Across the Bayou State, this year's deer harvest is expected to match or to surpass the two previous seasons' bounty. Here, we identify the public areas offering the best odds of bagging a whitetail. (October 2008)
Louisiana's deer hunters are serious about their quarry.
For evidence, you need only look at the most recent session of the state legislature, which saw proposed no fewer than five bills aimed at enhancing or altering some aspect of the state's deer regulations and laws --everything from the redefinition of primitive weapons to the use of "hunter orange" during the season.
At the same time, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission proposed an additional set of changes to allow hunters to harvest antlerless deer on certain wildlife management areas without counting towards their seasonal limit.
All of the proposals seemed to focus on one theme: So many deer roam Louisiana that wildlife officials are devising additional ways to harvest them.
How times have changed regarding deer hunting in the Bayou State. In 1952, biologists estimated a deer population of approximately 72,000 animals. Today, deer study leader Scott Durham with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries estimated, the state's whitetail herd stands at nearly 1 million animals.
According to Durham, licensed deer hunter numbers have actually remained stable in the last couple of years -- in contrast to decreases experienced in other states -- and he expects some 160,000 licensed deer hunters will enter the woods for the 2008-09 seasons.
"I am hoping for a deer harvest at around 200,000 whitetails statewide," he said. "On our most recent survey, hunters have claimed that the actual harvest had reached 195,200 statewide.
"I also think that the actual implementation of our deer tagging program this season will give us focused data to work with regarding the department's deer harvest targets statewide. The deer season looks pretty good overall for 2008-09. We have adequate timber management occurring across the state, so there's much availability of browse forage. Our mast season last year was moderate, but there are more than enough other wild foodstuffs to keep Louisiana with a healthy deer herd."
In 2008, as in seasons past, most of the Bayou State deer hunting community will enjoy the pursuit of whitetails on private lands, where 80 percent of Louisiana's population of the animals is found. But more than 1 million acres of diverse public lands managed by the LDWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are also available to Louisiana deer hunters.
On these public lands, approximately 5,000 whitetails are harvested each year during managed hunts, which typically occur on holidays and weekends in October, November and December. Access to a few of these hunts is by lottery only.
According to Durham, deer hunters using these lands should find at least as many whitetails now as last season -- with the exception of Region V (southwest Louisiana), where hunters are observing a boom in whitetail populations. This expansion is largely due to the loss of timber to Hurricane Rita's devastating winds in 2005. Much of the forest canopy in southwest Louisiana has been destroyed, creating cover and regenerating browse species of forage to sustain increasing numbers of whitetails.
Although some archery hunting for deer has already begun in Louisiana's southwest parishes, most of Louisiana's deer hunting community will venture afield in our forests, prairies, swamps, deltas and basins for venison this month. Here we'll identify the sites at which, statistically speaking, those hunters stand the best chance of taking a deer.
LOUISIANA'S RIVER-BASIN DEER
There can be no doubt high densities of white-tailed deer abound in and near the Mississippi River Basin on the shank and instep of Louisiana's shaped "boot" beginning in the northeast.
"Those parishes with the highest deer densities have traditionally been those with hardwood bottomland habitat along the Mississippi, Red and Atchafalaya rivers," Durham said. "Beginning in East Carroll Parish and down the Mississippi River, the river bottomlands with nearby agricultural components offer a tremendous diversity of alluvial habitat that produces many deer."
The parishes Durham refers to include East Carroll, Madison, Franklin, Tensas, Concordia, Avoyelles, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin and Iberville.
Private lands especially in northeastern Louisiana were the very first pioneers in white-tailed deer management in the late 1960s and 1970s. Hunting clubs such as Big Rack, Somerset, Giles Island, Glasscock Island and a host of others offer the lease-paying hunter privileges of experiencing rich white-tailed deer numbers -- with many of these lands managed for quality as well.
The famed Willow Point Islands in East Carroll Parish -- managed by Tara Wildlife as an archery-only pay-to-hunt area -- can offer some of the finest bowhunting for deer in the south. Owing to its proximity to the Mississippi River, diverse browse is present, and its availability attracts and holds big numbers of whitetails.
