As excited as public-land hunters must be as the
2016-17 hunting seasons approach, there were some anxious moments over the winter and into late spring as floodwaters inundated some of the wildlife management areas.
Hunters’ hearts sank when the ground some of them were walking on just a few weeks or months earlier covered with as much as 10 feet of water, which was the case at Dewey Wills WMA in the MAV North-Pineville ecoregion in the lower part of LaSalle and Catahoula parishes.
And the Red River was out of its banks for a long time, MAV North-Pineville WMA biologist supervisor Cliff Dailey said the last week of July while rehashing the calamity on the 61,871-acre Dewey Wills WMA.
The Red River influences the Black River and Saline-Larto system, which back up into the Dewey Wills WMA. The area interlaced with many bayous and lakes is flat, poorly drained and subject to annual overflow.
“There was a lot of late-winter and spring flooding (until) May,” said Dailey, noting that 90 percent of the area was flooded for three months. “We had 10 feet of water in places. Oh, it was an ocean.”
The immediate effect was to drive out animals that could get away. The aftereffects came when the waters finally receded, leaving habitat conditions in poor shape for the critical spring green-up.
What happened exactly?
“The forest canopy foliage was fully developed by the time flooding subsided,” Dailey explained. “This left little sunlight available at the ground level to grow (browse). Everything was shaded out. There wasn’t much sunlight that hit the ground.
“We’re behind, overall, because browse will be below normal. Back to normal? I don’t know if it will be this year. We have to kind of get back to square one next year.”
As far how the table being set early, it was very bad news.
“The local animal population relocates, and the habitat conditions put stress on deer when they come back,” Dailey said of these severe flooding events.
As a result, he said in his annual report, fawn recruitment might be lower due to increased environmental stressors on does during pregnancy.
There is some sunshine in the dark clouds, however, because there are some openings, areas that received sunlight in time.
“We’ve got 40 miles of roads in the area. It offers a good deal of edge habitat that has moderate browse,” Dailey said.
However, some hunters reaped benefits of the high water.
“The water came up before the duck season ended, so (ducks and duck hunters) took advantage of it,” Dailey said. “The entire south end was underwater.”
And the eight-year veteran biologist is looking forward to the coming months now that the flooding episode is behind. There was reason for encouragement, he said.
“Within a couple of weeks (of the water going down), I saw deer tracks,” Dailey said. “They will kill some deer this year. It will not be a complete bust but not what it could be.
“People who grew up around here aren’t going to quit hunting.”
Dailey’s ecoregion wasn’t the only one impacted by all the water. WMAs in the MAV North-Monroe region also were swamped.
MAV North-Monroe game biologist Corey May said two of his public tracts received a lot of water.
“Russell Sage and Bayou Boeuf (WMAs) were hit the hardest,” May said. “(But) the water went down, and everything looks good down there now.
“We’re seeing a lot of deer and a lot of fawns. They responded a lot better than we thought from the significant flooding events from that flood in March.”
Although 95 percent of Russell Sage WMA and Bayou Boeuf WMA were inundated with floodwaters, May said there is no reason for hunters to be concerned.
“A lot of people worry if the deer leave will they come back,” he said. “They follow the water, and they adapt to conditions.”
Big Lake WMA also was affected, to a lesser extent, May said. Russell Sage WMA and Bayou Boeuf WMA were closed for a longer period than Big Lake WMA, he said.
Habitat conditions on those areas are “much better than we thought they’d be at this time,” he said.
Deer browse is in excellent shape across the region he oversees due to above-average rainfall in spring and summer, May said. And he said nutritional quality and palatability should be average compared to most years.
Hunters should be aware that Sicily Island Hills WMA in the MAV North was renamed J.C. “Sonny” Gilbert WMA, May said.
Some Gulf Coastal Plains Northwest WMAs were impacted by floodwaters, too. But biologist Jeff Johnson felt confident.
“It’s all gone back down, so I don’t think we’ll have any problems,” Johnson said.
“Loggy Bayou and Bayou Pierre flooded back in the spring. This was a longer flood than we’re used to,” the GCP Northwest biologist supervisor said. “Within a few days, the deer were back and it greened back up.”
Those spring floods delayed the blooming and germinating of some of the plant species, but they have responded well since the water receded, Johnson said.
On the extreme southeast side of the state, high water took its toll on portions of Pearl River and Maurepas Swamp WMAs. Locally heavy rains also caused a few weeks of high water on Manchac, Maurepas Swamp and Joyce WMAs, all in the Gulf Coastal Plains East.
But Forest Burks, biologist supervisor for the GCP East, said recent assessments show good habitat conditions and browse availability on those areas.
“The Pearl River was high for about a month, but finally fell in early April,” Burks said. “This extended high water caused a delayed green-up, but a recent assessment indicated fair to good habitat conditions.”
As for flooding on the MAV South, hardest hit was Grassy Lake WMA, which annually gives up a healthy share of deer, ducks and turkeys.
Also impacted was Richard K. Yancey WMA, according to MAV South biologist Cody Haynes.
As of mid-July, Grassy Lake was still feeling the effects of the high water, Haynes said.
“Grassy (Lake) is furthest behind but bouncing back nicely,” he said. “We expect it to be back to normal. How the deer respond remains to be seen.”
Deer on the WMA, he explained, have less acreage to escape the floodwaters than Richard K. Yancey WMA. However, there was no deer mortality associated with the flooding, Haynes said.
LDWF started closing roads on Grassy Lake WMA in mid-December, he said. Closures lasted into the spring, and the 2016 turkey season was closed on the area.
Haynes got a first-hand look at the flooding aftermath the first week of July. Deer browse was just coming up in the lowest woods, he said, and he didn’t see any deer.
“We know it’s behind schedule, but we believe it’ll come back,” Haynes said about the habitat.
There were other happenings on WMAs.
