Finally, the long, hot days spent practicing, refitting and anticipating the fall will be paid back with the sunrise of the first "cool" morning of October. This time of year, deer hunters are gearing up for opening day. The quarry is found from corner to corner of the Pelican State.
The working professionals of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Deer Study Program manage Louisiana's deer herd out of Baton Rouge.
Every year, Scott Durham, is charged with the task of distilling empirical data and anecdotal information sent in from biologists, landowners, multiple reporting systems and harvest surveys.
Based on the numbers, certain parishes offer better than average odds of success during the 2014-2015 season.
REPORTING AND SURVEY
Several reporting systems are used by the LDWF to gather deer harvest numbers — mandatory tagging, reporting via phone or Internet, mandatory checks on WMAs and data collected through DMAP.
"Mandatory deer reporting was signed into law back in 2008," said Durham. "And it is pretty obvious we have less than 100 percent participation since the program began."
Reporting deer is important as it assists managers in developing seasons and recommending amendments to regulations. Harvest summaries for the 2009 through 2013 seasons were available for this article.
The major trend emerging from previous reports, show a sharp decline in deer harvest numbers from preceding years. However, Durham made it clear that, "The mail survey index is much higher than the reporting system harvest, and is best used to monitor trends over time. Sportsmen participating in the mailed survey have consistently reported total harvest around 150,000 deer per year, reflecting the notion that the deer herd is healthy and that hunters are failing to report their kills during the season."
The 2014-2015 Forecast
Durham is optimistic about the 2014-2015 season, based on anecdotal evidence. He indicated that the overall deer harvest numbers from the 2013-2014 should be up roughly 10 percent from the 2012-2013 season.
This uptick in harvest numbers could be biological in nature or influenced by hunters. Durham believes that caloric intake may be the biggest reason we will see an increase in total harvest.
"Suffice to say, we had a genuinely cold winter during the 2013-2014 year, and incidentally, a low mast crop. As we all know, cold weather makes deer move, and a lack of natural food means more deer will be looking for calories near corn piles and food plots. Of course, more deer within the sights means more deer will be tagged."
Harvest numbers for 2013-2014 may also be higher since deer populations across the state were fortunate to see low incidence of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease compared to 2012-2013. Durham reported 182 anecdotal and confirmed reports of affected deer from across the state, with the south, central and southeastern river parishes being the most severely impacted. Fewer sick/stressed deer mean more deer are available. Also, natural disasters were limited during the fawning period, and browse was succulent and rich, allowing lactating mothers to provide healthy nourishment to fawns.
"So, once all of the data is compiled, we should see a good harvest report as far as raw numbers are concerned," said Durham. "Looking forward, hopefully, the 2014-2015 season will follow suit."
Hunting the most productive deer habitat types has advantages over others. The LDWF separates the state into nine generalized habitat zones. The three habitat types that produce the most deer are also the most common in the state: NW pine-hardwoods, bottomland hardwoods and historic longleaf.
With all of this in mind, five Parishes have historically provided the highest overall harvest, along with access to productive public lands. These factors (numbers and access) should translate into one of the Bayou State's Best Bets.
NO. 5 AVOYELLES PARISH
Several parishes had higher 2012-2013 harvest numbers, but the Richard K. Yancy WMA (formerly Red River/Three Rivers WMA) provides excellent public access. The name change came in the spring of 2013, when the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission changed the name to honor the long-time waterfowl study leader and eventual Assistant Secretary of the Office of Wildlife.
Set in the Mississippi River delta, Richard K. Yancy WMA is soggy, muddy, heavily forested and rather hard to hunt. However, the high quality of its soil grows massive deer. Avoyelles Parish hunters harvested 1,595 deer during the archery and firearms seasons. Of these, 263 (114 bucks and 149 does) were taken from Richard K Yancy WMA during two managed hunts. Preliminary numbers from the 2013-2014 hunts show 5,128 efforts resulted in a total of 433 deer. In recent years, this WMA supported the highest total harvest of any of the state's WMAs.
NO. 4 CLAIBORNE PARISH
At Claiborne Parish hunters reported a total harvest of 2,545 deer for the 2012-2013 season. Claiborne Parish is similar to Union Parish in size, habitat and land use patterns. LDWF suggests that the 483,000-acre Parish is nearly 90 percent forested. Across the parish, swaths of private timberlands give way to chicken and cattle farming operations. Hunters in clubs with long-standing leases are a tradition in this region. Hunters who have access to private land can bet there are plenty of deer to go around. There are, however, some public-land options available in Claiborne Parish.
Though no state-managed WMAs are found in Claiborne, the Caney Ranger District of the Kisatchie National Forest can be found in three tracts.
