As thousands of resident and non-resident hunters get ready to hunt on the Wildlife Management Areas of Louisiana, one segment must be aware of a radical change from the norm.

Dove hunters cannot legally shoot lead pellets while hunting their favorite birds on state-owned or state-leased property in 2017-18.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission approved the regulation at its April 2017 meeting in Baton Rouge. The non-toxic shot pellets must be No. 6 and smaller when hunting doves on the state’s WMAs and on LDWF-leased dove fields.

Jillian Day, LDWF biologist manager in Hammond, noted the change in her first-ever report to the Louisiana Sportsman. She wrote, “This year all WMAs will require the use of non-toxic shot size 6 and smaller for doves.”

Why?

“We were seeing large quantities of lead deposits on WMAs. Think of years and years (of shooting at doves with lead shot). It adds up and doesn’t go away,” Day said.

Lead is toxic to all vertebrates, which is why lead paint was banned long, long ago. Lead shot use in waterfowl hunting was banned by the federal government years ago, also.

Cliff Dailey of Boyce, WMA biologist supervisor based in Pineville who has been with LDWF nearly nine years, said, “It’s not going to be that big of a deal.”

“I don’t have issues with using it. I haven’t noticed a big difference using it. It’s better for the resource. You just have to go out and buy it,” Daily said, noting that he hunts snipe with steel shot in the Catahoula Lake area.

Sometimes, he confided, hunters may have to do some hunting to find non-toxic shot in that region. He advised hunters to let the retailers know they need it to hunt doves on WMAs.

Top WMAs for dove hunting success in his region are Elbow Slough WMA, Sabine WMA and Camp Beauregard WMA.

Wendell Smith of Lake Charles, biologist regional manager for the Lake Charles Office Region, said the key to ushering in non-toxic shot for dove hunting on WMAs is communication.

“The main thing is getting the word out for people to know. Some guys drive from the other side of the state to hunt doves here. That’s the biggest thing,” Smith said. If those out-of-town dove hunters show up with four boxes of 7 ½ lead shot, they’ll more than likely drive back home if they can’t find non-toxic shot.


Hammond Office Region

A WMA with more than 124,000 acres is a favorite among big game and small game hunters in southeast Louisiana.

“Maurepas Swamp definitely is one of the more unique WMAs we have. You have to have a boat to get to most of the places,” Jillian Day of Walker said the first week of July from her Hammond office.

As a result, it isn’t as crowded out there as, say, Pearl River WMA with its varied access and close proximity to the New Orleans area, according to Day, a biologist in charge of the region’s nine WMAs. The Southeastern Louisiana University graduate has been with the state agency nearly eight years, the first four or five years as a game biologist in Hammond, followed by 1 ½ years as a fisheries biologist before returning to work as a game biologist in Hammond.

Day has been impressed all along with Maurepas Swamp WMA.

“It’s the biggest (WMA) we manage out of our office. We have thousands of acres for people to hunt. I think that’s why we see the numbers we see,” she said about the harvest of rabbits, squirrel and, especially, deer, that can be hunted on higher areas such as spoil banks that provide walkable ground.

To get there by boat, there are three popular boat ramps … Canal Bank Boat Launch along Louisiana 22 where it crosses the Diversion Canal … St. James Boat Club off Louisiana 51 … Black Lake Boat Launch along Louisiana 22 … and Hope Canal boat Launch, the only one physically on the Maurepas Swamp WMA, off Louisiana 6.

There are two access points for motor vehicle that hunters can use to walk into the WMA… Crusel Tract (established in November 2014) off Louisiana 16 near French Settlement and Boyce Tower Road near Sorrento.

Hunters who utilize the boat ramps and roads come out with eye-opening success rates. Maurepas Swamp WMA ranked second in the region’s rabbit and squirrel harvest (82 and 722, respectively) and first in the deer harvest (145) in 2016-17.

Maurepas Swamp WMA and the region’s other WMAs are in “good shape” going into 2017-18, Day said in her report for Louisiana Sportsman. The growing season started early because of a mild winter and should be long and productive, she said, also noting consistent rainfall in the region providing plenty of food for foraging wildlife. Habitat conditions were favorable and browse was bountiful during an assessment in early summer, she said.

There was minor flooding on some areas, she said, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape. We had a little high water with the little storm (Tropical Storm Cindy) that pushed through here a few weeks ago,” Day said. “I think we’re looking pretty good for this hunting season barring any more tropical development this summer.”


Deer

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Maurepas Swamp WMA — 145 in 2,580 hunter efforts. 2. Tunica Hills WMA — 60 in 2,154 hunter efforts. 3. Pearl River WMA — 60 in 2,277 hunter efforts.

Day expects most of the deer hunting success this season to be on Maurepas Swamp WMA, Tunica Hills WMA and Pearl River WMA.

As she said earlier, Maurepas Swamp WMA is immense and gets hunted by outdoorsmen who mostly enter by boat, which correlates to less hunting pressure than on other WMAs. It gave up 145 deer last season.

Tunica Hills WMA, where 60 deer were killed in 2016-17, offers a prime opportunity for someone to take a big buck in 2017-18. The area has extremely productive habitat and supports a good deer population, the biologist said.

Another plus in its favor is that 594 acres are being leased from the Office of State Parks, which provides more acreage for the public to hunt on Tunica Hills WMA.

Pearl River WMA is one of the more accessible WMAs for hunters to hunt and it features numerous roads and trails that are maintained. New Orleans area deer hunters frequent it.

When you plan to hunt deer on one of the region’s WMAs, mix it up and try hunting new parts of the woods and swampland, Day said, adding some hunters get into a rut by going to the same place year in and year out.

For example, she said, four-wheelers can be seen at the same place at the end of one trail nearly every day each hunting season on Tunica Hills WMA.

“Don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path. Places change over time. Get out. Move around a little bit and get off the beaten path,” Day said about the importance of preseason scouting to look for different hunting areas.


Squirrel

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Pearl River WMA — 2,267 in 2,231 hunter efforts. 2. Maurepas Swamp WMA — 722 in 941 hunter efforts. 3. Tunica Hills WMA — 373 in 290 hunter efforts.

Day points squirrel hunters who are hopeful of filling their bag with a limit to Pearl River WMA, which she said in her report “has been consistently one of the highest producers of squirrels over the past few years and is expected to be again this coming season.” Last year’s mast crop was fairly productive and should have carried over an abundant squirrel population, she said.

Pearl River WMA is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, she said, but is starting to open up and make access a little easier.

Day said consistent squirrel hunting success also can be enjoyed, weather and other conditions permitting, on the Maurepas Swamp WMA, which boasts more than 124,000 acres of cypress/tupelo swamp with a small percentage of oak ridges and spoil banks across the area. Focus on mast-producing areas for a great opportunity to harvest plenty of squirrels, she said.

Also try Tunica Hills WMA. There is an abundance of mature oak trees and other mast-producing trees that provide fine squirrel habitat and a ready food source.


