Hunters chasing deer within a portion of Area 6 will be going retro this season, with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission adopting a declaration of emergency today (July 7) that institutes doe days in the Morganza floodway and inside the Atchafayala Basin guide levees for the first time since being abolished in 2006.

Biologists asked for the new hunting-season structure, in part, because of concerns about the impact on deer populations following the opening of the Morganza Spillway to help relieve pressure on Mississippi River levees.

"We were thinking about it before the flood, but the flood was just the icing on the cake," Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' Scott Durham told LouisianaSportsman.com. "We have data showing a decline. People just aren't seeing as many deer as they used to."

Changes also were made to Sherburne Wildlife Management Area's deer-season format.

Commissioners adopted the changes, recommended by LDWF biologists, as a declaration of emergency so the 2011-12 hunting-regulations pamphlet could reflect the new season structure.

The action implements the following season dates within the entire Morganza floodway and within the protection Atchafalaya Basin protection levees:

• Archery (bucks only) – Oct. 1-15
• Archery (either sex) – Oct. 16-Feb. 15
• Primitive firearms (bucks only) – Jan. 23-29
• Still hunt (either sex) – Nov. 19-27
• Still hunt (bucks only) – Nov. 28-Dec. 9
• With/without dogs (either sex) – Dec. 10-11
• With/without dogs (bucks only) – Dec. 10-Jan. 15

The season format for Sherburne WMA will be:

• Archery (bucks only) – Oct. 1-15
• Archery (either sex) – Oct. 16-Feb. 15
• Youth & physically challenged (either sex) – Oct. 29-30 (all other seasons closed, self-clearing permit required)
• Youth lottery (either sex) – Oct. 29-30; Dec. 23, 26, 28, 30
• Firearms (either sex) – Nov. 25-26 (mandatory deer check)
• Firearms (bucks only) – Dec. 24-Jan.1
• Primitive firearms (either sex) – Jan. 7-8

Also, DMAP clubs likely will be given harvest recommendations that are lowered from 50 to 60 percent, Durham said.

Durham told commissioners that anecdotal information and survey data such as browse surveys indicate the deer population has been declining in recent years, and hunters testifying during the meeting agreed.

"I've been concerned for the last three years, two years, at least, that we're seeing a steady decline," Plaquemine hunter Larry Robichaux said.

Robichaux also said the flooding from the Morganza Spillway opening has pretty much denuded the understory upon which deer rely for food.

"There aren't many places you can't see 200 to 300 yards in the woods," he said.

His sentiments were echoed by LouisianaSportsman.com user basinboy, who posted his concerns on the deer hunting forum.

"Something definitely needs to be done," basinboy wrote. "It has been bad the last couple of seasons and now with the record high water pushing most deer out and drowning a bunch."

While it's not the only reason for changing the seasons, Durham said his agency is concerned about deer in the wake of the flooding of the spillway.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway in steps to try and control the rise of water so wildlife could escape. However, Durham said LDWF personnel documented a 4-foot rise in a single eight-hour period on Sherburne WMA.

That said, a lot of deer moved out of the way of the flood waters.

"We watched many deer exiting in one area at Lottie," he said. "We know a lot of deer made it to higher ground within the Basin. There was high ground that never flooded."

Amazingly, there were numbers of deer that didn't leave the Basin.

"We know a few actually rode it out in the water," Durham said. "They got up on logs or (tree) tops. They were stressed but alive."

Inevitably, however, there were many that didn't survive the incident.

"We estimate mortality of up to 30 percent north of Interstate 10," Durham said.

And even among the survivors, Durham said he and other managers had concerns about recruitment of young deer.

The answer to the combined problems arising from what appears a natural decline in deer populations and the flooding is to reduce the mortality within the effected area, Durham said.

For instance, the season-structure changes within Sherburne WMA is designed to bring down hunter harvest to 171 deer from the average of 396.

"By going to this reduced framework in the WMA, we project going down 57 percent (in hunting mortality)," Durham said. "That's our goal."

Central hunter Tony Donaldson, whose stomping grounds are inside the Basin south of I-10, said he was happy to see something being done.

"They're coming back (following the flooding), but I think what (managers) are doing is good," Donaldson said.