2023-24 WMA Deer Forecast

Vidrine, others give Louisiana’s hunters the latest on the outlook for whitetails

One of the state’s most respected biologists, a true steward of public lands he oversees, has completed his last report for this annual Wildlife Management Area Deer Hunting Guide giving Louisiana hunters the outlook for whitetails.

Tony Vidrine has retired following a 40-plus year career with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The Lafayette Region’s biologist manager has shown a genuine concern for wildlife and habitat, particularly those threatened by flooding.

“I always work hard and it pays off,” Vidrine said. “That’s what I tell the young guys (young biologists).

“It’s very enjoyable. That’s why I stayed all the years I did. There’s a lot of diversity… you don’t do the same thing every day. There’s a lot of things going on.”

It’s been more than a job, he admitted.

His chief concern as he leaves the office is shared by many others, Chronic Wasting Disease. Vidrine, WMA biologists and other state biologists are emphasizing awareness about testing while adhering to regulations in place to try and contain the disease.

LDWF counted 12 cases last year in Tensas Parish after monitoring CWD for 20 years without a case in Louisiana.

Tensas Parish and parts of Madison, Franklin and Concordia parishes are in the LDWF’s CWD control area, where testing has been increased and hunting-related restrictions prohibit feeding, baiting and taking deer carcasses or parts outside the control area.

Besides controlling the disease’s spread, the main objective is to educate deer hunters on the critical importance of following procedures for transporting deer carcasses and heads from one area to another or across state borders.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t expand too much,” he said. “If we could just get people to do it right. Everybody’s got to be on the bandwagon. You can’t think you’re exempt from it, that’s for sure.”

Others concur.

James Donovan, biologist supervisor for WMAs in the Hammond Region, said, “You know, I’m highly concerned about it. I think it’s very damaging to a deer herd. All we can do is keep testing.”

Lake Charles Region biologist manager Wendell Smith, another veteran of many years, agreed and said, “We continue to test every deer head we can. We have a great CWD management plan.”


Hammond Region 2023-24 Outlook

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2022-23

Maurepas Swamp WMA: 81 deer reported (78 bucks, 3 does)

Pearl River WMA: 70 deer reported (49 bucks, 21 does)

Joyce WMA: 45 deer reported (36 bucks, 9 does)

Tunica Hills WMA: 31 deer reported (23 bucks, 8 does)

Sandy Hollow WMA: 26 deer reported (17 bucks, 9 does)

Seeing a big buck like this one during hunting season is a dream come true for Louisiana public land hunters.

Deer hunters who don’t mind trekking through muck, often using their feet just to find a root to keep their balance, can find prime deer hunting at Maurepas Swamp WMA.

James Donovan, recently appointed as biologist supervisor for the Hammond Region, said, “You’ve got to have knowledge of the area, where you’re going. It’s not for the faint of heart. It takes time and it takes hard work and determination.”

That sinking soil isn’t the only challenge. Mother Nature piles it on if it’s a mild winter with heat and mosquitoes. Deer hunters there should be rewarded this season, two years after Hurricane Ida in August 2021. The LDWF reacted to the damage by restricting antlerless harvest during youth weekend and archery only in both past seasons, he said, noting rules are reverting to previous season structures allowing either-sex harvest in some firearm segments.

“In my opinion I think the deer herd is fine after Ida. The deer herd is as good as it could be considering the circumstances,” Donovan said.

Hurricane Ida uprooted willow trees lining spoil banks and those areas have created briar thickets along canals to provide quality browse, the 22-year veteran biologist reported.

Maurepas Swamp WMA’s 2022-23 deer harvest of 81 was higher than the 55 killed there in 2021-22. The 34,619-acre Pearl River WMA, which gave up 70 deer last season, is a more accessible WMA. It has many roads and trails on the northern part of the area that has high hunter usage due to its proximity to New Orleans.

Two of the region’s smaller WMAs — Sandy Hollow WMA (6,503 acres) and Tunica Hills WMA (4,655 acres) —– are “sleepers” for deer hunting success in the Hammond Region. Sandy Hollow earns the description because multiple prescribed burnings on an area designated for quail research and management also benefits other species. Tunica Hill WMA qualifies as a sleeper because it is one of the region’s more fertile habitats that supports a healthy deer population.

“It has a pretty good deer herd,” Donovan said. “West Feliciana is known for pretty good deer.”


