No matter how you slice it, venison's awfully tasty. So as we enter the final days of the season, what's sadder
The author approaches a buck that fell to his late-season tactics. Photo by Keith Sutton
By Glynn Harris
Sometimes I feel like Pvt. Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue in the movie Forrest Gump. Bubba, one of Gump's closest companions, grew up on the Gulf Coast and had an affinity for shrimp. If you saw the movie, you know what I'm talking about. While serving in the Army with Gump, Bubba dreamed of returning home after the war and catching shrimp. His litany of tantalizing shrimp dishes was endless: shrimp Creole, shrimp etouff仔, fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, barbecued shrimp - and on and on.
I feel about the same way about venison that Bubba did about shrimp. I love fried venison backstrap, grilled tenderloin, deer burgers, venison pot roast, venison shish kebabs, deer chili - and on and on.
When I first took up the sport of deer hunting in the 1960s, I had never tasted venison. The first few deer I harvested I gave away, because I couldn't bring myself to eating a big hunk of wild meat, no matter how it was cooked. I grew up hunting squirrels and ducks, so I had no problem at all sitting down to a meal where these wild species were the main entree.
It was a different matter with venison, though, until someone offered me a piece of fried steak. I ate it thinking it was beef, and couldn't believe how tasty it was. Once I found out I'd been deliciously duped into eating venison, I changed my tune. Not only did I not give another deer that I shot away, but I grieved also at my ignorance for having parted company with so much delicious venison.
It's a sure thing that I'm not alone in my love for tender, tasty venison today. This is, no doubt, why the state's antlerless deer program is so popular. Whether it's a doe taken on "doe day" or one sporting a DMAP tag, most of us hunt, not only for the opportunity to bag a braggin'-sized trophy buck; we want our freezers filled with venison steaks and chops, roasts and hamburger meat.
If filling your freezer is your quest every fall and winter, welcome to Louisiana, the Sportsman's Paradise. From the Mississippi River to Toledo Bend, the Arkansas line to the Gulf, Louisiana is blessed with a healthy population of deer. Add to that the lengthy hunting seasons and generous bag limits, and you have the formula for having venison in some form on the table throughout the year.
In addition to having an abundance of deer, Louisiana is also blessed with hundreds of thousands of acres of public land that is prime deer habitat, and it's found from one end of the state to the other.
In order to help you fill your freezer with enough late-season deer to carry you through next spring and summer, let's take a look around the state at those areas located near where you live that offer you the best chance of collecting your freezer full of venison.
Headquartered in Minden, District 1 takes in the northwest Louisiana parishes of Caddo, Bossier, Webster, Claiborne, Red River, Bienville and DeSoto. Located within District 1 are four wildlife management areas (Bodcau, Soda Lake, Loggy Bayou, Bayou Pierre) and a portion of another, the Jackson-Bienville WMA.
Of these public areas, one stands out above the others in deer hunting popularity. The 33,000-acre Jackson-Bienville area has long been known as a popular area for deer hunters. In fact, hunters from downstate regularly drive north to take advantage of the healthy population of deer Jackson-Bienville has to offer.
One thing that makes this area so popular is the work done by Wildlife and Fisheries to insure that deer have plenty to eat. Several pipeline and power line rights-of-way traverse this area and most are planted each fall with cool weather crops, such as wheat and oats, providing literally miles of linear food plots.
Practically all of the 33,000 acres within Jackson-Bienville are owned by Weyerhaeuser Company, a timber company that has perpetual timber management/harvest/site prep activities ongoing. As a result, numerous log sets and logging roads are also planted in food plots, guaranteeing that deer and other wildlife have an abundance of forage to sustain them through winter months.
For more information on hunting Jackson-Bienville and up to the minute conditions, contact wildlife biologist Steve Hebert at (318) 371-3050.
The parishes of Lincoln, Jackson, Union, Ouachita, Richland, Morehouse, East Carroll and West Carroll are located within the confines of District 2, headquartered in Monroe.
