2022-23 WMA Deer Forecast

It takes a lot of effort on the part of a hunter to find deer like this one deep in the swamp.

It’s looking like a non-typical season for Louisiana deer hunters

Perhaps the biggest issue facing deer hunters this season stems from last season. The first positive Chronic Wasting Disease case in Louisiana was found in an adult buck shot this past winter on private land in Tensas Parish.

The National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the positive case that was reported to the public the first week of February. Louisiana became the 29th state to detect CWD, even though it was only one deer.

With that in mind, according to Mitch McGee, Monroe Region biologist supervisor since 2016, LDWF will increase free testing for CWD at sites on Buckhorn Wildlife Management Area in Tensas Parish and Big Lake WMA in Franklin, Tensas and Madison parishes, the department’s chosen CWD Control Area.

Deer hunters who harvest a deer on those WMAs can drop the deer’s head off for testing at no cost to them. They no longer can take spinal material out of those three parishes now, McGee, a 13-year veteran with LDWF, said. According to a prepared statement earlier this year from LDWF, deer hunters are restricted to transporting deboned meat, a clean skull plate with antlers and the cape — the skin of the head and shoulders.

Southeast Louisiana’s WMAs probably won’t have many, if any, 1 ½-year-old deer that usually make up the bulk of the harvest, according to Bradley Breland. The Hammond Region’s veteran biologist said Hurricane Ida’s storm surge took a toll on fawns that were 6 to 7 weeks old.

Magnitude of the storm

While nothing was documented, Breland realizes the magnitude of that storm that hit Aug. 29 caught fawns at a vulnerable time. Breland and Jillian Day, the region’s biologist manager, assume the region lost the whole crop of fawns.

As a result, LDWF eliminated either-sex days with modern or primitive firearms. 

Hunters who utilize WMAs will pay $5 more this year for a WMA Access Permit. That annual fee in the past was $15, but as of June 1 the annual fee is $20 for resident/nonresident or five-day permit for $5 (must be five consecutive days) for resident/nonresident. All WMA users, boaters, hikers, bird watchers, berry pickers and anglers, must pay the $20 fee to access the 1.5 million acres of land managed by the LDWF. It was one of many license and permit price increases.

Youths 17 and under aren’t required to have a WMA Access Permit. Also, the Sportsman Paradise license and Lifetime licenses cover the WMA Access Permit.

Here’s a look at last year’s successes and this year’s outlook for Louisiana deer hunters by region.

Kayden Arceneaux was hunting at Sherburne WMA on Jan. 2, 2022 when he killed this 8-point that weighed 161 pounds and had a 15 1/4-inch inside spread.

HAMMOND REGION

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2021-22

Maurepas Swamp WMA: 55 deer reported (49 bucks, 6 does)

Pearl River WMA: 56 deer reported (34 bucks, 22 does)

Joyce WMA: 29 deer reported (24 bucks, 5 does)

Tunica Hills WMA: 35 deer reported (24 bucks, 11 does)

Sandy Hollow WMA: 19 deer reported (13 bucks, 6 does)

Several Hammond Region WMAs are recovering from Hurricane Ida, which pummeled and flooded the region last August.

LDWF reacted accordingly before last season and restricted antlerless harvest to the youth weekend and archery only on Maurepas Swamp WMA and Joyce WMA, restrictions put in place again for 2022-23. Either-sex days with modern or primitive firearms are eliminated.

Nevertheless, two veteran biologists who oversee those and other WMAs in the Hammond Region are optimistic about deer hunting success this season on Maurepas Swamp WMA, Pearl River WMA and Joyce WMA.

Following a good growing season the deer hunting should be good “barring any storms or high-water events,” Jillian Day said recently.

“Maurepas Swamp and Pearl River are the two WMAs in the southeast portion of the state with the greatest opportunity for success on deer. Both areas are large and provide multiple access points, but seasonal flooding is a concern,” Day, the region’s biologist manager reported.

Bradley Breland, a veteran biologist, pointed out deer harvest numbers from last season and said, “We really didn’t see a decrease in adult deer.”

Maurepas Swamp WMA led the way despite Hurricane Ida’s impact with 55 reported deer, followed by Pearl River WMA, 56, and Joyce WMA, 29.

Day noted in her report that while Maurepas Swamp WMA is a large WMA (112,615 acres), most of it is difficult to access, which means deer there receive less pressure than smaller, more accessible WMAs.

Pearl River WMA has higher usage rates because of its proximity to New Orleans. According to Day, it is “one of our region’s most accessible areas. There are plenty of roads and trails maintained on the northern part of the WMA.”

Kazden Jones killed his first public land deer at Peason Ridge on Nov. 28, 2021.