The big news for the Gulf Coastal Plains Southwest ecoregion is that Peason Ridge WMA has grown again, said biologist supervisor Wendell Smith.
The WMA, which harbors high populations of deer and turkey, recently added 23,300 acres, and diligent daily efforts are getting it into shape for the opening of 2016-17 hunting seasons.
The only thing needed to make the new acreage official is legal adoption by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission; that action was expected before October.
In the meantime, crews were putting in check-in stations, installing gates, adding signage and painting boundaries on the addition.
Smith explained the newest acreage is west of Highway 117 in the Kurthwood area and resulted from military expansion in that region. The Army turned it over to the state agency to manage as part of the Peason Ridge WMA.
This combines with 18,000 acres added to the WMA last year to bring Peason Ridge to 74,000 and make it one of the largest WMAs in Louisiana.
It’s mostly mixed pine and hardwood trees with ultra-fertile soil.
As of late July, other LDWF workers also had finished projects in another part of the state that will benefit deer hunters on Atchafalaya Delta WMA, one of the top deer-producing WMAs along the coast.
Lance Campbell, biologist program manager for the Coastal and Nongame Resources Division, said crews have completed cutting lanes, trimming trees and mowing campgrounds there.
“These guys do a lot of day-to-day maintenance,” Campbell said. “They are our guys on the ground who tell us what’s going on out there.”
Those workers are rewarded by seeing high deer harvests on Atchafalaya Delta, particularly since 2010. (See related story in this issue on the C&NRD WMAs.)
Unlike other regions, rainfall and swollen rivers were more than welcome on the WMAs in this region, Campbell reported.
“Rainfall during the late spring and early summer months has been good for vegetation growth on coastal WMAs,” he said. “The high river stages of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, and extremely high tides have also resulted in positive impacts due to the high sediment loads that help to build and sustain Louisiana’s deltas.
“Both rainfall and river flows have helped to keep salinities fairly low in some areas, which can be a benefit to coastal wetlands.”
So without further ado, here’s a look at what to expect on the WMAs across the state.
GULF COASTAL PLAINS REGION
ow much of a factor does weather have in making or breaking an important period of the hunting season, such as the either-sex weekend over the Thanksgiving holidays?
It’s very critical, as deer hunters discovered, last Thanksgiving on WMAs in the Gulf Coastal Plains Northwest.
In particular, Beauregard WMA and Loggy Bayou WMAs’ deer herd weren’t moving at all that weekend because of unseasonably hot weather.
As a result, deer hunting on those public lands got off to a bad start, according to GCP Northwest biologist supervisor Jeff Johnson.
“It was horrible weather (during) Thanksgiving,” Johnson said. “The deer weren’t moving good. But a front had started to get over Loggy Bayou, so it had some clouds.”
That WMA’s deer-hunting success recovered during the primitive weapon hunts, which made up for the poor beginning.
Loggy Bayou even produced a trophy buck — one that was featured Dec. 7 on LouisianaSportsman.com. But more about that later.
Beauregard WMA’s slow start was an omen: The 2015-16 deer harvest was down considerably.
But that should be good news for this season.
“We might have a little better harvest this season because it was such a low deer kill (last season),” Johnson said. “It was hot during the primitive weapon hunting season.”
Wendell Smith, biologist supervisor in the Lake Charles-based GCP Southwest, certainly can empathize with Johnson.
Inclement weather messed up what would have been some good hunting in his ecoregion.
Everybody was gung-ho for the deer hunting to start in earnest on Fort Polk, Clear Creek, West Bay and Peason Ridge WMAs, but Mother Nature apparently wasn’t so excited.
There was flash flooding and tornado warnings that opening weekend, a time when 60 percent of the deer harvest usually is recorded.
“Saturday was bad, a washout,” Smith said. “Sunday was a little better.
Many outdoorsmen staying at camps on the area just left Saturday and didn’t hunt.
That left deer harvest projections in a bind, too.
“We have in our heads the amount of deer we want to take off the WMAs …,” Smith said.
Hopefully, the GCP Southwest will have more favorable weather conditions this year, game biologists agreed.
Opening weekend in that area is earlier than other parts of the state because of an earlier rut, Smith said.
Following are some specifics.
GCP NORTHWEST WMAs — Minden
Hunting success for the three main species targeted in this region should be at least decent for squirrels and rabbits, and fair to good for deer “if we get good weather,” Johnson said.
“Habitat conditions overall are excellent,” he explained. “The abundance of rain has provided plenty of browse and foliage for all species. Even areas that were flooded have produced well.
“There should be plenty of food available this fall if we continue to get rain through the summer.”
Plus, he said, the winter was mild and caused no major setbacks.
The LDWF announced in February that a Bodcau WMA shooting range in Haughton reopened for hunters to use going into 2016-17. The facility includes room for rifle and handgun target shooting at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. A shotgun range offers manual target throwers, while an archery range has stationary field targets.
The range facility, which is free, is located at 168 Ben Durden Road, Haughton. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Johnson said much of the deer-hunting activity in this ecoregion happens on Bodcau WMA for several reasons: It has the most liberal season, a large deer herd, prime location and accessibility.
Last season, there were 171 deer harvested on Bodcau, which ranked highest among the top three WMAs in the GCP Northwest.
Bodcau was followed by Loggy Bayou with 99 deer kills. Loggy Bayou has the shortest modern firearm season, but there’s typically a good hunter-effort-to-deer-harvest ratio.
No. 3 went to Camp Beauregard, which gave up 84 deer. There is no either-sex modern firearm season on Camp Beauregard WMA; there are two weekends of either-sex primitive firearms hunting that generally produce high hunter success.
Deer hunters who want to get a quality deer in their sights should head to Loggy Bayou WMA, which features good soils due to the seasonal flooding of the Red River and, of course, Loggy Bayou itself.
The three-day modern firearm season keeps pressure relatively low, and the primitive-weapons season is held the following week with all the hunts timed very close to the rut.