Rabbit

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Pearl River WMA — 135 in 1,075 hunter efforts. 2. Maurepas Swamp WMA — 82 in 517 hunter efforts. 3. Joyce WMA — 7 in 30 hunter efforts.

Expect another season of high rabbit harvest rates on Pearl River WMA, Day said in her report.

While the thick understory created by Hurricane Katrina is starting to open up a little bit, the area still has prime rabbit habitat, she said.

Maurepas Swamp WMA really isn’t known for its rabbit habitat. But it is proving to be a consistent producer of rabbits every hunting season. Most of the success is enjoyed along the Diversion Canal, which provides higher ground for rabbits and hunters.

Another WMA to consider for rabbit hunting, she said, is Sandy Hollow WMA, an area that benefits from routine prescribed burning that keeps it in early successional habitat, a development that creates plenty of browse for rabbits as well as edge habitat around the numerous fields and quail plots on the WMA, according to the biologist.


Woodcocks and doves

Some great wing shooting opportunities await dove hunters who visit the Sandy Hollow WMA. That was proved last season when 468 doves were downed in 300 hunter efforts on the four dove fields totaling 44 acres and planted with browntop millet.

Day noted in her report that wet weather has slowed some early planting efforts but that she still expected to have plenty of doves on the area for opening weekend.

The biologist noted that three fields on the North Tract are open for youth hunters and supervising adults on opening day of the season, while the South Tract is open to all dove hunters. After opening day, dove season is closed on the WMA until the following Saturday and follows the outside dove season after that.


Turkey

Day said the best opportunity to harvest a turkey in this region is on the Tunica Hills WMA. She said there is a youth lottery hunt, three general lottery hunts and an open seven-day segment at the end of the season. This spring, four turkeys were bagged in 172 hunter efforts.

Other turkey hunting opportunities are available on Sandy Hollow WMA, Pearl River WMA, Lake Ramsey, Tangipahoa Parish School Board and Hutchinson Creek WMAs, she said.


Ducks

One of the hottest duck hunting public areas in the state last season was Pearl River WMA, where 1,659 waterfowl were harvested in 1,806 hunter efforts.

The region also offers fair to good duck hunting on other WMAs, such as Manchac WMA, where 655 ducks were bagged in 668 hunter efforts, and at Joyce WMA, which boasted 565 ducks downed in 411 hunter efforts.

Day said habitat conditions on those areas are excellent going into the season. However, she said, biologists still are trying to control giant salvinia on Manchac WMA. The biologist advised all boaters to make sure their boats, boat trailers and other equipment are cleaned and free of the underwater vegetation to help prevent its spread to other areas.


Pineville Office Region

When Cliff Dailey of Boyce talks about preseason habitat conditions on WMAs in his region he identifies the positives and any drawbacks he and his staff see on Dewey Wills WMA, Little River WMA, Camp Beauregard WMA, Alexander State Forest WMA, Sabine WMA and Elbow Slough WMA.

Dailey, WMA biologist supervisor who has been with the department nine years in December, detailed the habitat conditions for each WMA. This year he’s also touting the good, physical condition of the deer herd on Dewey Wills WMA, a 63,901-acre public hunting jewel in the Sportsman’s Paradise.

He’s predicting another good deer harvest in 2017, basing that on habitat conditions and the sky-high lactation rate of the does inhabiting the region’s WMAs, especially Dewey Wills WMA.

“In fact, on Dewey Wills, on our does last season, it (lactation rate) was 78 percent and on our 3 ½-year-old plus females it was 85 percent. Anything over 70 percent is considered good,” Dailey said.

Those lactation rates indicate very good reproduction.

“I’m looking forward to the season, especially on Dewey Wills. There are a few reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is the lactation rate. It’s very high on mature does. It should carry over,” he said. “Also, we modified the either-sex firearms season, which allows hunters to take more does prior to the rut,” he said, which is important because bucks must be more active seeking does for breeding. The change also takes more mouths off the landscape for the lean months of the year, which benefits the overall population. (Read about the new regs there in the deer section of this report.)

He reported on habitat conditions on that and the other WMAs in his annual report for Louisiana Sportsman.

* At Dewey Wills WMA, last fall’s mast crop was above average. However, the area experienced moderate flooding for a few weeks earlier this year. Deer browse and other wildlife forage are at levels suitable for the native species. Timber harvests last year increased the abundance of food at the ground level.

* At Little River WMA, backwater flooding this winter and spring covered one-third of the WMA. Still, there was enough upland acreage on the area for the herd to migrate to. A prescribed fire rotation continued this year, thus improving habitat conditions game/non-game species as fire reduces mid-story competition in upland pine stands allowing beneficial food plants to grow.

* At Camp Beauregard WMA, habitat conditions are good because of routine harvesting of pine plantations. Spring rains and open canopy combine to create prime habitat.

* At Alexander State Forest WMA, habitat conditions are above average. Prescribed fire rotations and spring rains have resulted in good browse and cover.

* At Sabine WMA, habitat conditions are favorable due to routine harvesting of pine plantations. Spring rains and open canopy did the rest.

* At Elbow Slough WMA, flooding hindered dove field plantings but there should be ample acreage of milo and browntop millet to provide good dove hunting opportunities.


Deer

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Dewey Wills WMA — 375. 2. Camp Beauregard WMA — 115. 3. Sabine WMA — 47.

Dewey Wills WMA has quantity and quality when it comes to the deer that roam the bottomland hardwoods, sloughs and cypress brakes brimming with mast from nuttall, willow and overcup oak, a coveted food source for the deer in fall and winter. What’s more, it’s surrounded by several thousand acres of agriculture and land in the Wetlands Reserve Program.

Old, dying trees combined with timber harvesting have created canopy gaps to form “briar thickets” beneficial for deer.

For those reasons, this is the place deer hunters have the best opportunity to zero in on a quality buck. To further enhance a deer hunter’s chance of harvesting a trophy-sized deer, the season structure was changed for this season, Dailey said. The either-sex modern fireman season has moved from early December to Thanksgiving weekend. The either-sex primitive weapon hunting was moved from January to early December and reduced to two days.

These changes will allow for the majority of the does to be harvested prior to the rut, thus making a more efficient rut and providing more food resources for the residual herd in late winter, Dailey said in his report.

He advises deer hunters to log time scouting in the preseason and spend some time in the woods if they want to increase the odds in their favor of killing a big buck.

Dailey expects another fair to good deer harvest on Camp Beauregard WMA, where he said harvest levels are consistently high each season. Also, he said, the success rate for the Thanksgiving managed deer hunts are some of the best on any WMA.

Camp Beauregard WMA has a mix of upland pine areas and lower creek bottom hardwood areas, he said. The area is managed for timber production with regular harvesting, which promotes the growth of deer browse plants.

Sabine WMA features clear cuts in several areas, which have been replanted and provide optimum deer cover and food. Thinning of pine plantations there also contributes to browse and cover for deer.


