In most part of the state, the offseason conditions couldn’t have been kinder to deer, squirrels and rabbits — and the hunters who pursue them.
There’s no end to the news from wildlife management areas from last hunting season and, more importantly because it’s that time of the year again, going into the 2007-08 hunting season in a true Sportsman’s Paradise.
Some of the highlights:
• A magnificent buck harvested on public land in Grant Parish in Region 3 was one of the highest-scoring Boone and Crockett deer in the U.S. The animal, which scored 180 net and 197 4/8 gross, was killed on U.S. Forest Service land on opening day of the Area 2 season, and would have been a state record for typical deer except for an extra point.
More about that later in this special Louisiana Sportsman hunting outlook for 2007-08.
• Heavy, almost daily rains in July, and a subsequent insect population explosion — particularly in Region 1 in Northwest Louisiana — were the talk of the time among hunters and some of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists who always keep diligent tabs on their respective WMAs. The state agency’s biologists are professionals who care about the wildlife populations and habitat on the public lands available to all.
• At least two WMAs that may be little known outside their regions continue to consistently give up plenty of deer, including quality deer, said the state biologists who oversee Union WMA in Region 2 and Clear Creek WMA in Region 5. Opening weekend is something to experience, as a participant or as an observer, on the latter, where one in six deer hunters kills a deer on opening day. The state average is one in 17, which is up from one in 24.
• Rainy weather last season was a bummer for many deer hunters around the state, but the ray of sunshine in all those dark clouds was that there was a good carryover of deer on WMAs like Thistletwaite in Region 6, where the harvest is expected to be a little higher for the upcoming season. Ditto for Sherburne WMA in the same region, as well as WMAs in Region 7, especially Ben’s Creek and Tunica Hills, which is designated for primitive weapons-only with the exception of one weekend of youth rifle hunting.
• Speaking of youth hunting, that’s a focus of the state agency. LDWF officials proudly announce there are numerous youth hunting opportunities available for youngsters to hunt deer, turkeys, squirrels and ducks on public land in 2007-08. They want young people to enjoy the hunting experience and develop a lifelong love of outdoor sports.
One of the new opportunities opens up in Region 4, said the manager there as he touted the first-ever youth lottery hunt on Buckhorn WMA between St. Joseph and Winnsboro. Young deer hunters will have blinds to hunt out of on 160 acres reforested around the turn of this decade, and as a result have a very healthy deer population — too healthy as the deer are eating young trees before the saplings start growing.
• The pride and joy of the Fur & Refuge Division are the WMAs along coastal Louisiana. Naturally, many of them were devastated by either Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Rita in late summer 2005. While many of the areas are starting to recover, some never will fully. Still, two years after the terrible storms, F&R Division biologists are brimming with optimism over the waterfowl hunting prospects on Point aux Chenes WMA and Salvador WMA, where food conditions are “fantastic,” and to an extent Pass A Loutre WMA, where one food — duck potato — was all but rubbed out but another is flourishing to the point it is “phenomenal.”
Another highlight that can’t be lost in this preseason report encompassing all seven of the department’s regions, plus the F&R Division, is the fact browse for deer and other animals is green and supple and rich as of the first week of August. Credit the midsummer rainfall for that.
Region 3’s Czerny Newland said deer have had “absolutely no stress this year,” an unusually wet year with a mild winter and normal spring weather patterns around the state. Animals are eating green, supple vegetation.
But the abundance of food and cover is a double-edged sword. It’s beneficial for the deer and other animals but a detriment to successful hunting efforts. With food at every turn, and beau coup habitat to hide in, don’t expect deer to move much, particularly early in the season, said Region 1’s Steve Hebert.
“From the deer’s standpoint, it’s good. From the hunters’ standpoint, the deer have plenty to eat. Don’t expect them to move much. The cover will be heavy,” Hebert said the last week of July.
Also, he said, food plots and corn feeders might not be productive early in the season because of the amount of food on the ground — especially in his area (although he is keeping a close eye on localized heavy flooding) — as of late-July.
That high water two months ago in many regions concerned Hebert and other biologists, such as Region 3’s Czerny Newland, because of the threat to young turkeys, quail and deer. However, Hebert believes most fawns, turkey poults and other young wildlife had reached sufficient size to move to higher ground and avoid floodwaters.
Still, if floodwaters stay up and saturate plants, that condition makes it difficult for young wildlife to get food, Newland said.
Each of the eight biologists who provided valuable information for the WMA hunting outlook are proud of the public lands they oversee and offer to hunters from east to west and north to south. The WMAs, U.S. Forest Service land and federal refuges give up plenty of game and migratory waterfowl.
But don’t count on an easy kill.
