The state’s wildlife management areas will open for hunting next month, but where should you focus your attention? Here’s all the information you need to plan out your season.
The outdoorsmen who know so much about deer, squirrels, rabbits and other wildlife and the environment in which they live are enthusiastic about the upcoming hunting seasons on wildlife management areas in Louisiana.
Those die-hards are the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists committed to providing great hunting prospects on public land for residents and non-residents alike each and every year.
And each of them took the time this summer to look thorough reports on how the table is set for all species on their respective WMAs to provide Louisiana Sportsman readers an idea of what to expect.
Johnathon Bordelon volunteered a comprehensive deer harvest report for WMAs for the second straight year. Bordelon became the LDWF’s DMAP coordinator two years ago after 15 years as a biologist in the field, working the last several of those years as biologist supervisor for the Mississippi Alluvial Valley South district.
Bordelon said the documented deer harvest total on WMAs in 2014-15 was 3,568 bucks and 2,554 does.
This buck harvest is the highest reported over the past 10 years. Also, he said, the overall harvest was slightly higher last season than in 2013-14.
The average harvest last season for all WMAs was one deer per 181 acres, while in 2013-14 the reported WMA harvest averaged to one deer per 183 acres, Bordelon said.
The 10-year average for all WMAs is one deer per 193 acres.
Basically, the veteran biologist said, WMA deer hunters bagged more bucks last season than they had in the previous 10 seasons. Also, the overall WMA deer harvest was above average in 2014-15.
One of the best deer harvest per acre areas last season was Thistlethwaite WMA in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley South ecoregion.
According to 32-year veteran MAV South Ecoregion Manger Tony Vidrine, Thistlethwaite boasted a harvest of one deer per 64 acres, followed by Grassy Lake WMA with one deer per 73 acres and Sherburne WMA with one deer per 104 acres.
Those deer harvest numbers from Bordelon and Vidrine jump off the page at you — especially when you consider the deer were killed on public lands you and I can hunt for free.
No wonder Louisiana’s WMAs have a solid reputation across the country for the hunting opportunities they present.
And no one knows that better than Wendell Smith, a 26-year DWF veteran who is biologist supervisor for the Gulf Coastal Plains-South WMAs.
The Lake Charles-based Smith said his office personnel field multiple calls each year — many of them coming during the summer — inquiring about the state’s WMAs. Many of the callers are people moving to Louisiana from Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan and California, to name a few, and want to hunt public land.
“One man didn’t know if he wanted to take a job here. A friend told him (WMA biologists and staffers) ‘manage them (Louisiana WMAs) really well. They take care of them and manage them real well,’” Smith said. “I told him, ‘C’mon down. We’ll take care of you. Come on over! The more the merrier.’”
The veteran biologist said he and others welcome calls from residents and out-of-staters.
“We’ll be glad to talk to them,” he said.
There are even more-encouraging numbers for WMAs in this year’s roundup.
Bordelon reported that the statewide deer harvest overall (including public and private land) was down 5.6 percent in 2014-15. The DMAP deer harvest last season was down 4.4 percent across the state.
But LDWF’s properties bucked that trend: The WMA deer harvest was higher in comparison, increasing from one deer per 183 acres to one deer per 181 acres.
Louisiana WMAs also harbor more than their share of quality bucks, according to the report submitted by Bordelon.
“Hunters definitely do not have to travel far in the state to find great bucks,” he said.
His recent report backs up that statement.
Bordelon said he selected the Top 10 WMA bucks from 2014-15:
• Sherburne WMA;
• Camp Beauregard WMA
• Big Lake WMA
• Russell Sage WMA
• Dewey Wills WMA
• Ouachita WMA (which has since been merged with Russell Sage WMA)
• Loggy Bayou WMA
• Fort Polk WMA
• Grassy Lake WMA
“First, it is important to realize the bucks on the ‘top bucks list’ were bucks brought into check stations where WMA personnel were able to age and measure the deer,” Bordelon said. “There may have been larger bucks harvested outside of mandatory checks that were not taken into check stations.”
He noted that the top-bucks formula used in the report was based on main beam length, spread, base and number of points — a simple index used to rank bucks taken on WMAs instead of official Boone and Crockett score.
“Interestingly, the Top 10 deer came from 10 different WMAs,” Bordelon said, adding that many of the state’s public tracts produce great bucks each season.
As deer hunters plan their late fall and winter deer hunts, isn’t that something to look forward to — a quality deer?
Habitat conditions are fair to good, mostly good, on most WMAs across Louisiana, the biologists reported.
But, as usual, there have been some hiccups in preparation for the upcoming season.
There were many, many rainy days in late spring and early summer. The effects on a few WMAs were being felt as late as July 21, when state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries sent out notices for Pearl River, Rickhard K. Yancey (Formerly Three Rivers-Red River ) and Dewey Wills WMAs about road closures resulting from those rains.
At Pearl River WMA, approximately six miles from Slidell, the state agency advised users that Po-Boy Road was closed temporarily to all traffic for repairs beginning July 27.
At Richard K. Yancey WMA about 35 miles south of Ferriday, Hogpen Lake Road, Lac-A-Sostien Road, Goose Lake Road, Blount Road, Catfish Road and Ross Road from the Crowfoot to Long Bayou were closed to all traffic because of high water.
Also, Dobbs Road and all WMA roads on the east side of the Mississippi River remained closed as of July 21.
At Dewey Wills 20 miles northeast of Alexandria, Alligator Bayou Road was closed to all traffic for repair.
While WMA biologists anticipate rewarding hunts for deer, rabbits and squirrels, the shooting doesn’t stop with those species: The properties even have some fair to good dove hunting.
Jeffrey Johnson, who lives in Saline and works out of the LDWF office in Minden, oversees the Gulf Coastal Plains North WMAs, said dove hunting can be fast-paced at times in that region when conditions are right..
“Usually, doves are big for opening weekend and then doesn’t get a lot of attention by most thereafter,” Johnson said. “If folks pay attention to (cold) fronts, they can often get some good dove shooting in later right behind a cool front because new birds come in, migrating south. If they catch it right they get some good shooting and very little, if any, competition from other hunters.”
Perhaps the most-popular dove hunting WMA is Elbow Slough. It is so popular on opening weekend that there must be a lottery hunt opening weekend to keep the number of hunters at a level that is both safe and allows for a good hunt, Johnson said.
After opening weekend, Elbow Slough is open to all dove hunters, but only on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays during the first two splits of dove season.
Johnson also pointed dove hunters to Sabine WMA, where 454 doves were downed in 2014-15.
Other potential hotspots include Camp Beauregard and Elbow Slough WMAs.
Camp Beauregard, Jackson-Bienville and Sabine WMAs are what he described as “sleeper” areas for doves in the upland region of the GCP-North, Johnson said.
“These vary from year to year on what is available to dove hunt,” he said. “There are no planted dove fields on any of them. However, some years there are large clearcut areas that have (goat weed), and when that situation is present it can make for some great natural dove attractiveness and dove hunting.
“The only way to know about this from year to year is to go scout those areas and see what is available. Last year, these turned out to be some of our better spots, and they are typically less crowded than the planted fields.”
So without further ado, here are the full reports from the folks who spend their days managing our state’s WMAs.
Mississippi Alluvial Valley Ecoregion
Some of the biggest news in this region is that the 34,845-acre Ouachita WMA has merged with Russell Sage WMA to form a super WMA in the MAV North-Monroe.
LDWF’s Corey May is stepping in for the recently retired Charlie Booth, who provided numerous annual WMA reports for the Louisiana Sportsman.