As you can imagine, these areas are probably the most expensive real estate for deer hunters in the state of Louisiana. Lease fees can range upwards to $5,000, and pay-hunts at lodges range over $1,000 for a three-day hunt in most circumstances.
Most of these lands offer supplemental planting for whitetails in the form of huge greenfields interspersed within the property. Of course, timber management practices such as those prescribed by the landowners and various timber companies also benefit whitetail populations.
Regarding public lands in the northeast, Big Lake Wildlife Management Area is in Franklin, Madison and Tensas parishes. Its 19,231 acres lie 12 miles east of Gilbert, and the habitat here consists chiefly of the bottomland hardwoods, with timber management an essential component.
On LDWF managed hunts at Big Lake WMA in 2007, 122 whitetails were taken by 720 hunting efforts for a ratio of 5.9 efforts per deer.
The season here begins with archery pursuits on Oct. 1, and the general, either-sex gun hunt occurs during the two days following Thanksgiving. A later bucks-only season is usually slated for late December t
o early January.
For more information regarding maps, dates and regulations, read the 2008-09 Louisiana Hunting Regulations Pamphlet or contact the LDWF in Ferriday at (318) 757-4571.
Just to the north of Big Lake WMA, Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Tensas and Madison parishes has historically held good numbers of whitetails. Its 68,000 acres of habitat are also of the bottomland hardwoods variety and are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
At press time, 2007 harvest records were unavailable, but approximately 700 to 800 whitetails are taken here by a combination of lottery (gun), blackpowder, physically challenged and archery efforts each season. Efforts-per-harvest ratios tend to be near five to eight efforts per deer.
Biologists in the past have designed timber management prescriptions as local hunters have the ongoing perception of less deer available as compared to previous seasons.
Lottery gun hunts here permit 2,500 hunters for either-sex deer hunts offered during two separate weekends. For certain, less than 2,500 chosen applicants actually show up for the lottery weekends.
The lottery gun hunts here were scheduled during the first and third weekends of December in 2007. The muzzleloader segment is usually slated for early January, and the balance of the season remains for archery-only pursuits.
For more information, contact the Tensas River NWR at (318) 574-2664.
Further down the Mississippi River in Concordia Parish, both Three Rivers and Red River WMAs hold good concentration of alluvial wetland whitetails. Poorly drained bottomland hardwoods comprising nearly 70,000 acres have offered good diversity in plant browse species along with good mast production over the years.
Three Rivers WMA's name reflects its proximity to the Mississippi, Red and Atchafalaya rivers.
In 2007, managed hunts at both WMAs resulted in 346 whitetails taken by 3,662 hunting efforts for 10.6 efforts per deer.
At these combined tracts, deer numbers are above average and hunters usually score on quality bucks sporting 8 to 10 points.
|THE BEST (AND WORST) OF LOUISIANA'S MANAGED DEER HUNTS|
Based on either-sex harvest totals for managed hunts during the 2007-2008 seasons.
|BEST OF THE BAYOU|
|2.||Sicily Island Hills||203||45||4.5|
|9.||Loggy Bayou (estimate)||450||67||6.7|
|10 (T).||Bayou Macon ***||293||39||7.5|
|10 (T).||Union (18 Days Managed)||1,775||238||7.5|
|13.||Maurepas Swamp (self-clearing)||512||86||7.8|
|BOTTOM OF THE BARREL|
|*= Muzzleloader Only, **=Oct. 27-28, ***=Nov. 17-18|
The either-sex gun hunt is usually scheduled the two days following Thanksgiving with a bucks-only segment slated in late December and early January. The primitive weapons hunt usually falls in early January.
For more information, contact the LDWF at its Ferriday office at (318) 757-4571.
Farther south, both Sherburne WMA and the Atchafalaya NWR team up to provide some 44,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods and swamps to those hunters pursuing deer in the Atchafalaya Basin. Both of these public parcels occupy portions of Pointe Coupee, St. Martin and Iberville parishes.
