Early archery season in the Bayou State is almost upon us, and if you haven't made your preparations already you're into the last minute. Like tax time, opening day waits for no one, so it's time to get all your equipment tuned up and be ready to get a deer in your freezer.
One thing that contributes to a successful archery season is early conditioning and preparation. Dedicated bowhunters start their preparation long before most hunters are even thinking about archery season. That means getting your equipment ready in late June or early July.
First, pay a visit to your local pro shop and make sure the cams are rolling in unison. Wheel bows are a little less sensitive than cam bows, but you still need to have the bow tuned so the cams are releasing energy in a uniform way. If they don't, the top limb and the bottom limb are providing different forces on the string at different times, and that causes the arrow to porpoise. If that happens, you never get the bow to shoot straight.
Many bowhunters try to tune their bows themselves. If you're shooting a high-tech bow, however, it's better to have someone who works on bows for a living do it for you. Have your pro shop check it once a year, because once it's tuned, it usually holds that through the season. But you still should keep checking the bow by shooting paper every so often, just to be sure the arrow is coming off straight.
It's not just about tuning your bow, however. It's also about tuning your body. When the time comes to draw your bow, every move you make has to be second nature. Your muscles need to be tuned and ready to go. You don't just pick up one of today's high-tech bows and shoot it. You have to train to use it.
When you're hunting, you're not in the best of conditions anyway. It may be cold, windy, or raining, which means you're not in an ideal situation to draw a bow. And many, if not most, bowhunters can't draw from a sitting position. They have to stand up to draw, increasing the motion and sound that the deer may detect. If you've sat for hours you may be stiff, so you must have the muscle tone and the ability to draw the bow when the time comes.
Once your bow is tuned, start practicing at least once a week. As you move into later July and early August, start shooting more. A good goal by the end of August is at least 50 arrows a week.
As the season approaches, check all your other equipment for any safety issues, and makes sure everything is functioning properly. If you hunt from climbing tree stands, go through your stands and look at all the bolts and straps to make sure everything is secure, that nothing has broken or fractured, and that everything is structurally sound. Then I go through your pack and make sure all the small stuff is in good condition: your flashlight, the rope to draw your bow up, my compass, your grunt calls, and everything else.
Although hunters love pines for climbing stands, they aren't a good choice during archery season because they tend to be noisy. If you're using a climbing stand for bowhunting, look for a good hardwood that's straight. You may have to do some trimming of small branches to make it a good "climbing" tree. If that's the case, do it well in advance of opening day so you don't cause any disturbance in the woods right before you start hunting.
During the early part of the season, prior to the rut, the ideal place to bowhunt is over a food source. You know what the deer are coming to, and if you've done your scouting, you know where they're coming from. You can set up your stand according to the prevailing wind direction to control your scent and make sure you don't spook the deer.
Think broadly when considering food sources. Early in the season, there still are some persimmons on the ground. If you can find grapes, that's also a good place to hunt. Find whatever fruit you can early in the season, and hunt it while you have the chance.
As the season progresses and acorns start to fall, move to them. Typically the red oaks and black oaks are the first to drop their acorns. Further into the season, the white oaks drop theirs. And as the season gets later and later, especially if you're trying to hunt in the primitive weapons hunt with a bow instead of a muzzleloader, you're going to find that pin oaks and water oaks are the ones that are dropping acorns then. The does come in to eat the acorns and the bucks come in because the does are there.
SO WHERE ARE THEY?
Bayou State hunters have good sources of information about where the most deer are killed. From looking at the most recent deer harvest report, we can get a good idea of where deer hunting should be good this fall. In addition, the Big Bucks list provides a picture of where the quality deer are located.
Bear in mind that these data do have some limitations. Because this article was prepared in February, biologists didn't yet have data on the 2011-2012 season ready, so there may be some differences between top parishes last year and top parishes this year.
In addition, spring weather conditions still are an unknown. And of course, the outcome of hurricane season can affect the deer herd over large swaths of the state.
With those caveats, data from the 2010-2011 season suggests that the following 10 parishes may be the best choices for archery hunting for this fall.
This area is primarily piney woods, and is part of the Coastal Plains habitat in northwest Louisiana. It includes Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, DeSoto, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Red River, Union, and Webster parishes.
Hunters here have good prospects in a number of parishes: Bienville, Bossier, Claiborne, Jackson, Union and Webster. From the standpoint of the rut, this is a good region for hunters to target. Bucks start making scrapes around the end of the September, with the first breeding peak taking place around the second week of November.
NORTH DELTA REGION
This area includes Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas and West Carroll parishes. Here, look for good archery prospects in Madison, Morehouse, and Tensas parishes.
In this region, look for good bowhunting success in Madison, Morehouse and Tensas parishes. Most of the habitat is open farmland, with pockets of forested land. Those blocks of forested land often are associated with river floodplains.