May, who was on the job for 14 months as of mid-July, oversees the expanded Russell Sage WMA and Bayou Macon WMA.
He said the old Ouachita WMA had several thousand acres of farmland before being reforested with bottomland hardwood species beginning the mid-1980s through 2000.
Also, a 3,000-acre tract off Bosco Road was reforested around 2010 and has provided excellent wildlife habitat, particularly for rabbits, May said.
Elsewhere in the ecoregion, good things come in small packages. There’s a strip of land in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley South Ecoregion that beckons squirrel hunters, rabbit hunters and, of course, deer hunters each season, biologist supervisor Cliff Dailey noted.
It’s the Acadian Conservation Corridor located along the west side of Interstate 49.
You can see the ACC signs from I-49, but Dailey said not to park off the shoulder of the highway. There are are designated parking areas for those who want to use the ACC, he said.
The WMA is about a quarter-mile wide and is open for bow hunting only for deer.
Big Colewa WMA in May’s region also has a different configuration than most.
There are six small tracts in West Caroll Parish that make up Big Colewa, which has one self-clearing permit station located on the largest of the six tracts.
May reported that the properties have a fine rabbit population. There also were eight deer harvested in 250 hunter efforts, he said.
As for habitat conditions across the ecoregion, May said they were good as of mid-July. Deer browse plants were in excellent shape thanks to ample rainfall in spring and summer. The plants’ nutritional quality was above average, too, compared to most years, he said.
This past winter brought unseasonably warm temperatures and an outstanding mast crop, he said. And the combination of good browse and a great mast crop should result in healthier animals.
May likened it to the “perfect storm” going into the deer hunting season.
“Everything that Mother Nature has thrown at us since last October, at least up until now, has created the ideal sort of habitat and (deer) herd conditions that have the potential to shape up as one the best in years,” he said.
Mississippi Alluvial Valley South Ecoregion
Periods of heavy rainfall in the spring and early summer triggered a few high-water events on WMAs in the Mississippi Valley South Ecoregion, Cliff Dailey said.
As of the first week of July, the water was falling, he said, adding that high water didn’t really have an adverse impact on wildlife.
They moved out and moved back in.
However, Dailey said flooding in backwater areas reduced the acreage available or turkey nesting.
“All that crazy weather,” ice and snow over the past few winters, opened up the forest by knocking down trees, the biologist supervisor said.
“Even if one large tree falls, it may open up canopy where it never had sunlight before,” Dailey said.
That promotes growth of native browse, the biologist explains.
Summer work is scheduled to enhance habitat on the 5,951-acre Little River WMA, he said.
Prescribed burns control the hardwoods understory, thus improving habitat conditions for game and non-game species while allowing hunters to see farther in the woods and traverse the countryside a little easier.
Also, it gives woody and herbaceous plants more opportunity to grow.
There’s a sweet greentree reservoir on the southern end of the 63,901-acre Dewey Wills WMA that has become ultra-popular among duck hunters because of the numerous potholes maintained within the reservoir. Those potholes provide waterfowl hunting areas for the public and attract waterfowl to quality habitat, Dailey said.
Dailey also reported that a new waterfowl project north of the WMA’s Diversion Canal is nearing completion, and it is designed to flood the Muddy Bayou watershed to create up to 4,000 acres of green tree habitat during winter months.
Hopefully, that area will attract beaucoup mallards, pintails and wood ducks.
Dailey emphasized several times that the unit will not be pumped, so it will rely solely on rainfall.
But — get this — the new project isn’t just for waterfowl.
“Any hunting activity is welcome,” Dailey said. “With its ridges and swells, a real woodsman will be able to find high pockets and secluded spots” and shoot deer.
A 13-point buck taken off Dewey Wills WMA last season was one of the three biggest harvested in the MAV South Ecoregion, Dailey reported.
The 13-pointer had 5.75-inch bases and 19-inch beams.
Two other big deer were checked: a 12-pointer with 4.75-inch bases and 22-inch beams, and a 10-point buck with 5.5-inch bases and 21-inch beams.
There’s a reason for the big deer coming off that and the region’s other WMAs, he said.
“Spring and summer rainfall well above the five-year average has produced an abundance of quality deer browse,” Dailey said. “Large expanses of agriculture along the eastern boundary also provide supplemental nutrients to the WMA herd.”
And he said conditions are ripe for another top-notch deer hunting season overall, adding that deer are healthy and numbers are above average.
The situation could be improved more within the next year, as timber harvests are scheduled on Dewey Wills and Little River WMAs.
Otherwise, fawns probably were dropping about mid-July, he said.
Dewey Wills, with its vast acreage, should shine again as the top deer hunting destination for WMAs in the MAV South Ecoregion.
Why? It has bottomland hardwoods, sloughs and cypress brakes providing optimal habitat for deer, squirrels and rabbits. Nuttall, willow and overcup oak provide fall mast for squirrels and deer. Old, dying trees combined with timber harvesting to create canopy gaps making briar thickets that benefit deer and rabbits.
The top WMAs in terms of deer harvest last season were:
• Dewey Wills WMA: 363
• Thisthlethwaite WMA: 171
• Little River WMA: 18
Although Dewey Wills WMA is the No. 1 spot for squirrel hunting success in the MAV South Ecoregion, those planning to hunt there should be forewarned: It probably will be crowded, particularly for the first week or two.
“Dewey Wills squirrel hunting is huge up here,” Dailey said. “There’s no dove hunting on Dewey. Everybody hunts squirrels.”
How popular is it? Some squirrel hunters come a week earlier than the season opens, he said.
Dailey offered some advice to hunters who prefer to avoid the maddening crowd — or at least some of the maddening crowd.
Usually, he said, most squirrels hunters hunt the first hour or two in the morning. So try staying out in the woods a little longer, stay later or make plans to go squirrel hunting in midweek, Dailey said.
How good was the squirrel hunting last season on Dewey Wills WMA? Dailey’s report of the top areas in terms of squirrel kills tells the tail, er, tale:
• Dewey Wills WMA: 1,444
• Thistlethwaite WMA: 523
• Little River WMA: 165
As an avid woodcock hunter, Dailey is out as much as possible hunting the game bird on Dewey Wills WMA.
And he’s learned there is no shortage of rabbits on the tract of land.
“All the time I’m kicking up rabbits,” he said. “I know if a person has a beagle — someone who hunts with dogs — then they can kill rabbits there.”
It’s important, he said, to hunt areas where the timber has been harvested within the past five years.
Dewey Wills WMA is one of the state’s Small Game Emphasis Areas that are designated for small-game hunting with dogs, confined to that specific area when the remainder of the WMA is restricted to still hunt-only.
Also, off-season training of rabbit dogs may be allowed on some of the SGEAs.
And dying trees and timber harvests have created canopy gaps that form briar thickets beneficial to rabbits, among other wildlife, on Dewey Wills WMA.
Here are the top rabbit-hunting public areas in this region:
• Dewey Wills WMA: 75
• Thistlethwaite WMA: 31
• Little River WMA: 4
Great hunting opportunities for woodcock abound on WMAs in the MAV South Ecoregion, Dailey said.
Just look for old logging sites that grown back to thickets, and there’s no need for ATVs because good shooting can be had within walking distance from major roads, he reported.
Be sure to wear an orange hat and orange vest for safety.
Mississippi Alluvial Valley North Ecoregion
Hunting prospects are looking up for WMAs in this part of the state, according to Corey May.
“We had a lot of big rain events, but we haven’t had any flooding,” May said. “Deer are in good shape coming out of the winter, and now we have highly digestible browse plants. Does should be healthy enough to produce fawns and maintain their health.
“It should be an excellent deer season, if the weather conditions stay the way they are.”
May combined last season’s deer harvest numbers from the former Ouachita WMA and Russell Sage WMA to come up with impressive totals: 225 deer taken.
Broken down, here’s how they were taken and in how many efforts:
• Archery: 44 deer, 1,518 hunter efforts
• Primitive weapon: three deer, 108 hunter efforts
• Gun: 178 deer, 2,108 hunter efforts.
The breakdown for the managed either-sex hunting was 136 deer killed (85 of those being bucks) in 812 hunter efforts.
“During the managed either-sex hunt, the three largest live weights for bucks were 236, 204 and 200 (pounds),” May said. “Several quality bucks were taken during the managed hunt, but the most impressive was a typical 164-inch net B&C 11-point.
“We had a really good managed hunt — a lot of nice, quality deer.”
Bayou Macon WMA wound up with a total of 42 deer harvested:
• Archery: 11 deer, 273 hunter efforts, 11 deer
• Primitive weapon: eight deer (five of those being bucks), 72 hunter efforts
• Gun: 23 deer, 249 hunter efforts.
The either-sex numbers came to five bucks and 11 does in 132 hunter efforts.
Deer hunters scouring these pages for an area with a great potential to give up a quality buck should consider Russell Sage WMA.
May said both Russell Sage and Bayou Macon WMAs are similar in terms of habitat but the former has the advantage in terms of sheer volume.
“There are quality deer on both areas,” May said. “A person that doesn’t mind going the extra mile, literally, and spending adequate time scouting and getting to know the area stands a good chance of getting a crack at a nice deer on (Bayou Macon).
“However, the odds are that (Russell Sage) will produce the biggest buck because of the number of hunters that will visit it this coming fall.”
Want a top-notch squirrel-hunting area that usually receives far less hunting pressure than the popular WMAs like Russell Sage?
Go to Bayou Macon WMA.
“Hunter success rates are usually about even on (Bayou Macon) and (Russell Sage),” May said. “However, hunters had a higher success rate last year on (Bayou Macon) rather than (Russell Sage).
“So it goes without saying that if someone is looking for a great hunting area that doesn’t get much hunting pressure, they may want to give Bayou Macon a look.”
May noted that Russell Sage WMA’s close proximity to Monroe makes it a highly popular destination for squirrel hunters in that part of North Louisiana.
Bayou Macon, on the other hand, is often overlooked by these crowds.
“If you don’t mind driving a few more miles, there’s less pressure and it doesn’t get hunted that often,” May explained.
It took only 1.18 hunter efforts to produce a squirrel on Bayou Macon WMA in 2014-15, he said, compared to 1.81 hunter efforts to drop a squirrel last season on Russell Sage.
Bayou Macon hosted 360 hunter efforts that produced 305 squirrels. Russell Sage gave up 758 squirrels during 1,378 hunter efforts.
“So, again, if one is searching for a productive squirrel hunting area that receives little hunting pressure, head to (Bayou Macon WMA),” May said. “For those that don’t mind driving a little farther, Bayou Macon may be just what you’ve been looking for.”
Without a doubt, the old Ouachita WMA portion of Russell Sage is the best bet for rabbit hunting in 2015-16, according to May.
He said it’s particularly at its best in January and February, when beagles can run the land. During those months last season, 376 hunters harvested 138 rabbits.
Why does that area produce rabbits? It has more early successional habitat compared to the upper part of Russell Sage WMA.
Much of the northern half of Russell Sage — primarily north of Young’s Bayou — is mature, closed-canopied bottomland hardwood habitat that supports fewer rabbits than the bramble and briar thickets, thus getting little use from the public during the season.
Bayou Macon WMA also has reforested agricultural fields, mainly south of Shrock Road, that harbor a healthy rabbit population that isn’t hunted as much as Russell Sage.
Another destination for serious rabbit hunting can be the Big Colewa WMA, which has six little tracts of land that last season gave up 40 rabbits in 67 hunter efforts.
Here, too, May combined the harvest from the old Ouachita WMA in 2014-15 with those from Russell Sage.
Overall, he said, Russell Sage and Bayou Macon both offer some fair to good waterfowl hunting.
Naturally, however, the scale tips to Russell Sage because of its location and suitable, diverse waterfowl habitat — namely, 13 waterfowl management units totaling 7,550 acres, including 500 acres of flooded agricultural fields, 4,500 acres of moist soil management units and 2,550 acres of greentree impoundments.
The most-popular spots to hunt ducks on Russell Sage WMA are north of Highway 15, namely Wham Brake and the greentree reservoir.
South of Highway 15, tried-and-true destinations are Pintail Alley and the flooded Beanfield. Also, there are other scattered moist-soil units, in addition to another greetree reservoir called Pot Luck, that provide great waterfowl hunting.
“Wham Brake gets a lot of use,” May said.
Russell Sage (including the old Ouachita WMA) gaveup 5,794 ducks during 5,163 hunting efforts, May reported.
May advised duck hunters to remember that the greentree reservoir, as well as the Beanfield and Pintail Alley, are flooded artificially with water from the Bayou LaFourche Canal. So the level on those areas is dependent on the level of the bayou, he said.
All infrastructure is ready to go long before duck season, but the canal dictates when and how much water is pumped onto the waterfowl impoundments.
The MAV North biologist pointed out there is a much-smaller waterfowl hunting area available to waterfowlers on Bayou Macon WMA.
Two moist-soil units totaling 94 acres plus a 76-acre greentree impoundment are there for ducks and duck hunters. They are adjacent to one another, both south of Shrock Road and both flooded before the duck hunting season.
Last season, 196 hunter efforts accounted for 109 ducks there.
Targeting doves this fall and winter?
Russell Sage WMA traditionally offers some degree of wing-shooting success, much of it on a recently acquired tract off Bosco Road, May reported.
There are no wildlife plantings here, but numbers are higher on the southern end of Russell Sage than anywhere else, he said.
Well, there is one area in which wildlife food is planted.
“RSWMA has a small five-acre field that is currently planted in browntop millet that receives some use,” May said.
In 2014-15, 69 doves were killed during 89 hunter efforts on Russell Sage WMA.
Only two doves were harvested on seven hunter efforts last season on Bayou Macon WMA.
Three fields totaling approximately 20 acres are planted for doves each year on Big Colewa WMA. Nine doves were harvested on 74 hunter efforts there in 2014-15.
Snipe, anyone? That game bird was hunted successfully last season on Russell Sage WMA, with 19 hunters killing 70 snipe, according to May.
On Bayou Macon WMA, 14 snipe were killed on only four hunter efforts.
Mississippi Alluvial Valley South Ecoregion
There are high hopes based on eye-opening past results and encouraging current conditions for some fair to good hunting for most species on MAV South WMAs when the season kicks off, Tony Vidrine said.
“There’s nothing that shows us it shouldn’t be a good season,” he reported.
Unfortunately, feral hog populations are high on Richard K. Yancey and Sherburne WMAs, Vidrine said, pointing out that more than 700 hogs were killed last season.
In fact, he believes the growing feral hog population on Sherburne WMA eventually could have a detrimental effect on the deer herd.
Another disconcerting note about hunting opportunities on Sherburne WMA is that while deer numbers bounced back after 2011’s flooding, the turkey population is more fragile and the outlook doesn’t look rosy, yet.
“It takes a long time for them,” Vidrine said. “There are so many predators. It’s just a slow process. We’re starting to see a few more.”
Thistlethwaite WMA has emerged as a top deer-hunting destination because of its sky-high harvest-per-acre rate (1 per 64) and deer-per-hunter effort (1 per 35).
