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Grand Opening
Follow these steps to be on a trophy by the time the season opens.

By CHRIS BERZAS

Will Primos (right) arrowed this 9-pointer after he found sign of the deer foraging on wild pecans. The impressive buck scored 142 B&C, making it eligible for Pope & Young listing and ranking it in Louisiana’s Big Game Records.
Will Primos (right) arrowed this 9-pointer after he found sign of the deer foraging on wild pecans. The impressive buck scored 142 B&C, making it eligible for Pope & Young listing and ranking it in Louisiana’s Big Game Records.

I still catch whitetail fever on opening day.

And that’s surprising since I have been hunting these wild quadrupeds for quite some time now — and in many various locations in the Bayou State.

I guess the excitement of opening day has to do with anticipation. If you are fortunate enough to have spied a huge buck this summer, then adrenaline will be coursing through your veins in hopes he’ll present his vitals near your pampered and painstakingly placed stand site.

Such a harvest certainly takes the edge off a hunter for the rest of the season.

In that regard, I am reminded of one early season archery hunt I enjoyed some years back with Ronnie Jolly and legendary callmaker Will Primos of Jackson, Miss.

We were hunting in East Carroll Parish on South Willow Point Island.

Opening day found us deer-less, although there were certainly signs that the whitetails were carousing and foraging. They were hitting honey locusts, rattan, early acorns and wild pecans, yet all we managed to observe on our stands that morning were groups of does and yearlings.

The hunts of the afternoon and next morning were also uneventful.

At noon on the second day, however, Primos and cameraman Jeff Sherwood decided to set up a stand near promising signs of a huge deer foraging on wild pecans.

When the hunters arrived to hunt, they spied an immense 9-point munching on the mast and browse.

Sherwood filmed quietly as Primos crept stealthily within bow range.

Primos’ arrow found favor, and later the duo were celebrating the filming and taking of this trophy weighing 210 pounds and scoring 142 Boone & Crockett points. This whitetail now ranks in 29th place in Bayou State records for typical trophies taken in the archery division.

The easiest time to kill a deer is the first time you hunt it, which stacks the odds a litte more in your favor for opening day.
The easiest time to kill a deer is the first time you hunt it, which stacks the odds a litte more in your favor for opening day.

And already, it’s only a month and a half before southwestern Louisiana archers take a stand with a bow in their hands. The opener in southwest Louisiana (Areas 3 and 8) is slated for Sept. 14, and the deer there will be in pre-rut behavior. This area incorporates all of Acadia, Cameron and Vermilion parishes and portions of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Iberia, Jeff Davis, Lafayette, Rapides, St. Landry and Vernon parishes.

In other parishes statewide, the bow season opens on Oct. 1 despite the recent biological and political discussion over attempting to move the archery opener for whitetails to somewhat later.

The earliest gun seasons (blackpowder) opens Oct. 5 in Areas 3 and 8, with the modern gun season starting a little later. Of course, modern gun seasons for white-tailed deer also open in November in the remaining deer areas throughout Louisiana.

“The very first time you hunt a deer is the best time to harvest one — especially if it’s a trophy buck,” Jolly said.

Primos agreed, adding that opening day is the best time to score on a trophy besides taking advantage of the rut.

“Food is the primary factor on scoring on opening day in Louisiana,” he said. “Soybean fields and other agricultural foods are the major sources for private-land deer early in the season, although there is much less soybean planted these days.”

And it certainly appears that we’ve carried many whitetails over the non-hunting months in Louisiana.

“We’ve had plenty food out there for deer all over this state for a while now,” observed Tony Vidrine, a Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist. “(Deer Study Leader) Dave Moreland also observed that deer were foraging on remnant mast as late as May.

“The great mast season we experienced last year along with the rains of the late spring and early summer are all positive. If the weather favors us with a cool fall, conditions are more than adequate for hunters to find deer early in the season.”

Regarding tactics, both Primos and Jolly advise early season hunters to hunt “trailing” deer as they move from feeding to bedding sites.

“The wind is critical, and I’ll usually find a tree on the downwind side of the trail on opening day,” explained Jolly.

Regarding public lands in northeastern Louisiana — especially Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge where trophies abound — both Primos and Jolly advised that the first acorns falling in the hardwoods are a prime place to look for opening-day whitetails by bow.

“Deer in the Tensas area and adjacent private lands usually hit the first acorns pretty hard,” Jolly said. “You want to find fresh feeding sign and droppings indicating deer presence near mast areas throughout the northeastern Louisiana Mississippi delta.”

“Also, on public lands, you definitely want to get away from the crowds,” added Primos. “Deer left relatively undisturbed hold the best chances at becoming targets at which to aim your bowsights on opening day.”