Squirrel

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Dewey Wills WMA — 4,196. 2. Alexander State Forest WMA — 407. 3. Little River WMA — 230.

How awesome has the squirrel hunting success been on Dewey Wills WMA? Last season squirrel hunters were calling the Opelousas office during the squirrel hunting season inquiring about the nearly 64,000-acre area in the Pineville Office Region, Dailey said.

“The word was traveling fast,” he said. “If we have another at least average mast crop it’s going to be squirrel crazy out there on Dewey.”

More than 4,000 squirrels were bagged in 2016-17. The harvest could be similar this season because a “great hardwood mast crop in 2016 has populations going strong going into this season,” Dailey said.

Opening weekend is hard to beat, which is why camping and hunting there is a storied tradition at that time.

To avoid the crowd, try hunting during midweek early in the season, the biologist recommended.

Squirrel hunters who prefer hunting on public lands also can try Alexander State Forest WMA, where a little more than 407 squirrels were harvested last season. It has a mix of pine areas and hardwood areas, with most of the concentrations of mast-producing hardwoods standing along the major drainages.

Another destination for squirrel hunters is Little River WMA, where a redeeming factor is less hunting pressure. More than 200 squirrels went into the bag there last season.

Dailey said, “Hunters should check this WMA out for great hunting with little competition.”

The area, has upland pine and bottomland hardwoods, is another popular place for squirrel hunters who like to set up camp on opening weekend.


Rabbit

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Alexander State Forest WMA — 53. 2. Dewey Wills WMA — 52. 3. Sabine WMA — 26.

Some of the best rabbit hunting the past few seasons has been on Alexander State Forest WMA, which has a growing, healthy rabbit population and areas of thinned pine country that had prescribed burnings in recent years, according to Dailey. Those sites grow excellent ground level food such as greenbrier and dewberry, he said. Also, he said, old pine tops also provide desired cover.

Another consistent public area for successful rabbit hunting is the sprawling Dewey Wills WMA, which offers excellent habitat for rabbits within and adjacent to recent clear cuts or thinning in the bottomland hardwoods, Dailey said. Huge oak tops left over from logging procedures also provide excellent cover, he said, adding rabbit hunters should check out the Small Game Emphasis Area option for earlier use rabbit dogs on that WMA. Some of the most productive rabbit hunting there is north of the Diversion Canal, he said.

Sabine WMA also offers some fair rabbit hunting success, particularly in the clear cuts in several areas that have been replanted and afford plentiful rabbit cover and food, according to the biologist. Also, some pine plantations have been thinned, thus providing good browse and cover for rabbits.


Woodcock and doves

For woodcock hunters, Dewey Wills WMA is a woodcock hunting wonderland that should be a top destination for those looking to avoid crowds while filling their game bag, Dailey said. Some prime woodcock hunting often can be enjoyed within a short walking distance from major roads, he said.

The biologist suggested woodcock hunters look for old logging sites that have grown back to thickets, including those adjacent to Hunt Road (south of the Diversion Canal), Muddy Bayou and Indian Bayou.

For dove hunters, the place to be this season will be Elbow Slough WMA, which features a popular dove hunting lottery hunt the opening weekend of the first split, Dailey said.

Despite high water there earlier this year that limited planting of milo and browntop millet, he said, “We’ve got more than enough food for doves to come in.”

Open hunting for doves takes place Saturdays/Sundays and Wednesdays after opening weekend of the first split for the duration of the first and second splits, he said.

Two other public areas that offer fair to good dove hunting at times is Sabine WMA and Camp Beauregard WMA. Look for recent clear cuts with goatweed and try to find some shade, Dailey said.


Turkey

Dailey said the best option for turkey hunting success in this region is Little River WMA, which gets low to moderate hunting pressure and harbors enough birds for hunters to chase. He said a prescribed fire program has improved habitat conditions there by reducing thick brush and midstory trees.


Ducks

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Dewey Wills WMA — 1,320. 2. Little River WMA — 106. 3. Alexander State — 146.

Ducks and duck hunters alike flock to Dewey Wills WMA, where more than 1,300 ducks were harvested last season, according to Dailey. There are two main areas to go duck hunting.

Duck hunting is popular within the Greentree Reservoir on the southern end of Dewey Wills WMA. There are approximately 400 acres with maintained potholes that offer duck hunting locations for the public.

The Dewey Wills WMA’s Intermittent Impoundment, located north of the Diversion Canal between Hunt Road and Louisiana 28 East, is another popular destination, Dailey said. It is designed to flood the Muddy Bayou watershed, thus creating up to 3,000 acres of greentree habitat during winter months, although it relies solely on rainfall for winter flooding because it isn’t pumped.

The majority of the impoundment will be a “limited access” area, he said, which restricts the use of motorized vehicles from Nov. 1-Jan. 31. He recommended duck hunters reference the 2017 WMA map for details.

Also giving duck hunters the opportunity to hunt ducks on public property with fair to good results is the Little river WMA. The Little River’s backwaters provide the majority of waterfowl hunting opportunities on the WMA.

Another possibility for duck hunting on public land is Alexander State Forest WMA.


Lake Charles Office Region

Numbers don’t lie.

That’s why outdoorsmen who love to harvest and bring home small game animals should focus their preseason attention and scouting time on West Bay WMA in the Lake Charles Office Region. Why? That’s where most of the action is, said biologist regional manager Wendell Smith in mid-July. Nearly 3,000 squirrels and 35 rabbits, most in the region by a landslide, were harvested on the area in 2016-17.

“West Bay seems to be a winner every year,” said Smith, a 28-year veteran biologist with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “It’s creek bottom hunting. With 15,000 acres, there are a lot of creeks running through there. Pine trees are on both sides.”

Major creek bottoms to scout, he confided, are Alligator Creek, Little Mill Creek, Middle Cree, Mill Creek, Buster Creek and Curtis Creek, all of which are home to significant squirrel populations for the avid outdoorsman to enjoy, Smith said.

Smith, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from McNeese State University, said the region has a lot more going for it as the 2017-18 season approaches in Louisiana. For example, the public hunting opportunities for squirrels extends to Peason Ridge WMA and Sabine Island WMA, which is accessible only by boat, and deer hunting success is consistently good, despite intermittent closures for military maneuvers at Fort Pork/Vernon WMA.

Smith said small game hunters can participate in the late dog season in which squirrel dogs and beagles are allowed. But, he noted, the LDWF has provided more small game hunting opportunity by allowing the use of dogs the entire rabbit/squirrel hunting season on Marsh Bayou WMA (Evangeline Parish) and Walnut Hill (Vernon Parish) WMA. Those two WMAs also allow a summertime dog training season from June to August.

One of the region’s main draws, however, is woodcock hunting on Clear Creek WMA, according to Smith. With business opportunities growing by leaps and bounds in southwest Louisiana, prospective workers who want to relocate from northern states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin call several times a year asking about woodcock hunting prospects and whether to bring their dogs down to the Sportsman’s Paradise.

“I send them to Clear Creek. They seem to do well,” the biologist said.

