Freezer-Filling Bayou State Hotspots

Is your freezer running low on venison? Take heart! You can cure that problem by following this expert's advice.

By Glynn Harris

Late December can be frustrating -- even frightening -- for a Louisiana deer hunter. I know. Because I've been there.

As exciting as it is to get a chance at a wallhanger buck, most deer hunters are like me. While I want to be able to put a trophy mount on the wall, I also want to see my freezer stocked with backstraps, tenderloin, roasts and ground venison. In other words, while I hunt deer for sport, I also hunt for food.

On more occasions than I care to recall, I have dug to the bottom of my freezer to locate the last package marked "venison backstrap" to cook for Christmas dinner. As I sit down to enjoy the last of the steaks from last season, I sometimes develop a case of indigestion while pondering what I'll do over the long months between now and next October, when the season opens again.

Venison is a very popular meat in Louisiana. I know hunters who take the legal limit of six deer per year, and they eat venison in some form practically every day. By summer, their freezers are bare, and they're forced to settle for meats that in their minds rank far below prime venison - meats such as beef, pork and chicken.

I can't offer anything to the six-deer-per-season consumers except to extend my condolences. Six is all you're allowed, and I don't condone exceeding the season bag limit. I suppose you're just going to have to develop a taste for beef. However, for the hunter who takes two to three deer per year and makes the venison last until next season, there may be something I can do to help you.

Even though it's late in the season, some prime areas around the state will still provide an excellent chance to put some venison in your freezer. In fact, there are some areas around Louisiana where your best chance at a deer may be near the end of the season.

Here in Louisiana, our winters are generally mild, but we do occasionally get cold winter weather. On rare occasions, we may even get to see a light dusting of snow on our rooftops. More likely, though, we'll have the dreaded ice storm that can really do a number on our brittle pines; this usually occurs during December and January. When an ice storm hits, make sure that the generator has gasoline, the pipes are wrapped and an ample supply of wood for the fireplace has been laid in. Once you have this taken care of, I suggest that you head for your deer stand - particularly if it's set up around a food plot. Chances are excellent that you'll be skinning out a deer before sundown.

And a fat doe isn't the only thing that might walk into your sights: Big bucks are also known to move about, especially when inclement weather is imminent. Just before Christmas several years ago, I had this proven to me - dramatically.

A storm was in the process of encasing north Louisiana in a coating of ice. The roads were still open, so I drove down to my hunting lease late that afternoon to see if a deer might decide to visit my winter food plot, and the biggest buck I ever saw - a 140-class 8-pointer - stepped out; his mount now graces my den wall. During that same storm, I heard, several other hunters had similar success.

There 's a reason for this, and deer hunters who realize what happens when a winter storm is approaching stand an excellent chance of collecting their venison. And the prospects of taking a trophy buck are better than average at this time, too.

The buck I got that cold December afternoon is a good example. I'd hunted that stand all season long and had seen very few deer. However, once the gathering storm was a certainty, the big buck must've wanted to fill his belly with the lush green clover that I'd planted and then retreat to the thickets to ride out the storm. Ordinarily, he would have fed on the plot under the cover of darkness, but the impending ice storm left him no option except to risk exposure while he grazed. For me, it was simply being in the right place at the right time.

The lesson deer hunters should learn here is quite simple: Deer move about and feed heavily with the approach of cold, icy weather. Thus, hunters should be on stand over greenfields under these conditions.

Another reason for hunting food plots in late season is that most of the forage in the woods has either been eaten or has succumbed to freezing weather. Winter wheat, oats and clover offer a cold-weather bonanza when natural food sources are gone.

So even though it's late December and your freezer is bare, stocking it with prime venison is a distinct possibility. Let's look at some areas around the state where you might have your best chance to take a late season deer.

Hunters can use a variety of methods to hunt late-season deer. The state's archery season begins over most of the state on Oct. 1 and continues through Jan. 31. Not all portions of the state have this liberal season, so it's important to check hunting season dates and regulations for the areas you plan to bowhunt.