Piney woods hunters must make an annual commitment to supplement the diets of the deer on their land.

When bowhunting quality and trophy whitetail bucks on Delta lands, Primos warned that hunters need to pay attention to details.

“First of all, you’ve got to glass these bucks from a distance to find out exactly what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s just so easy to spook the big ones, either making them nocturnal or sending them into places that are very difficult to access.

“To succeed with a trophy on opening day, you want to make absolutely sure to have his life figured out — where he beds, walks and especially where the animal feeds early in the season.

“In my experience, you’re more likely to harvest such an animal in the woods while he’s feeding on acorns during the mid-morning.”

“On private lands, you don’t want to pressure such a buck, especially near his bedding area,” agreed Jolly. “On public lands, this is less critical, especially since hunting pressure may dictate that you get near his bedding area before another hunter does.”

If the buck is alerted and there are many hunters in the area, however, chances may even place hunting pressure on such a buck to turn in your direction.

On public lands, group hunting on stand lines along several trails may award hunters with both antlers and venison on opening day. This method involves spreading out several stands for a group of hunters well downwind of trails leading from food sites to bedding areas.

Both bowhunters stressed over and again that stand placement is critical whenever hunting whitetails in the early season.

“I personally like to use a portable climber or fixed position stand situated downwind so I won’t have to leave anything with an unusual scent in the woods,” said Primos. “If a good buck can smell you, you won’t kill it with a bow. Sure, you’ll get by with a few does, but believe me, you don’t want to spoil your chances on a good buck.”

Regarding trophy potential on opening day, you have to hunt where the trophies are. Of course, private lands along Louisiana’s northeastern Mississippi River delta are the most probable in delivering wall-hangers on opening day.

But high lease fees put this location out of reach of many hunters.

Keeping year-round food plots benefits hunters in two ways — it gives the deer nutrition during lean parts of the year, and it gives hunters a productive area to hunt during the season.
Keeping year-round food plots benefits hunters in two ways — it gives the deer nutrition during lean parts of the year, and it gives hunters a productive area to hunt during the season.

For those less fortunate, the famed lands of Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, located in Madison and Tensas parishes, hold the best cards for an early season trophy. Indeed, the deer herd here is quite impressive in terms of both quantity and quality, and approximately 200 deer are taken by 1,200 archery hunting efforts on these lands on an annual basis.

Unlike most other public lands in the Bayou State, Tensas’s archery season begins near the end of October. Bowhunting for whitetails here is prohibited during all gun hunts. Also, bowhunters must successfully pass a bowhunter education course in order to participate on refuge hunts.

At least nine harvested bucks at Tensas NWR have made Louisiana archery rankings above 125 B&C, and I am firmly convinced that a future No. 1 Louisiana P&Y buck will be taken from these lands.

Newcomers to the area will also be impressed with the quality of the hunt here in one of the most wondrous hardwood forests remaining in Louisiana. It is simply the best of the few remaining hardwood paradises to hold numerous trophy whitetails in Louisiana.

As for piney woods, it can be argued that deer management has played a major role in enhancing quality antler development, especially in northwest and northcentral Louisiana. In fact, there are many P&Y caliber whitetails to be taken above 125 B&C points on well-managed piney lands, but apparently not in the numbers found on the alluvial soils of the Mississippi River Delta. There are just no historical trends demonstrating significant numbers of trophy whitetails on such silviculture lands in the Louisiana Big Game record book.

But certainly there are quality deer, and lease members have supported antler development with supplemental feeding in the form of large, expansive food plots.

Also, it can be argued that the chief management strategy to enhance quality whitetail development in the piney woods is the lack of pulling the trigger on younger whitetails.

The traditional use of checkerboard clearcutting in mixed pines and hardwoods has also allowed a variety of forage complemented by thick cover to carry over even more deer on these lands.

Therefore, opening-day efforts toward the quality buck of a lifetime here has to do with hunting fresh browse sites. In other words, hunt “big deer sign” where they’re feeding, which could be fresh honeysuckle, rattan or even the fresh, tender shoots on a greenfield.

And, of course, piney-wood success can sometimes be found near a corn feeder. In my experience, however, corn feeders feed most of the trophy bucks at night. Ask anyone who has a hidden camouflaged camera. They’ll tell you quickly that the better deer are nocturnal early and have a tendency to be a wee bit more daily in their feeding as the rut nears.

In southwest Louisiana piney woods, food is critical as some does will also be in estrus. Does will be at available forage areas, and such early season favorites include persimmons, blackberry leaves and french mulberry. The fruit of the french mulberry can be quite a deer attractant in the summer months, leading to continued feeding on opening day.