The gun seasons here usually begin the weekend after Thanksgiving, with three additional either-sex days in December. A bucks-only season is usually scheduled in late December through mid-January. Moderate to high numbers of whitetails can be experienced, and the youth gun hunts here scheduled before the regular gun opener are very popular as a result.
Last season, hunters harvested 256 whitetails here for approximately 10.5 hunter efforts per deer on managed either-sex hunts.
According to LDWF biologist manager Tony Vidrine, conditions are optimal for another good season on these lands, which have historically held numerous white-tailed deer.
For more information regarding maps or any other concerns, contact the LDWF Region 6 office at (337) 948-0255.
Large tracts of pine and mixed hardwoods forests are managed for white-tailed deer on numerous private leases in north-central Louisiana.
Much of the private land in this area is under prescribed management strategies under the state's Deer Management Assistance Program, where landowners and lessees obtain assistance and advice from the LDWF.
As in northeast Louisiana, supplemental forage in the form of expansive greenfields and other plantings have had an impact in increasing the carrying capacity of these timberlands for white-tailed deer.
Public lands here have a tendency to deliver many whitetails to opportunistic public hunters.
Jackson-Bienville WMA is 12 miles south of Ruston in Jackson, Bienville and Lincoln parishes. Its 32,185 acres of rolling, pine-blanketed hills and hardwoods scattered in bottomland areas provide more than adequate habitat for white-tailed deer in good numbers.
Dates for gun hunting begin in mid-November and progress through December with many either-sex days. For information, contact the LDWF Wildlife Division at (318) 371-3050.
A little farther northeast, Union WMA in Union Parish offers 11,113 acres for public hunting on a tract of loblolly pine forests mixed with several hardwood species. This area is approximately four miles west of Marion.
Durham was especially excited over the results of last year's managed hunts on Ouachita WMA, in Ouachita Parish six miles northeast of Monroe. Only 10,389 acres in area, this WMA -- a hardwoods area with two major timber types, oak-elm-ash and overcup oak-bitter pecan -- delivered 80 whitetails in 355 hunting efforts, or 4.4 hunting efforts per deer in 1997.
Managed either-sex hunts occur the three days following Thanksgiving, and a bucks-only segment is usually slated from mid-to-late December.
|LAY OF THE LAND|
|Louisiana WMA acres per deer harvested by habitat type, 2007-2008 seasons|
|HABITAT TYPE||WMA Acres Per Kill|
For more information on hunting Ouachita and Union whitetails, contact the LDWF at (318) 343-4044.
Each season, deer gun hunts on select wildlife management areas in southwest Louisiana are usually scheduled the last weekend in October. These are the earliest gun seasons in the state to be offered to gun hunters on state public lands.
The parishes involved in the early season schedule include Vernon, Beauregard, Allen, Jefferson Davis, Calcasieu, Cameron, Vermilion, Acadia, Evangeline and portions of Iberia and St. Mary.
The scheduled either-sex gun hunts on wildlife management areas in 2007 included hunts on Clear Creek, Fort Polk, Peason Ridge and West Bay WMAs.
"In total, we had 3,970 public hunting efforts that resulted in th
e harvest of 503 deer for one deer out of 8.8 hunting efforts on the first managed hunt weekends on these areas," said John Robinette, LDWF Region V biologist manager.
According to the biologist, the rut in deer areas 3 and 8 usually arrives in late September, with the peak of the activity occurring in mid-October. The secondary rut on these lands appears to occur in November.
"We had a lot of deer killed off these WMAs -- some of it due also to the effects of Hurricane Rita," said Robinette. "Although we had severe hardwoods damage in the area, the forest canopy has opened up and as a result we're seeing more deer.
For more information regarding hunting these southwest Louisiana public WMAs, contact LDWF Region V at (337) 491-2575.
For more information regarding locations and regulations on deer hunting in Louisiana, consult the 2008-09 edition of the Louisiana Hunting Regulations and Wildlife Management Area pamphlet, or visit the LDWF Web site, the address for which is www.wlf.louisiana.gov.