"We used to be able to hunt wherever we wanted," the Haughton hunter said. "All of the paper-company land wasn't leased, and was open to hunting. But when it was leased out, I quit hunting.
"I sold my rifles and everything."
The reason was simple: Taylor didn't want to pay to join a lease, and he was scared to hunt on the public areas on which hunters not in leases were then jammed into. "I wouldn't hunt it for years because I thought there were too many people," he said. "I had heard all the horror stories. I just started fishing." Six or seven years ago, however, Taylor's son decided he wanted to start deer hunting, and there was no option. "I started hunting Bodcau (Wildlife Management Area), and found out it was different than I expected," he said. "Some places are crowded, but there are places where not many people hunt. "It was totally different than I thought." Fellow Haughton resident Danny Campbell said he also was surprised when he started hunting the area a few years ago after quitting his lease. "There really isn't all that much pressure, especially during the bow season," Campbell said. And he's found a new excitement in his hunting experience. "I was used to putting out corn and sitting in a box stand," he said. "This is more challenging, and, in a way, it's more fun. "When you do kill something, it's a big reward." Taylor agreed. "You're strictly hunting what's there: no baiting, no cheating," he said. Bodcau is now a regular fall and winter haunt for Taylor and Campbell. One of the reasons there isn't a lot of competition for hunting spots is the size of the WMA: 34,000 acres snaking in a fairly narrow line from just north of Bellevue, about 30 miles to the Arkansas state line. "You never run out of land going north and south," Taylor said. But Taylor and Campbell said they have been shocked at just how little attention is focused on the area even by bowhunters. "During the bow season, you've just got to dodge squirrel hunters," Campbell said. "You can pretty much hunt anywhere you want." But even during the gun seasons, when waves of people invade the area, hunters can predict where most of the pressure will be found. "The most heavily hunted areas are on the Bossier City side," Taylor said. "Most of them aren't going to want to drive all the way to the other side." That also means that many of those hunters from Bossier City and Shreveport focus on the southern end of the WMA because it's the easiest to access. Oddly, that's where Campbell focuses his energies. "When you look at 34,000 acres, one man can only hunt so much of it," he said. "It's close to my house: I can be there in 15 minutes. It can take you an hour to get to the north end of Bodcau." A saving grace to this portion of the WMA is that this is its widest point, measuring more than two miles wide compared to less than a mile wide in some places farther north. That allows hunters to spread out a bit. Fortunately, the area also has an incredibly diverse habitat. "There are a ton of cypress trees," Campbell said. "It's got quite a bit of woodland that floods, but it's also got some areas that will make you bad hurt it's so hilly. "And then you've got areas that are flat with cutover pines." That allows hunters to have several different game plans, which is wise on a public area. "You have to have more than one spot if you're going to hunt on a Saturday morning," Campbell said. "If you go in and there's someone where you wanted to hunt, you have to be able to move to another spot." He said that a willingness to hike into the depths of the WMA also helps separate from other, lazier hunters. "I have some areas where I have a 40-minute walk," he said. That can be demanding in the early season, when temperatures are still relatively high. So Campbell takes steps to cut down on sweating. "You have to pretty much buy lightweight clothing that is warm," he explained. "I don't put a jacket on when I walk in: I tie it to the back of my stand, and when I get up in the stand, I can just grab it from the platform. "You never want to put it on right off because you're normally quite warm." However, Campbell pointed out that long walks aren't always needed. "Sometimes you can hunt right off the road because you know they're going to hunt farther in," he said. "The deer will just circle around." Regardless of location, however, Campbell said transitional zones can be very effective. "I like to hunt the edges no matter where I hunt," he said. "Deer will be moving in on those edges." Campbell said he spends a lot of time locating major feeding and bedding areas around those transitions, but he added that he rarely hunts right on top of where deer either sleep or eat. "I usually don't like to hunt right on top of the feeding area," Campbell said. "The deer are milling around. The chances of them knowing you're there are higher." The same is normally true for bedding areas, where it's much more difficult to get close without alerting deer. Instead, he likes to back off. "When you hunt 75, 100, 150 yards away, when they come down that trail, they're not milling around," Campbell said. "They're moving steady. The chances of them knowing you're there are slim to none." Just how far away is appropriate depends upon the area. "If I know I can get close and can slip in pretty quiet, I'll get close," he said. "You can literally walk 20 to 30 yards from a deer and he'll never know you're there because it's dark, but you have to be quiet and slip in and listen. "You have to walk easy, but it normally only works when you're walking on pine straw. Those leaves will give you away every time." He said he also usually turns his flashlight off before reaching the tree from which he will hunt. "When I get close to my stand site, I won't use my flashlight," Campbell said. "I don't want the deer to see it." Bedding areas are best