“Most successful deer hunters here (on his region’s WMAs), you’ll encounter in the summer. They’re out all year. Those people are consistently successful,” said Region 2’s Gerald Owens.
Hebert agreed and said, “I believe some of the best deer hunters in the state are those who hunt the public WMAs.”
Hunters need to know the habits of deer and be able to adapt to rapid changes in the deer’s daily pattern due to hunting pressure, Hebert said.
Hunters of any species on public land can’t take anything for granted, Region 2’s Gerald Owens chimed in. They have got to do their homework, he said. The hunters who don’t will have walks in the woods and little else to show for their efforts.
“The biggest mistake is they don’t go scout. They show up for opening day for squirrel, deer or rabbits, and the last they were on there was a year ago. Conditions may have changed,” Owens said.
Deer hunters are urged to adhere to the deer-tagging system in place for this season. They also are reminded to get their hands on the 2007-08 hunting regulations pamphlet, and if they have any questions to contact an LDWF regional office.
Everyone prays for an early frost. Pray harder this year for an unseasonably early cold front that does just that. Especially in Region 1.
Steve Hebert. the biologist who oversees the WMAs and other public lands in Region 1, remembers one such frost the first week of October in the 1980s. It’d be nice to get that again to knock down the insects.
“Hopefully we’ll get cold weather early,” Hebert said. “The weather’s been good the last several years for wildlife production, but we need good weather (this season). If it’s hot, it’ll be hard to hunt.”
The animals are learning to adapt to the explosion of mosquitoes, gnats and other biting insects, Hebert said.
Any increases in those insect populations, however, will cause problems for hunters. Be prepared for battle when you hunt this terrain, and take typical precautions like wearing bug-proof clothing, using insect spray and Thermocells with a good backup supply, especially when hunting buddies forget to bring theirs.
Remember, he said, young hunters especially are sensitive to insects, and extra precautions should be taken to make sure they enjoy their time in the woods.
Early 2007 began with another drought but changed with heavy rainfall in the region in May and continuing through July, he said. Northwest Louisiana experienced flooding from the Red River, which affected backwater areas, bayous and lakes.
“I’m glad we’re going into regular showers and not monsoons,” Hebert said.
Loggy Bayou WMA is one of the best places for archery deer in the state, but Hebert warned deer hunters that flooding occurred there in mid-July, and advised them to scout the area in September or contact him at the Minden office at (318) 371-3050 to find out the status. He advised them to concentrate their efforts in late December or early January.
Also, he said, during the third week of July there was a flood-related problem with the bridge leading to Loggy Bayou WMA and, if flooding continued, access would be a problem.
It’s worth the while to get there because there are Pope and Young-class deer on the property, he said.
Otherwise, the table is set for what is shaping up to be a good hunting experience on WMAs in Region 1. Deer hunters should have an easier time with season dates and regulations since all deer seasons on Region 1 WMAs will be either-sex.
Deer harvest on most of the WMAs (Bodcau, Jackson-Bienville and Loggy Bayou) in Region 1 was up last season compared to the 2005-06 season, according to Hebert. Body weights were down slightly on 1 1/2-year-old bucks on Loggy Bayou WMA, something that concerns Hebert, who will monitor closely the deer herd and browse availability. Also, he said, the rut there was a little later than what is considered normal as it happened after the muzzleloader and modern season on the WMA.
Peak rutting activity on Bodcau WMA started in late October and went into early November, and on Jackson Bienville WMA the rut began after Thanksgiving, which was normal.
About Jackson Bienville WMA last season — there were more 200-plus-pound bucks harvested than in 2005-06. Last season, a JB WMA deer hunter killed a 235-pound 8-point.
There have also been 200-plus-pound deer weighed on neighboring lands to Loggy Bayou WMA.
This season, Bodcau WMA’s deer are in good condition, and there are plenty of them. It’s known for good quality deer in most hunters’ books, but not necessarily for record book-size deer.
“Bodcau deer just don’t get that big, but they do have 160-pound deer,” Hebert said.
Gun hunters should be successful hunting there early November and after Thanksgiving on Jackson Bienville WMA, which has above average quality deer and quantity.
Deer hunters should look for areas with dense cover with mast and good browse nearby. Plan trips for weekdays when hunting pressure’s lessened. Hunting pressure picked up substantially on Bodcau WMA with some complaints of crowding during the first two weeks of last season, so deer hunters preferring to hunt by themselves might do better hunting later in the season, Hebert said.
Squirrel hunting was average to slightly above average in Northwest Louisiana and on one of the Region 1 WMAs, Hebert said.
Jackson Bienville squirrel hunters managed to increase their harvest while squirrel hunters on Bodcau and Loggy Bayou saw a slight decline.