LAFAYETTE REGION

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2021-22

Richard K. Yancey WMA: 301 deer reported (1 deer per 229 acres), 185 bucks, 116 does

Sherburne WMA: 224 deer reported (1 deer per 196 acres), 118 bucks, 106 does

Thistlethwaite WMA: 151 deer reported (1 deer per 73 acres), 95 bucks, 56 does

Grassy Lake WMA: 134 deer reported (1 deer per 99 acres), 76 bucks, 58 does

Pomme de Terre WMA: 83 deer reported (1 deer per 78 acres), 42 bucks, 41 does 

Mother Nature in spring 2022 smiled on the Lafayette Region’s Wildlife Management Areas. 

How’s that? For the first time in four years, wildlife didn’t have to cope with flooding during the growing season. And that bodes well for 2022-23 deer hunts at Richard K. Yancey WMA, Sherburne WMA, Thistlethwaite WMA, et al.

“No flooding. That’s one good thing. We didn’t have any high water from any rivers,” Tony Vidrine said from his office in mid-July.

The biologist manager, a 38-year LDWF veteran, has some of the state’s WMA jewels in the Lafayette Region. The aforementioned WMAs boasted the top deer harvests in 2021-22.

While Richard K. Yancey WMA and Sherburne WMA were first and second in deer harvests with 301 and 224, respectfully, Thisthlethwaite WMA shined as the area with the best deer harvest per acre — one per 73 acres — for a total of 151.

“And there’s still a lot of deer in there, a high, high population. This should be one of the better areas to harvest a deer during the 2022-23 season and many seasons to come,” Vidrine said.

Why? It’s one of few areas still being logged by a timber company, one that leases the area to LDWF. 

“There’s a lot of good oak that a timber company likes. The whole area has been pretty much logged now, not just one particular area,” he said, noting it is a popular WMA for bowhunters.

There’s a tradeoff with the great understory buildup. Deer hunters have to deal with palmetto, which makes the area tough to hunt.

Nevertheless, groceries are there for animals as mast crop production has been moderate to high the past few years. Plus, agriculture lands border it.

Many deer hunters target the soybean field area in the front where big deer are seen. That area’s popular, he said, but “they hunt the whole area, really.”

As for Richard K. Yancey WMA, which was second in deer harvest in 2020-21, Vidrine wrote in his report June 29, “We are excited for the drier conditions (no spring flooding) on the habitat and are anxious to see how the season prospers. RYK has finally had a more than average dry year … This allowed vital vegetation to reestablish quicker after the winter along with more acreage for the deer herd to browse and avoid predators.”

Randy Boyett Jr. of Haughton took down this great 9-point buck while hunting the Bodcau WMA on Nov. 19. It scored 139 7/8.

LAKE CHARLES REGION

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2021-22

Fort Polk-Vernon WMA: 499 deer reported (1 deer per 234 acres, 1 deer per 15 hunter efforts – 7,266 hunter efforts), 275 bucks, 224 does. (Closed for military training during the first either-sex weekend)

Peason Ridge WMA: 465 deer reported (1 deer per 170 acres, 1 deer per 11 hunter efforts – 5,000 hunter efforts), 246 bucks, 219 does. (Closed for military training during the first either-sex weekend)

Clear Creek WMA: 292 deer reported (1 deer per 180 acres, 1 deer per 15 hunter efforts – 5,242 hunter efforts), 186 bucks, 106 does

West Bay WMA: 184 deer reported (1 deer per 321 acres, 1 deer per 23 hunter efforts – 4,190 hunter efforts), 108 bucks, 76 does

Sabine Island WMA: 17 deer reported (1 deer per 510 acres, 1 deer per 16 hunter efforts—265 hunter efforts), 12 bucks, 5 does

Fort Polk WMA’s habitat took a big hit when Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta, respectively, tore up the region in a two-month period in 2020. Ditto for West Bay WMA and Sabine Island WMA’s terrain.

Wildlife, particularly deer, benefitted immensely from the ecological change as thick understory emerged from the destruction. Flourishing growth of early successional vegetation led to above average browse for deer.

The understory challenged deer hunters’ visibility last season and will continue to do so, according to veteran LDWF biologist manager Wendell Smith. Still, Fort Polk WMA led the region’s deer harvest in 2021-22 with 499, followed closely by Peason Ridge WMA’s 465.

Both Fort Polk WMA and Peason Ridge WMA, used for military training, were closed during the first either-sex weekend hunt of last season compared to both either-sex weekend hunts erased in 2020-21. Smith wasn’t surprised by the recent deer harvest on Peason Ridge WMA.

“I was expecting it. First of all, it’s a real hardwood, upland pine and mixed forest area. It had a population buildup and it produced,” Smith, who has worked 33 years with LDWF, 15 as a biologist manager, reported. 

