National wildlife refuges have great hunting opportunities, but every hunter should be sure to keep up with new regulation changes each season.
This year on Bayou Cocodrie, St. Catherine’s Creek and Cat Island NWRs, a wonderful new rule change went into place making it mandatory for safety harnesses to be worn from any elevated deer stand to the standards of the Treestand Manufacturers Association.
Of course this should be common sense, but a surprising numbers of hunters don’t wear them — unfortunately risking their lives on every hunt.
For years I wore an ultra-lightweight rock climbing harness, but I had to switch to the lightweight full-body harness that comes with climbing stands to be legal. I find it’s very comfortable, but I had to get used to using jackets and leaving my sweatshirt pullovers at the camp because I often layer-up due to temperature changes that occur in a tree.
Also, the refuges went back to a more convenient old regulation where one portable stand or climber that’s properly marked with a name and phone number can be left in a hunting position secured to a tree. The previous rule made the hunter remove the stand from the tree after each hunt.
Another new portion in the pamphlet states that no untagged stand may be hunted on the refuges. Many hunters who carry their climbers in and out every hunt never bother with labeling their equipment, but now they have to.
Each year season dates and days-of-the-week regulations change: Two years ago it went from waterfowl only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends, to now only Wednesdays and weekends.
However, some years the pamphlets omit information. This season the pamphlet did not list that only certain lakes on St. Catherine’s Creek can be hunted for waterfowl.
At first, I was excited thinking some new holes I knew about were legal, but a talk with the game warden informed me that I couldn’t hunt those areas.
The rule correction was recently noted and updated on the refuge’s website, so double-checking a website or speaking with a warden is a smart move when older rules are no longer stated in the pamphlet.
The lottery applications and permits to hunt the refuges are much easier to get these days by going online and printing out the permits from LowerMississippiPermits.com.
The refuges’ websites and Facebook pages also update closures and flood information. This season Cat Island has been closed to hunting all year from the damage caused by the summer flooding.
I remember one season when Bayou Cocodrie changed the usual short non-permit primitive season to a lottery-only hunt. Many people like me who didn’t read the pamphlet until hunting season were sad to see they missed the lottery application date and couldn’t make that hunting season.
But keeping up with these rules can reward a hunter with remarkable experiences, like I enjoyed earlier this year.
I had been hunting Bayou Cocodrie for years. I even bought a camp near the place, but until last January I had never taken a racked buck there. For all my hard work and close calls, all I ever had to show were some hogs, small bucks and does.Nearly every spot I hunt in there is at least a mile-and-a-half walk, but I kept putting forth the effort with hopes for a nice buck.
My first time hunting the refuge in December several year ago after my initial scouting trip, I had a nice 110-inch buck walk 20 yards from me when I was setting up my stand. Thirty minutes later I saw him for nearly an hour following a doe at 60 yards right out of archery range. I took nice pictures and videos of him, thinking hunting over there would be just too easy.
One hunt I saw a racked buck out of range from my stand with a doe. I climbed down and made a successful stalk, grunting the buck back out of the thicket where it had disappeared. I had it in my crosshairs at 50 yards, but I didn’t notice a similar colored sapling covering the deer’s shoulder. My shot from the muzzleloader demolished that small tree instead of the buck.
A couple years ago, I had my chance at a very nice buck from the stand, but the cheap $20 scope from my college days fogged up at the moment of truth.
I hadn’t been back in two years, but for the primitive hunts the wind was wrong for nearly the whole six-day season. Finally, on the last day the southeast wind I need arrived, but it was raining all morning.
I went for a long run with my dogs at 4 a.m. while I watched all the other trucks load up early in the morning and head off in the woods to battle the rain. At 8, the rain seemed to be ending soon on radar, so I made my long journey into the woods — with a much nicer scope this time.
It took me 90 minutes to walk through the flooded palmetto brush and hook around to get the wind in my favor for this all-day hunt. My rain gear was definitely subpar with many holes, leaving me wet everywhere — and one of my boots had a leak.
The rain finally let off about 30 minutes after I was set up. With the wet leaves from the rain, hearing a deer would be nearly impossible.
They just have stealthy ways of slipping through these palmetto's unnoticed, but I had the advantage: I was wearing my Howard Leight Impact Sports Ear Protection Muffs with a 4-power hearing enhancement.
Just after noon, I heard the slightest step of a splash through a puddle — something I would have never heard without the hearing enhancement. I glanced up to see this nice rack creeping through quickly — with only a few shot gaps available 60 yards away.
Of course, I instantly started shaking, but I also had the advantage of having my trigger stick mono pod ready for me to take a very stable shot. I turned on some of my cameras and found the shoulder, then fired.
The buck jumped up on its front legs like a bucking bronco rising above the palmettos. Then, it instantly collapsed — not even giving a final twitch. I had made a perfect heart shot.
The deer would have sported eight points, but was all beat-up from fighting and had a broken G2 and G3. To me, this just gives the rack character.
It took me until dark to cart the deer out. Busting through the palmettos for nearly 2 miles was quite a challenge, but after hundreds of long walks into those woods and returning empty-handed, I gladly made that hard trek.
I shot the deer under a Nuttall tree that was still dropping, and this is the type of stuff I look for in my late-season January hunts.
It just shows you should never give up on the final day due to crappy weather, and maintain the patience to wait for the right wind to make a hunt.
After 96 deer hunts last season and hundreds of hunts on Bayou Cocodrie NWR over the years, I finally got to put my hands on a rack — and man did it feel great!