The rut is a bit later here, and is spread over a wider time frame. Depending on where you are, you may see scrapes starting as early as the end of October or as late as the end of November. The first breeding peak can be anywhere from the end of December to the end of January.
Here, take a look at the Red River Wildlife Management Area. This area covers more than 41,000 acres. The region is low, flat and poorly drained, and subject to annual flooding by the Red and Mississippi Rivers and Cocodrie Bayou.
Much of the area is mixed bottomland hardwood. The primary tree species are bitter pecan, overcup oak, nuttall oak, cypress, sweet pecan, honey locust, willow, hackberry, cottonwood, sycamore and green ash. Under story species include swamp privet, water elm, buttonbush, box elder, smilax, trumpet creeper, poison ivy, peppervine, rough leaf dogwood, deciduous holly, hawthorn, rattan, dewberry and blackberry.
This area is south of Alexandria on the western side of the state and was historically longleaf pine. It includes Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Grant, Jefferson Davis Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon and Winn parishes.
The rut here is early. Bucks should start scraping around the end of August, with the first breeding period around the middle of October.
The best bet here for bowhunting probably is Fort Polk WMA. The terrain in this area is mostly rolling hills interspersed with flats. There are several good-sized stream bottoms, as well as many small creeks and greenheads. About 70 percent of the area is dominated by longleaf pine, with scattered blackjack, sandjack, red and post oaks. The under story is thin includes some wax myrtle, dogwood, huckleberry, yaupon and French mulberry.
The creek bottom over story includes willow oak, water oak, cow oak, beech, sweetgum, blackgum and magnolia. The under story contains red bay, white bay, sweetleaf, ironweed, fetterbush, wild azalea, gallberry, deciduous holly and viburnums.
SOUTH DELTA REGION
This area comprises the parishes of Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and West Baton Rouge. A great deal of this area lies inside the Atchafalaya Basin.
The rut here is similar to that in the North Mississippi Delta Region, with a wide period of time during which bucks may scrape and chase does.
The best private land options here are the parishes of Avoyelles, Iberville and St. Landry. In terms of public land, 44,000-acre Sherburne WMA has good potential for bowhunting.
The area is classified as bottomland hardwoods with a number of hardwood species. History species include boxelder, maple, red mulberry, and rough-leaf dogwood. In areas where habitat improvement has taken place, the ground cover is very dense and provides excellent habitat for many species of game and non-game species. Common species found include rattan, greenbriar, rubus, trumpet creeper, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and milkweed.
Thistlethwaite WMA contains 17 miles of all-weather shell roads that allow convenient access to virtually the entire tract. Approximately 11 miles of woods trails are also maintained for the convenience of hunters. The terrain is generally flat bottomland, with a gentle north-to-south slope. Drainage is slow, with standing water for considerable periods after heavy rains.
The forest cover is predominantly oak, most commonly water oak, willow oak, overcup oak, white oak, cherrybark oak, nuttall oak, cow oak, and post oak. Other species are bitter pecan, sweet pecan, hickory, hackberry, sweetgum, ash, elm and maple. The lower areas contain cypress and tupelo gum.
Spring Bayou WMA covers 12,506 acres. The area is in the low-lying Red River backwater system. General topography is low, poorly drained land, with numerous finger lakes and narrow ridges. About 40 percent is covered by water, with various open lakes, bayous, bays, and sloughs. The area is drained by the Little River.
The forest cover consists of nuttall oak and overcup oak with bitter pecan on the higher elevations. The lower elevations contain overcup oak, bitter pecan, swamp privet, and buttonbush. Lake edges are fringed with cypress, willow and buttonbush.
The under story consists of deciduous holly, hawthorn, dogwood, rattan, greenbrier, peppervine, trumpet creeper, dewberry, smartweed, verbena, wild lettuce, vetch, sedges and grasses.
Pomme de Terre WMA covers 6,434. The area is low and flat. Accumulated rainwater is collected in Sutton Lake and released by a water control structure. There are several low ridges running mainly east and west.
The over story consists mostly of hackberry, locust, elm, ash, maple, and sweetgum. Nuttall oaks and overcup oaks are scattered. Willow is dominant in the low lying areas, with cypress occurring toward the ridges. There are some boxelder and sycamore.
The under story consists of haws, deciduous holly, dogwood, elderberry, poison ivy, peppervine, greenbrier, and blackberry. Open water and marshy areas, which comprise about 60 percent of the total area, contain water hyacinth, duckweed, lotus, cutgrass, frog's-bit and buttonbush.
In the Southeast Loblolly Region are the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana.
Here, look at West Feliciana for the best in bowhunting. Even though Hurricane Katrina had a devastating effect on many areas, deer populations seem to have recovered, and hunting is reasonably good.