"Most of our hunters access the Middle Fork Unit," said Camelia Stewart, USFS Wildlife Biologist. "[The area] affords hunters a liberal either-sex firearms season coinciding with the firearms season dates in LDWF Zone 2. Of course, the firearms season comes after the opening of the early fall bow season".
The habitat encompassing the Caney District is considered part of the Northwest pine-hardwoods eco-region. Specifically, the dominant plant community in the Middle Fork Unit is shortleaf-oak-hickory. Timber management practices, including stand rotations, controlled burns, thinning and cutting, continuously provide secondary growth for bedding and browse. Additionally, 40 acres of food plots have been planted and are accessible to hunters.
Information regarding the Caney District, including published season dates, specific rules and regulations, as well as maps and the locations of the forests amenities can be found on the Kisatchie National Forest's website fs.usda.gov/kisatchie or by calling 318-927-2061.
NO. 3 BIENVILLE PARISH
Located near the north center of the state, Bienville Parish is considered to be within the northwest pine-hardwoods as well. A total of 2,778 deer were reported to the state in 2012-2013. Of this total, 936 deer were harvested on DMAP lands through the Parish. At the statewide level, 439 clubs, with 1,161,755 acres, enrolled in DMAP Tiers 1 and 2 (provide biological and demographic information) in 2012-2013. An additional 295 clubs contributed 492,237 acres to DMAP as Tier 3 clubs (provide only sex data).
In Bienville, rich, mast-filled riparian corridors crisscross the Parish, providing plenty of browse and natural food. Public-land opportunities in Bienville Parish include Jackson-Bienville WMA. Though not shocking based on its name, this working forest, which is leased from Weyerhauser, straddles Jackson and Bienville Parishes. The Dugdemona River forms the southern edge and is fed by several creeks on the WMA itself. Deer thrive in the continuously rotated piney ridges, which provide cover and browse. During 2013-2014, there was a total of 20 either-sex gun hunting days on Union WMA, as well as seven additional days of buck-only gun hunting. Hunters killed 163 deer in all, including three bow kills.
NO. 2 VERNON PARISH
In terms of total deer harvested, Vernon Parish has been in the top five the last four years. During the 2012-2013 season, hunters reported 2,791 deer. This is down from the 3,151 deer reported in 2011-2012 and 4,951 deer reported in 2009-2010. The total harvest number is likely influenced, as insinuated by Durham, by a "lack of participation in the reporting program."
The parish's piney woods and riparian bottoms provide plenty of browse for deer. It is located in a region of the state dominated by silviculture, meaning tree farming and timber management practices, provide lots of secondary growth, thickets and prime bedding areas. Luckily, Vernon Parish hunters do not have to travel far to pursue deer. Two WMAs are wholly located in the parish, while a third straddles the border with Sabine and Natchitoches Parishes to the north.
Within the 105,545-acre Fort Polk WMA, two managed gun hunts (one in October and one in December) produced a total of 449 deer. Aside from managed either-sex hunts, Fort Polk WMA also offers several buck-only gun days, plus a September to January bow season. As it is an active military installation, extra rules and regulation apply, so review the booklet before planning a trip. Vernon Parish hunters also have access to Clear Creek WMA. In 2012-2013, its managed either-sex hunt in October produced 122 deer with a hunt success rate of 5.8 deer per hunter effort, pretty good odds.
NO. 1 UNION PARISH
At the close of the 2012-2013 season, Union Parish hunters reported a total of 3,306 deer, which was the highest reported total at the end of the season, though still nearly half of the number of deer reported during the 2009-2010 season. The Parish is one of the largest northern regions by land area, and is located in the northwest pine-hardwood physiographic region. This region produces high-quality mast and browse, and due to timber management activities, transitions zones between cover and thickets are plentiful. Union is nearly 85 percent forested and includes large tracts of private timberland, as well as chicken farms and cattle pastures.
Though harvest numbers have dropped over the last few seasons, John Hanks, LDWF private lands biologist, suggests that the changes could be the result of new hunting technologies and tactics.
"Generally speaking, our hunting culture has changed over the years," said Hanks. "The use of modern tools such as game cameras allow hunters to monitor the deer who frequent their properties. Knowing mature bucks may be passing through a hunting area, hunters who at one time would have tagged three or four deer per year, now tag one or two, including the individuals they scouted through the spring, summer and fall."
Hunters also have access to portions of D'arbonne NWR and Upper Ouachita NWR, as well as Union WMA. Union is located in central Union Parish four miles west of Marion, La. The 11,000-acre WMA, owned by Plum Creek Timber Company, has provided a 10.2 hunter effort/success rate, according to LDWF biologist Jeff Johnson.
Regardless of the Parish or habitat you hunt this year, let's hope that the 2014-2015 season offers as many memories, tall-tales and full freezers, as the 2013-2014 season.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '