Retired Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Wildlife Division head David Moreland said today the impending closure of tens of thousands of acres to deer hunting is “one of those political things.”
State officials have said the closure in the Mississippi delta will be implemented later this week out of concern for the deer population and hunter safety.
The closures announced yesterday cover all property from the Mississippi state line west to Highway 65 between the Arkansas state line south to Vidalia.
At its widest point, the closure would stretch about 18 miles from the Mississippi River, to Tallulah, with almost all of that area being outside the levee.
Initially, hunting was set to end at sunset on Dec. 29, but officials have since moved the effective date to sunset on Jan. 3, LDWF’s Scott Durham told LouisianaSportsman.com.
Moreland said the politics to which he referred involves monied hunters with batture-land properties that either will be made unhuntable because of the rising Mississippi River or will be included in closures Mississippi officials expect to implement beginning Jan. 1.
“What you’re dealing with is a lot of big-money clubs, and they don’t want people running around shooting ‘their’ deer,” said Moreland, who served as the state’s deer study leader for decades before leading the LDWF’s Wildlife Division. “When (deer) leave their property and get on the other side of the levee, they don't want ‘their’ deer being shot.”
Durham, however, said the closure was intended to protect the delta’s deer population.
“It’s a concern for overharvest (of deer) in areas where deer are being pushed out of the batture,” Durham said of the closure.
In the news release announcing the original closure, the agency also contended the action was on behalf of public safety.
“Continued unrestricted hunting under these circumstances … may pose a significant risk to the hunting public because of the increased concentration of hunters in the areas where deer and other wildlife are located,” the release stated.
However, Moreland said the closure likely resulted from pressure by members of those big hunting clubs who can only watch as bucks move from their property over the levees and face possible harvest by other hunters.
When asked if such requests justified shutting down hunting on massive acreages not affected by flooding, Moreland said “probably not.”
But he said it’s not surprising club members would want to keep other hunters from benefitting from the flooding.
“It’s not their deer, but they have no control over the harvest when ‘their’ deer aren’t on their property,” Moreland said.
While Durham pointed out that flooding has caused closures in some areas directly impacted by high water, he admitted he did not know of similar action in the Mississippi delta or on such large areas not flooded.
“It’s a lot of land,” he said.
Durham said that, even with the closure, there has been a lot of hunting opportunity in the region.
“That’s still a pretty big season,” he said. “And it’s similar to the old Area 4 season.”
The old Area 4 deer-hunting zone covered the northernmost part of this closure area.
Durham admitted the announced closure was not received positively by a lot of hunters, who have kept him working the phones.
“It’s a tough call, but sometimes we’ve got to make (such decisions),” he said.
While conceding he didn’t expect Mississippi River conditions to improve anytime soon, Durham said the postponement of the closure is evidence his agency is making adjustments as conditions on the ground warrant.
He said deer project leader Johnathan Bordelon is riding the levees to monitor the movement of deer and to assess adjacent habitat, and that LDWF officials could alter their actions if information dictates.
“There’s the chance the department could make modifications in the future,” Durham said.
But until further notice, the veteran biologist encouraged hunters in the impacted region to spend time in the woods before hunting prematurely ends.
“Everybody needs to go hunting hard right now,” Durham said.
Editor's note: After release of this story, LDWF officials announced the closure for most of the impacted area would only last a week. Click here for full details.