Muzzleloader hunters, in general, get the week before regular gun season opens and the week after gun season closes to try their sport. This extends the season for hunters who still haven't collected their venison. Also, some impressive trophy bucks are taken each season by blackpowder hunters during cold winter months.

Gun hunters who like to go it alone have weeks of prime hunting available during portions of November and December in the still hunt-only portion of the season. (Check state regulations for dates in your area.)

Hunting deer with dogs is not as popular as it was a couple of decades ago. Once hunting clubs began leasing plots of land, dog hunters could no longer access the vast acreages needed to hunt deer with dogs successfully. However, there are portions of the state in which hunters feed their deer dogs all year for the chance to hear bawling cry of a pack of hounds hot on the trail on a frosty morning.

Louisiana deer hunters are blessed with thousands of acres of public land spread out from one end of the state to the other. It's here that late-season deer hunters can go for a chance at venison on the table or a mount for the wall.

Here are some of the state's top public areas - areas in which satisfying deer hunting takes place during the waning weeks of hunting season.

Within the Minden-based district is one of the state's prime areas for taking a deer: the Jackson-Bienvi

lle Wildlife Management Area, a 32,000-acre mixed pine and hardwood area owned by Weyerhaeuser Company. As a result of the land being owned by a timber company, active forestry operations are ongoing, which means the presence of perpetual clearcuts and thinned areas that produce tons of succulent deer forage. Highline rights of way are planted in cool-season plants that provide a smorgasbord of deer foods even during the coldest weather.

For more information, contact Steve Hebert at (318) 371-3050.

Two of the top deer hunting areas in this district, based in Monroe, are Russell Sage WMA and Bayou Macon WMA. According to Jimmy Anthony, wildlife biologist for the office based in Monroe, the latter of those is probably the better.

"Bayou Macon, consisting of 6,940 acres and located in East Carroll Parish, has had intensive deer management going on," he said, "and there is a very good adult buck population here. Our harvest is real close to being 1:1 bucks to does. During the muzzleloader season, there is usually not too much pressure, and there are some real trophies out there. Also, the rut here is in mid to late December, so late season hunters have a chance to hunt during some pre-rut activity."

The 17,280-acre Russell Sage WMA lies in Ouachita, Richland and Morehouse parishes, just east of Monroe, and thus sees more hunter participation than do more remotely located areas. The annual rut occurs in December in this part of the state. As a result, hunters stand a good chance of seeing a worthwhile buck during this time of year.

"Timber management is ongoing on Russell Sage so there is lots of browse and mast available for deer here," Anthony added.

For more information, call Jerald Owens, District 2 supervisor, at (318) 362-3160.

Headquartered in Pineville, District 3 offers good late-season hunting on at least three management areas, according to district supervisor C.R. Newland.

"The Sabine WMA consists of 14,780 acres," Newland reported, "and is a real popular place to hunt during the Thanksgiving holidays. As a result, deer can be a bit spooky later in the season. However, a secondary rut involving does that were not bred earlier could be in progress during this time, so hunters could see some bucks chasing does.

"This area is not located near urban areas, so hunting pressure during December is not usually too high. There is the real potential to take a doe or a trophy buck here during December - and hunters should give it a try."

Located in Rapides Parish, Camp Beauregard is a tract of land comprising some 10,000 acres owned by the Louisiana National Guard. The rut usually begins in late November here, so Camp Beauregard should be given serious consideration by late-season deer hunters. "Bottomland tracts are basically intact, and pine plantations see more timber thinning than clearcuts," said Newland.

Dewey Wills WMA, a 60,000-acre tract located in LaSalle and Catahoula parishes, consists of hardwood bottomlands with rich soils. Newland notes that some really big-bodied bucks are taken at Dewey Wills.

"Hunters have a legitimate chance at a 250- to 300-pound buck here," he said. "However, since it's near Alexandria, it gets hunted pretty hard, so the deer will be extra-cautious during December."

For more information, contact Newland at (318) 487-5885.