Until most of last season, that is. Last winter was dry and fairly warm, he said, of which the drought was the main culprit in discouraging woodcock to stay in southwest Louisiana. The migratory gamebirds found it difficult, if not impossible, to use their long beaks to dig for food during that period and, poof, they were gone.

However, woodcock hunting picked up later in the season, based on self-clearing permits, after the rains came, Smith said.

As for overall habitat conditions in the region before 2017-18, Smith said a mild winter coupled with a heavy mast crop left wildlife in great shape heading into spring. Turkeys were feeding on acorns well into the month of February, he said. A wet spring and summer stimulated forage growth, such as forbs and herbs that are favorable to all species, the biologist said.

That abundance of rainfall had a negative effect on turkey nesting, he said, noting hens tend to re-nest if a failure happens.

Smith was pleased to report that prescribed burning on Clear Creek WMA, Peason Ridge WMA and Fort Polk/Vernon WMAs should result in excellent early successional habitat for all wildlife, game and non-game animals alike. Forest-thinning projects on Clear Creek WMA and West Bay WMA also will produce beneficial habitats in a couple years.


Deer

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Fort Polk/Vernon WMA — 518 in 8,112 hunter efforts (some closures). 2. West Bay WMA — 236 in 5,797 hunter efforts. 3. Clear Creek WMA — 250 in 5,278 hunter efforts. 4. Peason Ridge WMA — 226 in 4,014 hunter efforts (some closures). 5. Sabine Island WMA — 24 in 248 hunter efforts.

Many deer hunters in the know can’t wait to get into the woods for the deer hunting season opener in this region for 2017-18. They know thick-bodied, mature bucks await them on Fort Polk/Vernon WMA, as well as West Bay WMA, Clear Creek WMA and Peason Ridge WMA, which the region’s biologist speaks highly of.

“Yeah, you know, there’s a group of bowhunters who start counting down (to the opener) the day after the season closes,” Smith said.

He and hundreds of deer hunters are hopeful of favorable weather conditions when that date arrives.

“If they get early cold fronts with the opening of the deer season, they’re going to be very successful,” he said. “Good, cool weather, good camping weather, is what we need. Deer put on their winter coat (regardless). If it’s warm, they’ll bed down on 75- to 80-degree mornings. They won’t be moving. If it’s cool, they’ll be frisky.”

Ah, frisky. That’s what everyone hopes for. To a man and woman, deer hunters probably chime, “bring it on, Old Man Winter.”

That said, Smith’s forecast is anticipating an average deer harvest overall on his region’s WMAs. He pointed out the region experienced mild winter conditions followed by abundant rainfall in the spring and summer, which improved habitat conditions even more for healthy deer populations across the board. Plus, he said, body weights are consistent with the 10-year average, another important index in deer herd management, and lactation rates are average or above average

He expects a similar deer harvest this season on Fort Polk/Vernon WMA to the region-leading takeoff 518 deer in 2016-17. He credits the high number to sheer size of that WMA.

Smith said West Bay WMA and Clear Creek WMA boasted the second-highest deer harvest but recent timber operations have created thick growths of vegetation that reduce visibility and further challenge the deer hunter. Clear Creek WMA should allow for a better view because of its hilly terrain, he said.

Peason Ridge WMA has the potential of being one of the best deer hunting WMAs in the Lake Charles Office Region, Smith proclaimed, noting newly acquired acreage gives deer hunters an excellent opportunity to kill a deer. The area had 18,000 acres (Cold Springs Section) added and 23,300 acres (Kurthwood Section) tacked on to bring the total to a little more than 74,000 acres on Peason Ridge WMA. Several mature bucks were harvested on the Kurthwood Section in 2016-17.

“The LDWF is always looking for ways to increase the opportunity for the outdoor enthusiast and this addition will accomplish this goal,” Smith wrote proudly in his annual report for Louisiana Sportsman.


Squirrel

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. West Bay WMA — 2,997 in 3,016 hunter efforts. 2. Fort Polk/Vernon WMA — 864 in 654 hunter efforts. 3. Peason Ridge WMA and Sabine Island WMA — 436 and 431, respectively, in 414 and 203 hunter efforts, respectively.

The table is set for another glorious season for squirrel hunters on WMAs in the Lake Charles Office Region.

“The mast crop was great last year so we should have a lot of squirrels, and we’ve had a lot of rain (this year) so we should have a good mast crop this year,” Smith said.

There’s more to squirrel hunting success in the region besides West Bay WMA, which gave up 2,997 squirrels to 3,016 hunters last season. The creek bottoms on that WMA hold “significant populations” for squirrel hunters, the biologist said.

However, Fort Polk/Vernon WMA is a viable alternative, Smith said. It had the region’s second-highest harvest of squirrels — 864 — in 2016-17. He noted its substantial hardwood bottoms offer plenty of areas for the small game hunter to hunt. However, he points out, Fort Polk/Vernon WMA and Peason Ridge WMA are military training areas so they are subject to temporary closures throughout the hunting season. Smith advised squirrel hunters to refer to the website listed in the hunting pamphlet for maps showing open/closed areas before traveling to the WMA.

Peason Ridge WMA and Sabine Island WMA had the third-most squirrels harvested last season. The former has upland type game hunting while the latter has more swamp/ridge type hunting.

Smith said squirrel hunters should consider that Sabine Island WMA is accessible only by boat as the main waterways surrounding the island are the Sabine River to the west and Old River to the east. Boat launches that provide access to the former squirrel hunting mecca are at Niblett Bluff Park, Bass Lake Road and on the Texas side from the Interstate 10 boat ramp. For more information on WMA access call the field office at (337) 491-2575.


Rabbit

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. West Bay WMA — 35 in 101 hunter efforts. 2. Clear Creek WMA — 25 in 73 hunter efforts.

While Smith and staffers weren’t seeing beau coup rabbits on WMAs during the mid-summer, they were seeing more and more rabbits along the side of the roads off the WMAs and that’s a good sign for 2017-18, he said from his Lake Charles office in mid-July.

For sure, he said, browse and habitat conditions were highly favorable at the time, as they were the previous summer.

West Bay WMA gave up the most rabbits last season, he reported.

“They hunt them there. That late dog season, they’re in there,” he said.

Rabbit hunting generally is limited to timber clear cut areas adjacent to creek bottoms at West Bay WMA and Clear Creek WMA, he said. Marsh Bayou WMA is a close third to rabbit hunting success in the region.


Woodcock and doves

There’s something about Clear Creek WMA that brings out the best in woodcock hunting in the Lake Charles Office Region.

Smith has the answer: Its close proximity to the Sabine River. The tasty migratory game birds roost in the hardwood bottomlands along the river and feed on Clear Creek WMA.

“(Woodcock hunters) hunt in the morning before they go back to roost the rest of the day,” he advised.

The birds flourish in those areas with the low brush hanging over them, he pointed out.