Loggy Bayou boasted one of the prettiest big bucks of last season — a 158-inch 12-point killed by DeRidder’s Jerry Bailey. The deer had an 181/2-inch inside spread with 5-inch bases, weighed 250 pounds and was aged at 51/2 to 61/2 years old.
Every two years or so, a breath-taking buck topping 150 B&C inches is taken off Loggy Bayou WMA, Johnson said.
“They kill good bucks down there every year,” he said.
If Bodcau WMA is No. 1 in the hearts of deer hunters, it must be No. 1A in the hearts of squirrel hunters in Northwest Louisiana.
For starters, Bodcau has good habitat and is easily accessible by hunters.
The clincher is in the numbers of targets: Last season squirrel hunters carried out 2,092 bushy-tailed critters.
That eye-opening result was followed by Loggy Bayou WMA with 348 squirrels and Camp Beauregard with 276 squirrels, based on numbers provided by Johnson.
He said he wasn’t surprised Bodcau preforms so well.
“It’s probably got the most bottomland hardwood area, being the largest with the most hardwood trees,” Johnson said. “Several other ones are pretty productive. But they’re also not as big (as Bodcau WMA) and don’t support as many hunters or support as many squirrels.”
Overall, Johnson said about the outlook for 2016-17 was good.
“We ought to have a decent squirrel season,” he said. “We didn’t have a good white oak mast crop last season, but we had a good red oak mast crop, a whole lot of red oak.”
Rabbit hunting with dogs later in the season has accounted for many of the hoppers taken on WMAs in the GCP Northwest.
The most popular rabbit hunting areas are Loggy Bayou, Bodcau, Bayou Pierre and Sabine WMAs.
The top three in terms of harvested rabbits last season were Loggy Bayou with 82, Sabine with 70 and Bodcau WMA with 40.
The outlook this season is favorable, Johnson said.
“… (W)e’ve been getting enough rain to keep the food sources in decent shape for them,” he explained.
Loggy Bayou, Bodcau and Bayou Pierre WMAs share the same basic characteristics: good availability and access to openings.
Sabine WMA has clear-cuts, and thinned timber areas providing food and cover.
Two GCP Northwest WMAs are targeted by turkey hunters looking for their favorite bird.
Bodcau WMA has habitat favorable to turkeys, Johnson said. Burning done each spring improves that habitat, and there are supplemental plantings and numerous native grass openings that allow birds to flourish.
The season is shorter than outside, but it is not a lottery hunt.
Sabine WMA has two lottery hunts, which limits the pressure. Regular thinning of timber stands and prescribed burning the previous year will provide good turkey habitat.
Johnson recommended hunting woodcock in the crop fields and doves along the dove fields of Bayou Pierre WMA.
And Elbow Slough WMA usually is good for doves, he said.
However, hunting is limited to Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays during the first two splits. The first two days of the first split are by lottery draw only.
GCP SOUTHWEST WMAs — Lake Charles
Spared the flooding misery of the GCP Northwest, Mississippi Alluvial Valley North-Monroe and MAV North-Pineville, Wendell Smith said all conditions are go for his WMAs in Southwest Louisiana.
Oh, there was plenty of water in the region.
“The creeks got high but didn’t really flood the WMAs,” Smith said. “Clear Creek’s close to the Sabine River, but it’s elevated.”
In fact, rainfall was ample during and after the spring months. And that will only help.
“Rainfall should not be a limiting factor for mast-producing trees this fall,” Smith said.
The biologist supervisor said the main thing needed for successful hunting this season for all species is a winter that gets the animals moving.
“Having a mild winter along with a heavy mast crop have left wildlife in great shape heading into spring,” Smith said. “We had turkeys feeding on acorns well into the month of February. The wet spring and summer stimulated forbs and herb growth, which is favorable for all wildlife species.”
Smith said prescribed burning on Clear Creek, Peason Ridge, Fort Polk-Vernon and West Bay WMAs is intended to produce early successional habitat for all wildlife — game as well as non-game animals.
Forest-thinning procedures on Clear Creek and West Bay will produce beneficial habitat in a few years, he said.
Whether targeting squirrels or rabbits, Smith said success is all about scouting, particularly on West Bay WMA, where harvest records show it boasted the largest squirrel and rabbit harvests in the GCP Southwest in 2015-16.
Smith said creek bottoms to scout for squirrels include Alligator Creek, Little Mill Creek, Middle Creek, Mill Creek, Buster Creek and Curtis Creek.
Smith also said many small game hunters will take advantage of the late hunting season, when squirrel dogs and beagles are allowed.
He emphasized the LDWF has provided more small-game hunting opportunities by allowing the use of dogs the entire rabbit/squirrel season on Marsh Bayou WMA in Evangeline Parish and Walnut Hill WMA in Vernon Parish.
Those two WMAs also allow summertime dog training from June to August, he said.
Hopefully, Fort Polk/Vernon WMA deer hunting gets off to a better start than it did last year.
“I hope we have a good season (and) good weather so we can enjoy the outdoors instead of running from a tornado like we did last year,” Smith said.
Despite the rough start, the 2015-16 deer harvest was highest on Fort Polk/Vernon WMA, which was expected due to the immenseness of the area, the veteran game biologist said.
And deer-hunting should be just as good this season, Smith said.
West Creek and Clear Creek WMAs had the second-highest deer harvests, although recently increased timber operations created thick vegetative growths that limited visibility and made it challenging for hunters.
Smith said better views can be had on Clear Creek WMA because of the hilly terrain.
Peason Ridge WMA was a close third last season, he said. It has the potential to be the best WMA in the CP Southwest because of the recently acquired 23,000 acres of the Kurthwood Section.
“The LDWF is always looking for ways to increase opportunity for the outdoor enthusiast, and this addition will accomplish this goal,” Smith said.