With the reduced amount of hunting days during the rut, quality bucks should continue to be harvested on the WMA, Vidrine said.
By the way, he said, bowhunters are pleased with the Thistlethwaite WMA season dates.
Thisthlethwaite’s stock went up when the point restriction was removed and the season was moved out of the rut a few years ago.
As a result, Vidrine expects to see a few more bucks and more older bucks come off the property.
Another reason for so many quality deer, which thrive because of the solid groceries growing from the fertile soil, is that they possess good genetics, he explained.
Vidrine said the best opportunity to draw a bead on a quality deer on an MAV South-Opelousas WMA is, without a doubt, Richard K. Yancey WMA.
He noted that its habitat conditions, combined with genetics, mean more deer and more trophy bucks. Plus, its expansive area and choice habitat go hand in hand with the remote areas that allow bucks to elude hunting pressure each year and attain older age classes.
Bucks exceeding 200 pounds are common there, Vidrine said, and does often reach 150 pounds.
The coup de grace is that the season’s framework gives deer hunters a chance to pursue bucks and does when they are most active.
In addition to Richard K. Yancey and Thistlethwaite WMAs, Vidrine said there are three WMAs in Avoyelles Parish that give deer hunters a chance to kill a bragging-sized buck.
The are Spring Bayou, Grassy Lake and Pomme de Terre WMAs.
Deer-hunting clubs in the area have practiced quality deer management for a number of years, and some of those bucks walk over to those WMAs, which have rich soils and good bottomland hardwood habitats, Vidrine pointed out.
“Of all the areas in this region, if I were in pursuit of a big buck, I would hunt Richard K. Yancey, where good deer are taken year after year,” Vidrine said.
On that property, there was no major flooding this past spring. But there was abundant rainfall in the early spring through mid-summer months, so habitat conditions were excellent as of mid-July, he said.
On Sherburne WMA, there will be more opportunities for deer hunting, Vidrine said.
In addition to the normal two weekends of either-sex hunting, an additional five days of either-sex hunting are scheduled for the area that has highly productive deer habitat.
Sherburne has risen as one of the top deer producers in the Atchafalaya Basin, with a deer harvest that has increased each year after the flooding in 2011, he said.
As mentioned, the ecoregion’s three top deer harvested per acre areas last season were:
• Richard K. Yancey WMA: one deer per 122 acres
• Sherburne WMA: one deer per 122 acres
• Grassy Lake WMA: one deer per 73 acres.
Top properties in terms of total deer harvest were:
• Richard K. Yancey WMA: 617 (one deer per 17 deer hunter efforts)
• Sherburne WMA: 350-plus (one deer per 17 hunter efforts)
About Grassy Lake WMA, last season’s deer per hunter effort was one for seven. That is no typo. It produces many deer and quality bucks, Vidrine said.
Hunters should keep in mind when they take past squirrel harvest rates into consideration that the ecoregion’s large WMAs — both in size and habitat — will have higher harvest numbers than the smaller WMAs, Vidrine cautioned.
Hunter efforts are figured based on harvest and number of hunters, as obtained from self-clearing permits required by all hunters utilizing the WMAs.
For example, the 27,930-acre Attakapas WMA, which was racked by Hurricane Andrew when the storm blew through the lower Atchafalaya Basin in 1992, has the top hunter efforts of all the WMAs in the MAV South-Opelousas.
Vidrine said that, based on self-clearing permit data, 504 squirrels were taken by 269 squirrel hunters for a hunter effort of 1.9 squirrels per hunter.
He noted that Attakapas WMA is accessible by boat only. As a result, he said, hunter accessibility might be lower than that on some upland areas.
But squirrel hunting has been consistently good there year to year, with a better opportunity to harvest fox squirrels and the occasional black squirrel.
That huge WMA in the Atchafalaya Basin was followed in the squirrel-per-effort list by another area in the nation’s last great overflow swamp: Sherburne WMA, where squirrel hunters recorded a harvest of 6,444 squirrels per 4,565 hunters effort, or 1.6 squirrels per hunter effort.
The 69,000-acre Richard K. Yancey WMA logged a harvest of 4,073 busytails taken by 4,565 hunter efforts for 1.1 squirrels per hunter effort.
“Squirrel hunting has been consistent on these three WMAs year after year,” Vidrine said in his report, noting they each offer ample vehicle, ATV and boat access.
Hard and soft mast trees are abundant on those properties, so pre-season scouting for good mast-producing trees makes for successful hunts on opening day, he pointed out.
Avoyelles Parish WMAs — Pomme de Terre, Spring Bayou and Grassy Lake — continue to yield fair to good harvests of squirrels in the MAV South–Opelousas Ecoregion.
“They’re coming back,” Vidrine said of the rabbit population on Sherburne WMA, which was inundated by floodwaters in 2011.
A resilient species by nature, rabbits are covering more and more of the area in the upper part of the Atchafalaya Basin. They are being helped by past and ongoing forest management practices, he said.
And the season has been expanded in the Small Game Emphasis Area to allow hunting during the early part of the season, with beagles allowed for rabbits Oct. 3-30.
Also, he said, beagle training is allowed June 1 to Aug. 31.
Richard K. Yancey and Grassy Lake WMAs have good rabbit populations, too, due to good habitat conditions.
Hunting can be a bit of a challenge late in the winter if water rises in low-lying areas, but rabbits are pushed up to higher ridges during those occasions.
The WMA also has a Small Game Emphasis Area.
Top rabbit harvests last season in this regionwere:
• Sherburne WMA: 176 (2,304 hunter efforts)
• Spring Bayou WMA: 108 (402 hunter efforts)
• Richard K. Yancey WMA: 84 (1,411 hunter efforts)
Spring Bayou also had the highest recorded rabbit harvest per hunter at .3 rabbits harvested per hunter.
Richard K. Yancey and Grassy Lake, two WMAs separated only by a major river, enjoyed good turkey harvests in the spring of 2015.
Grassy Lake WMA led the way with a harvest of 11 turkeys and a success rate of one turkey per nine hunter efforts.
Richard K. Yancey WMA had a harvest of 23 turkeys, with a harvest rate of one turkey per 24 hunter efforts.
Both tracts should yield have fair to good turkey hunting next spring, Vidrine said.
Richard K. Yancey, Sherburne, Pomme de Terre, Spring Bayou and Grassy Lake WMAs offer leading opportunities to have successful duck hunts in the MAV South-Opelousas Ecoregion.
There are many areas to hunt, with success rates depending on weather and rainfall each season.
Dove fields are set on Sherburne and Richard K. Yancey WMAs.
These fields have a first-come type of dove hunting, but there is plenty of room for all hunters who show up to take some shots, Vidrine said.
The second and third splits normally have migratory birds move into the fields, and are overlooked at a time when many hunters are focusing on deer and ducks.
“If you are a serious dove hunter and looking for fields to hunt, you may want to check these WMA fields during the later splits,” Vidrine said.
Other game birds
Vidrine said woodcock hunting has been very successful the past few years on Sherburne WMA because of the habitat found there.
But Richard K. Yancey WMA also is gives up its share of woodcock, he said.
Both properties are bottomland hardwood areas that normally attract large numbers of woodcock in the dead of winter — or what winter there is in South Louisiana.
Mississippi Alluvial Valley North Ecoregion
As of the third week of July, LDWF’s Lowrey Moak said he was seeing plenty of squirrels, plenty of turkeys and plenty of deer.
What he wasn’t seeing plenty of was rain.
“As of now, everything looks good,” Moak said. “(But) we could really use some rain.”