Hopefully, the biologist said, weather conditions will be conducive to fair to good woodcock hunting this season. That wasn’t the case for most of last season because of drought conditions that left the ground dry, thus difficult if not impossible for the birds to forage for food, such as worms.

Clear Creek WMA also is a top destination for dove hunters. It’s jump shooting, mostly, so be prepared, Smith advised.

“They shot pretty good out there (last season),” he said.

Scouting is a must because dove hunters need to find the clear cuts, he said.


Turkey

A wet, wet spring isn’t what the turkey population wanted this year on the Lake Charles Office Region’s WMAs. The wily, particular birds detest wet nests and wet bodies because they start stinking, a dead giveaway for predators to find.

“Normally, the turkey hatch goes down in the years with lots of rain. Luckily, we have several age groups out here,” he said, noting biologists would determine more about this year’s hatch in August.

“We’ll see later this summer with the turkey poult surveys,” he said.

For sure, if this was a down year for turkey reproduction, the birds will make up for it with an outstanding one in the future.


Monroe Office Region

Two popular Wildlife Management Areas in north Louisiana are almost touching now thanks to the availability for the 2017-18 hunting season of the Ouachita Parish School Board Tract on the Russell Sage WMA.

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries purchased the 3,000-acre tract in August 2015 with $10.25 million from the state agency’s Conservation Fund. The property, which borders Bayou Lafourche in Ouachita and Caldwell parish, was added to the southern tip of the WMA to increase the public area’s total acreage to 37,612.

Russell Sage WMA is a very close neighbor now to Boeuf WMA, which last season yielded the highest rabbit harvest, second-highest squirrel take and second-highest deer harvest in the region. Boeuf WMA is just south of Russell Sage WMA.

Mitch McGee, biologist supervisor for the Monroe Office Region’s WMAs, was excited about the new addition on Russell Sage WMA. McGee said the tract gives hunters, particularly rabbit hunters, more opportunities to enjoy their passion, adding that it currently boasts “the best early successional habitat on the area.”

The infrastructure on the Ouachita Parish School Board Tract, known as the Kennedy tract, wasn’t in place as of mid-July, the biologist said, which means hunters may have to walk into the new tract this season. Hopefully, McGee said, ATV access will be available in the near future.

Overall, habitat conditions were fair to good in mid-summer on all the region’s WMAs, he said, and most of the public areas are recovering from the flood in 2016. Russell Sage WMA experienced the most lasting high-water effects with scattered tree mortality in the younger plantations, he pointed out.

After a mild winter, all the region’s WMAs saw a “green up” several weeks earlier than normal, a development that reduced stress periods for wildlife and ensured adequate nesting cover for many bird species, McGee said. Early and frequent summer rainfall should provide for good mast production this fall, he said.

“I think it looks pretty good right now. These afternoon showers keep the browse lush and green,” he said from his Monroe office. “The white oaks, in particular, look like they’ll have a good mast crop this year. Judging from what we’ve seen so far, white oaks are looking pretty good.”


Deer

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Boeuf WMA — 443 in 4,209 hunter efforts. 2. Big Lake WMA — 277 in 2,676 hunter efforts. 3. Buckhorn WMA — 127 in 1,704 hunter efforts.

McGee, an eight-year veteran with the department who graduated with a degree in forestry management from Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, noted while talking a few weeks ago about deer hunting success last season that habitat conditions improved significantly before the season due to several timber harvests on Big Lake WMA and Boeuf WMA. As a result, sunlight reached the forest floor to set the stage for quality browse conditions and understory habitat.

“The deer responded very well,” the biologist said.

That was an understatement. There were 443 deer killed on Boeuf WMA and 277 taken off Big Lake WMA in 2016-17. Those one-two deer harvest leaders were followed by 127 deer harvested from Buckhorn WMA.

Each of those numbers were higher than the season before, especially on Boeuf WMA, where the deer harvest jumped from 179 in 2015-16 to 443.

“During the Thanksgiving weekend period, if you knew what you were doing, you were at least going to see something and have a shot,” McGee said about Boeuf WMA, where more than 300 deer were harvested over the three-day managed hunt. “The river was down and people could access wherever they wanted to go. They weren’t cut off (by water).”

There are similar timber harvest prescriptions in the works this year on other WMAs in the Monroe Office Region, he said. The department will post them on its website, he said.

All three WMAs have a combination of both mature timber and early successional habitat, he said.

Buckhorn WMA is a viable destination for those who want to hunt where there’s less pressure and look down the barrel at a high quality deer.

“I really feel Buckhorn is underutilized by the public,” McGee said, adding each of the region’s WMAs produces good-sized bucks but there’s something special about Buckhorn WMA, perhaps in the rich soil that produces high quality browse for the deer herd.

“There were deer pushing 250, 300 pounds there last season,” he said.

He understands why fewer people hunt it than, say, Boeuf WMA. It isn’t easy.

“It’s harder to hunt because of the palmetto,” he said.

That’s also another reason the deer get so large. The thick palmetto understory provides convenient escape cover, the biologist said in his annual report for Louisiana Sportsman.

McGee said a deer hunter who doesn’t mind going the extra mile and spending adequate time scouting will stand a good chance of harvesting a quality buck this season on the WMA.


Squirrel

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Big Lake WMA — 3,616 in 1,513 hunter efforts. 2. Boeuf WMA — 2,345 in 1,307 hunter efforts. 3. Buckhorn WMA — 364 in 211 hunter efforts.

Squirrel hunting success is as good as the mast crop the year before.

McGee said as much while discussing prospects on his region, a squirrel hunting mecca, for 2017-18.

“It all depends on the mast crop and how good it was the previous year, so it should be another good year of squirrel hunting this year,” he said, pointing out that the top three WMAs in his region — Big Lake WMA, Boeuf WMA and Buckhorn WMA — have vast acres of mature bottomland hardwood forests with mast-producing trees that serve as a quality squirrel habitat.

Acorns, pecans and some soft mast species are the major food sources in the fall and winter months, he said. Squirrel populations fluctuate with hard mast yields and that yield was above average in 2016.

Big Lake WMA, where 3,616 squirrels were harvested last season, is a favorite area for squirrels and squirrel hunters because of the tall trees, McGee said, plus the fact there is less palmetto there than at Buckhorn WMA.

“So people are able to walk around better,” he said.

Boeuf WMA, which gave up 2,345 squirrels in 2016-17, is another prime area because of its higher ridges and willow flats.

“When you get to the lower ground, there is a lot of overcup oaks and bitter pecans,” he said, noting the overcup oaks serve to discourage squirrel hunters who hunt with dogs because practically every tree has a cavity in it.


Rabbit

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Boeuf WMA — 42 in 61 hunter efforts. 2. Russell Sage WMA — 22 in 92 hunter efforts. 3. Bayou Macon WMA — 4 in 10 hunter efforts.

The 2016 spring flood did its damage to the rabbit population on WMAs managed by the Monroe Office Region. Rabbit harvests plummeted on all and it might take several years for the populations to recover, according to McGee.

