Make Your Luck

Use this guide to pinpoint the exact time you need to be in the woods to harvest that big buck you’ve been hunting all season.

Rowdy deer visits children’s store

Head manager Joseph Velesis said he tried to calm the deer by talking to it, but the animal panicked and charged toward the back of the store.

Linden authorities contacted the closest emergency unit with a tranquilizer gun, a Staten Island-based NYPD team.Team members fired three tranquilizer darts, and the officers were able to subdue the animal.

The deer was taken to the Linden animal shelter, and was expected to be returned to the woods once the tranquilizers wore off.

The 60,000-square-foot Planet Kidz is in a shopping center near a 26-acre forest. A Union County wildlife official said deer often get confused during this time of year, which is the height of mating season.

“They kind of get disoriented,” said Karen Invillo, assistant director of the county’s Trailside Nature Science Center.

 

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Try as I might, I couldn’t talk my sons into going hunting with me.

“Look,” I said. “This is the next-to-last weekend of the season. If there’s ever a chance to see a good buck in the woods, this is going to be it. The deer haven’t started rutting heavily yet, and they’re due. Every year the rut starts in early to mid-January.

“I know you haven’t seen very much, but if there was ever a time to be in the woods, this is it.”

I was wasting my breath. They were both good for about three weekends during a season, and then other interests prevailed. Invariably, they would be excited about the season, go several times each, see a few deer, get bored and not want to go at the end of the season when the bucks started rutting in the area of West Feliciana Parish we hunted.

Saturday morning dawned crisp, clear and cold — the second weekend of January, and the next-to-last weekend of the season. True to form, with the break of day, deer began moving through the hardwood bottom where I had hung my stand, and continued moving through it all morning.

I saw several bucks, more than I had seen in one morning all season, and I took a nice medium-sized 8-point I had watched earlier in the season. His neck was swollen, and his hocks stank from the urine and glandular scent washing down them. He was rutting, and the deer were moving.

My biggest regret was that I hadn’t been able to talk my boys into coming with me — they would have seen deer, maybe even getting a shot.

As the humorous AP story describes, male whitetails exhibit their least amount of caution each year during the rut. Every dedicated deer hunter knows the dictum to hunt during the rut. Like the lady said, “They kind of get disoriented…,” which is like saying Marie Antoinette kind of lost her head.

I’ve seen it time and again. You go all season long, wondering where the deer went, frustrating yourself with early morning stand sittings, walking in past fresh tracks, knowing the deer are there, but they seem to be hiding on purpose.

Then, one morning, a slight weather change occurs, and it’s like someone flipped a switch. Suddenly, you’re the smartest, most-skilled hunter in the woods — you can do no wrong. Seems like everywhere you look, there are deer. Hardly a 10-minute segment goes by that you aren’t looking at hair.

It’s axiomatic: The absolute best time to get a shot at a buck — any buck — is during the rut.

Therefore, if the foregoing is true, you should gear your entire hunting plan toward being in the woods as much as possible during the rut in your area. At no other time of the year are you going to be as likely to see, let alone get a shot at, a trophy buck.

I have hung portables on the sides of trees near a hot scrape line, and had does charge out of the thickets, running hell-bent away from a buck who would burst into the clearing, stand stupidly swinging his head, looking directly at me, then turn, whiffing the air, smelling for the doe he was pursuing and, wall-eyed, leap into the woods — never indicating he had recognized what I was, hanging there on the side of the tree.

I have had them trail does past me, their noses pressed to the ground like a bloodhound’s, grunting like deformed hogs, sucking in the scent from the interdigital glands between the hooves of the doe, never looking up, never seeing me, or even indicating they had any inkling I was in the area.

At the peak of the rut, bucks lose practically all their caution and most of their brains, charging around, chasing does with only one thing on their minds — and it is not avoiding you, higher up on the food chain and high up on the trees, intent on ending their affaires du amore’.

So if bucks, even the wild, impossible-to-hunt 3-year-and-older bucks, get so crazy during the peak of the rut, it behooves you to learn when that time is in the area you hunt, and plan on being in the woods as much as possible during that small window of opportunity.

Tommy Smith, field biologist for International Paper Company in Northwest Louisiana, hosts a two-day deer hunt for several members of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association (LOWA) every year in early November on IP land.

“We try to schedule around the peak of the rut every year. Up here, that generally occurs sometime between Nov. 1 and Nov. 15,” he said. “By doing that, we ensure the highest chance of success for these guys. Of course, they can take does, too. But during the peak of the rut, the does are moving, being pursued, or looking for bucks anyway, so you see more of them, too.”

