Ground Check

Want to kill a deer on Bogue Chitto NWR? Then you’d better leave your climber at home.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Washington Parish deer hunter Alan Williams hunted Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge from the ground because he wanted to. Now, more than six years after the historic hurricane, he hunts from the ground because he has to.

“Especially during November,” Williams pointed out. “During the first part of the rifle season, if you go over 10 feet up a tree, you can hardly see a thing on the ground.”

The problem with getting high up a tree in Bogue Chitto Refuge nowadays is that the understory vegetation is so thick during November that it effectively blankets animals that walk directly under you if you’re above ground.

Hurricane Katrina blew down so many of the bigger trees that it opened up the forest floor below to penetrating sunlight. And as most any land-manager hunter knows, opening up the forest floor to sunlight causes the natural seed bank in the soil to explode in new growth.

Williams has discovered over many years on Bogue Chitto that hunting from the ground doesn’t put him at any disadvantage when it comes to shooting animals.

In fact, this opportunistic hunter has had deer and hogs come so close he could have cut their jugulars with a knife rather than shooting them with his gun.

“Before Katrina, I had walked in one day, and the fellow with me wanted to know where I had killed a hog the day before,” Williams recalled. “He wound up hunting that spot, and I walked on farther to get away from him.

“I walked all the way to Persimmon Bayou, and the woods were so open at that time that I turned around, and I could still see him.”

Williams couldn’t see him all that well, but he could see his hunter’s orange. He walked around where he had some trees between him and his hunting buddy, and found a log that he could sit on and lean up against a tree.

“I put my back to Persimmon Bayou and couldn’t go any farther because I couldn’t cross that bayou,” Williams continued. “Less than 30 minutes later, I heard activity behind me, so I stayed still because I knew it was coming.

“It was two deer that came up out of Persimmon Bayou and walked right to the end of the log I was sitting on.”

The doe and good-sized yearling were no more than 20 feet away from Williams. Trying to get a whiff of something she knew wasn’t quite right, the doe stretched her neck and turned her head to the left.

Being that it was a doe day, Williams took advantage of her looking away from him and shot her. Even though the understory was open back in those days, Williams had success simply sitting on a log.

Now, those open woods have essentially become one giant briar patch. And as Williams has discovered since Hurricane Katrina, seeing animals from above has become downright impossible.

“The year after Katrina, there were some major briars so thick you couldn’t see the trees that had fallen into those briars,” Williams recalled. “But every now and then, you could find one that was still up and not all the way on the ground. I used to climb up on those leaning trees and hunt.”

From his perch above, Williams could see hog trails through the briars below him. He hunted one evening on a leaning tree like this, and a pack of hogs came up right below him. As Williams remembers it, he took his safety off at least 10 times.

“I kept thinking I was going to get a shot,” he said. “I could see the black sow, but she would come into the only opening I could see through for a second and walk right back out.

“She stayed there the whole evening until dark — her and a whole pack of her hogs — and I never could get a shot on her just because I was too high and I couldn’t see her. She wasn’t 20 yards from me.”

As you can see from these two examples, the decision to hunt from a tree before Hurricane Katrina was based more on whether you wanted to carry a climber into the woods. Now, you’ve got to have a place you know you can see from above to justify carrying a climber.

And if you were to carry a climber in without having the perfect destination in mind, you’re going to be searching a long time for a place where you could see from above. According to Williams, you’ll spend all your time searching for a spot and no time hunting.

If you think hunting from the ground will put you at a disadvantage because animals could more easily bust you, think again. Williams has had several encounters with critters with his kids right by his side.

“Last year, the Friday after Thanksgiving — it wasn’t a doe day — a cold front was blowing in,” Williams said. “That evening, the rain quit, and I told my daughter some animals would be moving. With her, you can’t get on a climber; you have to stay on the ground. We took a seat, and I saw a deer slipping through the bushes about 20 yards from us, and it never knew we were there.”

Williams figured out through his scope that it was a big-bodied doe. All the while, he was trying to grow horns on it. While sitting on a log between two thickets, he faced his daughter one way while he watched the other.

“About 5:00, Siera started asking me when we were going to leave,” Williams continued. “I told her not now, because it was just getting right.

“I’m trying to whisper this to her, but she was getting antsy. She asked what time it was again, and I whispered to her that it was time to shoot. When I turned my head back around, there was a hog standing there looking at me.”

Now, Williams doesn’t want anybody to get him wrong. He realizes there are some places where hunters can have good hunts from up a tree during November. However, those spots take plenty of prior planning to scout out.

If you’re just going to Bogue Chitto Refuge for a quick hunt, unless you’re really energetic and want to pack your climber around until 8 in the morning before finally finding a good spot to get off the ground, ground hunting may be the ticket for you.

And if ground hunting makes you think of running out and buying one of those camouflage pop-up blinds, Williams says that’s not necessarily the case at Bogue Chitto.

“I wouldn’t hunt out of a ground blind down there strictly because you don’t know where the animal is coming from,” Williams insisted. “You don’t know which way he’s coming from, and you don’t know how many there’s going to be.

“To me, sitting in that ground blind, you can’t hear. I want 360 degrees of visibility around me. I don’t even like leaning up against a tree because I can’t see what’s behind me.”

Williams has had numerous animals walk within 20 yards of him while sitting on a log decked out in his hunters’ orange. Granted, just about all of them have been does and hogs, but that’s exactly what an opportunistic hunter is looking for, especially during the refuge’s doe days.

However, it’s not like you can just plop down on a log and move around all you want without alarming nearby animals. Because he is so out in the open, Williams keeps his movements to a minimum to keep from getting picked out.

“Those deer down there see movement,” Williams said. “If the animal is moving fast, you more than likely can move your head quicker. But if it’s slipping, and you’re just hearing a step every now and then, you better move slow because that animal is on the lookout.”

Although Williams has plenty places picked out with which he is familiar, he did pass along a few tips about selecting a really good spot for ground hunting.

“A lot of times, I like to hunt on the edge of thickets,” he pointed out. “Those deer in Bogue Chitto like to travel thickets, and they’ve got trails in those thickets. But a lot of times, if you get right on the edge of a thicket, you’re going to see them, especially if you’ve got intersecting trails where animals could come from any direction.”

To maximize hunting intersecting trails, Williams likes to hunt those that are close to a good water source or a big white oak tree dropping big acorns on the ground. And he always stays downwind of the trails that he hunts.

Even though it sounds like hunting the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge would be akin to hunting the Amazon Rainforest, Williams says that on the ground, he can see out to 50 to 80 yards in most spots.

And most of the time that he sees movement, he can make out the whole animal rather than bits and pieces. From an elevated perch in a climber, Williams says it would be more likely that he could only pick out bits and pieces of an animal through the green canopy between him and the ground below.

Perhaps there are better ways to hunt Bogue Chitto for big bucks than by sitting on the ground, but that’s not what Williams is after. He is an opportunistic hunter looking for any animal — deer or hog — to shoot.

For Williams, hunting from the ground means meat on his table.

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About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at chrisginn.com.

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