Here’s how the deer harvest shaped up on the GCP Southwest in 2015-16:
• Fort Polk/Vernon WMA — 348 deer, 8,219 hunter efforts.
• West Bay WMA — 192 deer, 6,788 hunter efforts.
• Clear Creek WMA — 187 deer, 5,222 hunter efforts.
• Peason Ridge WMA — 128 deer, 3,250 hunter efforts.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of young squirrels,” Smith said of the public lands in his area.
But West Bay WMA was and is the place to be for squirrel hunting success, Smith said.
How successful was the squirrel hunting in 2015-16? Look at these harvest rates:
• West Bay WMA — 2,013 squirrels, 1,723 hunter efforts.
• Fort Polk/Vernon WMA — 938 squirrels, 766 hunter efforts.
• Peason Ridge WMA — 426 squirrels, 389 hunter efforts
• Sabine Island WMA — 407 squirrels, 195 hunter efforts.
Notice something in those numbers? While West Bay WMA had the most squirrels harvested due to the phenomenal number of hunter efforts, Sabine Island WMA had the higher number of squirrels harvested per hunter effort.
Smith noted that Sabine Island’s high success rate has more of a swamp/ridge type habitat that offers a unique squirrel-hunting experience and is accessible only by boat.
Main waterways surrounding the area are the Sabine River to the west and Old River to the east.
Boat launches are located at Niblett Bluff Park (temporarily closed for repairs), Bass Lake Road and at the Interstate 10 Bridge launch on the Texas side.
For more information on WMA access, call the Lake Charles field office at 337-491-2575.
As for Fort Polk/Vernon WMA, which had the second-highest squirrel harvest in the ecoregion last season, there are substantial hardwood bottoms remaining that provide plenty of squirrel hunting habitat.
However, Fort Polk/Vernon and Peason Ridge WMAs are military training areas, so they are subject to temporary closures throughout the season, Smith warned. He advised going to the website listed in the hunting pamphlet for maps showing open/closed areas before traveling to either WMA.
Smith said he and his staff have been seeing more rabbits alongside roads on the GCB Southwest areas than in several years, which means this could be a banner season for rabbit hunters.
One destination hunters should consider is West Bay WMA, where there is very favorable habitat for rabbits, Smith said.
Much of the action takes place late in the season, when hunters go out with dogs to enjoy West Bay WMA, he said.
As the harvest numbers below indicate, West Bay WMA led the way in 2015-16:
• West Bay WMA — 30 rabbits, 94 hunter efforts.
• Clear Creek WMA — 26 rabbits, 49 hunter efforts.
While there wasn’t a significant rabbit harvest for a third spot, Smith suggested hunters try Marsh Bayou WMA, where habitat is conducive to giving up moderate rabbit numbers.
GCP EAST WMAs — Hamond
GCP East biologist supervisor Forest Burks is looking forward to the upcoming hunting seasons, secure in the knowledge that some of the areas he oversees have recovered from the high-water period this past spring.
“Our WMAs are in good shape. Even Pearl River has come back nicely,” Burks said. “The water did fall out three months ago. If we get plentiful rainfall during the summer and do not get impacted by any tropical storms, we should have good habitat conditions on all of the WMAs in our region, leading into the hunting season.”
However, the 3½-year veteran game biologist said high water more than likely impacted turkey nesting and production in the affected areas.
But current habitat conditions are good for fawning and poult rearing, he said.
He also pointed out that some of the most successful turkey hunting in the state is found on nearly all nine of the WMAs in the GCP East.
The same condition that makes Maurepas Swamp and Joyce WMAs so darned difficult to hunt is the very reason deer hunters have a good chance to down quality, older bucks on those public tracts.
And Maurepas Swamp WMA, which he described as “humongous” and “growing,” gave up a very large buck with a 19-inch spread this past season.
Burks said those areas also receive less hunting pressure than smaller, more-accessible WMAs in the region, he said.
However, the top destination for trophy-sized bucks remains Tunica Hills WMA, which has rich, fertile soil and productive habitat supporting a healthy deer herd.
The hilly area gave up a buck last season that had the same characteristics as the one killed on Maurepas Swamp WMA, Burks said.
As for total deer harvest, the 2015-16 numbers were:
• Maurepas Swamp WMA — 242 deer, 3,210 hunter efforts.
• Tunica Hills WMA — 67 deer, 2,400 hunter efforts.
• Pearl River WMA — 59 deer, 3,225 hunter efforts.
Tunica Hills WMA has bowhunting and primitive-weapon seasons only, plus one weekend youth hunt with guns, Burks pointed out.
Of Maurepas Swamp WMA’s 120,000-plus acres, only about 30,000 acres are huntable, according to Burks. There are modern firearm, primitive weapon and bowhunting seasons to choose from there.
“It is big and the majority of it is unsuitable for deer,” the biologist said. “In certain areas, they do grow a lot of them. I don’t know how they survive in some areas.
“It’s hard to get to. Generally, people take a flatboat with a pirogue and have fairly good success. That inaccessibility lends to older age-class deer.”
Pearl River WMA is very accessible to deer hunters, with numerous roads and trails maintained. Plus, it’s closer to New Orleans.
“Again, most people go by boat and walk in,” Burks said.
Maurepas Swamp WMA being four times larger than any other area in the GCP East is the main reason the squirrel harvest is so high.
But Pearl River WMA, which covers about 30,000 acres, is right behind it as far as squirrel harvest each season.
Both should produce beau coup squirrels for small-game hunters this season because habitat and mast crop conditions are favorable thanks to a mild winter and an average year of rainfall.
Burks reported that acorn production on Maurepas Swamp WMA last fall was higher than the previous year, a positive sign for the upcoming season.
At Pearl River WMA, red oak acorn production last fall was slightly better compared to the previous year, and the white oak production was much better, he said.
At Tunica Hills WMA, an abundance of mature oaks and other mast-producing trees provide good squirrel habitat.