Smith reiterated that when they hit it right, the success rate of the writer’s group is far higher than when they miss the peak. When they miss it, the sighting and the kill rates drop off tremendously.

So we had the idea of making it easy for you, our dedicated deer-hunting readers.

We would interview biologists all over the state, and find out exactly when to expect the peak of the rut in each area, put it into a map, color it up, and — voila! Instant buck! Or as close as you can come to it with the written word.

Accordingly, I contacted Dave Moreland, deer study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, to pick his brain. Accordingly, as every time I’ve called with a question about deer, Moreland has made it all simple.

“Sure, we’ve got that. I put it out in the yellow management booklet several years ago. It needs a little updating. Give me a week, and you can come pick it up,” he offered.

I remembered Moreland’s so-called “yellow” booklet — it proved immensely popular with folks interested in deer management several years ago. It provides a history of the deer herd and population in Louisiana from colonial times, offers management tips, gives statewide average live weights of deer, and offers a colored map showing peak breeding periods across the state. I even had one, stuck somewhere in a pile of materials on deer. It had been so long since I used it, I had forgotten about the breeding season map.

At the appointed time, true to his word as usual, Moreland handed me an updated colored map of the state, showing the LDWF hunting areas overlapped with color guides of the peak breeding periods in the entire state.

“An interesting thing about deer,” he told me, “is how they retain their breeding period genetically when they’re moved. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the LDWF used Pittman-Robinson Funds (the federal program that funnels federal monies to the states for game management and outdoor recreational improvements) to start a massive restocking program into areas where there were few or no deer.

“You know, younger generations of hunters don’t realize just how few deer there were in many areas of the state in the first half of the last century; they’ve grown up with this abundance of deer that just wasn’t there back then.”

“Right,” I replied. “I remember hunting with clubs and talking to old-timers back then where it was not only automatic expulsion from the club, but near grounds for murder if someone killed a doe. The old saying back then was kill a doe, kill a dozen deer.”

Moreland’s booklet states that by 1925, due to poor range, lack of management and year-round hunting pressure, the estimated whitetail deer population in the state was an all-time low of 20,000 animals — a far cry from today’s estimated herd of 1 million deer.

“We were sort of victims of our own success,” Moreland said. “By the time we got around to trying to convince these old-timers it was not only OK but desirable to kill does, we kind of got the herd out of balance. We should have started earlier trying to convince them, and it took years to get the mind-set changed.

“We’ve pretty well got everyone understanding management a whole lot better now, but back then, when there were few deer, no one wanted to kill does. Later, as we grew more successful, and the herds started overpopulating in areas, we had a hard time convincing these long-time hunters they were going to have to kill the does to keep the herd healthy.”

Pointing to the map, Moreland put his finger on an isolated spot of green in the sea of pink that is the upper Florida Parishes on his map.

“Right here,” he said, “is a perfect example. This area of East Feliciana Parish is roughly bounded on the west by Plank Road, the north by Highway 10, the east by the Amite River, and the south by the parish border with East Baton Rouge Parish.

“The deer in this area were transplanted there from the old Red Dirt management area back in the ’50s, so their peak breeding season is late October through November every year — much earlier than the rest of the Florida Parishes surrounding it.”

I thought back to hunting with friends on private land near the Avondale Scout Camp on Highway 10, and seeing scrapes and rutting activity in late October and early November. By the time gun season came along in late November, the rut was over.

“Most of the deer we moved back then,” he continued, “came from three areas: the Delta Refuge, down at Pass-A-Loutre at the mouth of the Mississippi River, Red Dirt area over in the western part of the state, and the old Chicago Mills area, now the Tensas Refuge. The department went and trapped deer where there was a heavy concentration, and didn’t worry about peak breeding times. That’s why there are scattered pockets of different breeding seasons.”

Moreland’s map gives a breeding-range period. I asked if it could be pinpointed to a particular week for the peak rut in each area?

“Not really,” he said. “It varies a bit from year to year. I think it has to do with the moon phases.”

That said, he then took the map, and tightened the time frame to the peak breeding times, adding another list, offering an even better way to plan your hunting season. I couldn’t get the week out of him, but with this map, and narrowing it down to the peak time period as he did, you get a better idea of when best to utilize your hunting days.

Interestingly, because of intense study of the areas, His management booklet offers a table titled, “Breeding Dates for Selected Louisiana Deer Herds.” With this list and our handy map, courtesy of Dave Moreland and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, maybe, just maybe, you’ll connect with that trophy this year.

At least, using these dates, you’ll greatly enhance your chances — and that’s called making your own luck.

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