There is no question the drought in 2010 and 2011 created problems for deer herds across the state and deer numbers have declined. And there is no question that the lack of logging activity is creating problems for deer habitat and subsequently for the deer population.
Coyotes are also being blamed for low deer numbers across the Southeast, so much so that many biologists and researchers at the 2012 Southeast Deer Study Group Meeting suggested that landowners and deer managers may want to reduce the doe harvest to maintain good deer numbers because of the fawn depredation.
I am not convinced that coyotes are the real problem for our Louisiana deer herds. No doubt, they do catch and kill fawns, but I believe the major problem is poor habitat conditions.
Scott Durham, Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries deer biologist, will be initiating a study in Tensas Parish concerning fawn and bear depredation, and this should shed some light on this issue in our state.
For many years, biologists in Louisiana have recommended that landowners and clubs reduce their deer numbers in an effort to maintain a healthy deer herd and achieve good growth and development.
If deer numbers are low due to coyotes or other issues, why aren't we seeing better growth and development in the buck age classes? It is true that the state is producing some quality and trophy deer due to an increase in the age structure of the buck population, and this population is much older than it was in the 80s when clubs were harvesting too many 1 ½-year-old bucks.
But I'm seeing far too many low-end bucks in all age classes: If deer numbers are really low, these bucks should be able to find sufficient food and achieve the desired growth and development.
I think the quality of the habitat could be limiting the desired growth and development. Research has shown that a dominant pine forest, especially one treated regularly with herbicides, does not produce sufficient browse — and we have a lot of this type of habitat in the state.
I would encourage deer hunters, whether you are a landowner managing your own land or a member of a hunting club, to keep observation records of your doe and fawn sightings during the upcoming season. This will aid biologists in determining fawn production, and will help you determine if you have a problem.
Adult does on adequate habitat should be producing twins, and if all you see are single fawns with does or several adult does without fawns, you probably have a problem and fawn survival may be an issue for you.
It is also an absolute must to keep harvest records of the deer you kill so you can document growth-and-development trends for your herd. These records will tell you what you need to know about the physical condition of your deer.
And harvest does as recommended and harvest the bucks. Many clubs practicing quality deer management are not shooting enough bucks, and this is not healthy for the herd. Adult bucks experience a tremendous amount of stress during the season, and it is a waste of a resource to allow them to die due to natural mortality.
Documenting the physical condition of your deer is the only way you will know if the money you are spending on the program is producing results.
The 2011 Rut
Looking back, I think the rut prediction last year was on target.
For the past few years the rut has occurred at a later time frame in each deer area. The physical condition of the doe is so important in determining when she will have her estrus cycle (ovulate), and no doubt the drought created issues for herds across the state.
Last year we predicted the first breeding period (scraping and breeding) would occur from Oct. 26-Nov. 25. My friend Ken Mason, who hunts in Bossier Parish, killed an adult doe on Jan. 7 and collected the reproductive tract.
The uterus was swollen with embryonic fluid, and the doe was obviously pregnant. The doe was pregnant with twins, which is good, and the average fetal measurement placed the deer at being 47 days pregnant.
Back-dating from the harvest date, a breeding date of Nov. 21 was calculated for this doe — which is right in line with the prediction.
Ken also killed a 1 ½-year-old doe on Dec. 17 and collected that reproductive tract for me. The uterus was not swollen, but examination of the two ovaries indicated the doe had ovulated and was probably pregnant even though the embryos were not visible. It takes 30 days for the embryo to become visible after it is implanted in the uterine horn; more than likely this doe also had ovulated and bred that last week of November or possibly the first couple of days of December.
Observations and examination of reproductive tracts from the Clinton area of East Feliciana Parish (which is in Area 1) and the upper Morganza Floodway area (which is in Area 6) also followed the predicted rut dates.
In the Clinton area, the week before Christmas appeared to be the time for the first round of activity (i.e., ovulation and breeding), and in Upper Area 6 the rut was cranking up in mid January.
The prediction concerning the timing of the rut is based on the scrape initiation period for Louisiana deer and corresponds with the rut prediction annually published in Deer and Deer Hunting magazine.
While no prediction is foolproof, it does seem to be accurate and in line with what is happening in these herds.
The physical condition of the deer, as previously stated, plays a major role in determining when a doe cycles. The excellent mast crop last year, a mild winter and an early spring bode well for the deer herds this season.
Rains have been a little more frequent this past spring and summer, so deer across the state should be in good health.
The rut this year in all areas should occur much earlier in the season and follow the dates for peak breeding activity established by LDWF biologists for deer in the eight areas.
The breeding season for a particular herd has a range of breeding dates. If enough pregnant does are collected and examined over time, an average period for the peak breeding activity can be calculated.
The dates for the average period of peak breeding activity are posted on the LDWF website, www.wlf.la.gov. Just click on the deer hunting links.
For example, deer in Area 2 breed from October to January, and since this is an area where there have been many samples collected over the years, the average dates for peak breeding as determined by a research study conducted at ULM was Nov. 16-30.
This year, the rut calendar is presented by hunting area, with those areas that first open being presented first.
For you public-land hunters the rut on these tracts generally occurs at the same time as the outside season, and season dates are set to give you hunting opportunity during the time of good activity.
With the differences in the breeding seasons of Louisiana deer, public-land hunters can follow the rut across the state, beginning on WMAs in Southwest Louisiana where the peak is late October/early November and end on those areas in the Mississippi Delta where the rut is in January.
By doing this hunters can experience excellent hunting throughout the entire season.
Areas 3, 7 and 8
Hunters should be aware that the dates in Area 3 and Area 8 are basically the same, except Area 8 allows hunting deer with dogs while Area 3 is still hunt only.