But reports at the end of last season and so far this year indicate a good to excellent squirrel season in 2007-08.
“We’re looking forward to a pretty good, if not excellent, squirrel season. We’re seeing a lot of squirrels regionwide. We’re seeing a lot of spring young,” Hebert said, singling out Bodcau and Jackson Bienville as picks for good to excellent squirrel hunting this season.
“The 2007 acorn crop is looking fair to good (or better) with early reports of the red oak group again looking good, and reports of post oaks and some white oaks heading toward producing good fall crops of acorns.
“Squirrels may not have to move much because there is so much food available. But squirrels are definitely out there.”
Bayou Pierre WMA, Bodcau WMA and Loggy Bayou WMA ought to offer fair to good rabbit hunting, if July floodwaters recede rapidly, Hebert said. Also, Jackson Bienville WMA should be good for rabbit hunting, especially if hunters prefer hill-country rabbits. But remember, if your dogs run deer, he said, “unh-unh, that’s a problem.”
“With an abundance of rain, especially in the hills, there’s good vegetation, which makes for good rabbit hunting,” Hebert said.
Rabbit hunting isn’t as popular as it used to be, he said, but there are increased hunting efforts, and there definitely is a local following.
Union WMA has had a liberal either-sex season for 19 years going into 2007-08.
The program paid off last season as it yielded the biggest deer harvest ever on that WMA.
Region 2’s Wildlife Division manager Gerald Owens said biologists collect a lot of data on deer there as the hunters participate in daily permit hunts.
“We hold the license, they get the permit. We want to see their deer. We’ve collected a lot of data,” he said.
Union WMA’s success for deer can be attributed to the age, diversity and timber stands throughout the area.
The veteran and dedicated biologist said he is optimistic about the overall hunting season coming up.
“I am,” Owens said the third week of July.
“It started out pretty dry,” he said.
He was concerned that browse for deer and vegetation for rabbits would be dried up, and the hunting would be hard. But midsummer rainfall helped tremendously.
“So we’re in good shape, and the food is palatable. That’ll be a bonus for us,” he said. “There are several species of white oak, and post oak look good, and it seems there are quite a few water-oak acorns.
“Right now it looks like we’re in good position for a good mast crop, especially in the hill area. But various things can happen.”
July’s rainfall assured that browse conditions would be better than usual throughout the late summer months, Owens said.
He pointed deer hunters to Union WMA, which has the largest deer herd. It came into its own last season when 294 deer were taken off Union. That was the highest harvest rate in Region 2.
Other harvest numbers for deer included one deer per five hunter efforts on Bayou Macon WMA and one deer per 5.7 hunter efforts at Ouachita WMA. Those are “excellent” success rates, according to Owens.
In Owens’ opinion, Russell Sage WMA is the best bet to lay the sights down on a trophy buck this season. It has a hardwood forest there with fertile soil, and has been enriched by long-term management programs for deer and forestry, he said. Some animals weighing more than 250 pounds came off it last season.
Bayou Macon WMA also offers a good chance to down a quality buck in 2007-08, he said. Why? The soil’s fertile, it’s a hardwood forest and there have been long-term management programs for deer and forestry. Bayou Macon WMA also offers good opportunity to shoot a quality buck, he said.
Pay attention to the smallest of details to be successful squirrel hunting in Region 2.
How does Owens know? He tells the story of a squirrel hunter who realized before the season began that squirrels were going to a particular mast crop that was a bumper crop. That mast was scattered, though, so he focused his squirrel hunting efforts only on that species of oak and consistently bagged squirrels.
Take that approach, and you should be able to gun down squirrels at the two areas with the most potential in this region — Russell Sage WMA and Union WMA. Union had a higher success rate last season, but there is only a limited amount of hardwood habitat there, Owens said.
Russell Sage had hardwood timber stands throughout, but mast production was down last year, he said.
“Squirrel production is cyclic, of course. I’ve seen years where they’ve had a bumper crop at Russell Sage WMA,” he said, “and you go there and some will have limits and some will have zero. Hunter skill (e.g., recognizing the most popular acorn among squirrels) comes into play.”
Most squirrel hunters averaged 1.8 in the bag on a hunt in 2007-08. Usually, the average is three, but many do get up to the limit of eight on a trip.
Plenty of ground-level vegetation covers Region 2, Owens said. There is cover and nutritional food available this year, which is good news for the deer population on Ouachita WMA and Union WMA, where timber harvesting and reforestation — combined with the rain — make those areas the top choices in the region.
“Success rate was good on Union and Ouachita” last season, he said, noting that hunters averaged 3-4 rabbits per effort, he said. The hunter’s skill plays an important role in the harvest, he said.