“Most of the WMAs are forested,” Burks said. “Even the swamps have canopies so (squirrels) can move tree to tree, even if they’re above water.”
How did the 2015-15 squirrel harvest shake out? Here are the numbers:
• Maurepas Swamp WMA — 1,178 squirrels, 1,025 hunter efforts.
• Pearl River WMA — 1,318 squirrels, 2,695 hunter efforts.
• Tunica Hills WMA — 358 squirrels, 47 hunter efforts.
Again, Maurepas Swamp WMA is No. 1.
“There are huntable rabbits on all of our WMAs,” Burks said. “We do expect it to be a plentiful harvest again.
“Maurepas has the most. Pearl River’s another good rabbit hunting WMA.”
Higher grounds on the western and southwestern portions of Maurepas Swamp give up the most rabbits, the game biologist said. Otherwise, many of the 120,000-plus acres are unsuitable for rabbits, he said.
Although the thick understory created by Hurricane Katrina in 1995 is opening up, there remains plenty of early successional habitat on the area, as well as edge habitat along the trails and openings, he said.
A majority of Sandy Hollow WMA is kept in early successional habitat through prescribed burning, and there is an abundance of edge habitat surrounding fields and openings on the WMA.
All is not lost after flooding on two areas and high water on a handful of others, as far as turkey hunting prospects. In fact, Burks is looking forward to turkey hunting in the GCP East in spring 2017.
“Of our nine WMAs, Tunica Hills WMA is probably the best bet for harvesting a turkey,” Burks said. “There is a youth lottery hunt, three general lottery hunts and an open seven-day segment at the end of the season.”
For the 2016 season, he said, 10 turkeys were harvested during 210 hunter efforts on Tunica Hills WMA.
Burks said there are additional turkey hunting opportunities on Sandy Hollow, Pearl River, Lake Ramsey, Tangipahoa Parish School Board and Hutchinson’s Creek WMAs.
One of this ecoregion’s leading waterfowl hunting areas is being threatened by giant salvinia, Burks said.
“We are still working to control giant salvinia on Manchac WMA,” he said. “This invasive, exotic plant was first found on the WMA two years ago. Users of Manchac WMA are advised to make sure their boats, trailers and other equipment are thoroughly cleaned and free of this vegetation to help prevent its spread to other areas.”
Of GCP East’s nine WMAs, Pearl River, Manchac and Joyce WMAs lead the way with duck harvests each waterfowl hunting season, he said.
Habitat conditions in those areas were good as of late July and should stay that way, barring tropical weather activity.
Here are the duck harvest numbers for GCP East in 2015-16:
• Pearl River WMA — 1,077 ducks, 2,525 hunter efforts.
• Manchac WMA — 827 ducks, 745 hunter efforts.
• Joyce WMA — 352 ducks, 415 hunter efforts.
Burks reported that Pearl River and Sandy Hollow WMAa offer the best woodcock hunting opportunities.
Dove hunters should target birds at Sandy Hollow WMA, which has four browntop millet fields totaling 44 acres.
The three fields on the North Tract are open for youth hunters and supervising adults on opening day of the dove season, and the South Tract field is open to properly licensed WMA dove hunters.
After opening day, dove season is closed on the WMA until the following Saturday, and then it follows the outside dove season.
MISSISSIPPI ALLUVIAL VALLEY REGION
Events unrelated to high water took place on the MAV’s north and south ecoregions since the last WMA outlook.
Game biologist Corey May was pleased to report that last year his agency purchased an additional 2,800 acres for Russell Sage WMA.
The land, called the Kennedy Tract, is south of Bosco Road.
May has fielded several calls this summer about the new tract and its availability for the upcoming hunting season. However, he said, the tract isn’t ready for prime time, and won’t be available for hunting purposes in 2016-17.
Wait until next year for that acreage to be available for public hunting.
On another construction note, May and other LDWF officials believe the water-control structure project on Russell Sage WMA’s Wham Brake will be completed this fall, weather permitting. (See related material in the duck report for the MAV North.)
MAV NORTH WMAs — Monroe
Since the major flooding earlier this year, Mother Nature has been kind to WMAs like Boeuf, Russell Sage, Big Lake, Bayou Macon, Big Colewa Bayou, Buckhorn and J.C. “Sonny” Gilbert WMAs.
That last one was formerly Sicily Island Hills WMA.
“We’ve got good rain since … to keep the browse plants palatable,” Corey said the last week of July. “We haven’t done a mast survey yet, but from all indications right now …, there’ll be at least average acorn production.
“We had an outstanding mast crop last fall, which combined with great browse conditions so far for this growing season, should produce a bunch of healthy animals come hunting season.”
He was hopeful adequate rainfall will continue through the remaining weeks of summer to ensure habitat is in good shape during that stressful time period for deer.
Wanted: Favorable weather conditions for deer hunting on the top three WMAs in the MAV North-Monroe.
That’s the word from May and deer hunters who go to Big Lake, Boeuf and Russell Sage WMAs, all of which have prime habitat for deer — a combination of mature timber and early successional habitat.
But even the best conditions can be dampened by warm weather during the either-sex managed hunt, which is why the deer harvest dipped last season on those three WMAs.
However, May was hopeful.
“We expect harvest numbers to rebound this year,” he said. “With the timber harvests that were conducted on Russell Sage and Boeuf, hunters should expect to have a very successful season.”
How successful was it in 2016-17? See for yourself:
• Big Lake WMA 239 deer, 2,966 hunter efforts.
• Boeuf WMA — 179 deer, 3,025 hunter efforts.
• Russell Sage WMA — 171 deer, 3,320 hunter efforts.
Why is Big Lake a leader in the MAV North-Monroe?
“It’s just the area it’s in — typical bottomland hardwood over there, and it’s got really good, fertile soils that produce thick-bodied, big-antlered deer,” May said, adding that a contributing factor is that it is adjacent to Tensas National Wildlife Refuge’s great timber country.