Peason Ridge WMA improved with the U.S. Army’s acquisition of Cole Springs, an old DMAP area, then land bought near Kirkwood.

“In a matter of years, the area got a lot of bottomland hardwoods,” he said, noting the area grew from 30,000 to 70,000 acres.

The key to any deer hunting success is scouting, which many local deer hunters do diligently. 

“Do your work. Do your scouting. It’ll pay off,” Smith said.

Out-of-staters flock to the region’s WMAs, he said. Eastern Texas deer hunters and those from upper Midwestern states take advantage of the bountiful WMAs.

“We have a successful (management) program and we put a lot of hours into the WMAs. We work hard to keep the system top-notch. We welcome everybody,” he said.

Something has this monster buck’s attention in the hardwood bottoms. The shot of a lifetime depends on hunters being concealed and still.

MINDEN REGION

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2021-22

Bodcau WMA: 184 deer reported (1 deer per 183.5 acres), 99 bucks, 85 does

Loggy Bayou WMA: 151 deer reported (1 deer per 42.7 acres), 103 bucks, 48 does

Bayou Pierre WMA: 20 deer reported (1 deer per 139.7 acres), 13 bucks, 7 does

Soda Lake WMA: 20 deer reported (1 deer per 241.5 acres), 11 bucks, 9 does

Hot and dry was the theme for the Minden Region through the summer. 

The conditions were cause for some concern for Minden Region biologist supervisor Jeff Johnson, a 21-year veteran with LDWF, before the start of the deer hunting season on the region’s WMAs.

“We dang sure can stand some rain. I’ll put it like this. We’re not under a burn ban, but it’s shaping up” and possible, Johnson said in mid-July. 

At the time, he said, most of northeast Louisiana was in a severe drought and half of the LDWF’s Minden Region for WMAs was in an extreme drought. Also, he pointed out, last fall was fairly dry.

Browse conditions were “OK” as of July 1. But, he said later, “If it stays like this, it won’t wipe out the browse. But the body weight (of deer) might not be as high.”

The 21-year LDWF veteran biologist also is hopeful the mast crop is improved over last year. It was fair last year, he said.

Dry conditions would make some WMAs more accessible to deer hunters.

Bodcau WMA’s deer harvest topped his region last season with 184 deer taken, followed by Loggy Bayou WMA with 141.

Bayou Pierre WMA and Soda Lake WMA are the region’s archery-only areas. He has said in the past bowhunters favor those WMAs because they don’t have to compete against gun hunters.

This year marks the debut of the newest WMA in the Minden Region — John Franks WMA. The 3,664-acre area in Caddo Parish was created June 2 at a meeting of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.

It was part of Soda Lake WMA previously and known as the Franks Tract.

Seeing a group of deer feeding in the open during daylight hours is becoming rare, but this young buck and does aren’t concerned.

MONROE REGION

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2021-22

Boeuf WMA: 497 deer reported (1 deer per 103 acres), 311 bucks, 186 does 

Big Lake WMA: 247 deer reported (1 deer per 78 acres) 150 bucks, 97 does

Buckhorn WMA: 213 deer reported (1 deer per 53 acres), 123 bucks, 90 does

Bayou Macon WMA: 94 deer reported (1 deer per 74 acres), 52 bucks, 42 does)

Russell Sage WMA: 76 deer reported (1 deer per 495 acres), 47 bucks, 29 does

Monroe’s McGee, who we mentioned earlier in this article, and his staff are gearing up for the increased testing for CWD. McGee believes the CWD issue won’t prevent deer hunters from visiting Buckhorn WMA or Big Lake WMA. Only one deer was tested positive for CWD, but it has caused a flurry of activity from deer managers. Those areas are smack in the middle of the “red zone,” the CWD Control Area.

“People know the potential for quality on those areas and the quantity of deer,” McGee said.

In 2021-22, Big Lake WMA was second in total deer harvest behind Boeuf WMA, 497-247, while Buckhorn WMA was third with 213. McGee expects the three to dominate harvest reports again this season.

“Data collected at area check stations as well as harvest reports showed moderate harvest rates for all three areas. Body weights and lactation rates recorded showed evidence of good health as well as high recruitment for the future of these deer herds,” McGee said.

Past management practices on the region’s WMAs maintain and enhance the bottomland hardwood ecosystems, he noted. Mature hardwood trees and various woody browse plants in the understory combine for prime habitat for deer, he added.

Some of the region’s best bowhunting is at Big Lake WMA, where its southeast border touches Tensas National Wildlife Refuge.