Lafayette Region 2023-24 Outlook

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2022-23

Sherburne WMA: 402 deer reported (1 deer per 109 acres), 224 bucks, 178 does

Richard K. Yancey WMA: 359 deer reported (1 deer per 192 acres), 201 bucks, 158 does

Thistlethwaite WMA: (*) 158 deer reported (1 deer per 70 acres), 89 bucks, 69 does

Grassy Lake WMA: 138 deer reported (1 deer per 95 acres), 95 bucks, 43 does

Pomme de Terre WMA: 68 deer reported (1 deer per 95 acres), 45 bucks, 23 does     

(*) Best harvest per acre in the Lafayette Region

Every hunter isn’t just after a big buck. Mature does like this one are a prize to put meat in the freezer.

Vidrine reported on how browse conditions are shaping up for the Lafayette region, saying conditions are best at Thistlethwaite WMA, Richard K. Yancey WMA and Sherburne WMA. In fact, he said, Thistlethwaite WMA’s habitat is “great,” mostly because of timber cutting.

“Thistlethwaite WMA continues to have a high-density herd due to past and continued logging. With all of the timber harvest… in the past few years, the access around this area is difficult, which makes deer hunting tough,” he wrote in his report.

He also reported that ag lands adjacent to the area contribute to the overall herd condition on Thistlethwaite WMA, where 158 deer were harvested in 2022-23. That was one deer per 70 acres, highest harvest per acre in the region.

“It’s tough hunting,” the veteran biologist said. “It’s got such dense understory there, a tough hunt. (But) if you want to get one that’s the place to go.”

As for Sherburne WMA, which gave up one deer per 109 acres last season, select logging made way for more food and cover in some areas. The deer per acre ratio there last season — 1 per 109 acres — was the best since 2013.

Richard K. Yancey WMA checked in with 201 bucks and 158 does during 2022-23. The deer herd has been “coming back a little bit” since flooding and should continue to do so, Vidrine said.

“The deer population has slowly increased since the 2018 harvest when high numbers of deer were harvested due to the high river levels. We have seen a gradual increase… each year since the 2019 season. We are anxious to see how the season prospers,” he reported.

Mast crop outlooks are favorable for all three WMAs. Intense feral hog trapping operations continue on Richard K. Yancey WMA and Thistlethwaite WMA.


Lake Charles Region 2023-24 Outlook

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2022-23

Fort Johnson-Vernon WMA: (*) 559 deer reported (1 deer per 176 acres, 1 deer per 11 hunter efforts – 6,426 hunter efforts), 347 bucks, 252 does.

Fort Johnson North WMA: (**) 486 deer reported (1 deer per 153 acres, 1 deer per 11 hunter efforts – 5,419 hunter efforts), 253 bucks, 233 does.

Clear Creek WMA: 429 deer reported (1 deer per 123 acres, 1 deer per 15 hunter efforts – 6,549 hunter efforts), 275 bucks, 154 does

West Bay WMA: 239 deer reported (1 deer per 248 acres, 1 deer per 16 hunter efforts 3,933 hunter efforts), 146 bucks, 93 does

Sabine Island WMA: 25 deer reported (1 deer per 347 acres, 1 deer per 13 hunter efforts—323 hunter efforts), 17 bucks, 8 does

(*) Formerly Fort Polk-Vernon WMA

(**) Formerly Peason Ridge WMA

Blake Oquain was hunting on Sabine Island WMA when he got this big buck on Nov. 5. He tagged out with three public land bucks this past season; two on Sabine Island and one at Peason Ridge WMA.

The Lake Charles Region’s WMAs are still showing some effects of Hurricane Laura in late August 2020, followed two months later by Hurricane Delta. Veteran LDWF biologist Wendell Smith, region manager the past 16 years, emphasized that when talking about deer hunting prospects for 2023-24 in the region. Nevertheless, the region’s WMAs yielded beaucoup deer last season as persistent deer hunters, many who scouted beforehand, were rewarded.

“Although it has been three years since the 2020 hurricanes… the areas continue to challenge our WMA users. Lush understory growths provide browse forage for deer…,” Smith wrote in his report. “Flourishing growth of early successional vegetation has provided above average selection for deer, forage for rabbits along with increased seed bank production for doves, turkeys, quail and song birds.”

The 34-year veteran biologist said he expects to see gaudy harvest numbers similar to those recorded last season at Fort Polk-Vernon WMA (now Fort Johnson-Vernon WMA) – 599; Peason Ridge WMA (now Fort Johnson North WMA) – 486; Clear Creek WMA – 429, and West Bay WMA – 239. They are sometimes called the ‘Big Four’ in the Sportsman’s Paradise.