Bow season in these two areas opens on Sept. 15, while bow hunting in Area 7 begins on the traditional Oct. 1 date.
The first primitive season is the same in all three areas (Oct. 13-19), and the regular gun season opens on Oct. 20 in all three areas.
Hunters should check the regulations pamphlet for the other deer-hunting dates, since they are different following the opening of the regular gun season.
On to the rut information.
Scrape initiation in these areas follows the new moon on Aug. 17, and the first period of breeding activity runs from Sept. 15-Oct. 14 — two weeks of intense scraping by bucks from Sept. 15-29, followed by the ovulation of does and subsequent breeding Sept. 30-Oct. 14.
Scraping activity generally will last five to 10 days, during which there will be some does beginning to cycle, and the peak breeding activity generally occurring for two weeks following this period of scraping activity.
The second round of breeding in these areas runs from Oct. 15 -Nov. 12. This will include the second scraping period from Oct. 15-29 and breeding from Oct. 30-Nov. 12.
There is always the chance of some breeding activity in early December, but for the most part by December the rut is over in Southwest Louisiana and hunters can focus on the ducks.
The season dates established for these three areas provide excellent opportunity during the rut.
Scrape initiation in the northwestern and western part of the state follows the new moon of Sept. 15.
The first period of scrape activity runs from Oct. 15-29, followed by the first breeding period from Oct. 30-Nov. 12.
The bow season in Area 2 opens on Oct. 1, the primitive season Oct. 20-26 and the gun season opens on Oct. 27. That means the rut should be in full swing when the gun seasons open in October, and hunters should do well if weather conditions are conducive for good deer movement.
The second round of activity in Area 2 should occur from Nov. 13-28, with another scraping and breeding from Nov. 29-Dec. 13.
The season structure for Area 2 provides excellent hunting, allowing hunters to hunt the entire rut.
That said, there are a few areas within Area 2 — such as Jackson-Bienville Wildlife Management Area — that have the genetics of Area 1 deer and follow a breeding pattern that is a month later.
Areas 1, 4, 5 and 6 (early rut deer)
Hunters should be aware that Area 4 has been combined with Area 1, so these two areas will have the same dates.
West Carroll Parish, which is Area 5, will continue with the special season that it has had for ages, but hopefully at some point it will also be put into Area 1 to simply the situation.
Hunters also should note that the archery season is different between Areas 1 and 6, with this season being for bucks only in Area 6 when it opens on Oct. 1.
The first primitive-weapons season is the same for all four areas: Nov. 10-16. Gun season in Areas 1 and 6 opens on Nov. 17, followed by the Area 5 opener on Nov. 23 in Area 5.
The gun season in Area 5 is much shorter than the other areas.
Bucks will begin working scrapes in these areas following the new moon on Oct. 15, and a month later on Nov. 13 the first period of breeding activity should crank up.
This first primitive season (Nov. 10-16) will be open at this time, so hunters who like to hunt scrapes will have opportunities then.
When the regular gun season opens in Areas 1 and 6 on Nov. 17, hunters should start seeing bucks chasing does.
The Area 5 gun season does not open until Nov. 23.
The second round of breeding activity begins in mid December and ends in mid January, and that means hunters will be able to hunt the entire rut.
This second round of activity begins with bucks reworking the scrapes from Dec. 13-28, and then by bucks chasing the remaining does that have not been bred from about Dec. 29- Jan. 11.
This second round of breeding is often more intense than the first round, so bucks might become really visible as they search for these last remaining does that have not bred.
Areas 1 and 6 (late rut deer)
Because there is a distinct difference in the timing of the rut between the herds in Areas 1 and 6, LDWF has considered creating a new area that would make the distinction more apparent. But the agency has not done anything with this idea at this time.
These deer basically breed in January, with the second round of breeding in February — a time when only bow hunting is allowed.
So gun hunters really do not get to hunt the entire breeding range of these deer as do hunters in the other area.
Perhaps as more data is obtained and the demand from hunters to correct the situation becomes greater, the issue will be resolved.
Of course, one concern is for the small-game hunters who chase rabbits in February, but certainly there is room for all hunting activities during this month.
Because the rut is late and fawns are born late — in August and September — most biologists advise landowners and clubs to delay doe harvest until the fawns have been weaned.
If the average fawning date is mid August, a fawn born then would be a month old on Sept. 15 and only 2 months old on Oct. 15 — and that is why the bow season in Area 6 is for bucks-only when it opens on Oct. 1.
However, a fawn born in mid August would still only be 3 three months old on Nov. 15, and this is still too early to harvest that doe and have the fawn begin to take care of itself. I suggest to clubs and landowners to wait until December to start shooting does.
If deer numbers have declined as some LDWF biologists suggests, why shoot the does real early and orphan the fawns and hope they will survive if we are trying to increase the deer numbers?
The rut in these areas will begin with the first breeding activity period on Dec. 13 and end in mid January.
Gun hunters will have opportunities to hunt this entire first round of activity, and if the weather conditions are good the big-buck harvest in these parishes known for producing big deer will be off and running.
As January winds down, the second round of scraping will occur and bow hunters should be able to see some good activity as the breeding continues through the end of the bow season on Feb. 15.
Harvest data has always shown that the vast majority of trophy-class bucks are harvested during the rut, the time when bucks are chasing the does. Sure, every now and then someone gets one in the early days of the season before the disturbance factors start putting the deer on the alert. But once the rut begins, does begin cycling bucks have only one thing in mind — the pursuit of the girls.
Success with big bucks is often just being in the right place at the right time, and the right time is during the rut. But with a little bit of scouting and favorable weather conditions, these predicted rutting dates could put you in the woods at the right time.
You have to pick the right place.