Bayou Macon WMA also has fair rabbit hunting, he said.
Consistent rainfall this summer has led to excellent browse conditions in Region 3, said Wildlife Division manager Czerny Newland.
“As far as habitat conditions for deer, they’re great. There should be no problem with quality of feed,” Newland said.
That good news follows one of the most exciting deer kills in the state last season, he said. While the beautiful deer wasn’t shot on a WMA, it was on U.S. Forest Service land in Grant Parish.
That’s where Shane Spears of Grant Parish went hunting on opening day of Area 2. The spot he wanted to hunt was taken already, though, so he moved to his next choice.
There, he killed a deer that would have been a state record for typical deer if it wasn’t for an extra point that spoiled the match-for-match on the 12-point buck.
It scored exactly 180 net in Boone & Crockett and 197 4/8 gross, Newland said as he looked at the paperwork.
“That was a good deer,” he said in an understatement.
For sure, he said, it had to be one of the top bucks killed in the country last season.
There should be more healthy deer in the region when November rolls around. They have had absolutely no stress at all thanks to the amount of rain the region has gotten. But it wasn’t too much.
“There’s a lot of ground story saturation. Other than that, we haven’t had any significant habitat loss due to flooding,” Newland said. “The Red River has been staying very high, but it hasn’t been affecting wildlife. It did kind of shut down fishing activity on the river.”
It’ll be this month when biologists study the mast production in the region, or lack of it.
“The only thing that might hurt acorn production is a late freeze we got in April. That could cause some problems,” he said.
Otherwise, growing conditions for acorns were favorable.
Is there another monster buck on public property in Region 3? Probably.
The WMA to hunt for the best shot at a trophy would be Dewey Wills WMA, Newland said. It has given up some Boone & Crockett class deer over the years.
Last season, the biggest deer off there weighed in the 160s. Every season there are deer in the 150s and 160s, he said, mainly because of the deer herd’s genetics, quality of habitat and expansive acreage.
“It’s a place you can genuinely go public and kill a 140 to 180 typical,” he said.
Numbers of deer can be found on Dewey Wills WMA, Camp Beauregard WMA and Sabine WMA. There were 238 deer harvested on Dewey Wills WMA in 2007-08, according to self-clearing permits.
The top squirrel hunting WMA last season in Region 3 was Dewey Wills WMA, mainly because of its sheer size, Newland said. There were 1,644 squirrels killed there in 2006-07.
Little River WMA ranks up there with the best of them in the state, too, because of its diverse acorn crop, he said, and there was good acorn production there last year.
“Judging by last year’s acorn crop, (squirrel hunting) should be above average, so it should be good in that respect,” he said.
Besides Dewey Wills WMA and Little River WMA, Newland points squirrel hunters to Camp Beauregard WMA.
“We’re seeing lots and lots of rabbits” on Region 3 WMAs, Newland said. “Rabbit hunters should do well.”
There are so many rabbits that some are getting caught in traps for migratory birds, he said.
“If early indications hold true, rabbit hunting should be above average,” he said.
The Region 3 WMA that produced the most rabbits last season was, naturally, Dewey Wills WMA, where 214 hares were killed.
Sabine WMA is another area that should give up rabbits consistently, he said.
The overall hunting outlook is great for a region where squirrel hunters abound but the number of rabbit hunters falls to the other end of the spectrum, and one of the WMAs gave up nearly 600 deer.
Region 4 was in prime condition following spring and midsummer rains, Wildlife Division manager John Leslie said.
“It looks good. All the habitat conditions are good. We’ve had plenty of rainfall,” Leslie said. “Unless we have a really dry late summer/early fall, we should enter the hunting season in prime shape.”
That’s good news for young hunters because for the first time they have a chance to participate in a new youth lottery deer hunt on one of the top WMAs in the state — Buckhorn, located between St. Joseph and Winnsboro. DWF will provide a blind and place for them to hunt on six different weekends (dates will be in the new regulations pamphlet), Leslie said. Application forms are available on the state agency’s Web site, he said.
“Deer hunting should be really good. The blind sites are located on reforested acreage we did three, four years ago. There’s an excellent deer herd in there,” he said, noting deer are so prolific they eat young trees planted by biologists.
Also, the state agency has set up four stands in the same area reserved specifically for wheelchair-bound handicapped deer hunters of any age, he said. Call (318) 757-4571 to reserve a spot for any time the deer season is open.
Just when someone might think the table can’t be set any better for deer hunting this season on WMAs in Region 4, consider this nugget from Leslie: “Most agricultural lands surrounding Region 4 WMAs were predominantly planted in corn this year, which could have positive and negative effects on the deer herd.