The deer harvest reached those levels due to the amount of groceries on the ground, a rich after-effect of the storms.

“With the increase in food, deer are healthy and babies are born healthy,” Smith said. “As long as we have the weather on opening weekends and no open weekend training (on military bases), I predict similar harvest as last year.”

His advice to those planning to hunt deer on any of the region’s WMAs is the same as it’s been for several decades: “If you’re new to a WMA, you  want to get there early and scout. They’re all going to be good,” he said, noting West Bay WMA, which is flat and thick, is just as promising as the other Big Four.


Minden Region 2023-24 Outlook

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2022-23

Bodcau WMA: 161 deer reported (1 deer per 209 acres), 108 bucks, 53 does

Loggy Bayou WMA: 117 deer reported (1 deer per 55 acres), 69 bucks, 48 does

Soda Lake WMA: 14 deer reported (1 deer per 179 acres), 8 bucks, 6 does

Bayou Pierre WMA: 14 deer reported (1 deer per 200 acres), 7 bucks, 7 does

John Franks WMA: 14 deer reported (1 deer per 260 acres), 6 bucks, 8 does

James McMillian with his 12-point buck harvested with a primitive gun at Loggy Bayou WMA in Bossier Parish on Nov. 29.

Two of the Minden Region’s most prolific public lands for deer harvest opportunities going into 2023-24 are Bodcau WMA and Loggy Bayou WMA.

No one knows that better than Minden Region biologist manager Jeff Johnson, who has been with LDWF for 22 years. Their history of giving up deer each season is well-documented, Johnson said.

Bodcau WMA’s deer harvest last season led the way in his region with 108 bucks and 53 does for 161, while Loggy Bayou WMA’s deer harvest count was 69 bucks and 48 does for 117.

“Both have good deer herds and are consistently the Top 2 in this region for total deer harvest,” Johnson said.

He was optimistic browse conditions for deer would pull through during the hot dry spell the region was going through this summer.

“Oh, yeah, we’ve got some rain off and on,” he said. “We’re pretty good unless it shuts off. Conditions are good.”

Browse is in good shape so far and, hopefully, those occasional rains continue as needed to keep it that way, he added. As far as the mast crop, it was considerably better last year than the previous two years.

Fawns were showing up at the dry time across the region based on numerous phone calls his office was receiving from concerned citizens. The biologist and others have seen some, too.

Which WMA suits different styles of deer hunting?

“If you’re a gun hunter, Bodcau. There are more acres for numbers of people. If I was a bowhunter, I don’t know which one I’d go to, probably not Bodcau, whichever was closer. My choices would be Loggy or Pierre (Bayou Pierre),” he said, adding Loggy Bayou is nearest to him. Bayou Pierre WMA gave up 14 deer in 2022-23. That area and Soda Lake WMA are archery only WMAs.


Monroe Region 2023-24 Outlook

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2022-23

Boeuf WMA: 351 deer reported, 204 bucks, 147 does

Russell Sage WMA: 205 deer reported, 135 bucks, 70 does

Big Lake WMA: 179 deer reported, 100 bucks, 79 does

Buckhorn WMA: 161 deer reported, 107 bucks, 54 does

Bayou Macon WMA: 78 deer reported, 41 bucks, 37 does

J.C. “Sonny” Gilbert: 33 deer reported, 24 bucks, 9 does

This buck was taken Oct. 1 at Buckhorn WMA by Bryce Evers. It was located the morning of Oct. 2 after a 3,226 yard track. The buck scored 128 1/8.

Russell Sage WMA deer hunters experienced a resurgence there last season. They killed 205 deer as Russell Sage rebounded from uncharacteristically low deer harvests  for the 38,213-acre WMA (76 deer in 2021-22 and 147 in 2020-21).

Last season’s harvest opened some eyes. It was only the fifth-highest in the region. But the previous dropoff wasn’t unexpected

“You know, we have had bad flooding the last couple of years,” biologist Mitch McGee said. “But we had some timber sales the last few years in that area and there’s a lot of browse growing up.

“In another area to the south, we had some land acquisitions (Bosco Road area) and reforested 3,500 acres of trees.”

There were some reforesting efforts done up to 10 years ago and others within the last year or two to create browse, escape cover and good deer habitat.