Despite drastic drops in rabbit hunting success rates this past season across the Monroe region Wildlife Management Areas, the local biologist supervisor believes better days are ahead for those who love to hunt that small game.

Boeuf WMA, which gave up 42 rabbits, had the steepest decline in the harvest rate from the 2015-16 season — 86 percent. The floodwaters stayed on 95 percent of the WMA, the biologist said, thus forcing rabbits to concentrate on isolated islands of available habitat and leading to increased predation. However, he said, recent timber harvest and the emergence of young plantation stands are providing the early successional habitat needed to help rabbit populations recover there.

A sleeper as far as a go-to place for rabbit hunting is Russell Sage WMA, which still is recovering from the 2016 flood.

“The flood really impacted the rabbits. All of Sage was underwater. There wasn’t any area to get away from it,” McGee said.

The impact was reflected in 2016-17 with an 84 percent decline in the harvest rate from the previous season.

Russell Sage WMA should bounce back strong, he said, noting rabbit hunters may want to try the newly opened Ouachita Parish School Board Tract on the lower end of the WMA. It features the best early successional habitat on the area, he said.

Bayou Macon WMA’s rabbit populations have improved the past few years with the addition of WRP tracts adjacent to the WMA. Also, McGee said, LDWF reforestation projects have enhanced early successional habitat conditions and the rabbit numbers are responding.


Dove

After opening weekend, dove hunting fields on WMAs in the Monroe Office Region are underutilized by hunters, according to McGee’s report.

Russell Sage WMA has a small five-acre dove field that is planted in browntop millet that can be productive, he said, while Boeuf WMA features Elliot Field, a 40-acre dove field. Big Bayou Colewa WMA also has a 10-acre planted dove field.

Dove hunters may want to note that LDWF personnel prep fields, plant and sometimes burn fields in preparation for the dove season opener.


Turkey

Big Lake WMA and Boeuf WMA were closed during the 2016 turkey season due to the spring flood but reopened to some fair to good hunting success in 2017, McGee reported.

There was heavy hunting pressure on Big Lake WMA, where 42 turkeys were bagged, mostly by turkey hunters willing to get away from the popular areas.

Boeuf WMA had much less hunter participation and six turkeys were harvested.

Turkey hunters fortunate enough to be selected for the JC Sonny Gilbert WMA lottery hunt harvested 14 birds for a success rate of one bird per 12 hunter efforts.


Ducks

The Monroe Office Region offers several good duck hunting WMAs led by Russell Sage WMA, which boasts the new Wham Brake water control structure, and Boeuf WMA. There is plenty of quality waterfowl habitat and plenty of spots for duck hunters to spread out.

Russell Sage WMA has 13 waterfowl management units totaling 7,550 acres, an area that includes 500 acres of flooded agricultural fields, 4,500 acres of moist soil management units and 2,550 acres of green tree impoundments, McGee noted in his report. The most popular duck hunting areas are Wham Brake and the Green Tree Reservoir. South of Louisiana 15, there is Pintail Alley and a flooded bean field. On those two public areas combined, 5,769 ducks were harvested during 5,769 hunter efforts.

McGee said duck hunters must keep in mind that the Green Tree Reservoir, as well as the bean field and Pintail Alley, are flooded artificially and that is dependent on the water level of the Bayou Lafourche Canal. All infrastructure is ready before duck season but the canal dictates when and how much water goes into the impoundments.

Boeuf WMA has a 1,962-acre green tree reservoir, plus two shallow water and moist soil areas totaling 3,875 acres that are known locally as the Crowfield and Topan. The WMA’s popularity and productivity showed again last season when 3,206 waterfowlers harvested 5,062 birds.


Minden Office Region

The Minden Office Region biologist manager has a fervent wish for anyone and everyone who steps foot on the region’s Wildlife Management Areas: Please bring a wild hog home to cook.

Feral hogs on the public areas here and in most places across the state are out of control as far as numbers, which is bad news for several reasons, foremost among them that they carry diseases harmful to all wildlife. One of the diseases causes does to abort fetuses during their pregnancy.

“If you come up here to hunt, make sure you kill a hog. We do encourage people to shoot them,” veteran LDWF biologist C.R. Newland said recently from his Minden office. “They’re so damn prolific. All WMAs have hogs on them.”

Perhaps hunters could start a tongue-in-cheek “Hug a Hog” campaign, hugging it after it’s dead and dressed, of course, for transport back to the camp or home whether in or outside Louisiana. There is a dire need to remove the disease-carrying extra mouths from the land.

What may appeal to avid bowhunters is that many wild hogs in the Minden region are European-type hogs — big and black that look more like a wild boar, Newland said. Step right up, bowhunters, and draw back on those animals that inhabit the region’s WMAs, particularly Bayou Pierre WMA. “Boar”-ing? No, indeed, quite exciting as a matter of fact and beneficial to wildlife and the environment.

Newland knows the areas like the back of his hand. After all, he’s the dean of the WMA biologist managers and biologist supervisors with 35-plus years with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Going into 2017-18, Newland is optimistic based on habitat conditions across the Minden region.

“Well, we’ve had a lot of rain and habitat conditions at this point of the summer habitat conditions are as good as can be expected,” he said from his office. “At least the animals will be in good condition. They’ll be in good shape.”

He’s always concerned there may be drought conditions between then and the opening of the hunting seasons.

“As always there’s always the potential for a summer and/or a fall drought that would negatively impact vegetation growth and wildlife food production. A prolonged drought causes reduced body weight and poorer survival rates for young of the year wildlife. It can also result in adults being in poorer condition and reduce reproduction success for the following year. If a drought is avoided or is not too severe then habitat conditions can be expected to be good going into hunting season,” Newland wrote in his annual report for the Louisiana Sportsman.


Deer

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Bodcau WMA — 211. 2. Loggy Bayou WMA — 109. 3. Bayou Pierre WMA — 18.

Newland points deer hunters in the direction of Bodcau WMA for numbers and to Loggy Bayou WMA and Bayou Pierre WMA for quality deer in 2017-18 within the Minden Field Office Region.

He’s expecting fair to good results.

“I don’t want to make predictions,” Newland said while talking about deer hunting prospects, “but I think it’ll be better than the previous year.”

Every aspect of the deer season should be improved, he said.

For sure, he said, there’s been no drought this year after a mild winter and a wet summer, perfect conditions so far. However, he said in the same breath, that could change as too many times in past years there has been a dry stretch from August to October.

“The good thing is that the fawns are on the ground. That’s a good thing,” he said about numerous sightings across the region’s WMAs.

“We started seeing them in June, although parts of this area have a later rut,” he continued, noting reproduction appears to have been good after a mild winter and wet spring and early summer. “Does are in good shape. They shouldn’t have any problem.”

And, he said, relieved, there is no sign of blue tongue disease in the deer herd as there was a few years ago. The deer herd has bounced back.