“The availability of green browse vegetation from ag fields was limited by early-season corn planting,” he said, “but the corn harvest in late July and August will put some waste grain on the ground to be eaten by deer.”
As of the third week of July, Leslie and his staffers were seeing deer fawns that had just been dropped in the bottomland areas.
Red River/Three Rivers WMA had the highest deer harvest last season — almost 600 — followed by Bouef WMA with more than 300 deer reported killed.
Red River, Buckhorn and Bouef should have excellent habitat for the upcoming season, he said. After three to five years of growth, reforested areas have a very weedy and dense undergrowth that deer seek out for escape and bedding cover. But those areas can be challenging to hunt, he said.
As for a big buck?
“Red River/Three Rivers has always been known for its productive bottomland habitat that produces heavy-horned deer,” Leslie said, “but trophy bucks can be taken on any Region 4 WMA. Boeuf WMA put two bucks into the statewide public lands Top 10 list during 2006-07.”
Squirrel hunting is still king in this region, as the numbers prove.
“Last year we recorded 5,100 squirrel hunters in the region,” Leslie said. “Big Lake is the prime squirrel hunting WMA in Region 4. It has lots of oak trees.”
Big Lake experienced an “outstanding” squirrel hunting season last year when more than 3,700 squirrels were bagged, he said. Oak trees are plentiful on that area. Red River/Three Rivers WMA produced more than 2,100 squirrels.
Preliminary mast production looks good on the top Region 4 squirrel hunting WMAs, Leslie said.
“All the bottomland WMAs (Bouef, Big Lake, Red River and Three Rivers) contain large numbers of mast-producing trees such as oaks, pecan, cedar, elm, green ash and red maple,” he said.
Rabbit hunters following a pack of beagles on Region 4 WMAs is almost a rarity, according to Leslie.
That’s a shame because there are thousands of unhunted acres of rabbit habitat.
“We have reforested areas that are perfect right now,” Leslie said.
“We welcome any more rabbit hunters,” he said.
Top WMAs for rabbit hunting here would be Bouef, Buckhorn, Red River and Three Rivers.
Despite all that prime rabbit hunting habitat, fewer than 200 rabbits were reported killed in 2006-07. No telling what the harvest could be this season if rabbit hunters took to the woods.
One of the busiest WMAs in the state on opening day of the deer hunting season has to be Clear Creek.
Region 4’s Wildlife Division manager Wendell Smith enjoys it.
“On opening day, one of every six deer hunters gets a deer. We have one check station we run on opening day. We don’t look up opening weekend,” he said about the steady traffic of deer hunters checking in with their recently killed deer. They start coming at around 8:30 in the morning, and they keep coming, he said.
The check station is on Highway 64, he said, in the middle of Clear Creek WMA, which has a healthy deer herd.
There ought to be many twins and triplets born on WMAs around Region 5, thanks to the great condition of browse. Trees were thinned out by the passage of Hurricane Rita in September 2005. As a result, more sunlight penetrated to the ground and stimulated plant growth, and more food equates to a healthier deer herd.
Smith said deer range surveys on WMAs in Region 5 last spring showed an increase in the utilization of habitat, which was expected.
From a deer-management standpoint, Smith said, Region 5 WMA habitats are in great shape with increased availability of preferred browse species.
“For deer hunting, it’s bursting at the seams. Traditionally, when you see hurricanes go through, it’s good for the deer but makes it harder for deer hunters to see,” he said. “As far as the deer population, it looks good for the next few years with excellent browse production due to the thinning trees for habitat.”
Clear Creek WMA is a clear favorite for quality and quantity. It’s always 50-50 on bucks and does, Smith said.
How many deer?
“They kill 350 deer a year there, and we still get complaints from farmers (around the WMA). One herd went through and wiped out all the peas,” he said.
Deer hunters on the top deer hunting WMAs regularly report seeing five or six deer and eventually choosing the biggest one.
“We get the best bucks off Clear Creek,” Smith said. “If a hunter wanted to harvest a nice quality buck (eight points or better), I would recommend scouting Clear Creek. Each year it’s common to see several nice racks from this area.
“As far as ‘trophies,’ I’ll leave that up to the eye of the beholder. A trophy to one person may be an average kill to another.”
What once was one of the best squirrel hunting sites in the state, perhaps the country, has been reduced to an almost impenetrable island of downed trees because of Hurricane Rita.
Sabine Island WMA in Calcasieu Parish took the brunt of the storm.
“Mother Nature has taken its course with it. The deer and hogs love it,” Smith said about the WMA, which he estimates had 30 percent of its habitat blown down by Hurricane Rita in September 2005.
“It’s one massive jungle out there. There are lots of squirrels, but you can’t see them. We went from killing about three squirrels per hunter down to about nothing.”