Located within District 2 are half a dozen or so WMAs, including a portion of Jackson-Bienville, Russell Sage, Floy McElroy, Big Colewa Bayou, Bayou Macon, and Union.
John Hanks, wildlife biologist in the District 2 office taps Union as probably the best of the district's WMAs in which to take a late-season deer.
"This area is always good during the last weeks of the season. However, only bow hunters can take advantage of the situation since gun seasons close around the end of November," said Hanks.
"There are lots of clearings opened by timber management and harvest across the area, which provide lots of succulent forage in the areas recently harvested. Deer are generally easier to pattern here. They follow the edges of the clearings and travel the corridors along streams where timber has been preserved. This is a typical upland habitat with mixed pines and hardwoods, rolling hills and intermittent streams. Plus," said Hanks, "there's a good population of deer on Union WMA."
For further information on hunting District 2 during the late deer season, contact Hanks at the Monroe LDWF office at (318) 362-3160.
District 3 consists of the parishes of Grant, Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Winn and LaSalle. Included in the district, which is headquartered in Pineville, are five WMAs plus a large portion of the Kisatchie National Forest.
David Hayden, wildlife biologist for District 3 believes that the management area offering late-season deer hunters interested in putting venison in the freezer is Dewey Wills WMA.
"Dewey Wills WMA is made up predominately of bottomland hardwood habitat over the majority of its 60,000 or so acres," said Hayden.
"Hunters planning to hunt Dewey Wills durin
g late season should key on trees with plenty of hard mast, especially acorns. If it's been a good year for acorns, finding areas with lots of deer tracks, trails and evidence of feeding is a good indicator of where you might best get a crack at a doe.
"Depending on weather conditions earlier, there may also be plenty of green succulent forage still available. In addition, the secondary rut will usually be kicking in during the late season, so hunters might see deer on the move as bucks chase does that have yet to be bred," Hayden added.
For information on hunting District 3, contact Hayden at the Pineville LDWF office at (318) 362-3160.
This portion of the state is one of the better areas for deer - lots of deer and big deer. Much of this area in the eastern portion of the state features rich soils because of close proximity to the Mississippi River.
Located within District 4 are the parishes of Concordia, Caldwell, Catahoula, Tensas, Madison and Franklin. With six WMAs and three National Wildlife Refuges, hunters have access to nearly a quarter of a million acres of public land for deer hunting each year.
Reggie Wycoff, longtime wildlife biologist representing District 4, says that hunters with an eye on the annual rut like to take advantage of a late rut much of this area offers.
"The rut in the river parishes usually starts in late December, running into January. Although either sex gun hunting ends in November, buck hunting is on going for gun hunters. Also, those taking advantage of the late-season muzzleloader hunt as well as bow hunters have a good chance at collecting their venison before seasons end," said Wycoff.
"Because of the popularity of these areas, I would suggest that where possible, deer hunters plan to hunt during week days to avoid hunting pressure, since weekends can get pretty crowded. Hunters need to secure maps of these public areas and plan to do some scouting before they schedule a hunt to improve chances at a deer," Wycoff added.
For more information on late-season deer hunting in District 4, contact Wycoff at (318) 757-4571.
District 5 is made up of the parishes of Allen, Acadia, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Vermilion, Vernon and Jeff Davis. These southwest Louisiana parishes are not generally regarded as top deer hunting areas. In fact, according to John Robinette, District Supervisor for the Wildlife Division, this district is probably the least productive of all. However, according to Robinette, two management areas are probably deserving of consideration.
The two areas mentioned by Robinette include the West Bay management area, which 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 noted that especially during the Thanksgiving holidays, Boise Vernon traditionally sees a significant amount of hunting pressure.
"During this period of the year, the rut has ended and you have to hunt trails, feeding or bedding areas to stand a chance at bagging a deer during late season," said Robinette.
For more information on hunting District 5, contact John Robinette at (337) 491-2575.
District 6 is located in the heart of south-central Louisiana and, as one might imagine, there's plenty of swampland to make hunting here a challenge.
