October is here, and that means deer season isn't far behind. There's more than a hint of fall in the air, especially in the northern part of the state, and many hunters already have their spots staked out.
The condition of the deer population depends on where you are in the Sportsman's Paradise, said Scott Durham, deer program leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. This is particularly true because of the flooding last spring.
However, biologists are expecting a decline in the herd. Although they can't point to a single reason for the decline, Durham said there are a number of factors that may be in play.
"There are some landscape changes going on," he said. "One may be some change in forestry practices. There also is increased urbanization on the north shore, and we've had a lot of river flooding the last few years. That means we've had some lower levels of recruitment in some of the flood prone areas."
This also will be the case for 2011 in parts of the state.
Durham said biologists believe that hunter selectivity also is playing a part in the reduced harvest.
"We have a generation of hunters who have killed a lot of deer," he said. "They're getting more selective, and doing more trophy hunting and maybe less antlerless deer harvesting. We know that even on our public areas people are declining to shoot deer at times, where in the past they wouldn't have. You also can throw in a little more fawn predation from coyotes. When you add all that up, that would pretty much explain the trend we're seeing."
And even this long after the terrible summer 2005, there still are impacts from Katrina and the other hurricanes that followed.
"There still is some decreased visibility in the woods. Those big tops take a long time to rot down and briar patches grew up around all of then where the canopy was knocked out," Durham said. "Even Gustav — which was after Katrina — was just as devastating in some of the coastal areas."
Those impacts are pretty much statewide, Durham added.
Biologists have divided the state into six different ecological regions: the Northwestern Loblolly/Shortleaf/Hardwood Region, the North Mississippi Delta Region, the Western Longleaf Region, the South Mississippi/Atchafalaya Delta Region, and the Southeastern Loblolly Region. Each one is different and the deer population in each area has its own characteristics.
When it comes to private land, access is difficult.
"Private land is locked up," Durham said. "If you don't either know somebody or have a lease, you're not going to get onto private land anywhere."
The Northwestern Lobblolly/Shortleaf/Hardwood Region is primarily piney woods, and is part of the coastal plains habitat in northwest Louisiana. It includes Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, DeSoto, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Red River, Union, and Webster parishes.
The area has had some land-use changes over the past few years, but it also has a long history of gas and oil industry.
"There's a lot of fragmentation of the landscape," Dunham said. "Gas and oil speculation there is huge. You can see the checkerboard well pads on aerial photos."
A look at the harvest report data from the 2009-2010 season — the most recent for which data was available — indicates that the best parishes for private land hunting are Bossier, Webster, Union, Bienville and Jackson.
When it comes to public land, Loggy Bayou WMA is located in the southern most part of Bossier Parish and consists of 6,381 acres. Loggy Bayou lies between Loggy and Red Chute bayous and Lake Bistineau in the Red River Alluvial Valley of northwestern Louisiana. The area is one of the few bottom-land, hardwood areas remaining in northwest Louisiana. The terrain is flat with approximately 90 percent of the area being subject to annual flooding from backwaters of the Red River.
Jackson Bienville WMA is located in Bienville, Jackson and Lincoln parishes, 12 miles south of Ruston. An extensive system of gravel roads is available for use by the public. Limited ATV use is allowed on marked trails and on gravel or woods roads.
Jackson Bienville covers about 32,185 acres. The area is intensively managed for timber, so the habitat is highly diverse due to the varying timber harvest schedule, the interspersion of the hardwood areas, and more than 40 miles of utilities rights-of-ways.
Union WMA is located in Union Parish, approximately four miles west of Marion. Union is 11,192 acres in size and leased from Plum Creek Timber Company. Topography of the area is primarily rolling hills interlaced with several creeks and intermittent streams. Major creeks are Big Cane, Tick, and Meridian.
This North Mississippi Delta Region includes Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas and West Carroll parishes. Most of the habitat in this area is open farmland.
"Within the flooded areas you're probably going to see a decline," Durham said of the deer herd. "There may be poor fawn survival, because the does may be having the fawns outside of their home ranges."
These generally are June and July fawns, which also means little time for floodwaters to recede and the habitat to recover.
"Anywhere there's backwater flooding or in between the protection levees, the habitat will be impacted by the record floodwaters and we could have some declines there," Durham emphasized.
In this region, the data indicate that the best parish is Tensas.
One option for public land is the Ouachita WMA. Ouachita, at 10,989 acres in size, is located in southeast Ouachita Parish, approximately six miles southeast of Monroe.
Three Rivers WMA is situated in the southern tip of Concordia Parish and 50 miles south of Vidalia. It lies between the Mississippi and Red rivers, just north of Lower Old River. The proximity of those flows is where it gets its name. Three Rivers WMA consists of 27,380 acres.
Bayou Macon WMA is located in East Carroll Parish, roughly 3 1/2 miles east of Oak Grove and 7 1/2 miles northwest of Lake Providence. Interior vehicle access is restricted to all-terrain vehicle trails. Bayou Macon is 6,919 acres in size.
Dewey Wills WMA is located in the southern portion of LaSalle and Catahoula parishes in central Louisiana, approximately 20 miles northeast of Alexandria.
