September 28, 2010
Louisiana hunters looking for a deer season option that's both inexpensive and good should seriously consider the wildlife management areas within the state this fall. The phrase "inexpensive and good" can set off warning bells, as people -- assuming that there has to be a catch somewhere -- often feel that anything claiming to combine the two probably isn't going to be worth the effort. But the only catch with the WMAs is one that many hunters create themselves by bypassing these promising public areas in favor of hunting clubs or leases.
Of the 39 WMAs within the state, not all, naturally, are big producers. But Jackson-Bienville, Sabine, Clear Creek, Red River, Three Rivers, Sherburne, Peason Ridge, Fort Polk, and West Bay WMAs all have a history of strong deer populations, some yielding deer in the Louisiana trophy class.
"Jackson-Bienville is always a good area," said David Moreland, Wildlife Department chief for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "It's owned by a timber company with which we have a lease on the land. Generally it's an area that produces a lot of deer, and it does produce some quality deer."
Jackson-Bienville Wildlife Management Area, 12 miles south of Ruston in north-central Louisiana, consists of 32,185 acres in Bienville, Jackson and Lincoln parishes. Numerous routes are available for entering the area, the major ones being U.S. Highway 167 and state Highway 147. The major landowner, the Weyerhaeuser Company, maintains an extensive system of gravel roads that are available for use by the public. Limited ATV use is allowed on marked ATV trails and on company-maintained gravel roads and woods roads.
The terrain at Jackson-Bienville WMA is primarily gently rolling hills bordering the Dugdemona River and five intermittent streams. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of the area can be considered bottomland. Weyerhaeuser and the private landowners intensively manage the area for timber. Habitat is highly diverse owing to the varying timber harvest schedule, the scattering through the WMA of hardwood areas, and over 40 miles of utility rights of way. A prescribed burning program conducted by Weyerhaeuser in association with its management for red-cockaded woodpeckers is a significant source of major habitat improvements.
Forest cover is predominantly pine, except in the bottomland regions; there, water, willow, overcup, and cow oak, sweet and black gum, beech, and various other species of hardwood dominate. Understory vegetation, which is dense, consists of a variety of shrubs, vines and annuals.
"The rut on that area occurs basically in December," said Moreland. "The season opens about mid-November, but the actual rut is a little later. That tends to be when the hunters are successful with the bigger bucks."
CLEAR CREEK WMA
This area lies south of Jackson-Bienville in southwest Louisiana. "The overall size of these deer is probably not as large as what you might see on Jackson-Bienville," said Moreland, "or on some of our Mississippi Delta WMAs, but generally they produce some nice deer for the type of habitat."
John Robinette of the LDWF describes Clear Creek as pine plantations with rolling hills and lots of draws. "We are harvesting 300 to 500 deer a year," he said. "It just depends on hunter turnout and weather. Hunters are killing some quality deer there, 180- to 200-pound deer with nice racks."
"That rut occurs early," said Moreland. "The season opens at the end of October, and that's generally when the rut is going on. It's a pretty good area for hunters to go visit."
Robinette's description of this area lying approximately five miles south of Zwolle in central Sabine Parish: "(a) sleeper WMA which could use a lot more hunters."
Moreland agreed with Robinette. "Some of the locals use it," he remarked, "but it doesn't seem to draw hunters from other parts of the state like Jackson-Bienville or Clear Creek."
Spreading over approximately 14,000 acres, Sabine WMA is owned by two major timber companies. Some smaller tracts belonging to other timber companies and private individuals lie within the area and are accessible by the hunting public.
The terrain varies from rolling hills to creek bottoms. The major timber type is loblolly pine in plantations. Overstory species include these pines, along with red oak, post oak, white oak, hickory and sweetgum. Understory species include yaupon and French mulberry, among other trees.
The creek bottoms' overstory comprises beech, willow oak, water oak, red maple, black gum, magnolia, southern red oak and sweetgum; understory species include ironwood, dogwood, wild azalea and deciduous holly.
"I think they have been trying to make the season opening dates on Sabine a little bit different," said Moreland, "which should give hunters who have been hunting other areas the incentive to come to Sabine -- but it doesn't seem to work. It's just one of those things."
State Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 171 are the major roads providing access to the WMA.
THREE RIVERS AND RED RIVER WMAs
Along the Mississippi river on the eastern side of the state are found the Red River and Three Rivers WMAs -- always-productive areas for numbers and quality of deer. Mostly hardwood forest, they're surrounded by a lot of agricultural land.
Red River WMA is on state Highway 15 approximately 35 miles south of Ferriday in lower Concordia Parish. State highways 15 and 910 and a gravel levee provide all weather access. Gravel oil field roads and numerous woods roads traverse the interior.
Red River consists at present of 41,681 low, flat and poorly drained acres, and is subject to annual flooding by the Red and Mississippi rivers and Cocodrie Bayou. Timber consists of mixed bottomland hardwood. The timber stand is rather sparse over a large part of the area owing to heavy cutting operations undertaken prior to the purchase by the LDWF. Major tree and shrub species in the understory consist of swamp privet, water elm, buttonbush and box elder. Approximately 265,000 hardwood seedlings have been planted on approximately 800 acres of former agricultural land. Abandoned oil well sites and rights of way are clipped annually and maintained as wildlife openings.
In the southern tip of Concordia Parish approximately 50 miles south of Vidalia, Three Rivers WMA lies between the Mississippi and Red rivers just north of Lower Old River. Primary access routes are state highways 15 and 910. Interior access is provided by an all-weather shell road that traverses the entire width of the area just north of the Old River outflow channel and a network of unimproved roads and trails. Boats afford additional access along the Red River and numerous bayous.
Three Rivers WMA, consisting at present of 27,380 acres, contains typically flat to depressed terrain, the only significant changes in relief being elevated roads, levees, and a large artificial sand ridge; numerous small lakes and bayous are formed by this relatively poor drainage pattern. A large portion of the land is subject to annual spring flooding.
Access to Sherburne is via Highway 975, which connects with highway 190 at Krotz Springs on the North, and Interstate 10 at Whiskey Bay on the South. Entrance to the interior of the area is possible through a series of all-weather roads, ATV trails, and Big and Little Alabama bayous. Two private boat launches are on the northern portion of Big Alabama Bayou, one public launch is on the northern portion of Little Alabama Bayou, and one public launch is on the southern portion of Big Alabama Bayou.
"Sherburne WMA is a good area," Moreland said. "It has a really good deer population, and will produce some good deer. It's an area with a late bucks-only season. The rut is late, in January; that gives hunters time to hunt other areas early and then come to Sherburne for some late hunting."
PEASON RIDGE AND FORT POLK WMAs
These WMAs are both owned by the U.S. Army.
Peason Ridge is 18 miles north of Leesville in Sabine, Natchitoches and Vernon parishes. The terrain consists of gentle-to-high rolling hills interspersed with creeks and greenheads. Longleaf pine is dominant on some of the hills, while a mixture of loblolly pine, longleaf pine, red oak, blackjack oak and post oak is found on other ridges. The understory of these upland types is very sparse.
The terrain is primarily rolling hills interspersed with flats. Several fairly large stream bottoms and numerous small creeks and greenheads are present. Approximately 70 percent of the area is dominated by longleaf pine.
Fort Polk WMA is 10 miles southeast of Leesville in Vernon Parish just east of U.S. Highway 171, one mile south of state Highway 28 and one mile north of state Highway 10. The area contains many all-weather roads, which make all portions accessible to hunters.
"Both are military reservations; both have a high number of deer," said Robinette. "The problem there is military training. We normally can get the area the three days after Thanksgiving, in which we kill 200 to 300 deer. The rest of the season is dependent on how much training at the army posts is going on. If it's open, it's a good place to hunt."
Make sure to check with Fort Polk -- 1-888-718-3029 or (337) 531-5715 -- to obtain information on areas open for hunting before making plans to hunt these WMAs.
WEST BAY WMA
State highways and parish roads leading to this area in north-central Allen Parish near Elizabeth, plus timber company roads, make West Bay very accessible. The WMA's boundaries are roughly as follows: south of state Highway 10, north of state Highway 26, east of Turner Road, and west of River Road.
West Bay is 56,000 acres in area, with generally flat terrain. Approximately one-third of the area can be considered baygall (forested seep) habitat and is poorly drained. The remaining area has fairly good drainage. The only major flowing stream is Mill Creek.
"There are a lot of pine plantations on West Bay WMA," Robinette said. "We used to kill 300 to 400 deer off the area each year, but the number has dropped. The problem is that the area is so thick. It is becoming a little better -- they are starting to thin some of the pine plantations out, and you can see a little bit now.
"People need to check the area out; it's another sleeper. We just need a little more hunter participation. If you scout and take a little time before season to look, you can kill a deer on West Bay."
HUNTING LOUISIANA'S WMAs
The rut in Louisiana varies according to the time of year. Rifle hunters working on the basis of this principle can work their way up the state and hunt from September into January.
"We have basically three distinct rutting periods across the state," said Robinette. "Each WMA tries to open up during that rutting period. In southwest Louisiana, our deer start rutting in September. Our bow season starts Sept. 15. Gun season starts somewhere around the middle of October. That's when the majority of the deer are killed -- October, or the first part of November.
"The season runs on out into January, but the deer kill drops drastically. As you move to north Louisiana, the rut is more in November and December. The season is a little different from southwest Louisiana. As you move to the east, the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya the deer rut is December-January. Check the different WMAs' Web sites for season dates."
Experienced WMA deer hunters say that if you want to be successful, you can't be a slacker. Many first-time WMA deer hunters hunt the existing roads and trails -- along with everybody else.
The posse at Ron's Guns in Bossier City, all of whom have hunted many different WMAs, claimed that most people are pretty lazy, and don't prepare properly. Avid hunters who do hunt public land will go in to scout and to mark trails, and will go deeper into the woods.
"A lot of our hunters, for whatever reason, don't get off the beaten path," said Moreland. "They don't want to get out in the thick country. I guess they are concerned about getting lost. These areas provide some good hunting and some good hunting opportunity. I try to go into an area where our forestry crews have been doing some timber cutting and there is some escape cover available for deer.
"Find some areas where there are some oak trees that are dropping acorns; go and set up on something like that. Try to find some travel areas, maybe around some sloughs where deer might be moving through, going to the thick cover or the feeding sites.
"If you are hunting a WMA that is harvesting either sex deer, the key is to just get in there and stay put," Moreland continued. "A lot of people, after they have been on the stand, start moving around. And they will jump deer -- spook deer. They keep the deer moving for the hunters who stay in their stands."
SPECIAL WMA HUNTING RULES
You must wear a hunter orange shirt or jacket and a hunter orange hat. "We had some hunting accidents with the use of ground blinds," said Robinette. "It