Smith believes many squirrel hunters probably motored by boat to the island last season, looked at the mess and quickly went back to put their boats on the trailers.
Habitat for squirrels in Southwest Louisiana will take years to recover.
Coincidentally, Smith said, Pearl River WMA on the other side of the state suffered a similar fate for squirrel hunting due to the passage of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
However, Fort Polk WMA and West Bay WMA still offer marginal squirrel hunting opportunities, he said. Last season, 304 squirrels were killed on Fort Polk, and 169 squirrels were taken off West Bay.
Like squirrel habitat, rabbit habitat will take years to recover. Some limited rabbit hunting, post-Rita, still occurs on Clear Creek WMA and West Bay WMA, with about 10 reported kills per area.
On West Bay WMA, the most successful rabbit hunters usually hunt late in the season with dogs.
All the preseason signs are pointing to good hunting for deer, squirrels and rabbits on Region 6 in Southcentral Louisiana.
Rainfall has been more than enough to provide for very lush vegetation growth as browse plants are plentiful in those areas where sufficient sunlight is able to reach the ground.
There are early indications that the region should enjoy a good mast (acorn) crop this fall and winter, which bodes well for the species utilizing acorns.
That’s part of the preseason report on one of the most productive regions in the state from Wildlife Division manager Tony Vidrine.
“I mean, everything’s good. Unless something happens between now and when the hunting seasons open, I don’t see any reason we shouldn’t have a good harvest,” Vidrine said the last week of July.
The weather during the hunting seasons will dictate the harvest rate. For example, last season was mild and wet. Temperatures during the either-sex deer hunts were warm, and the mosquitoes were plentiful, so hunters didn’t stay in the woods very long.
He expressed the most optimism for the 10-year experimental Quality Buck Program on Thistlethwaite WMA. The program is in its third year, and already showing signs of greatness.
“We should have more deer in the older age classes come off of this area this season,” he said, “due to the fact that young deer have not been harvested at as high a rate as they were prior to the implementation of the four-on-one-side rule. A buck must have at least four points, at least one inch long on one side to be harvested.”
For the last two seasons, the one-year-old harvest has dropped to 41 and 40 percent of the total buck harvest, respectively. Those numbers are down from 52 percent the previous two years before the program was implemented.
The three-year-old buck harvest has gone up to 17 percent of the total buck harvest “and we should see this number continue to increase as we get further into the program.”
Region 6’s WMAs offer prime deer hunting, no doubt about it.
For example, 442 deer were killed on Sherburne WMA last season, including one deer for every 11 hunter efforts on the two either-sex hunts. A heavy deer population still exists on Sherburne.
Also, Attakapas WMA on the west side of the Atchafalaya Basin had a total harvest of 216 deer in 2006-07. The harvest rate for the either-sex hunts was one deer for every 18 hunter efforts during the first either-sex hunt, and one deer for every 11 hunter efforts for the second either-sex hunt.
And Thistlethwaite WMA had a total of 208 deer harvested. The harvest rate for the either-sex hunts was one deer for every 19 hunter efforts for the first hunt, and one deer for every 14 hunter efforts for the second hunt.
Pomme de Terre WMA had 85 deer taken off it, which encompassed one deer per nine hunter efforts.
Going into 2007-08, Sherburne’s deer harvest should remain high because of the high density of the herd. How high? The harvest is consistently between 400-500, or one deer per 97 acres. A timber management plan there has helped improve habitat conditions.
Attakapas WMA also boasts good habitat conditions, offering food and cover for deer. When the Atchafalaya River rises, deer are pushed to higher ground, providing for a better harvest. Attakapas WMA had one deer harvested per 122 acres last season.
An active timber management program by landowners on Thistlethwaite has spruced up the habitat. Last season, one deer per 53 acres was harvested on the WMA.
That aforementioned Quality Buck Program should pay off in big dividends this season on Thistlethwaite.
Last year, during the bucks-only and muzzleloader seasons, when the rut was in full swing in that area, several days of torrential downpours reduced the hunting pressure during those late seasons, when bucks normally are more active, Vidrine said.
“So, we may see those bucks in the harvest this season — if we have favorable hunting conditions,” he said.
The No.1 buck taken off all the WMAs in the state last season came from Sherburne. It was a 250-pound 8-point (7-inch bases, 21-inch main beams) with an 18-inch inside spread, Vidrine said.
“We did have a couple of other good bucks from Sherburne WMA, so Sherburne is also a good area during the late-season hunts, where a good quality buck may be taken,” he said, “but I would still choose Thistlethwaite WMA because of the antler restrictions and the facts mentioned earlier.”
Squirrel hunting paradises give up the popular small game in large numbers every season on two WMAs in Region 6.