Dewey Wills is composed of about 61,871 acres. The area is flat, poorly drained land that is subject to annual overflow. The interior contains a network of all-weather roads providing vehicular access.
Boeuf WMA is in Caldwell and Catahoula parishes, 10 miles southeast of Columbia. There is a system of unimproved roads and trails, but four-wheel drive vehicles or ATV's are necessary to travel them during wet periods. Boeuf is approximately 50,971 acres of bottomland hardwoods and wetland habitat.
Sicily Island Hills WMA is located in northeast Catahoula Parish, six miles west of the town of Sicily Island. A series of unimproved roads and trails provide access to the interior of the area. The Boeuf and Ouachita rivers supply boat access to the western portion of the 7,524-acre property. The terrain is extremely rugged, with high ridges dropping sharply into the creek bottoms.
Grassy Lake WMA is positioned in northeastern Avoyelles Parish. Approximately 20 miles of all-weather limestone roads are maintained on the area. Additional access is provided by a network of ATV trails, which span approximately seven miles. The terrain is flat and drainage is poor.
Russell Sage WMA is located in Ouachita and Richland parishes, approximately seven miles east of Monroe and ten miles west of Rayville. Russell Sage is 16,829 acres in size and is flat and poorly drained. Numerous sloughs and shallow bayous meander throughout and backwater flooding occurs annually.
Buckhorn WMA sits in Tensas Parish, 14 miles west of St. Joseph. Trails ATVs and hiking provide access into the interior of the area. Buckhorn is comprised of 11,262 acres, including 200 acres of lakes and flooded bottoms, and slightly more than 8,000 acres of bottomland hardwood timber.
This Western Longleaf Region is south of Alexandria, on the western side of the state and was historically longleaf pine. It includes Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Grant, Jefferson Davis Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon and Winn parishes.
"There's about 600,000 acres of national forest in this region," Scott Dunham said. "It's very healthy, and although it's not necessarily managed for deer, good deep populations exist there."
In areas where the land has been converted to industrial timberland, deer numbers naturally are not as high as on lands managed specifically for whitetails. But, on some of these tracts, industrial landowners are changing their management practices so they place more emphasis on deer.
Here, too, on private land the deer herd still is strong. The two best parishes seem to be Vernon and Natchitoches.
Camp Beauregard WMA is primarily located in northeast Rapides Parish, with some acreage in southeast Grant Parish. The area lies approximately eight miles north of Alexandria.
Camp Beauregard is 12,500 acres. The terrain is characterized by gently rolling hills in the upland areas.
Sabine WMA is situated in central Sabine Parish, five miles south of Zwolle. This area is approximately 7554 acres and is owned by a major timber company.
Peason Ridge WMA is a military base, so it's subject to closings for training purposes. Peason Ridge, covering more than 33,000 acres, 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.
The South Mississippi/Atchafalaya Delta comprises the parishes of Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and West Baton Rouge.
A great deal of this area lies inside the Atchafalaya Basin. The area has suffered from flooding during the past couple of years, and this is where the greatest impact will be from being inundated in the spring of 2011.
"The entire Atchafalaya Basin is involved," Durham confirmed. "About a million acres will be impacted. The habitat will be knocked back and there will be less food available during the growing season.
"There probably will be an impact on fawn recruitment," he said, "so we could see real low productivity."
Fortunately, this is an area with late breeding; any whitetails that have managed to survive in the upper basin area didn't drop their fawns until July and August. In the lower basin it's more likely to have happen in June and July.
"It's just how well are they going to do once they are born and what kind of food is going to be there," Durham said.
Here, the best county for private land hunts appears to be Iberville.
Spring Bayou WMA is located in north central Avoyelles Parish, two miles east of Marksville. Access by vehicle to the east side is provided by an improved shell road off the Bordelonville levee. Access to the interior is mainly by boat.
Spring Bayou contains 12,506 acres and is in the low-lying Red River backwater system.
Pomme de Terre WMA is located off State Route 451, six miles east of Moreauville in east central Avoyelles Parish. Vehicular access is by gravel road at the southwest corner. Interior access is limited by water, however some 8 miles of ATV trails provide access to the majority of the area. Pomme de Terre is 6,434 acres.
In the Southeast Loblolly Region are the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana.
Here, urban sprawl continues to impact deer populations. After Katrina, many people who lived in New Orleans decided to move to higher ground, and they transferred to this region known as the Florida parishes. They were once part of the Republic of West Florida.
In this same area another factor affects the deer populations. It's the presence of feral hogs.
"There's increased competition from feral hogs all over the state," Durham said. "We know they're competitors for the same resources deer use, and there are a lot of hogs in this part of the state."
Tunica Hills WMA — although small at just under 6000 acres — is a good bet for deer. This area is composed of two separate tracts lying northwest of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish.
The area lies at the southern end of the Loess Blufflands escarpment, which follows the east bank of the Mississippi River south from its confluence with the Ohio River. These bluffs offer a diverse habitat.
Maurepas Swamp WMA is located 25 miles west of New Orleans and along the south shore of Lake Maurepas. The property consists of two tracts totaling 62,500 acres.
The majority of access to the area is by boat, but there are several portions that can be accessed by foot. Major waterways in the area are Blind River and the Reserve Flood Relief Canal.