Fewer does figured into the harvest the past few years, so there was more recruitment, according to the 13-year veteran state biologist.

“Deer kind of flourished up our way, McGee said. “They had some good success. A lot of it was just habitat improvement, quite a bit.”

Boeuf WMA’s deer harvest of 351 led the way last season in the Monroe Region. Like Russell Sage WMA, Boeuf WMA has benefitted from timber harvests particularly the Crow Field area on the lower part. Hopefully, getting sunlight on the ground to generate foliage offsets fairly subpar mast crops the past few years since a snow event and a hurricane hit Boeuf WMA, McGee said.

“There’s plenty of browse out there and I think we’ll have a good mast crop this year,” he said.


Pineville Region 2023-24 Outlook

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2022-23

Dewey W. Wills WMA: 378 deer reported (1 deer per 145 acres), 215 bucks, 163 does

Alexander State Forest WMA: 62 deer reported (1 deer per 131 acres), 38 bucks, 24 does

Esler Field WMA: (*) No numbers reported.

Sabine WMA: 103 deer reported (1 deer per 67 acres), 69 bucks, 34 does

Little River WMA: 26 deer reported (1 deer per 249 acres), 15 bucks, 11 does

(*) Formerly Camp Beauregard WMA

A fresh rub like this is one of the tell-tale signs that a buck comes this way on a regular basis.

A veteran LDWF biologist points outdoorsmen who enjoy hunting deer on public land to the top two areas in the Pineville Region. Cliff Dailey noted deer hunters harvested 378 on Dewey Wills WMA in 2022-23, tops among the region’s WMAs. Its harvest count last season was above the 10-year average with lactation rates for adult does at 70-plus percent, Dailey reported. Considering those points, the 14-year biologist believes “hunters should have a good opportunity to harvest a deer this season.”

Deer hunters might want to plan a hunting trip during peak rut on Dewey Wills WMA. It’s later in the year than other public areas in this region — usually Jan. 2-15. Browse conditions there are favorable going into the season because of the amount of early rainfall, according to Dailey.

The second-highest number of deer killed on public land in the region was 62 at Alexander State Forest, a popular destination for deer hunters who prefer hunting a mixture of pine and hardwood habitat.

Harvest numbers have been consistent the past few years, Dailey reported. One reason is lactation rates in adult does has been 60 percent or higher, indicating a healthy deer herd. Last year’s lactation rate was 90 percent.

Timber thinning projects and more prescribed burns have led to improved overall habitat conditions, plus browse availability.

The peak rut falls Nov. 7-20 on Alexander State Forest WMA, which happens to be the earliest on the Pineville Region’s WMAs.

Those factors, plus ample spring rains, point to more successful deer hunting.


Coastal Lafayette Region 2023-24 Outlook

Top WMA Deer Harvest Numbers for 2022-23

Atchafalaya Delta WMA: 59 deer reported (1 deer per * 254 acres — 1 deer per 11.2 hunter efforts)

Salvador/Timken WMA: 13 deer reported (1 deer per 3,552 acres, 1 deer per 16.7 hunter efforts)

Pass-A-Loutre WMA: 2 deer reported (1 deer per ** 57,500 acres – 1 deer per 13.0 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

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

Scouting and good planning prove there are plenty of good bucks on the state’s public lands.

There will be more deer hunting opportunities for young boys and girls this season at the Atchafalaya Delta WMA. During the first two weekends in October, youths can hunt deer on the entire Main Delta using either a shotgun loaded with buckshot or with bow and arrow. During those weekends, the entire Main Delta is closed to all other deer hunters, plus Big Island will be closed to all hunting other than youth deer hunting Oct. 1 through the final day of youth deer seasons.

Vaughan McDonald, Coastal Lafayette Region biologist manager, was pleased to announce those increased opportunities.

“This change in the youth season began with the 2021-2022 season and is expected to remain this way for the foreseeable future,” the 18-year veteran biologist said in July.

Atchafalaya Delta WMA boasted the highest deer harvest among the other Coastal Region WMAs with 59 deer killed in 2022-23, an increase over 2021-22 when 45 deer were harvested. McDonald expects deer harvest numbers to be as good or better this season barring major tropical weather events in the region.

He said habitat conditions are favorable once again. Salvador/Timken WMA and Pass-A-Loutre WMA are other options for deer hunters. Thirteen deer were harvested on the former and two deer killed on the latter in 2022-23.

About Don Shoopman 534 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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