This time of year, my social media feeds begin filling with photos of huge, once-a-lifetime trophy bucks. Of course, few hunters ever have a chance at a record buck, but hunters should take solace knowing their odds of tagging a big buck are better in Louisiana than in most states.
Remember, Louisiana has everything it takes to build a trophy buck, including highly productive habitat, a diverse and well-developed gene pool and a culture of management-minded stewardship. By mid summer 2018, Johnathan Bordelon, the biologist over the Louisiana Deer Study, added 29 deer to the Louisiana Big Game Recognition Program.
“Bucks meeting the Louisiana Big Game Recognition minimum criteria are harvested across most of the state,” said Bordelon. “Of course, the productive habitat within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley produces more big bucks than other habitats in the state. Older age management is the driving force behind most of it. Louisiana continues to produce its fair share of 3.5 year and older bucks each season. In fact, when compared to the rest of the nation, Louisiana typically ranks in the top three each year in the percentage of 3.5-year and older.”
It is important to understand the framework of Louisiana’s Big Game Recognition Program and what constitutes a quality buck. The program documents white-tailed deer harvested within the state that meet or exceed minimum antler size. Yearly lists are published in early to mid-summer and the all-time list is updated and published every three years. However, since the recognition program is voluntary, there are likely a number of other deer in the state that have not been added to the roll.
MADISON PARISH — MICHAEL MAY
Michael May started bowhunting with a Ben Pearson Hunter recurve when he was 12 years old, which was over five decades ago. Of course, he has upgraded his bow since then, so the evening of Oct. 4 found him climbing into a stand with his Matthews compound.
The old growth timber he was hunting was located along the banks of one of Madison Parish’s larger lakes. Made up of bottomland hardwoods, his spot had little to no underbrush making it easy to see deer for a distance. Nearby, a regrown thicket provided lots of browse plants for the area deer.
With an easterly wind, May settled in to enjoy an evening hunt. Soon after the woods calmed down, several does approached his stand. Approximately 4:30 in the evening, motion in the distance caught his eye. Unbelievably, a large-antlered buck rose from his apparent bedding spot approximately 100 yards away. The deer began a long creep toward the does. For nearly an hour, the buck crept forward. Soon, the buck was at 40 yards, and still coming. Eventually, the buck paused 20 yards out, turned broadside and offered a shot. Jumping on the opportunity, May drew his bow, found the deer in his sight, and released an arrow. The deer dropped on the spot.
Weighing in at 190 pounds, the deer did not size up with his normally heavier cousins from the Parish, but the 6.5-year-old buck could still hold his own. With an inside spread of 15.5 inches, this dimension only adds a small part of the deer’s 186 5/8 inches.
“I was actually hunting a larger deer that frequented the area,” said May. “I put cameras out about a month before during the first week of September. I saw this deer on camera twice, the first time on Sept. 28, and again on Oct. 3 during daylight hours.”
CONCORDIA PARISH — LEE TIFFEE
The best part of the hunting tradition is the hunting stories that accompany it. Each hunt, whether it is successful or not, produces a story. According to Lee Tiffee, a 10-year-old deer hunter from Concordia Parish, the circumstances leading to his encounter with a buck serve to prove that when deer hunting, a hunter needs to be on the lookout at all times.
On December 26, Lee and his father, Tom, climbed their stand on a cold, rainy, afternoon hunt. A family friend accompanied the pair but peeled off about a hundred yards or so. Their stand is found behind their house and overlooks a food plot. The woods surrounding the food plot are enrolled in Wetland Reserve Program, providing thick cover and plenty of browse and bedding areas. If the rain would let up, both hunters thought it likely deer would be moving that evening. Watching the woodline for hours seems like a job reserved for older, more mature individuals, but Lee was ready to hunt this day. A few hours into the hunt, the younger Tiffee recalled seeing a deer appear out of nowhere.
“I looked out on the food plot and saw deer,” said Lee. “It was a cull buck that had a spike antler on one side and four scraggly points on the other side. Dad said I could shoot him.”
Unfortunately, nerves got the best of him and as Lee pulled his rifle up to fire, he was shaking. Just as he was able to calm down, their hunting partner shot and the cull buck busted out of the food plot.
“We figured the woods were all awake after the shot and deer busting through the woods, so we decided we would go help our friend track and drag his deer before it got dark.”
The Tiffees started to depart their stand, but were still in hunt mode. Tom looked up and saw a deer standing on the back side of the food plot. Then, Lee saw him, but couldn’t see his antlers. The rest Tom remembers in slow motion. Lee’s gun was resting on the side of the stand, and before Tom knew what was happening, Lee was shooting at the deer. A round from the Remington 700 found its target and the buck heaved, and broke for the thicket. Now the hunting party had two deer on the ground, but the rain wasn’t letting up. They finally found some blood and tracked the deer down through a gully and up the other side. Upon seeing the buck, the pair was shocked at its size, with Lee calling the grandfather to say that he had killed a monster.
Lee and his dad dragged the deer back to the vehicle, and the rest of the story has been written down in the family history book. Lee’s buck scored 168 5/8 inches, which was enough to win the youth division at a local big buck contest. The buck now hangs proudly on his wall at home and Lee offers his hunting story to any who will listen.
AVOYELLES PARISH — AMANDA SMITH
The second week of January blew into Avoyelles Parish on the backside of rain and saw a cold air mass settle into the region. This weather is normal in northern regions, but can be hard to handle for Deep South hunters. Those brave enough to venture to the woods included Amanda Smith.
“I tried to get my son to sit in the stands that evening, but he didn’t want to,” recalled Amanda. The family hunts a small tract of bottomland behind their home in Avoyelles Parish. Though small, land anywhere in Avoyelles Parish may be holding big deer. This is true for the family’s hunting land.
For seven seasons, the Smiths have watched one deer in particular. The buck always produced non-typical antlers and his crown has grown every year. This week, Scotty had taken over home duty for Amanda and she took a week to hunt. They had meat in the freezer and were buck hunting, having seen the buck on a camera about a month before. He had grown and they were figuring this would be the season they took him. Interestingly, the deer the Smith’s had been watching grow over the years was unknown to their neighbors.
“On January 13th, the wind was in my favor, and I walked to the stand for the evening hunt carrying an extra piece of gear — my portable heater,” Amanda said.
Heater in hand and an H&R .444 slung over her shoulder, Smith took to the woods, using the same trail to their only stand on the property. They don’t move around a lot on the property, which is why they believe they are so successful. The hunt was uneventful and cold, at least until a deer appeared.
“When I saw the deer coming, I reached down, turned the heater off and picked up my rifle,” said Amanda. “Putting it up, I realized that the lens had fogged up. I wiped down the scope, slowly, and made a small circle just enough to see through. I put the deer in the crosshairs.
She was calm, as she believed it was a cull buck — a bent up 6 point with lame legs — they had identified for removal. With the deer standing broadside, she squeezed the trigger and he went down. Smith didn’t realize she had killed a 200-inch monster buck.
“I climbed down, walked up to the deer, realized who it was, and I went crazy,” said Amanda.
Scotty arrived on scene as did the couple’s children, making it a family affair; they kids were very excited. They dragged the deer home where it officially scored 226 2/8 inches, making it the fifth largest non-typical in the state and the biggest ever in Avoyelles Parish.