He reported habitat conditions were good and should remain that way with adequate rainfall and no major flooding events.
“We experienced minor flooding at Bouef and Big Lake WMAs this spring, but both areas have recovered,” Moak said. “These areas had a fair to good hard and soft mast crop last year, and indications at this time are that they will have the same this year.
“Recent timber harvests at Big Lake, Buckhorn and currently in progress at Boeuf have and will increase the amount of thick cover and browse species tremendously.”
Going into 2015-16, he said, things look to be at least as good as last season.
“We expect at least as good a season as we had last year for all species — better in some areas due to recent timber cuts on two or three areas complete or almost complete,” he reported.
Moak and his staff were busy much of the summer improving road conditions on selected WMAs.
That meant adding limestone on Russell Sage and Bouef WMAs. Some work was done on Buckhorn, Sicily Island and Big Lake WMAs.
Thousands of tons of limestone are put down annually, work that consumes much of their summer, Moak said.
“The only time we can put rock out is in the dry time of the summer. When it’s dry, we’ve got to make hay,” he said. “Most guys hunting only see you in the wintertime. We do the best we can (during the heat of the summer) to allow the good access on our WMAs. We give it our best.”
Moak and staffers were waiting to get to work on Bayou Macon WMA and Floyd McElroy WMA, he said.
The overall deer herd on his WMAs “looks good,” Moak said in mid-July, noting that he was starting to see plenty of fawns.
“They’re up and about. They’re not all dropped, but we are seeing a lot of young deer,” he said.
Bouef WMA reigns as the top deer producer in the ecoregion.
“Bouef WMA’s a deer factory. They’re there,” Moak said. “Bouef is a big area and normally wet during the hunting season, the way a guy likes it.
“The last three, four years, we’ve done timber work, and those areas have come on. Access is good as long as the river is down. Those guys familiar with the area have no problem taking deer in general.”
Harvest numbers bear that out, with the top producers being:
• Bayou Bouef WMA: 325 (3,051 hunters)
• Big Lake WMA: 260 (2,739 hunters)
• Buckhorn WMA: 196 (2,250 hunters)
“Bouef WMA normally has the highest deer harvest numbers due to large size and high hunter numbers and season length,” Moak said. “We expect deer harvest to increase in the future due to a large timber harvest that is currently in progress. This timber stand treatment will increase cover and browse plant species drastically.”
Moak reported that both Big Lake and Bouef WMAs had a “pretty good hard mast crop last year” that, coupled with large, continuous stands of older growth bottomland hardwood timber, bode well for squirrel hunting in 2015-16.
Big Lake WMA is more popular among dog hunters, he said. The biologist supervisor and his staff have noticed an increase in the number of late-season squirrel hunters with dogs there, and those hunters have taken their fair share of squirrels.
“There was a good mast crop the season before last, and they worked on (the acorns),” he said.
Top squirrel WMAs during the 2014-15 season were:
• Big Lake WMA: 3,203 (1,656 hunters)
• Bouef WMA: 1,897 (1,735 hunters)
• Buckhorn WMA: 487 (274 hunters)
“A few do good on Buckhorn, but it’s a lot harder to hunt than Big Lake or Bouef because of the palmettos,” Moak said.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t squirrels in Buckhorn, he added.
“Those that are accustomed to (palmetto stands) are pretty successful,” Moak said.
Waterfowl hunters looking for a WMA with an upside for waterfowl hunting in 2015-16 just need to turn their focus to Bayou Bouef WMA, which local and visiting waterfowlers frequent.
Why? Last season, 2,413 duck hunters killed 3,469 ducks, according to Moak.
Bayou Bouef WMA manages a 40-acre field, planted annually with browntop millet, for the dove-hunting public north of Louisiana Highway 4.
Last season, 47 hunters checked in with 126 doves.
Moak makes no bones about it: Big Lake WMA is an excellent turkey hunting area. A 16-day hunt is offered every spring, and this past season 556 hunters took home 26 turkeys.
Bayou Bouef WMA offers a nine-day season, and last season one turkey was bagged during 95 hunter efforts, Moak reported.
Other game birds
Bountiful habitat awaits woodcock each season on Bouef WMA, and last year 18 hunters took down 25 timberdoodles.
More and more activity late in the season typifies woodcock hunting on that WMA, according to Moak. And hunting should be fair at least this season, he said.
The long-time biologist is surprised there isn’t more interest and attention given to the species on two prime areas like Bouef and Buckhorn. Moist conditions are most favorable for woodcock hunting on those areas, he said.
Sicily Island Hills WMA also could have some fair woodcock hunting, he said.
When conditions are right, Bouef WMA offers excellent snipe hunting, as evidenced by last season’s reported harvest of 120 snipe by 15 hunters.
Gulf Coastal Plains Ecoregion
The Mother Nature side of things leading up to hunting for all species looks promising going into the 2015-16 season on the WMAs making up the Gulf Coastal Plains Ecoregion.
“In general, we had an average winter with a warmer and wetter December and January compared to last year,” LDWF’s Christian Winslow reported.
On the WMAs in the Gulf Coastal Plains-North, biologist supervisor Jeffrey Johnson reported a “really good mast crop last winter.”
Also, Johnson said, spring and summer were relatively mild until mid-July. There was above-average rainfall before the region experienced a drier summer pattern.
Overall, he said, food sources were abundant as of July 21.
“As long as we get intermittent rains for the remainder of the summer we should be in good shape for really healthy and well-fed wildlife populations this fall,” Johnson said.
After cooler-than-normal temperatures through most of June and into July, searing heat set in across the state, with consistent heat indexes of 106 to108 degrees — higher in some areas.
But that shouldn’t be a huge factor, Johnson said.
“The heat thing — they’re used to it,” he said. “It it is hot right now, but nowhere near what it was a few years ago. We were having some days with real temperatures of 106 (degrees).”
Gulf Coastal Plains-North
Despite heavy rainfall for extended periods in May and June, wildlife wasn’t threatened overall by flooding in this region, Johnson said.
Comparing it to the flood a few years ago on Sherburne WMA in another part of Louisiana, he said, he said high water was manageable in his area.
“That’s a different kind of plain. They opened the Morganza Spillway and the water came up fast,” Johnson explained. “This was gradual, over a matter of weeks. The wildlife had plenty of time to relocate. It shouldn’t have any big impact on the deer herd.”
In his report, Johnson noted there were some drawbacks to all the rain on Soda Lake and Loggy Bayou WMAs, and to a lesser extent on Bodcau WMA.
He said high water lasted later into the year than normal, thus inundating lower browse and herbaceous food plants in impacted areas.
“That said, these particular WMAs and the wildlife populations on them developed over the years with occasional floods like we had recently, so those populations adapted to it and handle it well,” Johnson said. “It could change things slightly this coming season, but there’s no reason to be concerned long-term.”
When you get down to it, Johnson said in his report, nearly all of the WMAs in this region provide good deer hunting.
There’s just something for every hunter.
“There are options for folks that want to gun hunt more, and options for those who prefer bowhunting more; some places with more access and some with less; and choices in habitat types,” he said. “All of them have good populations of deer. It’s just a matter of a hunter deciding what type of habitat and style of hunting they prefer, and then putting in a little effort to check these places out and see which one fits them best.”
For those who want to put numbers of documented kills into the equation, here are last year’s top deer-producing properties in the region:
• Jackson-Bienville WMA: 312
• Bodcau WMA: 155
• Loggy Bayou WMA: 155
Johnson went on to provide brief summaries of deer hunting on four of his WMAs.
