,” said Bordelon. “In other words, the quantity and quality of browse will dictate the condition of the herd.”
To hunters, this means certain regions, habitats and WMAs supporting high-quality browse will support healthy herds.
“The highly agricultural/bottomland hardwood parishes along the Mississippi River continue to support the highest harvest per forested acre in the state,” Bordelon said. “There are large bucks being harvested from across the state due to older age management by hunters but the northeast river parishes are still leading the way in numbers of older bucks.”
Early harvest reports last year suggest harvest was up 32 percent from the previous year. In addition, WMAs had the second highest harvest per effort in the past 10 seasons. Louisiana even produced a few Boone and Crockett entries last season, including the fifth largest non-typical harvested in Louisiana.
It was a banner year for most hunters where habitat is good. To the surprise of many, harvest data collected from more than 700 DMAP clubs in Louisiana show that Louisiana DMAP clubs continue to rank in the top three in the nation in 3.5 year and older bucks in the harvest. This trend has continued over the past 10 years with either Mississippi, Arkansas or Louisiana being on top of the list.
While these 700 properties do not represent each hunting area in the state, it does show what is possible when hunters set goals and develop strategies to meet objectives. More information regarding known age harvest can be viewed in the Annual Whitetail Report released by QDMA.
AREAS OF CONCERN
Areas of concern are closely monitored by biologists. Among the concerns are landscape scale factors that influence available habitat. Urban sprawl, as well other forms of residential, commercial and energy development, lead to high incidence of habitat fragmentation. This is a concern since deer densities, as well as deep populations and biological productivity, are highly variable across the state; the effects of fragmentation may have larger impacts in different ecological regions of the state.
Along with landscape-scale factors, biologists continue to be concerned with the impacts of wild hogs on deer populations across the state. Hog transportation by humans is no longer legal, though it still occurs. Hogs compete with deer for many of the same resources, reducing available food for deer. Hogs are also carriers of a number of infectious diseases that can be passed to deer.
“Leptospirosis and brucellosis pose a threat to deer” said Bordelon. “The use of supplemental feed may amplify these risks. Molded feeds, aflatoxin and increased disease and parasite transmission at feeder sites may play a part in future declines and threats to deer productivity and survival.”
Deer numbers and harvest trends remain consistent, but biologists continue to monitor the effects of infectious diseases, as, according to Bordelon, emerging diseases are the biggest threats to the state’s deer herd. Monitoring herd health through disease sampling and collecting known age harvest data is one way to track deer health. Education and technical information to private landowners and hunting clubs is one way to address concerns. Adjusting recommended harvest rates and season structure is another way.
Hunters and landowners can help themselves by managing deer at a smaller scale, which may be one property or a group of properties. Very seldom are two properties alike, much less all the properties within an area. Even the same property is under constant change, with habitat either improving or declining in browse availability depending on management practices. Being conscious of the changes and how to promote favorable habitat is key for success. Success will be based on what hunters put into their management strategies.
Deer face many challenges, from predators to competition and disease. However, none represent a bigger threat than chronic wasting disease. In February, a deer in western Mississippi was determined to have CWD, making it the 25th state to find the disease.
“The 4.5-year-old whitetail buck was collected five miles east of the Mississippi River in Issaquena County. The initial discovery prompted responses from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Both states implemented their CWD response plans, which included surveillance and testing of deer within a 25-mile buffer zone of the positive case.
“In addition, supplemental feeding and baiting was suspended within the counties and parishes impacted by the 25-mile zone,” said Bordelon.
Initial efforts are focused on detection and minimizing potential spread of the disease. Surveillance efforts are necessary for early detection. Proactive measures, such as recommended disposal practices, as well as limiting the placement of bait on the landscape, could help slow the spread.
In fact, hunters in northeast Louisiana can have their deer tested by contacting the LDWF, and learn more about CWD and other issues facing the Bayou State’s deer herd at wlf.louisiana.gov.
Louisiana Youth Hunts
Youth hunters are the future of the outdoor sports. Keeping them in the woods and unglued from the wired world is no easy task; however, the LDWF offers many youth deer hunting options each year to help make the sport accessible.
As a rule, youth seasons tend to occur just prior to the opening of regular firearms hunts. Generally speaking, either sex rifle hunts begin as early as late September on private land in Areas 3, 7, 8 and 10, while youth hunters in other areas must wait until mid to late October. These hunts are restricted to youth 17 years and younger; adults supervise but cannot carry firearms.
Youth hunters who pursue deer on public lands have a number of options across the state. WMAs that offer youth hunts stretch from east to west and north to south and include most of the state’s most well-known and productive WMAs. Lottery hunts are another option for youth deer hunters.
Information about the state’s public-land youth hunts can be found in the hunting regulations pamphlet or by visiting wlf.louisiana.gov. Youth are not limited to hunting these seasons, and can hunt deer all season long. Be sure to bring a kid with you the next time you go out to the woods and let them explore our hunting heritage.