Vidrine expects a good squirrel harvest on both this season.
“Thistlethwaite WMA has consistently had one of the best squirrel harvests in the state. Most crop trees are abundant on Thislethwaite WMA, which provide good habitat and a good food crop yearly,” he said.
The harvest was astronomical last season on Thistlethwaite, where 3,597 squirrels were put in the bag.
Sherburne, where 2,692 squirrels were harvested in 2006-07, also has an abundance of mast-crop trees and nest cavity trees, as well. A good time to hunt it is in the late season, after the area’s deer season is closed, when dogs may be used to hunt squirrels.
Spring Bayou WMA also has mast-producing species, and nothing has taken place to alter the forest conditions, so it should give up its share of squirrels again this season. Last season, 523 squirrels were harvested there. There is a late dog season for squirrels.
Some of the state’s best rabbit hunting occurs each season on Attakapas WMA, Sherburne WMA and Spring Bayou WMA, according to Vidrine.
Habitat and food conditions are such that that should be the norm again this season, he said.
A good place to start would be Attakapas WMA, where the hares are flourishing on an area with good habitat (vegetative cover), he said. Last season, 723 rabbits were killed there. There is a late dog season for rabbits there again.
Sherburne WMA also has a late dog season for rabbit hunting. There is an active timber harvest program in place, which allows for habitat improvement for both deer and rabbit. Last season, there were 302 rabbits harvested on Sherburne WMA.
Some of the best rabbit hunting in recent years has been enjoyed on Spring Bayou WMA, where 189 rabbits were killed in 2006-07. It has good habitat and a late dog season.
DWF biologists and technicians continue to deal with post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup on WMAs in Region 7.
They have removed debris, cut trees, reestablished trails and maintained trails and roads affected by the hurricane that hit in August 2005, according to Region 7’s Wildlife Division manager Randy Myers.
Myers noted that a wet summer has led to an abundance of browse in the region.
Pearl River WMA has experienced a “tremendous amount of growth in browse and cover due to the ‘openness’ that was created after Hurricane Katrina.
“Area personnel are spending a tremendous amount of time keeping the established trails mowed. The frequent thunderstorms have also created additional problems of dislodging trees and limbs. Personnel have been vigilant in cutting downed trees and limbs from the trails to provide access and travel corridors for wildlife,” Myers said.
There is so much vegetation that Myers hopes for an early spate of freezing weather to knock some of it down. Otherwise it will be difficult to hunt.
Pearl River WMA used to be the place to go deer hunting on public land. When the gates would open on opening weekend in the 1980s, 1,500 people would file through with visions of deer in their heads. A few years later, there were fewer than 800, and now the number’s down to around 300 for opening weekend of deer hunting on Pearl River WMA.
Why? There are other viable public deer hunting areas that have gotten the attention of hunters in the region. Ben’s Creek WMA and Maurepas Swamp WMA have emerged as better deer hunting areas.
Ben’s Creek is an upland area that provides decent deer hunting with abundant clearcut areas. Maurepas Swamp is a wetland area, primarily cypress and tupelo gum trees for a 68,000-acre area that carries a moderate deer population.
Amazingly, last season one deer per 11 efforts was harvested there despite a shorter season on Maurepas Swamp.
Tunica Hills WMA is a primitive-weapon area except for a two-day youth hunt. Archers and muzzleloaders take advantage of the higher deer population as a result.
Youth deer hunts are scheduled on Ben’s Creek, Tunica Hills (lottery), Maurepas Swamp and Pearl River.
Squirrel hunters who frequent WMAs in this region have learned that if they take advantage of using the shoreline of Maurepas Swamp, its canal banks and its ridges, they’ll bag squirrels more consistently than anywhere else in Region 7.
There were 467 squirrels harvested there in 2006-07, mainly because of that reason, Myers said.
Tunica Hills WMA also offers fair to good squirrel hunting as it has a more mature hardwood component. Cat squirrels are primarily sought after there, Myers said.
At one time, Pearl River provided excellent squirrel hunting opportunities. But Hurricane Katrina significantly altered the squirrel habitat. A few squirrels can be taken, nonetheless, for those willing to fight the harsh conditions.
Early indications are for a good acorn crop on Pearl River, particularly the cow oaks and water oaks, he said.
Two Region 7 WMAs are prime possibilities for a successful rabbit hunt in 2007-08.
Ben’s Creek WMA, where 169 rabbits were harvested last season, traditionally has been a favorite spot for rabbit hunters, Myers said. A significant amount of the area has been clearcut, thus creating habitat that is favored by rabbits. Many hunters take advantage of the later rabbit season with dogs there.
