Buck Bow-nanza

Louisiana has no shortage of opportunities for hunters who want to get a jump on the deer season.

Some of the year’s hottest weather in Louisiana occurs during the oppressive days of August and September.

Sure, fall is just around the corner, but you wouldn’t know it by glancing at the thermometer, with temperatures typically bumping the century mark.

Even though the weather will be hot and miserable, you can bet there will be one group of folks with an eye on the calendar. You’ll see them out in their back yards, sitting on make-do elevated platforms, slinging arrows at paper targets.

They’re Louisiana’s bow hunters, and they’re doing what they have to do to get ready for the upcoming season, which begins in a matter of weeks.

They’ll be getting in condition for what one bowhunter told me is the “short” game. In golf, it’s the accuracy of the putter that usually separates the hackers from the experts.

In bow hunting, the archer’s bow is his putter. He can’t expect to score a “birdie” if he’s not proficient at shooting accurately from within the range of a bow, which is usually 35 yards. any deer outside that range is a deer to be watched, not shot at.

Thus, becoming proficient with his archery equipment within ethical ranges is a must, and like in golf, there is no substitute for practice, practice and more practice, even if sweat is dripping off your nose and you’re flirting with heat stroke.

A bowhunter knows the deer he’ll be after in a few weeks is quite an adaptable creature. You can cut their woods, and they simply move over to an adjoining tract, returning to the clearcut when they’re hungry to feast on succulent new growth that explodes when the forest canopy is opened.

One factor of nature that takes deer longer to adapt is weather changes. During years of drought, especially in growing season, fewer fawns are born, which impacts the deer situation years down the road. Fewer fawns born this year translate to fewer adult animals to hunt the next couple of seasons.

Another problem not just bowhunters but all deer hunters have faced over the past few years has been milder than normal winters. This situation means that in general, deer have more to eat because succulent plant growth lasts on into winter when in normal years, deer are moving about looking for something to eat.

During warm weather when the rut is going on, bucks still chase and breed does, but most of the activity is at night when temperatures are more comfortable. Frustrated hunters hunker down over scrape lines and food plots only to be disappointed.

However, Mother Nature is an equalizer. The past few winters have been mild, and frankly, we’re due for a change. We may not get it, but darn it, we’re due.

It will be interesting to see just how the conditions of last year’s deer season, which favored deer and negatively impacted deer hunters, will have a bearing on the upcoming season. Weather that was too warm and a bumper crop of wildlife foods throughout the season meant that deer didn’t have to move about to find succulent forage. Thus, fewer were harvested.

The slow season last year means that more than a few wise old bucks lived to get another year older. With another year of age, most of these deer will have more antler mass this season, the exception being a deer that is past his prime and is basically going downhill.

With the odds hopefully being more in the hunter’s favor this season, those hunters who begin early have a better chance to collect their venison.

And of course, no group of hunters in the state begins their season earlier than bowhunters. The first Saturday in October is opening day for the majority of the state, although some areas will be open as early as mid-September. (Check current regulations for exact dates and areas.)

According to Wendell Smith, wildlife biologist with the Region 5 LDWF office in Lake Charles, some deer are bred quite early in this part of the state.

“We picked up a fawn the first week in March a couple of years ago, a deer someone had thought was abandoned. That deer’s mama had to have been bred in early September or maybe even in late August,” Smith said. “Although it is obvious there is breeding activity going on in this area this early, the peak of the rut usually occurs in mid-October.”

Four years ago, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries established Area 8, a small section along the Sabine River in portions of Calcasieu, Allen, Vernon and Beauregard parishes. Hunters had been complaining about seeing bucks chasing does before the season opened in this area, so the LDWF agreed to establish this area to allow hunters to take advantage of this early rut.

For the 2005-06 season, bowhunters can begin hunting Sept. 17 in Area 8 with the season ending Jan. 15, the same archery season dates as in Area 3 in south-central Louisiana.

Deer making their homes in the South Louisiana marsh generally run smaller in size than those in other parts of the state, according to wildlife biologist John Robinette.

“A 2 ½-year-old buck that weighs 130 pounds is a big deer for this part of the state. A couple of seasons ago, we had a buck that scored 128 on the Boone and Crockett scale, a buck that wouldn’t get a second look elsewhere in the state but a real trophy down here,” said Robinette.

Smith noted that Southwest Louisiana has several quality hunting areas that should favor bowhunters.

“In our area, bowhunters like the Boise Vernon and West Bay wildlife management areas. Also, there is the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, which has lots of deer. It’s a bowhunt-only area, but because of the terrain, it’s hard to get around in there,” said Smith.