Another thing going for it is consistently high acorn production, he said.
May said Buckhorn WMA is in the same conversation because it isn’t far from Big Lake.
“If you’re after big, quality deer, that’s where you want to be,” he explained. “I’d make the effort. And there’s some really, really nice deer killed on Bayou Macon and Russell Sage.
“Bayou Macon doesn’t get nearly as many hunters over there.”
As always, May said a hunter who doesn’t mind going the extra mile and spending adequate time scouting and getting familiar with an area stands a good chance of getting a crack at a nice deer.
Big Lake WMA offers much more than a chance to get a quality buck. Hundreds of squirrel hunters, including those who hunt with dogs, have made it their top destination the past few seasons.
For its relatively small size — especially compared to Boeuf WMA, which is about twice as large — Big Lake has what it takes to be No. 1 in the MAV North and one of the top squirrel-producing areas in all of Louisiana.
The 2015-16 squirrel harvest numbers tell the story:
• Big Lake WMA — 3,902 squirrels, 1,667 hunter efforts.
• Boeuf WMA — 2,851 squirrels, 3,025 hunter efforts.
• Russell Sage WMA — 970 squirrels, 1,072 hunter efforts.
“Last year we had a great mast crop. Acorns, pecans and some soft-mast species are the major food sources in the fall and winter months, and all three WMAs have an abundance of these,” May said. “Squirrel populations fluctuate with hard-mast yields and, since the mast crop was above average last year, hunters should enjoy more success this upcoming season.”
At Big Lake, an influx of squirrel hunters with dogs accounted for much of last season’s harvest total, he said.
“You can kill squirrels anywhere,” May said. “Buckhorn is a bit harder because of the palmettos. Go squirrel hunting there and it’s just a little tougher to kill them.
“Bayou Macon has the same type of habitat as Big Lake. You can kill squirrels there, but it’s so far away in the northeast corner of the state it doesn’t get a lot of hunters.”
May expects an average to above average season for rabbits on WMAs in the MAV North-Monroe.
But choose one of these three destinations and there’s a good chance you’ll come back with rabbits for the pot: Boeuf, Russell Sage and Big Lake WMAs.
They were boss last season, as the harvest numbers show:
• Boeuf WMA — 299 rabbits, 166 hunter efforts.
• Russell Sage WMA — 134 rabbits, 217 hunter efforts.
• Big Lake WMA — 26 rabbits, four hunter efforts.
“Boeuf is a big area with a lot of habitat, and it should be even better habitat for the rabbits, with the timber harvest last year,” May said. “Russell Sage is another consistent producer for rabbit hunters.”
He said one of the many prime Russell Sage areas is the Ouachita Parish School Board tract that was clear-cut last summer. It should have the highest quality habitat and support the highest number of rabbits, May said.
The School Board tract is bisected by Louisiana 841 near the race track.
“It’ll be so thick it’s going to be great in there,” May explained.
Also on Russell Sage WMA, the 3,000-acre tract off Bosco Road was reforested around 2010, which means it has excellent habitat for rabbits, he said.
Most of the northern half of the WMA — primarily north of Young’s Bayou — is mature, closed-canopied bottomland hardwood habitat that supports fewer rabbits than bramble and briar thickets elsewhere on Russell Sage WMA, May said.
As a result, few rabbit hunters venture there, he said.
While several MAV North-Monroe WMAs offer fair to good duck hunting each season, two of them — Russell Sage and Boeuf — stand out because of the amount of suitable and diverse waterfowl habitat.
Russell Sage WMA has 13 waterfowl management units for a total of 7,550 acres, which includes 500 acres of flooded agricultural fields, 4,500 acres of moist-soil management units and 2,550 acres of greentree impoundments.
May said the most popular areas north of Highway 15 are Wham Brake and the greentree reservoir. South of Highway 15 Pintail Alley and the flooded bean field await.
Also, there are scattered moist-soil units on the area, plus another greentree reservoir called Pot Luck.
Those aforementioned locations combined to give up 7,889 ducks to 5,952 duck hunter efforts in 2015-16.
May reminded waterfowlers that the greentree reservoir, the bean field and Pintail Alley are artificially flooded, which means they are dependent on the water level of the Bayou LaFourche Canal. While all the infrastructure is in place well before the duck season, the canal dictates when and how much water goes onto the impoundments.
May was pleased to report that a joint venture with Ducks Unlimited to upgrade the Wham Brake water-control structure was progressing well. Completion is scheduled for this fall, he said.
Will it make a difference?
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” May said. “It will enhance greatly our ability to manipulate the water.”
Woodcock are hunted sparingly region wide, May said. However, some exceptional hunting can be found for those who want to go if they try at Bayou Macon, Boeuf and Russell Sage WMAs.
Although hunting for upland game birds such as doves is limited, Russell Sage WMA offers a 5-acre browntop millet field that has been targeted successfully in the past.
May also points hunters to a recently acquired tract off Bosco Road. There are no wildlife plantings there, but dove numbers are higher on the southern end of the area than anywhere else.
Also, he said, there is a 40-acre dove field where dove hunters pop birds fairly consistently on Boeuf WMA.
There was a silver lining to the fact that turkey hunting seasons this spring were null and void because of flooding on Big Lake WMA and Boeuf WMA.
May said biologists are “looking forward to an excellent season in 2017 due to the holdover birds from this year.”
Floodwaters this year more than likely affected poult production on both areas, but it was too early to determine if that was the case, he said.
MAV NORTH WMAs — Pineville
Dewey Wills WMA probably will lead 2016-17 harvest numbers for deer, squirrels and rabbits, despite the spring flood, according to biologist supervisor Cliff Dailey.
Its sheer size and increased hunting effort, along with the bottomland hardwoods, sloughs and cypress brakes habitat, should account for that, Dailey said.