Bodcau WMA has a variety of habitat types and large acreage, he said, while Loggy Bayou WMA and Bayou Pierre WMA have good soil fertility and moderate habitat conditions. Bayou Pierre WMA has good soil fertility, too, and good habitat conditions but it is small acreage-wise.

“Bodcau has 30,000 acres. That’s probably the reason” for the high harvest numbers. The area’s three times the size of Loggy Bayou (less than 3,000 acres) but Loggy Bayou produces more quality deer,” Newland said.

For Loggy Bayou WMA and Bayou Pierre WMA, soil fertility and habitat conditions add up to potential trophy deer, the biologist wrote in his report, and good genetics on those public areas also factor into the equation. The coup de grace is that the hunting seasons have been structured to prevent excessive pressure on the deer herd, he said.


Squirrel

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Bodcau WMA — 2,918. 2. Loggy Bayou WMA — 312. 3. Bayou Pierre, 22.

As biologists and squirrel hunters know, squirrel production usually is based on the previous year’s mast crop.

“We had an excellent acorn crop last year … That’s directly tied to females raising their brood. Given that, it should be a good squirrel year, and we had a pretty decent one last year,” Newland said.

Most of the squirrels came from Bodcau WMA, nearly 3,000. One of the best things it has going for it is a large variety of mast-producing species present, he said in his report.

Loggy Bayou WMA, which offers fair to good squirrel hunting at times, has adequate mast sources and habitat, he said, while Bayou Pierre WMA has a limited amount of forest with sufficient age and species composition but some areas on it have prime conditions to support squirrel populations.


Rabbit

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Bodcau WMA — 51. 2. Loggy Bayou WMA — 24. 3. Bayou Pierre — 3.

As of mid-summer, Newland said, “We’ve been seeing rabbits in the field (but) we’re not noticing an abundance. Basically, there’s a 10-year population cycle and we’re not at boom level.”

As for the 2017-18 rabbit hunting season, he said, “It’ll probably be average or below average.”

Bodcau WMA, with its immense size featuring a variety of habitat types and browse, gave up the most rabbits last season, he said in his report. Loggy Bayou WMA and Bayou Pierre WMA have suitable vegetation and adequate cover, he said.


Woodcock and doves

Woodcock hunting, which is available on all Minden region WMAs, can be fair to good depending on weather conditions and if the migratory birds show up in North Louisiana, the biologist said in his report.

Newland and his staff were busy during the mid-summer months banding “a lot of young doves” in a region not known for its dove hunting success on WMAs.

The biologist is hopeful a cold front doesn’t pass through the region right before the opening weekend of the first split as there are birds in the fields, he said.

He pointed dove hunters to Bayou Pierre WMA, with reservations.

“Bayou Pierre offers the best dove hunting opportunities but with changes in farming practices on surrounding properties in the last 10 years the dove hunting success on BP has declined,” he wrote in his report.


Turkey

Again, Bodcau WMA should be the ultimate destination for hunters, this time for those who want to get a shot at turkeys.

“Bodcau is the only WMA in the Minden area with a turkey season. Spring conditions have been good for poult survival, which should result in an above average 2018 season,” Newland said in his report.

“I know the guys (staffers) have seen some turkey reproduction. They have seen poult production, which is a good sign. They are seeing hens with poults,” Newland said from his office.

Despite a fairly wet year to date (turkeys can’t stand getting wet, he said), vegetation is in good shape “so we should have a pretty decent year on turkeys.”


Ducks

Newland said Bodcau WMA and Loggy Bayou WMA are the only two Minden region WMAs with open duck seasons. Bayou Pierre WMA offers lottery waterfowl hunting opportunities, he said in his report.


Opelousas Office Region

Veteran biologist Tony Vidrine likes what he sees before the 2017-18 hunting seasons get underway on WMAs in the Opelousas Office Region.

“Everything is lush and green because every day it rains. There’s been plenty of rainfall,” Vidrine, the region’s biologist manager, said in mid-July from his Opelousas office.

With the exception of Richard K. Yancey WMA and Grassy Lake WMA, spring and early summer rains stimulated good understory growth that ought to ensure good habitat in the region. Those two aforementioned WMAs, however, experienced “significant” flooding throughout the early summer and the understories on those public areas will reflect a reduction in browse availability where flooding occurred, the biologist wrote in his report.

In particular, the understory habitat in the batture area and low-lying areas of Richard K. Yancey WMA were impacted by the flooding. Waters could recede early enough for vegetation to respond, he said. Also, he noted, low-lying areas on Attakapas WMA were impacted by high water this summer.

Among biologist managers and biologists supervisors who contribute to this annual report in Louisiana Sportsman, Vidrine has logged the second-highest number of years — 34 — with the LDWF. The LSU graduate (bachelor’s degree in forestry and wildlife management) has beau coup experience and knowledge of the region he has worked for decades.

Vidrine had several takes on the overall scene.

For example, there are many who wish there was more demand for timber, which would lead to more timber harvesting, which would improve habitat. But the market has been down for the timber industry.

More timber harvesting would benefit Richard K. Yancey WMA more than any other public area in the Opelousas Office Region, Vidrine said. Squirrel hunting harvests there would improve considerably, he said.

Habitat improvement results in getting food on the ground, he said, which also would be beneficial to the overall health of the deer herd on public areas such as Richard K. Yancey WMA and Grassy Lake WMA.

“Open up the canopy and you’ll see them gain weight,” he said.

The four components of a successful deer management program are age, herd density, habitat and genetics, with habitat conditions being the most important, Vidrine said from experience. WMAs that have had habitat improvement via timber harvesting seem to have healthy deer herds, he wrote in his report annual report for Louisiana Sportsman.

The top three WMAs in his region for deer hunting success — Richard K. Yancey WMA, Sherburne WMA and Thistlethwaite WMA — already possess another main ingredient, high quality soil, he said.

And, take note, all hunters, Sherburne WMA and Richard K. Yancey WMA are recording feral hog harvest numbers that have surpassed the deer harvest on those public areas, indicating an increase in the population as well as an increase in interest, Vidrine wrote in his report.


Deer

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Richard K. Yancey WMA — 400 in 9,089 hunter efforts. 2. Sherburne WMA — 300 in 8,213 hunter efforts. 3. (*) Grassy Lake WMA — 113 in 1,113 hunter efforts.

(*) 1/10 hunter efforts and one deer per 114 acres, highest per acre harvest for this region.

One of the shining stars in the region for deer hunting success is Grassy Lake WMA, where 113 deer were killed by 1,113 hunters (1/10) last season and there was one deer harvested per 114 acres, the highest average for the region in 2016-17. Still, the deer harvest is slipping there, according to Vidrine.

“Grassy Lake used to be better than what it is. The harvest used to be higher. The last few years it’s gone down a little bit,” Vidrine said, noting it, too, needs habitat improvement.

“That would help a lot, not only the deer but other species as well,” he said.

Grassy Lake WMA is in an ideal location bordered by private lands and Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge, which is similar to Tensas NWR, with the exception it has limited hunting on deer with primitive weapon and bowhunting seasons, no modern firearm hunting at all.