Of Jackson-Bienville WMA, he said deer hunting should be good again. The area has a variety of habitats, from hardwood creek bottoms to pine hills. Constant management of pine forests provides perpetual natural disturbance that mimics nature and provides areas of good browse growth each year, as well as significant acreage of escape cover.
Mix that in with hardwood creek bottoms, and it’s an ideal place to consistently produce good numbers of deer, he said.
On Bodcau, there is a wide range of habitats and food sources. Also, it has some areas that are more difficult to access but can be worth the effort to get to, as those harder-to-access areas often receive lower hunting pressure, Johnson said.
Bodcau has a fairly large deer herd for this part of the state, and it sometimes surprises him that more deer aren’t harvested.
Moving on to Camp Beauregard WMA, Johnso said this should be a prime destination to hunt deer once again.
Harvest levels are consistently high, with the success rate of the Thanksgiving managed hunts some of the highest on any of Johnson’s WMAs. It has a mixture of upland pine and lower creek bottom hardwood areas.
The WMA is managed for timber production, and some areas undergo controlled burning on a regular basis, which results in healthy browse production.
Finally, Loggy Bayou WMA had a very good 2014-15 season, including the best success rate of any of Johnson’s WMAs during the Thanksgiving weekend managed hunts.
“And that’s saying something, because all of our WMAs up here had pretty good hunter success rates last fall,” he said.
Hopefully, Johnson added, it’ll produce like that again, although things might be a little different due to habitat variation caused by flooding.
Many deer hunters stay on the lookout for quality deer. These WMAs have them, for sure.
“To be honest, all our WMAs are managed to keep the deer herd in balance with the available habitat and below carrying capacity to try and get the best quality available for the type of habitat on a given WMA,” Johnson said. “When you manage like that, any buck that gets some age on him should show his potential, so picking a WMA to hunt for bucks can be as much about the time a hunter wants to go and what method of hunting they prefer as it is about which one has the best potential for big bucks.
“There’s potential for them all. Any of them are good. If you’re on them at the right time at the right spot, they might produce a nice buck.”
So, hunters face a challenge: It’s hard to pick just one WMA for the chance at shooting a quality buck this season.
Johnson’s report noted that Jackson-Bienville WMA is known for producing the heaviest average body weights of the WMAs, also giving up bucks with nice antlers each year.
It’s a better late-season place for gun hunters because its season runs for the entire rut in mid- to late December.
Johnson’s report also noted that those who prefer gun hunting earlier, the rut on Bodcau WMA is in November. With proper scouting and a dose of luck, hunters can get quality deer there.
Primitive firearm deer-hunting enthusiasts should try Camp Beauregard WMA, a very good option for bigger bucks with top-notch antlers as well as good numbers.
“Last year on the Thanksgiving weekend primitive weapons hunt, I saw more good bucks come through that weigh station than I’ve seen in quite some time on managed hunts on my WMAs,” Johnson said. “People that were driving up were saying, ‘Man, that’s some nice bucks.’
“That hunt coincides well with the rut in that area, so the big boys are usually on the move.”
Quite a few quality bucks came off Loggy Bayou WMA during the 2014 Thanksgiving hunt, too, he reported.
Loggy Bayou and Camp Beauregard WMAs, which have limited gun hunts, are bow-only for the rest of the season, he said in his report.
For those wanting to hunt strictly archery-only areas, go to Bayou Pierre and Soda Lake WMAs and keep in mind that, although the areas are small in size and don’t produce big numbers of deer, there is great potential to down a nice buck, Johnson reported.
With an overall solid mast crop on the GCP-North WMAs in 2014, there should be good corresponding numbers of squirrels in the trees in 2015-16.
“Actually, most any WMA that has some decent squirrel woods on it should be pretty good this coming season,” Johnson said. “The really good mast crop we had last fall should’ve led to excellent squirrel production and good squirrel populations across the board this season.
“Last year was tougher because of the lower mast crop and therefore lower reproduction than the year before. I’m expecting we’ll see the opposite of that this year, with good numbers on most of our WMAs.”
For a look at the documented squirrel kills last season, here are the top squirrel producers from last season:
• Jackson-Bienville WMA: 1,258
• Bodcau WMA: 979
• Alexander State Forest: 402
The veteran biologist summed up prospects and described the top three squirrel hunting areas in his report.
Jackson-Bienville WMA should have a high success rate on squirrels again, Johnson said.
Although primarily upland pine, there are significant drainages throughout the WMA. The hardwood timber areas along major creeks, as well as feeder creeks and upland drains, provide a ripe mix of mast-producing trees that enhance squirrel production, he said.
Bodcau WMA is a high-end squirrel producer year-in and year-out, Johnson noted. It has a mix of bottomland mast-producing trees along Bodcau Bayou and its tributaries, as well as mixed pine/hardwood upland habitat.
And Alexander State Forest was a high producer last season. Johnson expects more of the same this season, noting it has a mix of pine areas and hardwood areas, with concentrations of mast-producing hardwoods along the major drainages.
Loggy Bayou WMA yielded dozens of rabbits to hunters last season and should do so again, according to Johnson.
But it isn’t the only WMA in his region that offers fair to good rabbit hunting at certain times of the season, he noted. Sabine WMA and Bodcau WMA are among the good options, he said.
“Several of my other areas are also subject to have good rabbit hunting, so if folks are closer to one of them they should check the dates and rules for their nearest WMA, and if rabbit hunting is available, go give it a try,” he said in his report. “Some of these other areas also have decent rabbit populations, but the harvest doesn’t reflect it because they aren’t utilized much or any for the rabbit hunting opportunity awaiting them.”
Here is a look at the documented numbers of rabbits taken last season:
• Loggy Bayou WMA: 217
• Sabine WMA: 35
• Bodcau WMA: 27
Before Johnson gave a summary for each of those areas, he talked about another viable option for rabbit hunters to consider.
“For folks in this part of the state, if Loggy Bayou isn’t giving them the results they want they should try Bayou Pierre WMA,” he said. “It has a pretty good rabbit population. Harvests haven’t been very high there the last few years. However, the hunter efforts have been very low there as well.”
Loggy Bayou WMA, on the other hand, has been a consistent rabbit producer, and was the highest rabbit producer in the region last season.
Johnson is hopeful it will be that way again, but he was somewhat concerned about the flooding that lasted into early summer. That high water might mean less food and a somewhat decreased rabbit populations.
However, he said, rabbit populations bounce back quickly and even if the numbers are slightly low this season it should return to normal if there isn’t any late flooding next year.
On Sabine WMA, there are many areas that have been clear-cut over the past few years and replanted. That means they are in prime condition for producing rabbits, according to Johnson.
Also, he said, there has been “quite a bit of thinning” in the pine plantations, which has produced good food and cover.
Bodcau WMA has been a fairly consistent rabbit producer, said Johnson, noting it has a mix of habitat types and a significant block of natural prairie areas managed as maintained openings and intermixed with the surrounding woods.
Those areas provide good rabbit cover and good conditions for rabbit hunting, he said.
Although waterfowl hunting is limited on the Gulf Coast Plain-North WMAs, there are opportunities.
“It can be good when we have a good many ducks in the area,” Johnson said. “Keep in mind these aren’t the big Mississippi Delta WMAs, so in comparison our duck harvests may not seem like much, but they’re OK, all things considered.”
He offered some suggestions. For example, Bayou Pierre WMA offers lottery hunts, which he said are self-guided with no frills but consistently provide success.
Also, for greentree reservoir duck hunting, try Bodcau WMA, which has excellent wood duck hunting and occasionally gets some mallards.
Loggy Bayou WMA can be hot, too, but the areas attractive to waterfowl are small in acreage and can receive a lot of pressure, which is something to consider. For sure, he said, weekday hunts might be better.