in the mornings, when deer will be moving from the feeding areas to hide out during daylight hours, he said. "If you walk into a feeding area in the morning, a lot of times they'll be there," Campbell said. "You don't want to educate the deer. I like to try to get away from the feeding areas where I can catch them coming to the bedding areas." The opposite is true in the evening, when deer normally will be moving from the bedding areas to the feeding zones. Campbell will move closer to the feeding areas so that deer can be ambushed during their walk from bedding areas. Prime food sources include acorns, green briar and honeysuckle, he said. However, green briar could be hard to find this year because it's been very dry in the region. "The green briar gets burned," he said. Honeysuckle and other thicket-loving vegetation is particularly productive when located near bedding areas. "Any kind of browse where they can just browse around during the day is great," Campbell said. However, he said he expected the drought to increase the importance of red- and white-oak mast this season. "I'd say the deer will hit (acorns) pretty hard this year because all the vegetation is burned," Campbell said. All of his hunting sites are divided into two categories. "I have what I call high-impact areas, and I have low-impact areas," Campbell said. The difference between the two pretty much comes down to ease of stealthy access. "High-impact places, I won't hunt many times because the deer know I'm there because of the way you have to walk in," Campbell explained. "If I think there's a good deer in there, I'll hunt that even though it's hard to get in without the deer knowing you're there." For instance, if he knows there are numbers of deer using a particular cutover as a bedding area, he might hunt nearby even though access trails force him to approach upwind or cross travel corridors. "Sometimes you have a bedding area and you have to get close to hunt it," Campbell said. "Sometimes you have to try and sneak in because it's a high-impact area." The low-impact areas are situated so that Campbell can ease in from several different directions according to the wind and without crossing major game trails. "Those are the easiest to hunt," he said. Taylor and Bodcau newbie Nathan Salley of Haughton said they like to target the cutovers in the Cotton Valley area of the WMA. "I've always had some good luck catching them coming out of that thicker stuff," Taylor said. "It's so thick you can't see them 10 feet in there, but you can see them when they walk out." Like Campbell, Taylor said he backs off the cutover "finding where deer are moving on trails." Salley said he tweaks his style depending upon whether he's hunting with a bow or rifle. "If there's a lane separating the thicket and the open woods, I will get on that lane if I'm rifle hunting because you can see so much," he said. "If I'm bowhunting, I'll find a (game) trail and set up a little off of the thicket." Taylor said there are several productive cutovers scattered along the boundaries of the WMA. "They're almost off of the area," Taylor said. However, focusing on cutovers isn't the only way Taylor and Salley put deer down. They both said they also have luck in the hills, and both key on well-used game trails. However, their approaches are slightly different. "I'll be right on top of the hills, and I can look down that trail," Salley explained. "I'll get about 18 yards off the trail when I'm bowhunting. I'll get a little farther off if I'm rifle hunting." Taylor, however, moves down the side of the hill near the habitat transitions, where cover changes from pines to hardwood bottoms. "I'm probably halfway down the hill, maybe a little closer to the bottom," he said. "I'm looking down in the bottom. "When you get 20 to 25 feet up in a tree, you're probably 50 to 60 feet over that bottom." That allows him to see deer throughout the bottom over which he's hunting, and he catches deer crossing over the ridges. "I'll catch them moving up and down the hill," Taylor said. Campbell uses the same strategy when hunting the hills. "They bed up on those ridges if they've got cover," he said. "When they get hungry, they'll ease off those hills into those bottoms. "That's when you need to catch them — between the ridges and bottoms." However, that setup does have a disadvantage. "The only problem is that when you're on the side of a hill, a deer coming over the top of the ridge is eye level with you," Taylor said. "That means he can bust you." Campbell said the entire property is under a good management plan, and that provides even more options than bedding and feeding areas and hills. "They strip cut it," he said. "They'll cut a lane through the trees and not cut anything else. "You can hunt those lanes." There also are food plots scattered across the WMA, but that's normally not an early season target. "They're not very good until about Thanksgiving," Campbell said. "It's too dry early in the season, and the grass is pretty dry. "I don't know about you, but I don't like a dry steak. When they're eating that grass, they don't like it when it's dry." The rut doesn't kick off until at least the second week of November, and that ushers in the typical randomness of where bucks will be seen. But until then, focusing on food and bedding areas is the key to success. And that means doing some scouting and being prepared to hoof it to productive areas. "If you plan on hunting Bodcau and expect to kill something, you'd better be in shape," Campbell said. "You can go out and get lucky, but if you want to be consistent, you'd better be in shape and be ready to walk."
Editor's note: This story appeared in the October 2006 issue of Louisiana Sportsman magazine. Subscribe to ensure you don't miss one information-packed issue, which will be delivered right to your door.