November 12, 2013
VENICE, La. -- Michael Frenette placed his bow across his lap and dipped a paddle into the brackish water of the Louisiana Marsh, pushing his pirogue toward the only sliver of land within miles.
All around him Roseau cane swayed in the breeze rolling across the vast marsh. Mullet dimpled the surface in the slow moving tide. It was perfect for fishing, but Frenette had deer on his mind.
Frenette’s pirogue is the Louisiana Marsh’s version of the ATV, getting you to places you could never go with other means of transportation. In this case, he was passing over some of the most historic fishing water in the world to hunt deer in a place most would never consider they existed.
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“Your average deer hunter makes fun of me,’’ Frenette said. “They never take deer hunting down here serious.”
Why would they? The Louisiana Marsh is the de facto leader of producing redfish and speckled trout, a product of water-saturated marsh. This region contains as much of 45 percent of the wetlands found in the lower United States.
Everything in the marsh is wet, really wet. Deer like terra firma. In an environment where you get everywhere you can possibly go by boat (from big ocean-liners to pirogues) it doesn’t seem to be the best place to find a deer.
They would be right.
The Louisiana Marsh is a haven for fishermen and duck hunters, but when it comes to deer so few people do it there are no hard and fast numbers of just how many whitetails actually roam the area. And some can’t believe they even exist there.
“But this is all I have,’’ Frenette points out. “I hunt here because it’s home to me. I grew up where I didn’t have an opportunity to go somewhere else.
“It’s what I have. There’s nothing wrong with hunting what you got.”
The last statement is exactly why Outdoor Channel is poking along with Frenette on a deer hunt in the Louisiana Marsh. Hunters all over the country are sitting in deer stands in some of the most improbable environments because, as Frenette puts it, it’s “what you got.”
Surprisingly enough, there are deer here. Maybe not a lot of them, but they live here. Through the years they’ve become victims of hurricanes like Katrina and an on-going rapid erosion of the marsh that is not only taking away the fresh water environments for fish but gobbling up the terra firma as well.
There is solid ground throughout the marsh. Much of it centers on the levee work that has taken place there for decades. How the deer got there is anyone’s guess, but they do live there.
They just aren’t as patternable as deer in higher places. Frenette’s description of getting on deer comes close to describing a nomadic species of animals. They have no aversion to swimming. Locals see them at times crossing the Mississippi River or swimming from one sliver of land to the next.
There are no oak trees in this world. But enough lush grass and forbs to feed a deer, even though they may have to work a little harder to find their daily nutritional requirements.
The one thing they do have is ample cover. Besides the cypress tree-lined levees full of undergrowth, there are even bigger forests of Roseau cane stands that can swallow up deer with ease. They are virtually impenetrable, and if you do get in them they quickly fold up behind you. That same thing happens in the mud. A deer can lay down a track one day and by the next it’s gone.
All of that makes it hard to pattern a deer’s movements.
“We have to work twice as hard for three times less,’’ Frenette said. “It’s hard work to get on a deer here, but when I kill one here, I’m just as excited as I would be anywhere.”
Frenette’s hunts start like every deer hunter in the country: In the black dark. But rather than loading up an ATV or a pick-up, he gets his gear packed into a flatbottom boat, his pirogue sitting on top of all of it.
Motoring into the myriad of channels and ditches that make up the travel corridors of the marsh, he buzzes through knee-deep water until he’s within a half mile of his deer stand.
In this case a long levee that is littered with cypress trees and knees scattered around in the muddy bank. A quick, silent slide of the pirogues into the water and a check of gear, and he’s off to set up in a classic funnel, where deer and pigs traverse on a regular basis.
His back will be to the water, where a cut has been dug through the levee, leaving about 100 yards of open area behind him.
“If they move, they will come from either side,’’ Frenette whispered. “These deer are used to the water; they will swim across this without ever checking up.”
On the stand, the morning breaks slow but the roar of noise comes with the sun. The audio version of a hunt here comes with the groaning of coots, the wing beats of Ibis’ and Roseate Spoonbills passing treetop high.
Mix in the egrets and herons and it creates a cacophony of wildlife noise more fitting the background sounds of a Tarzan movie. In the distance, the drone of shrimp boats coming in from all-night trips and oil tankers provide the bass for the marsh orchestra.
There are things croaking, some squawking, and fish crashing in the water and, like you would expect in the marsh, the constant buzzing of mosquitoes.
“You’ve got to love this or you ain’t going to do it,’’ Frenette said.
Frenette’s point is made when you understand just how many deer he’s actually taken off these slivers of land.
The first one came when he was 13 years old. That was the age he could use a flat bottom to explore the marsh.
“It gave me the freedom to find me a spot where I thought I could kill a deer,’’ he said.
Like all young hunters he had dreams of big bucks. He still does. But they border on the fantasy.
His first spot was on private property in the marsh. He gained permission to hunt as long as he did “it the proper way.”
By his second hunt, he saw a deer.
“I was watching some pigs and saw this deer in the background,’’ Frenette said. “I realized then that I could actually shoot a deer here. The deer spooked, but mentally I was pumped.”
The same scenario played out on the next hunt and Frenette shot his first deer.
“It was just a doe, but in my mind it was a 180-inch class deer,’’ he said. “I was exploring the world and figuring out things. The fact it was a doe and not huge didn’t matter. It was more of a sense that I had worked hard and succeeded.
“I was the same size of the deer. And it’s so swampy you can’t get footing to pull it out. Me and my brother got waist deep in mud to pull it all the way out.”
That was 11 years ago and Frenette has taken three deer in the marsh, all of them equally as satisfying as the first. He keeps hoping for a giant. A friend of his killed a 150-inch buck in the marsh last season.
“The odds are against that,’’ he said. “But if you aren’t hoping, you aren’t hunting.
“Everyone has different expectations for their deer. And if it’s not about the size of the deer then it becomes about the passion of the hunt. That’s what this is all about pure and simple.”
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