Indian Creek Lake on Alexander State Forest also has the potential for good duck hunting for those who want to give lake hunting a try.
Johnson said Jackson-Bienville WMA can be really, really good for wood duck hunting. It isn’t regarded as much of a duck area, but the beaver ponds on it can provide some jam-up “woodie” shooting if a fast-pass shooting hunt is preferred, he said. Plus, it’s convenient for locals and a welcome change of pace for those who want to mix it up while coming for a deer hunt.
Camp Beauregard WMA offers duck hunting along the main creeks and, if the water levels are high enough, in some backwater areas.
Last season’s documented duck harvest totals were as follows:
• Bodcau WMA: 1,009
• Loggy Bayou WMA: 595
• Jackson-Bienville WMA: 134
• Bayou Pierre WMA (lottery only): 120
• Alexander State Forest: 114
• Camp Beauregard WMA: 64.
The popularity of Elbow Slough WMA as a dove-hunting destination has been well-chronicled. It’s so popular that officials needed to implement a lottery hunt for opening weekend.
After that, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are open to dove hunting only during the first two splits.
Johnson did say dove hunting production was off there in 2014-15.
“Last year we had some problems due to abnormally high rainfall getting our field too wet right before the opener, and it resulted in a harvest way off of what is normal,” he said. “Barring something strange like that again, this year we’re expecting to be back to a good hunt, as usual.”
However, the lottery already has taken place for this year’s opening weekend.
For those who want to hunt it in the future, apply online for lottery dove hunting the first week or so in July on the LDWF website lottery hunts page. For more details, call the Minden office at 318-371-3050.
Other WMAs in Johnson’s region that have potentially fair to good dove hunting and last year’s counts include:
• Sabine: 454
• Camp Beauregard: 346
• Bayou Pierre: 187
• Bodcau: 36
• Jackson-Bienville: 23
Johnson’s said Bayou Pierre WMA has a large dove field that is open to the public, and it usually draws a pretty good crowd of dove hunters. Harvests vary year to year depending on the number of birds in the region, he said.
Bodcau WMA has a few dove fields, but it usually doesn’t attract a big crowd, Johnson said. The number of birds vary each year.
Loggy Bayou WMA has a small dove field, and it is open for youth hunting-only on the first day of the season before opening to anyone.
Unfortunately, the unusually late flooding experienced there this summer covered the vast majority of Loggy Bayou WMA, including the dove field, Johnson said. So any hunting this season will be over natural vegetation that withstood the flood, he explained.
The DWF-planted field didn’t make it, Johnson said, and it was too late to get a new crop ready in time for the season once the field dried enough to work it.
Other game birds
There are few, if any, hunter efforts for woodcock on Johnson’s WMAs.
That’s not to say there aren’t woodcock present: Johnson said he and his staff see timberdoodles, but no hunters take advantage of the opportunities.
It’s practically uncharted territory most years.
“If there are any woodcock hunters to speak of in this part of the state any more and they want to go hunt some public land — or if there’s anyone that wants to make a trip — I can safely say they’ll have practically no competition,” Johnson said.
Otherwise, there is the occasional quail hunter on Jackson-Bienville WMA, he said.
“I wouldn’t say JB is loaded with quail, but it has higher quail numbers than anywhere else I know of in this area of the state,” he said. “That said, it’s not necessarily going to be an easy hunt or a place a bird hunter will go and put up big numbers every day with his pointing dogs.”
J-B WMA does have good habitat in the mature pine areas that are managed for red cockaded woodpecker, areas that are burned regularly to give it a more herbaceous type understory that suits quail, he said.
It’s a good place for bird hunters to go work their dogs with some confidence quail are present, he said.
Some snipe are also harvested each season on Bayou Pierre WMA, Johnson said.
Gulf Coastal Plains-South
“We’ve had lots of rain,” LDWF’s Wendell Smith said. “Hopefully, the oak trees will produce good mast this year. I was looking at red oak trees the other day, and they were loaded with acorns.
“I wasn’t far from Clear Creek (WMA), just across Highway 8 from the WMA.”
He said there are other benefits of the regular rainfall.
“You know, all the rain helps with the browse for deer growth,” Smith said. “Everything’s working when you have a lot of rain, except for the turkey population.”
Smith believes the above-normal rainfall will have a negative effect on turkey poult recruitment; he said he hasn’t seen any poults on or near the roads.
He expects the overall mast crop going into the winter to be great, but said he and his staff won’t know for sure until they conduct mast surveys in late September.
There was no flooding on his WMAs during the soggy period because the properties — especially Clear Creek, Peason Ridge and Fort Polk WMAs — drain fast, he said.
Clear Creek WMA “goes down real fast, as soon as it rains” as it drains into the Sabine River, he said.
The best deer-kill-per-hunter-effort Smith has seen on either-sex opening weekend was one for four, he said.
“You can get a little better idea on the harvest by deer checked out, legal deer, any of them that go to the house,” he said. “That opening weekend, I look at deer per hunter effort.”
For 2014-15, either-sex opening weekend harvests, Smith’s deer per effort numbers looked like this:
• Clear Creek WMA: 1 out of 8
• West Bay WMA: 1 out of 11
• Fort Polk WMA: 1 out of 10
• Peason Ridge: 1 out of 23.
Compare those numbers to the state average of 1 out of 15, and you see that these public tracts of land offer great opportunities.
Last season’s deer harvest on the Gulf Coastal Plains-South WMAs proved the herd is healthy, as it should be going into 2015-16.
“It’s pretty good,” Smith said. “The harvest and weight of the deer last year was even keel, right on line with what it should be.”
Lush browse helps the overall condition of deer, he said, and that should be the case in his region as long as there is continued rain through the summer. Good food is important for fawns when they stop nursing and turn to the browse and mast crop, he said.
What about that deer harvest last season? Here are the documented results:
• Fort Polk WMA: 480
Smith said there have been years with 600 taken from this WMA.
• Clear Creek WMA: 268
There have been years with 360 to 400 deer killed on Clear Creek, Smith said.
• West Bay WMA: 225
Again, this was slightly below the highs for the area. There have been years when 250 to 300 were taken, Smith said.
• Peason Ridge WMA: 161
Smith said quality deer with “nice racks” came off Peason Ridge WMA last season.
“The best WMAs producing consistent big, rack deer are Peason Ridge and Fort Polk,” he said. “However, all WMAs within the GCPS Ecoregion have the potential of producing fine bucks.
“A trophy is in the eye of the beholder.”
It’s an understatement when Smith talks about the leading squirrel producer among the Gulf Coastal Plains-South.
“West Bay is great. Fort Polk and Peason have a lot of hardwoods, too,” he said.
The top area in terms of last years harvest was West Bay WMA with 1,482 squirrels killed, he said.
Overall, Smith said it’s all about groceries, and that doesn’t seem to be a problem.
“They respond to the great mast crop,” he explained. “I’m looking around my house and they have an excellent squirrel crop this year.”
The veteran biologist fondly remembers the prime-time squirrel hunting once experienced on Sabine Island WMA, which still gives up its fair share of squirrels, he said.
“Boy, in its hey day, it was great,” Smith said. “I remember killing a limit out of one tree, and going back on a second day and killing a limit out of the same tree.”
Those were the days, he said, when the campground at Niblett’s Bluff Park would fill up a week before the opener squirrel hunters would go out and “kill squirrels like crazy.”
Then Hurricane Rita and her winds put a damper on the squirrel-hunting parades.
“It devastated that place,” Smith said. “It’s so thick you can hardly hunt or walk in there.”
