As Tony Vidrine and hundreds of deer hunters look forward to hunting season, they are relieved one of the top WMAs in the Lafayette Region was spared from something that would have decimated the wildlife population on Sherburne Wildlife Management Area.
A decision to open the Morganza Spillway’s floodgates because of record high water in the Mississippi River would have released countless gallons of water over downstream lands, including Sherburne WMA north of I-10 in St. Martin, Pointe Coupee and Iberville parishes. The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers twice postponed the decision to open the floodgates, then scrapped the action entirely in mid-June.
No one was more relieved than Vidrine that the floodgates stayed closed. A 35-year veteran biologist with LDWF, he was bracing for the worst: a flood across the area devastating to wildlife, because he saw the deadly after-effects when the spillway was opened in 2011 and put the area under 7 to 10 feet of water.
Sherburne WMA still hasn’t recovered fully. A full 30% of the deer herd —1,600 deer — died in the man-made flood, unable to make it to high ground. Only 20% of the turkey population survived, and it has yet to recover. Rabbits perished.
Visions of the aftermath were rekindled. Fortunately, it didn’t materialize again, and Sherburne WMA enters the season as, once again, a top area to kill deer in the Lafayette Region.
Other WMAs in the region have experienced problems this year. Richard K. Yancey WMA, regarded as the other of the top two deer-hunting areas in the region, and Grassy Lake WMA had severe backwater flooding from late winter through mid-July. Where floodwaters reached, there will be a reduction in browse availability, Vidrine said. When the floodwaters recede, those areas may recover in time for vegetation to respond, he said.
Sherburne WMA had no major flooding, and browse availability was at least fair on the main part, Vidrine said. That’s why so many people are ready for it to give up beaucoup deer this season, there and Richard K. Yancey WMA.
“Those areas are bigger areas and have got a good deer herd. Richard K. Yancey is one of the better areas in the state as far as deer herds are concerned,” Vidrine said.
“Richard K. Yancey has consistently been one of the most-popular deer hunting areas in the state because of the big buck potential it offers. We are expecting a good deer harvest this season. Sherburne continues to see improvements in the deer herd since the 2011 Morganza flood event, along with habitat improvements on some small section of the area, should contribute to good hunting on the WMA.”
Four components of a successful deer-management program make those two areas prime WMAs for deer hunting, he said: age, herd density, habitat and genetics.
In 2018-19, based on managed hunts in addition to self-clearing permit information, the harvest numbers showed one deer harvested for 36 hunter efforts on Thistlethwaite WMA, one deer harvested per 143 hunter efforts on Sherburne WMA, and one deer harvested per 92 hunter efforts on Pomme de Terre WMA.
It’s a small area, but, man, Attakapas WMA sure gives up a lot of squirrels every season. According to bag checks and self-clearing permits, hunters averaged 1.4 squirrels per hunter effort last season. The previous season, the number was 2.4 squirrels per hunter effort on the 27,000-acre WMA on the extreme western side of the Atchafalaya Basin.
“Some of these areas, like Attakapas, don’t get a lot of use, and they have one of the highest averages per hunter. A lot of local hunters use these some of these areas,” Vidrine said.
“Attakapas has consistently, over the years, averaged greater than one squirrel per hunter effort. This is likely attributed to habitat and lower hunting pressure, as Attakapas Island is only accessible by boat, but it is one of the only public areas in the southern Atchafalaya Basin.”
However, the region’s most-popular spots for squirrel hunting, based on overall harvest and number of hunters, are Richard K. Yancey WMA and Sherburne WMA, he reported. Hunters should scout forests with mature hardwoods producing hard mast while still offering some soft mast-producing trees such as sugarberry. All of the areas are inhabited by fox squirrels, with gray squirrels also found in the bag at a good rate.
After what he described as poor to fair success on many of the Lafayette Region WMAs last season, Vidrene is hopeful there is considerable improvement in 2019-20. He urged waterfowlers to take advantage of lottery hunts at the Sherburne WMA’s South Farm, where on-site drawings are on Tuesdays and Thursdays and pre-selected drawings on Saturdays.
If ducks arrive in the Sportsman’s Paradise for 2019-20, the top three areas will be Richard K. Yancey WMA, Sherburne WMA and Pomme de Terre WMA, he reported. Each of them offers a unique duck-hunting experience.
At Richard K. Yancey WMA, the greentree reservoir, flooded batture area and the many shallow-water lakes provide excellent habitat for migrating ducks.
Sherburne WMA offers many opportunities, particularly at the South Farm, which is managed for waterfowl with water manipulation via control structures, herbicide applications and mechanical treatments in the units to grow quality duck foods. In 2018-19, natural duck food production was at its best, but the ducks weren’t there. Good duck food production is anticipated again. Other areas to try there are des Ourses Swamp, Duck Lake, low-lying areas and the bayous.
There have been no disease outbreaks on any areas in the past year. CWD test results during the past hunting season all came back negative.
Logging efforts on Sherburne WMA, which was spared major flooding, has fair browse availability on a majority of the area. Also, logging on portions of the U.S., Fish and Wildlife land, will greatly enhance browse production in the logged areas.
Richard K. Yancey WMA (and Grassy Lake WMA) experienced significant backwater flooding from late winter to mid-July, which will result in a reduction of browse availability in those areas. RKY WMA’s understory habitat in the batture area also will be impacted by the flooding Mississippi River. However, water made recede and those areas may recover, if it falls early enough for vegetation to respond.
Feral hogs continue to be a nuisance on Richard K. Yancey WMA, Sherburne WMA and Thistlethwaite WMA. LDWF personnel continue to trap hogs during the non-hunting season to try to control the hog population.