There is plenty of nuttall, willow and overcup oak in the fall mast crop for squirrels and deer, and old, dying trees combined with timber harvesting create canopy gaps that make “briar thickets” deer and rabbit like to roam.
Backwater flooding last winter and spring covered approximately a third of the acreage on Little River WMA.
But Dailey pointed out there was plenty of upland acreage to which deer and other animals could migrate. And all animals conceivably are eating better because prescribed fire rotations improved habitat, he said.
Also, recent timber harvesting on private property adjacent to Little River should enhance browse species and benefit the deer herd on the property.
Thistlethwaite WMA — the land of quality deer — wasn’t impacted by the flooding, which allowed deer to maintain their normal range and avoid being stressed by forced migration, Dailey said.
A regular timber harvest schedule there provides ample sunlight at ground level for quality wildlife browse. Adequate spring and summer rainfall further enhanced the lush undergrowth.
Some of the better deer hunting success should happen at Dewey Wills WMA this season, Dailey said. It could even lead the harvest just because of its immense size: 63,901 acres.
“Thistlethwaite’s an option, but it’s not nearly as big,” he said. “(But) it was not flooded this year, so the deer should be in good condition.”
Last season’s harvest numbers reflected the difference:
• Dewey Wills WMA — 272 deer
• Thistlethwaite WMA — 168 deer
• Little River WMA — three deer
Like Dewey Wills, Thistlethwaite WMA has a “hardcore group there year after year. There’s room for new people. But it has a core following.”
Recent logging activities enhance the appeal of deer hunting prospects across Thistlethwaite WMA. However, it can be a challenge to hunt because of the abundance of palmettos, which makes it tough for deer hunters to see.
Those palmettos, however, are a main reason there are bigger deer taken on Thistlethwaite WMA.
“A lot of deer make it through the season and make it to the next age class,” Dailey said, noting Thistlethwaite is the spot where some of the biggest deer can be harvested in the MAV Central.
There are other reasons for the presence of larger deer, he said, noting fertile soil combined with regular timber harvesting produces an abundance of quality browse for white-tailed deer.
Also, mast-producing trees such as willow, nuttall, cherrybark and water oak provide highly desired food throughout Thistlethwaite.
Another factor is the season structure, which is geared toward protecting bucks during the rut: The bucks-only and primitive-weapons seasons take place before the peak of the rut.
Bowhunting opportunities during the rut are increased due to the structure, Dailey said.
Thistlethwaite’s season framework will continue through the 2018-19 season, he said.
Severe flooding over the late-winter and spring months apparently failed to bother the squirrel population on Dewey Wills WMA, where 3,350 squirrels were harvested in 2015-16.
And it looks like there are plenty left.
“I’ve been seeing lots of squirrels crossing the road,” Dailey said. “They can hang out; they’re fine. They can eat the buds in the trees so they’re fine.”
Following Dewey Wills last season was Thistlethwaite, with an eye-opening 1,340 killed, and Little River WMA, with 298 killed.
Thistlethwaite WMA isn’t easy to hunt, though, because the palmettos make it difficult to move around without making a lot of noise. However, Dailey also said there are some places where the palmettos are less dense.
“It can be a challenge to hunt in there for squirrels, but people hunt in there and have success,” he said.
Dailey emphasized that a specially designated area on Dewey Wills WMA allows small-game hunting with dogs when the remainder of the area is restricted to still-hunt only.
The offseason training of rabbit dogs also is allowed within this area, he said.
Unfortunately, Dewey Wills WMA’s rabbit population took a big hit during the flooding that plagued the area earlier this year.
“I’m sure a lot of them didn’t make it,” Dailey said. “It was too far for them to travel to get out of harm’s way.”
Still, flooding occurred during the latter part of the season, and quite a bit of success was enjoyed on higher ground on the north end, mostly along the eastern levee on the north end along Hunt Road.
Seventy-three rabbits were harvested last season on Dewey Wills, followed by Thistlethwaite with 27 and Little River WMA with eight.
“It’s always the top harvest because it’s a bigger area,” Dailey said about Dewey Wills. “(Rabbit hunting success) may be down this year, but it should bounce back.”'
Duck hunters flock to two areas on Dewey Wills WMA that typically hold ducks — if they make it down to the Sportsman’s Paradise — each fall and winter.
After the last shot was fired last season, the number of ducks killed totaled 1,151.
The greentree reservoir on the south end is one popular duck hunting destination because Dailey and his staff can pump water into the approximately 400 acres of maintained potholes.
And the intermittent impoundment north of the Diversion Canal between Hunt Road and Highway 28 East is designed to flood the Muddy Bayou watershed, creating up to 3,000 acres of greentree habitat during the winter months.
But be aware that the latter doesn’t always flood, Dailey said. The LDWF has the ability to hold water in but cannot pump water into it: It depends solely on rainfall for winter flooding.
Dailey emphasized that a majority of the impoundment will be a limited-access area, in which the use of motorized vessels and vehicles is prohibited between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31. Hunters should reference the 2016 WMA map for details, he said.
Another waterfowl option is Thistlethwaite WMA, where 347 ducks were bagged in 2015-16.
Wauksha Bayou, Little Bayou and various unnamed sloughs offer waterfowl hunting opportunities on the area. Wood ducks, by the way, make up 95 percent of harvested Thistlethwaite ducks.
Another 50 ducks were killed last season on Little River WMA, Dailey said. Backwaters from Little River provide the major duck hunting opportunities on the area, he said.
Again, Dewey Wills WMA is the place to be, according to Daily. He said hunters can avoid crowds and fill up their bag, noting that 65 timberdoodles were killed last season despite a majority of the area being flooded.
The veteran biologist recommended that hunters search out old logging sites that have grown into thickets, and Dailey pointed out that success can be enjoyed within a short walking distance of the area’s major roads.
He advised hunters to try the thickets adjacent to Hunt Road south of the Diversion Canal, Muddy Bayou and Indian Bayou.