Squirrel hunters familiar with the island are shooting more and more squirrels there each season, but the go-to place now is West Bay WMA.
Small-game hunters asked for it and they got it with the implementation last year of the Small Game Emphasis Areas around Louisiana.
Two of them opened in Smith’s region — Marsh Bayou WMA three miles west of Oakdale in Evangeline Parish and Walnut Hill WMA near Simpson in Vernon Parish.
Appreciative rabbit hunters and their beagles took to the those areas and are looking forward to doing the same this season, Smith said.
The top rabbit producers among his WMAs last season, however, were Clear Creek and West Bay WMAs.
The latter, Smith said, “always seems to do well late in the season during the dog season.”
He said Fort Polk WMA also has a healthy population of rabbits and typically is best later in the season, if the public is allowed on the military base.
According to signs this summer, rabbits are thriving on the Gulf Coastal Plains-South WMAs.
“They’re eating grass and broadleaf,” Smith said, adding that he seems plenty of hares on his daily drive home from work. “The rain has been helping that,” Smith said.
The top producers last season were Clear Creek and West Bay WMAs, which each gave up about 65 rabbits.
Gulf Coastal Plains-Eastern
An average winter with a warmer, wetter December and January compared to the previous year preceded heavy rainfall this spring, leaving Gulf Coastal Plains-Eastern WMAs in good condition overall, according to Christian Winslow.
“We had some heavy rains this spring but nothing that inundated our WMAs,” Winslow said. “Current summer habitat conditions on our WMAs are good, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming hunting season.
“Fall 2014 acorn production was slightly better compared to 2013 numbers on our bottomland hardwood WMAs, but slightly below 2013 numbers on our upland WMAs.”
The mostly hard-to-hunt Maurepas Swamp WMA’s deer harvest last season was even higher than it was in 2013-14, when it led the nine Gulf Coastal Plains-Eastern WMAs with 147 deer in 2,458 hunting efforts.
Winslow said deer hunters who put in the time and effort are successful on Maurepas Swamp, which encompasses nearly 120,000 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp spanning a five-parish area in Southeast Louisiana.
“Much of the WMA is difficult to access, and deer on this area do not receive the pressure that they would on smaller, more-accessible WMA,” he said in his report, which listed the top harvests last season.
Those top deer producers were:
• Maurepas Swamp WMA: 202 (3,386 hunter efforts)
• Tunica Hills WMA: 81 (2,548 hunter efforts)
• Pearl River WMA: 52 (2,531 hunter efforts)
Tunica Hills WMA, Winslow said, has fertile, productive habitat supporting a good deer population. That area allows bow hunting only, except for a short period of primitive weapons-only hunting.
The harvest numbers from last season were down a bit from the 2013-14 season, when Tunica Hills gave up 120 deer in 2,756 hunter efforts.
But that area is a choice location for those looking for quality bucks, he said. A deer herd that thrives in that fertile environment typically has some outstanding bucks in terms of weights and racks.
Also, he said, Maurepas Swamp WMA and Joyce WMA offer excellent opportunities to harvest nice bucks.
“These WMAs can be more difficult to access than others, but for that same reason there are numerous quality, older age class bucks on these areas,” Winslow said.
Pearl River WMA is popular among deer hunters because of its accessibility due to the many maintained roads and trails, Winslow said. Plus, it is closer to New Orleans.
Maurepas Swamp WMA overtook Pearl River as the Gulf Coastal Plains-Eastern leader in squirrel harvests in 2014-15. The area’s 119,000 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and its myriad oak ridges and spoil areas offer great squirrel habitat, Winslow said.
That potential showed last season, when 1,339 squirrels were bagged compared to 948 in 2013-14, he reported.
“Maurespas Swamp is a consistent producer of squirrels,” Winslow said, “and I expect the same for the upcoming season. Additionally, acorn production was higher than the previous fall.”
Pearl River WMA, where the habitat is rebounding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had a squirrel harvest of 1,098 last season compared to 1,576 in 2013-14.
Still, Winslow said, it remains the most-popular place to hunt squirrels as accessibility increases.
“(On) Pearl River, although the red oak acorn production last fall was slightly better compared to the previous fall, the white oak acorn production was much better,” Winslow said. “I have been seeing plenty of squirrels on the WMA for the last few weeks.”
The region’s top squirrel producers last season were:
• Maurepas Swamp WMA: 1,339 (1,166 hunter efforts)
• Pearl River WMA: 1,098 (2,298 hunter efforts)
• Tunica Hills WMA: 277 squirrels (390 efforts)
“Tunica Hills has an abundance of mature oaks, and other mast-producing trees found on this WMA provide squirrel habitat,” Winslow said.
With so much acreage enclosed within Maurepas Swamp WMA, it’s no surprise there are some hotspots for rabbit hunter, Winslow said.
“Although not all of this area is good rabbit habitat, there are over 120,000 acres to hunt — and this WMA routinely ranked first in rabbit harvest in our area,” he wrote in his report, emphasizing there are numerous spoil banks and natural ridges that are home to plenty of rabbits.
But there are other options in the region, with Pearl River WMA being a prime example.
“Although the thick understory created after Hurricane Katrina is opening up, there is still plenty of early succession habitat on the WMA, as well as edge habitat along the trails and openings,” Winslow said.
Access to Pearl River is improving in the bottomland hardwood area, and rabbits are plentiful in the marsh south of U.S. 90.
Sandy Hollow is another choice because it’s pretty thick, he said.
“The majority of this WMA is kept in early succession habitat through prescribed burning, and there is an abundance of edge habitat surrounding the numerous fields and openings on the WMA,” Winslow said.
Last year’s numbers were:
• Maurespas Swamp WMA: 233 (701 efforts)
• Pearl River WMA: 12 (1,152 efforts)
• Sandy Hollow WMA: 7 (173 efforts)
There are some great waterfowl hunting experiences to be had in the Gulf Coastal Plains-Eastern, as one can imagine for an ecoregion at the end of the Mississippi Flyway.
How great? Four of the nine regional WMAs are Southeast Louisiana duck-hunting hotspots, starting with Pearl River WMA and followed closely by Manchac WMA and Joyce WMA.
The numbers last year shook out as follows:
• Pearl River WMA: 2,585 (2,232 efforts)
• Manchac WMA: 1,399 (1,011 efforts)
• Joyce WMA: 446 (483 efforts)
Winslow said habitat conditions on those areas in mid-summer were good, and he expected them to stay that way barring tropical storm activity.
There is only one issue that comes into play.
“We are still working to control giant salvina on Manchac WMA,” Winslow 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,” he said.
For the most-opportunistic dove hunting on the Gulf Coastal Plains-Eastern WMAs, Winslow pointed hunters to Sandy Hollow WMA, which has four dove fields totaling 44 acres planted with browntop millet.
The three fields on the North Tract are open for youth hunters and supervising adults on the opening day of the season, while the South Tract field is open to any properly licensed WMA dove hunters, he said.
After opening day, dove season is closed on the WMA until the following Saturday and follows the outside dove season from that point, Winslow said.
Tunica Hills WMA is probably the best bet for harvesting a turkey next spring, according to Winslow.
There is a youth lottery hunt, three general lottery hunts and an open seven-day segment at the end of the season.
This spring, 12 turkeys were harvested in 201 hunter efforts.
Also, Winslow said there are turkey-hunting opportunities on Sandy Hollow, Pearl River, Lake Ramsey, Tangipahoa Parish School Board and Hutchinson’s Creek WMAs.
Other game birds
Winslow said Pearl River and Sandy Hollow WMAs offer the best woodcock hunting opportunities in this region.