The hunting clubs on the private property around Grassy Lake WMA manage for quality deer on “real good habitat,” Vidrine said.

“A lot of clubs around there are very conservative about shooting does,” he said.

Based on the successful deer hunting rate on Grassy Lake WMA, Vidrine said, “We’re probably getting some spillover (of deer) from private lands and Lake Ophelia.”

Vidrine and hundreds of deer hunters who frequent the WMAs are looking forward to the upcoming deer hunting season in the Opelousas Office Region.

“Overall, there’s no reason to believe we won’t see a good season. There’s no blue tongue, nothing to dictate otherwise,” he said from his office.

Richard K. Yancey, formerly the Three Rivers/Red River WMA, continues to be a magnet for deer hunters who love to hunt on its 69,0806 acres. It is coming back strong from a flood-induced down period.

“A couple years ago, you know, Yancey had that flooding. I think the deer season will return to normal” on Richard K. Yancey WMA, he said, noting in his report that the deer per hunter effort rate last season was 1/23, or one deer per 174 acres, which is considered low for the WMA.

That WMA does have “big buck potential” in addition to being one of the most popular deer hunting areas in the state, he wrote in his report. While there was a slight dropoff in the overall deer harvest there last season, Vidrine and his staff believe the harvest will return to average this season.

Because soil quality directly impacts available nutritional foods and nutrition directly impact deer size and antler growth, Richard K. Yancey WMA leads the way in the region for quality bucks. Last season was no exception. There were adult bucks weighing in excess of 200 pounds.

Sherburne WMA deer hunting success has improved by leaps and bounds each year following the 2011 Morganza flood event, he reported. Last season the deer per hunter effort rate was 1/27, or one deer per 145 acres.

Thistlethwaite WMA has a very high deer herd density, he said. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the usage other public areas in the region get because, simply, “it’s tough to hunt,” Vidrine said, due to the thick palmetto stands across much of the public area.

The season structure there favors bowhunters because the only deer season open during the rut on Thistlthwaite WMA is the archery season, the veteran biologist said. Last season, several nice-sized bucks were taken off during that period, he said.

“We have seen an increase in older age class bucks taken over the last couple of seasons due to this season date adjustment,” he wrote in his report.

Quality bucks also can be found on all three WMAs in Avoyelles Parish — Grassy Lake WMA, Spring Bayou WMA and Pomme de Terre WMA — because those public areas have high quality soils.


Squirrel

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Richard K. Yancey WMA — 5,912 in 4,845 hunter efforts. 2. (*) Attakapas WMA — 769 in 376 hunter efforts. 3. Grassy Lake WMA — 626 in 322 hunter efforts.

(*) Highest average harvest rate per hunter for this region, 2.1 squirrels.

Squirrel hunters who find areas of the forest with mature hardwoods producing hard mast while still offering some soft mast-producing trees such as sugarberry are likely to be in the thick of the squirrels on Attakapas Island WMA, Grassy Lake WMA and Richard K. Yancey WMA, Vidrine wrote in his report.

“Quite a few squirrels come off Yancey (76,000-acre WMA). That’s probably one of the better areas to go squirrel hunting along with the Attakapas,” where the hunting experience can be a little more difficult, he said. But it pays off for those who venture to that part of the Atchafalaya Basin.

On Attakapas WMA, accessible only by boat, the hunting pressure is slight, which accounts for the high hunter effort per squirrel. Usually, squirrel hunters come out of there with an average of 2.1 squirrels in the bag, like they did in 2016-17, highest in the Opelousas Office Region. Hunters have averaged more than one squirrel per effort there for many years.

Each of the region’s WMAs primarily have fox squirrels, Vidrine said, but gray squirrels also can be found regularly in the bag on the WMAs.


Rabbit

2016-17 Harvest At A Glance Per Self-Clearing Permits

1. Sherburne WMA — 110 in 1,816 hunter efforts (0.06 rabbits per hunter). 2. Spring Bayou WMA — 41 in 314 hunter efforts (0.13 rabbits per hunter). 3. Pomme de Terre WMA — 26 in 188 hunter efforts (0.14 rabbits per hunter).

Vidine said in his report that rabbits are heavily dependant on early successional habitats created by forestry management practice and typically flourish near areas that are often disturbed or have been manipulated recently.

“Therefore, I’d expect Sherburne, Richard K. Yancey and Spring Bayou to offer some of the best opportunities” in the Opelousas Office Region. Those WMAs have areas that are disturbed frequently by different management practices such as timber harvests or utility right-of-way mowing.


Woodcock and doves

Central Louisiana’s WMAs offer some fair to good dove hunting prospects on planted dove fields at Richard K. Yancey WMA and Sherburne WMA, according to Vidrine. Both areas are planted with a combination of sunflowers and browntop millet, he said.

The dove fields are first-come, first-served and typically reward dove hunters with quality dove hunts, he wrote in his report. Opening weekend has the most hunting pressure, so Vidrine and his staff remind dove hunters to check out the dove fields during the second and third splits, too, as those areas often get better later in the season.

Sherburne WMA and Richard K. Yancey WMA both feature good to excellent woodcock habitat and as a result offer the best bet for woodcock hunting in the Opelousas Office Region, Vidrine said. The woodcock habitat is up to snuff because the department personnel work diligently each year to make it that way. It shows in woodcock hunting harvests from last season, when 256 of the migratory birds were harvested on Sherburne WMA, the most in the region.


Turkey

Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to turkey hunting opportunities in the Opelousas Office Region.

No one knows that better than Vidrine, who wrote that in past years the region’s top WMAs for turkey harvests were Grassy Lake WMA, Sherburne WMA and Richard K. Yancey WMA.

“However,” he wrote, “some heavy spring rains and ill-timed floods have taken their toll on turkey reproduction and we’re seeing it reflected (adversely) in our turkey harvests.”

There’s more. Feral hogs are the culprit, he said, because the growing population has caused a decline in turkey nesting success on those WMAs.

The numbers tell the tale. This spring turkey hunters harvested only 12 turkeys on Richard K. Yancey WMA. And there was only one turkey taken off the Sherburne WMA, which also is recovering from the 2011 Morganza flood. The turkey take also was lower than normal on the Grassy Lake WMA, where only three turkeys were harvested.


Ducks

Sportsman’s Paradise duck hunters have plenty of options on where to go after ducks. Vidrine notes that his region boasts some fair to average duck hunting on the southern WMAs, including Attakapas WMA, Grassy Lake WMA, Spring Bayou WMA, Pomme de Terre WMA, Sherburne WMA and Richard K. Yancey WMA.

And Vidrine expects more of the same this season, weather and water conditions permitting. He points out that each public area offers a unique duck hunting experience and varied access to prime duck hunting habitat.

He urged duck hunters to take advantage of lottery hunts on the Sherburne WMA at the South Farm. Tuesdays and Thursdays are on-site drawings and Saturdays are pre-selected drawings.