One of the state’s most deer-rich regions is the area along Louisiana’s eastern boundary. Low-lying lands along the Mississippi River Delta are some of the most fertile lands in the state. Fortunately for deer hunters, there are several areas open to public hunting located in this region.

Lowrey Moak is a wildlife biologist with the Region 4 LDWF office in Ferriday. He noted that the rut occurs in this area later in the year than in most other portions of the state.

“The area between I-20 down to the southern end of Concordia Parish contains several public areas, some managed by the state, others by the federal government. State-owned areas include Three Rivers, Red River, Big Lake, Sicily Island Hills and Buckhorn wildlife management areas. Federal areas are the Tensas and Bayou Cocodrie national wildlife refuges,” said Moak.

“In general, the peak of the rut along the Mississippi Delta occurs from the end of December to the first of January. There are some real good deer in this area, and every season, a few hunters get their ‘buck of a lifetime’ from this area. I’ve seen several bucks brought to the scales at the check station that topped out over 300 pounds.

“The reason for this area being so good for raising quality deer has to do with the nutrition available as a result of the rich soils in the area. Add to this good genetics and deer getting some age on them, and there is the potential for hunters having a chance at a really big deer,” Moak added.

Another prime public area for bowhunters is often overlooked. While most hunters head for smaller hotspots to hunt deer, there is a gigantic public area, the Kisatchie National Forest, covering a big part of north and central Louisiana that doesn’t get as much hunting pressure.

This mammoth 600,000-acre area is broken up into five ranger districts by the U.S. Forest Service. The northern-most Caney Ranger District is comprised of three units, the Middle Fork unit, the Corney Lake unit and Caney Lakes unit. The three units of the Caney District comprise some 33,000 acres.

In addition to the Caney Ranger District, other districts, scattered from central Louisiana to the northernmost part of the state include the Catahoula, Calcasieu (which is comprised of the Evangeline and Vernon units), Winn and Kisatchie Ranger Districts.

More specifically, the Calcasieu District is the farthest south. The Vernon unit is located near Leesville, and the Evangeline south of Alexandria. The Kisatchie District sits just south of Natchitoches with Winnfield serving as the virtual southern boundary of the Catahoula district and the western boundary of the Winn District.

If you’re looking for variety in habitat types, bowhunters might want to give the Kisatchie National Forest a closer look. From hilly, rocky terrain to cypress sloughs to hardwood bottomlands to red clay pine hills, the Kisatchie has it all.

With so much land available to bowhunters, those who go after deer with archery equipment have an excellent chance to hunt without being crowded by other hunters. Ideally, those planning to hunt the Kisatchie will have done their homework by scouting areas they plan to hunt well before the season opens.

The opportunity to sit undisturbed in a climbing stand overlooking a hardwood bottom, oak ridge or cypress brake is a plus for those who hunt this special national forest.

Louisiana is blessed with a number of wildlife management areas where bow hunting is popular.

David Moreland, head of the LDWF’s Wildlife Division, notes that several state areas are particularly good for bowhunting.

“One of the better management areas for bowhunting is Sherburne. There are lots of deer there along with some good quality deer. Since Hurricane Andrew came through several years ago and knocked down lots of timber, the going is pretty rough in there. Even so, it’s worth the effort,” said Moreland.

“Another area that offers good deer hunting is Sabine. This management area features some really thick clearcuts, where deer feel right at home. The rut is early in this area, and hunters who bowhunt there in October have a good chance to hunt during the rut.

“Loggy Bayou in Northwest Louisiana is home to some really big deer and with no early gun hunting prior to bow season, this can only make bowhunting better.

“A couple of other good areas are Tunica Hills and Red Dirt. Tunica Hills has lots of deer, and with scattered clearcuts around the area, hunting adjacent to these can produce good results. On Red Dirt, find old privet and honeysuckle patches, and you’re in business.”

With this overview of conditions bow hunters are expected to encounter for the 2005-06 bow season, it’s time to climb on that shooting platform and fling some arrows, even if you’re drenched in sweat. Not only will you be able to fine-tune your shooting technique, you’ll be toning the muscles needed to shoot accurately.

About Glynn Harris 508 Articles
Glynn Harris is a long-time outdoor writer from Ruston. He writes weekly outdoor columns for several north Louisiana newspapers, has magazine credits in a number of state and national magazines and broadcasts four outdoor radio broadcasts each week. He has won more than 50 writing and broadcasting awards during his 47 year career.