This district is home to more than 200,000 contiguous acres of prime deer habitat and, as a result, is a popular place to deer hunt during late season

Prime wildlife management areas such as Big Lake, Boeuf, Buckhorn, Red River, Three Rivers and the Tensas and Cocodrie national wildlife refuges are all in the district. Each offers topnotch deer hunting.

"These areas cover a lot of ground from Caldwell Parish to Concordia and on up to Tensas," said district supervisor Reggie Wycoff. "They've been under good deer management for a long time, and it results in both quantity and quality of deer. Deer herds in these areas are at or near carrying capacity so the chances of seeing deer are quite good."

For more information, contact Reggie Wycoff at (318) 757-4571. For information on Tensas, contact George Chandler at (318) 574-2664. The contact for Cocodrie is Jerome Ford, (318) 336-7119.

The southwest portion of the state is not known for top-of-the-line deer hunting. Around the state, District 5 is probably the least productive of all. However, according to district supervisor John Robinette, two management areas are probably deserving of consideration.

"West Bay WMA is located in Allen Parish and consists of 62,115 acres. West of it in Vernon Parish is Boise-Vernon WMA, with 54,269 acres," Robinette said. "It's hard hunting here, because there is usually a lot of pressure during the early gun season, especially during Thanksgiving. The rut is over, and you have to hunt trails or feeding or bedding areas to stand a chance at bagging a deer during the late season."

For more information, contact John Robinette at (318) 491-2575.

Located in south Louisiana with headquarters in Opelousas, District 6 takes in a lot of the state's thickest and most swampy areas. However, it is home to a healthy deer population, including some of the state's most impressive bucks.

Two management areas here are simply outstanding: Sherburne WMA and Thistlethwaite WMA. District supervisor Kerney Sonnier, who oversees this district, agrees that Sherburne and Thistlethwaite are two of the best in the state.

"Sherburne consists of 42,500 acres and is a combination of bottomland hardwoods and cypress/tupelo gum swamp," he said. "Because of its location, Sherburne has lots of water, and in winter, water levels are usually high, making boat access necessary for much of the area.

"If you don't mind the rough terrain, this area holds lots of deer, both in numbers and quality. It's not unusual to score bucks coming off this area in the 150-160 class."

Thistlethwaite WMA, sited in St. Landry Parish, contains 11,000 acres. "This is another area with numbers of deer along with some good quality," Sonnier offered. "One thing that makes this area so good is there is hardly ever a mast failure. There are seven different species of oaks on Thistlethwaite, and some of them produce mast every year. You'll just have to scout and find which trees are producing.

"Timber management is good on this area, and, as a result, there is seldom a lack of browse. The drawback on both these areas is the terrain, which can be challenging. However, with the deer we have here, it's w

ell worth the effort.

"The rut occurs here in late December, so hunters who head for the woods this time of year are likely to find a good buck," he added.

For more information, contact Kerney Sonnier at (318) 948-0255.

Three quality deer hunting spots are located within this district: the Tunica Hills, Ben's Creek and Pearl River WMAs.

Tunica Hills' 3,300 acres lie in West Feliciana Parish. Only primitive weapons are allowed for hunting here. The area offers an excellent opportunity for a deer during muzzleloader season, says John Mullins, the district supervisor.

"You'll see lots of deer here," Mullins observed. "The terrain is rough with some of the highest hills in the state. Because of the fertility of the land, deer quality is good. We get some really big bucks off here every year."

Pearl River is basically a 35,000-acre swamp, most of it accessible only by boat. According to Mullins, high water makes hunting a task here, but it, too, produces some nice deer.

Ben's Creek, measuring 13,500 acres, lies on timber company land in Washington Parish. According to Mullins, most of the area is pine plantation with hunting generally regarded as fair to good.

For more information, contact John Mullins at (225) 765-2360.

Is your freezer practically void of venison? Then take heart: As the season winds down, Louisiana has plenty of spots to hunt that should enable you to fill a freezer as well as a spot over the mantel.

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