Maurepas Swamp WMA gave up the most rabbits in Region 7 last season — 192.
FUR & REFUGE DIVISION WMAs
Fur & Refuge Division wildlife managers Michael Carols, Todd Baker and Casey LeJeune have had their hands full keeping up with the post-Hurricane Katrina problems on coastal WMAs in Louisiana.
Here is their report: Overall, the Atchafalaya Delta WMA has recovered rapidly. The overall quality of deer and rabbit habitat has returned to pre-hurricane levels. The abundance and quality of vegetation on the islands of the main delta are exceptional due to above-average rainfall in spring and summer months.
Many areas of the Biloxi WMA and Wisner WMA that were damaged by the hurricane have not and are not expected to recover. However, the marsh that did survive the storm is expected to be in good condition this fall.
Lake Bouef WMA is in good condition overall for this season. The wet late spring and summer provided great forage for deer.
Pass a Loutre WMA’s habitat conditions are mixed. It has lost nearly 20,000 acres, and the remaining habitat has undergone a significant change, Myers said. Most of the marsh that was lost was roseau cane. After the storm, the remaining marsh was covered by rafts of cane that have started to reestablish themselves. Areas that once were a diverse understory are converting to a roseau cane-dominant community.
It also has been noted that 80 percent of the woody vegetation, predominantly black willow, is dead and not recovering on Pass a Loutre WMA. There is little new growth of wood there.
However, very good to excellent deer browse exists on Pass a Loutre WMA.
Baker asked deer hunters to be aware of a new deer tagging project in effect this season on Pass a Loutre WMA. Biologists want to study the habits and population dynamics of white-tailed deer in a fresh marsh environment. They ask deer hunters to treat tagged deer the same as untagged deer when considering harvesting them. All deer harvested on the area are required to be checked in at the headquarters located on Dennis Pass.
Habitat also is mixed on Pointe aux Chenes WMA, where some areas have recovered but others are slow to bounce back. Deer browse is excellent on the area known as Point Farm and generally fair in the marsh communities. Rabbit numbers on the WMA have exploded this year.
Atchafalaya Delta WMA perennially boasts the biggest deer, largest population of deer, most hunter efforts and highest harvest rate, Randy Myers said. Conditions as of late July indicate more of the same for 2007-08.
In all, 73 deer in 426 efforts (1 for 5.8 efforts) were harvested last season on the Atchafalaya Delta WMA. Sixty percent of those deer were bucks.
Salvador/Timken WMAs are a distant second in all respects due to the large expanse of marsh that is difficult to maneuver in. Deer conditions generally are good as continual and sustained fresh water from the David Pond Diversion have kept this area fresh most of the year.
Salvador/Timken had 12 deer taken in 149 efforts for a one in 12.4 ratio in 2006-07. About 50 percent of those deer were bucks.
More deer are expected to be shot on Pass a Loutre WMA this season, despite the fact it is a remote WMA.
Six deer were harvested in 51 efforts last season on Pass a Loutre WMA. Sixty-seven percent of the harvest was bucks.
On Lake Bouef WMA, no deer were taken in two efforts. Deer activity going into this season is high, and the deer harvest should be good. Deer habitat rates very good overall.
And on Pointe aux Chenes WMA, 89 efforts produced one buck.
The biggest buck off a Fur & Refuge WMA last season was a 180-point buck with a 19 1/2-inch spread, Baker said. Not surprisingly, it came from Atchafalaya Delta WMA, which regularly boasts a record-class deer.
Only two WMAs under the F&R Division jurisdiction offer squirrel hunting opportunities, and those are Pointe aux Chenes and Lake Bouef.
Pointe aux Chenes should dominate the harvest this season due to accessibility and popularity, Myers said. But a decent harvest can be taken at Lake Bouef, he said.
Give Pointe aux Chenes another 10 years, and it should be a pretty darned-good squirrel hunting area, he said. Mostly, what squirrel hunters have to hunt are about 100 acres of mature hardwoods. There are acres and acres of young trees that will mature and give squirrel hunters something to remember.
Area managers have observed some of the highest densities of rabbits in the marsh in recent memory.
Pointe aux Chenes WMA should have an outstanding rabbit harvest, Myers said. It’s also a favorite site for rabbit hunters.
“Driving down what we call Point Farm Road, we see 30-40 rabbits a day. We’ve never seen that many,” Myers said.
Conditions on Atchafalaya Delta WMA and Salvador WMA also are good, and they will run a close second and third behind Pointe aux Chenes WMA.
“The Salvador (rabbit) pellet count is up, so it ought to be good. The Atchafalaya Delta looks good, too,” Myers said.
Rabbit hunters walk the ridges on Salvador WMA, which is accessible only by boat.
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