Thistlethwaite WMA also has some fair to good woodcock hunting each season. A dense understory resulting from past logging activities have created prime woodcock habitat on the area.
Turkey hunters should scout and hunt Little River WMA, which is a good place to get away from the crowd each spring, Dailey said.
“It’s a good option,” he said. “It just doesn’t get hunted a lot. People who hunt that (region) go for bigger blocks of land — Kisatchie National Forest is right there.”
As for Dewey Wills WMA, which is the place to be for most species, Dailey said the turkey population is limited, probably because of the oak decline from drought, insects, hydrological changes and, of course, flooding that had a significant impact this spring.
MAV SOUTH WMAs — Opelousas
Just when one area’s turkey population was recovering from heavy flooding in 2011, two others in the MAV South were impacted in the late winter and spring of 2016.
That’s the word from Cody Haynes, a biologist supervisor who works out of the LDWF’s office in Opelousas.
In recent years, Grassy Lake, Sherburne and Richard K. Yancey WMAs consistently yielded turkeys. But heavy rains and ill-timed flooding took a toll on the turkey reproduction.
Turkey hunting success was down on Sherburne, where just five turkeys were killed; and Richard K. Yancey WMA, where nine turkeys were killed, Haynes said.
Turkey hunting season was closed on Grassy Lake WMA, and flooding more than likely took a heavy toll on turkey reproduction there, Haynes said.
Sherburne’s turkey numbers have been slowly rebuilding since the Morganza Flood in 2011, he said.
Otherwise, MAV South WMAs should offer plenty of deer, squirrels, rabbits and ducks, as habitat conditions are at least in fair shape.
Spring and early summer rains stimulated good understory growth that bodes well overall for Richard K. Yancey, Pomme de Terre, Spring Bayou, Sherburne, Attakapas Island and Elm Hall WMAs.
Imagine deer hunting on public property that gives up one deer per 14 hunter efforts and one deer per 94 acres.
That’s a reality at Richard K. Yancey WMA, where the harvest last season was one of the highest in years, Haynes reported.
There were 378 bucks and 353 does killed for a total of 731 deer harvested in 13,704 hunter efforts — despite warm temperatures that adversely effected deer movement during the either-sex gun hunt there and on other MAV South WMAs.
The harvest improved on all of the WMAs as the season continued to finish with average or above average numbers.
Grassy Lake WMA had flooding issues that heavily influenced hunter access. Still, 94 deer were taken during 1,136 hunter efforts. That’s one deer per 12 hunter efforts and one deer per 138 acres.
At Sherburne, 8,202 hunter efforts accounted for 311 deer harvested (one deer per 26 hunter effort and one deer per 115 acres).
Haynes anticipates more of the same this season.
“The deer herd is in pretty good shape overall” as of mid-July, Haynes said. “As many biologists like to say, ‘The three keys to deer management are nutrition, nutrition and nutrition’ — and all of the areas within the MAV ecoregion offer high-quality soils.”
Haynes pointed out that the deer harvest on Richard K. Yancey WMA, one of the most popular deer hunting areas in the Sportsman’s Paradise, mighty be in for a drop this season because of the record harvest in 2015-16.
However, hunters still should do very well.
“We don’t expect it to dip much below average harvests,” Haynes said.
So why is your best shot at a quality deer this season on Richard K. Yancey WMA? Soil quality directly impacts available nutrition, and nutrition directly impacts deer size and antler growth, proven time and time again on Richard K. Yancey.
Adult bucks weighing more than 200 pounds are recorded frequently, and there is potential for bucks to grow large antlers.
Habitat quality combined with the sheer size of the WMA — 70,000 acres — and good genetics make it the best bet for a trophy-sized deer.
Avoyelles Parish’s WMAs — Grassy Bayou, Spring Bayou and Pomme de Terre — also boast the potential for quality bucks because they, too, have high-fertility soils.
Two of the top squirrel-hunting destinations in this ecoregion are accessible only by boat, and one of them is considered one of the best in Louisiana, despite its small size and remoteness.
Serious squirrel hunters might want to find their way to the Elm Hall WMA, a little-known area on the northeast corner of Lake Verret about five miles west of Napoleonville.
“Going by the (check-out) cards, if you go squirrel hunting there, you’ll do pretty well,” Haynes said.
How productive was the squirrel hunting on the 2,839-acre cypress-tupelo gum tract last season? It had the highest harvest per hunter effort in the MAV South: 139 squirrels bagged by 59 hunters, or 2.36 squirrels per hunt.
The key to favorable rabbit habitat is different management practices such as timber harvests and utility right of way mowing.
With that in mind, Haynes pointed hunters to Sherburne, Richard K. Yancey and Spring Bayou WMAs, each of which offer the best opportunity for rabbit hunting success in the MAV South.
The biologist said success should be as good or even better this season than it was last season, particularly at Richard K. Yancey WMA.
Here are the harvest totals:
• Spring Bayou WMA — 73 rabbits, 386 hunter efforts (0.19 rabbits per hunter).
• Sherburne WMA — 73 rabbits, 1,462 hunter efforts.
• Richard K. Yancey WMA — 46 rabbits, 2,991 hunter efforts.
Haynes said Richard K. Yancey and Sherburne WMAs have large dove fields planted with sunflowers and browntop millet.
Fields are first-come, first-served and have offered quality dove hunts in past years.
Naturally, opening weekend draws the most dove hunting pressure. So Haynes encouraged dove hunters to check out the fields during the second and third splits because often the action increases later in the season.
Sherburne and Richard K. Yancey WMAs both have “really good woodcock” habitat, Haynes said, noting that’s where most of the success has been over the past few seasons.
The LDWF staff works to provide woodcock habitat, and it shows in the harvests.
Haynes said 149 woodcock were bagged last season on Sherburne WMA, topping the MAV South.