Parishes within this district include Lafayette, S. Landry, Pointe Coupee, W. Baton Rouge, Iberville, St. Martin, Iberia, Avoyelles, Assumption, Evangeline and a portion of Terrebonne.
Tony Vidrine, wildlife biologist with the Opelousas office, picks Sherburne WMA as offering the best chance for hunters to take a late-season deer for the freezer.
Sherburne consists of 42,500 acres and is a combination of bottomland hardwoods and cypress/tupelo gum swamp. 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. However, according to Vidrine, some timber harvest activities have improved deer hunting on those areas where timberwork has been done.
"There are both clear cuts and selective harvest that have occurred recently on Sherburne. As a result, hunters might want to zero in on these areas because of the edge effect where deer prefer to travel as well as plenty of palatable forage plants, such as green briar and honeysuckle for browsing. Too," said Vidrine, "much of Sherburne is in bottomland hardwood forests, which means that in those years with a good acorn crop, hunters would be well advised to seek out those acorn-producing trees. Although the acorns will have fallen this late in the season, deer spend lots of time foraging for acorns beneath these oaks. Hunters who have scouted the area know where the best acorn producing areas are and have a better chance at a deer."
"We have a late either-sex muzzleloader season here in January that is popular with hunters, as well as bow season that lasts throughout January. The area is so big that hunters can usually get away from other hunters and have a quality hunt," he added.
For more information on late-season deer hunts on Sherburne, or any other management area in District 6, contact Tony Vidrine or Kerney Sonnier at (337) 948-0255.
District 7 is made up of the largest number of parishes, although many of these are not known as good deer hunting areas. Parishes here include West Feliciana, East Feliciana, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Tammany, Livingston, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension, St. James, St. John Baptist, St. Charles, LaFourche, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines.
Ben's Creek WMA consists of 13,500 acres of good deer hunting habitat, especially with recent timber cutting and thinning, according to Chris Davis, wildlife biologist.
"There has been some extensive timber cutting activity going on here this year, which is not good for the turkeys but is great for the deer," said Davis. "There's plenty of available browse that should attract deer to these areas.
"Also, we have an either-sex muzzleloader season that runs into late January and this is a good time to be on Ben's Creek for a chance at a deer. The rut in the Ben's Creek area typically starts the week after Christmas and runs on into mid-January. Therefore, hunters have a good chance at a decent buck during this time. I'd suggest going mid-week if possible since weekends see quite a bit of hunting pressure here.
"In addition," said Davis, "there is a bucks-only season for gun hunters that extends from mid-December into early January - check the latest regulations to be sure of the dates. There are usually some pretty good deer taken here durin
g this late bucks-only season. Archery season runs into late January, but this is not one of the more popular areas for bow hunters."
Two other management areas within District 7 also offer good chances at bagging a deer or two during hunting season.
Tunica Hills, (3,300 acres) is located in W. Feliciana Parish. Only primitive weapons are allowed for hunting here and the area offers an excellent opportunity for a deer during muzzleloader season.
There are plenty of deer on this area, according to the biologist. The terrain is rough with some of the highest hills in the state. Because of the fertility of the land, deer quality is good. Annually, several quality bucks are taken off this area.
Pearl River is basically a swamp, consisting of nearly 35,000 acres with most of it accessible only by boat. High water can be a problem, especially during the rainy season, which can make hunting a real challenge. However, some good deer are taken from Pearl River each season, so the challenge seems worth the effort.
For more information on hunting Ben's Creek, or any management area in District 7, contact Chris Davis at (225) 765-2360.
Bubba Blue of Forrest Gump fame loved his shrimp cooked any way one could imagine. As much as I love shrimp cooked a variety of ways, make mine venison cooked just about any way. Venison backstrap is hard to beat, but so are venison shish kebab, venison pot roast, barbecued venison, venison chili ... you get the picture.
If your freezer's a little low on choice cuts of venison with the season winding down, take the advice and suggestions of these experts, head to one of these dozens of hotspots covering hundreds of thousands of acres open to public hunting, and perhaps you'll soon be talking like Bubba Blue.
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