What happened to Russell Sage WMA, a 38,213-acre area that gave up 76 deer in 2021-22? The deer harvest there the previous season was 147.

“It was an off year on Sage last season,” McGee said, citing hurricane damage the year before and a poor red oak mast crop that impacted deer and squirrel populations alike.

Brittany Jenkins took this public land 8-point on Jan. 3. It measured 127 inches.

PINEVILLE REGION

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2021-22

Dewey W. Wills WMA: 401 deer reported (1 deer per 137 acres), 202 bucks, 199 does

Alexander State Forest WMA: 55 deer reported (1 deer per 100 acres), 25 bucks, 30 does

Camp Beauregard WMA: 69 deer reported (1 deer per 181 acres), 42 bucks, 27 does

Sabine WMA: 43 deer reported (1 deer per 176 acres), 29 bucks, 14 does

Little River WMA: 12 deer reported (1 deer per 496 acres), 10 bucks, 2 does

Like the Minden Region, Pineville Region habitat and inhabitants were feeling the heat and the dry weather this summer.

Still, browse conditions remained fair to good “despite the dry period” on Dewey W. Wills WMA, reported Cliff Dailey, the region’s biologist supervisor.

“I don’t think it’ll have a big impact,” Dailey said.

He’s hopeful this year’s mast crop isn’t impacted negatively. He pointed out wildlife such as deer have other resources, as proved last season. Dewey W. Wills WMA’s deer harvest was 401 in 2022-23.

“Despite having a below average mast crop last year, harvest numbers remain higher than the 10-year average with lactation rates of adult does being 60 percent. These factors indicate that herd health and population are optimal for the area. Hunters should have a good opportunity to harvest a deer this season,” Dailey said in his report about Dewey W. Wills WMA.

The Pineville Region’s Alexander State Forest WMA had the region’s second-highest deer harvest last season with 55. Dailey, a 13-year LDWF veteran biologist, said browse conditions were good in the area as of mid-July.

Another plus is that timber thinning and increased prescribed fire continue to improve browse and overall habitat conditions, he said about Alexander State Forest WMA.

“Harvest numbers have been consistent for several years and herd health is good with lactation of adult does being 60 percent the last several years,” he said.

He recommended the WMA for hunters who like a mixture of pine and hardwood habitat.

COASTAL LAFAYETTE REGION

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2021-22

Atchafalaya Delta WMA: 45 deer reported (1 deer per *334 acres — 1 deer per 10.8 hunter efforts)

*NOTE: Used emergent habitat acreage on Main Delta only (not all of the WMA acreage is deer habitat, a large portion of the WMA is open water)

Salvador/Timken WMA: 9 deer reported (1 deer per 3,552 acres, 1 deer per 14.3 hunter efforts – 1 deer per 14.3 hunter efforts)

Pass-A-Loutre WMA: 3 deer reported (1 deer per 4.7 hunter efforts**)

**NOTE: Not all of the WMA acreage is deer habitat, a large portion of the WMA is open water

Atchafalaya Delta WMA’s youth hunts for deer are favorites among young hunters. Those youngsters ought to love the schedule for 2022-23. 

Vaughan McDonald, a 17-year LDWF veteran, and Lance Campbell, a 26-year veteran with LDWF, said youth hunts last season were handled differently than in the past. Those youth hunts will be expanded once again.

Previously, McDonald pointed out, youth hunts were conducted via lottery with assigned hunting spots on the Big Island. Last season and going forward, he noted, all youth hunts will be allowed using either shotgun loaded with buck shot or archery equipment on the entire Main Delta for the first two weekends of October.

During those two October weekends, the entire Main Delta is closed to all other hunters, plus, the Big Island is closed to all hunting other than youth deer hunting Oct. 1 through the last day of the youth deer seasons.

While the overall deer harvest was down in 2021-22, mostly due to Hurricane Ida’s devastating effects in late August, Atchafalaya Delta WMA’s harvest of 45 was only two less than 2020-21, McDonald wrote in his report. He expects this season to be the same because habitat conditions there are similar to the last two seasons.

The way things are shaping up in the preseason, hunters “should have ample opportunity to harvest deer at Salvador and Pass-a-Loutre WMAs,” according to McDonald. Both areas felt Hurricane Ida’s wrath.

Going into 2022-23, habitat conditions on those two areas are very similar to the previous two years. The biologist pointed out last summer browse availability in the freshwater marshy areas is mostly herbaceous with the exception of some woody browse species along the spoil banks.

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About Don Shoopman 484 Articles
Don Shoopman fishes for freshwater and saltwater species mostly in and around the Atchafalaya Basin and Vermilion Bay. He moved to the Sportsman’s Paradise in 1976, and he and his wife June live in New Iberia. They have two grown sons.

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