Miracle Mud

It’s the rich soil that causes the bucks in the Atchafalaya region to grow such big head gear.

The shot rang out from the direction of my son David’s stand. In my little shooting house, I quietly pumped my fist and whispered, “YES!”I glanced at my watch; it was 7:04 a.m.

“The deer must be moving,” I softly continued.

Twenty minutes later, I spotted movement about 100 yards away in the direction Shane Wiggins said I would.

“You’re not going to have much time to decide whether or not to take him,” he had told me. “We knocked the grass down with the airboat to create a shooting lane, and it ain’t wide.”

I quickly raised my gun, took aim and then lowered it. Though the buck was a big-bodied animal, his antlers looked like cow horns. He was just a nasty spike with main beams and no points. I knew what this ground produced, and I had all weekend to take a really special buck, if I could hold off.

Around 9:30 the airboat pulled up to the canal bank and Wiggins stepped out to get me.

“Did you see anything?” he asked.

“Yeah, I saw a big spike,” I replied.

“Why didn’t you shoot him? I said you guys could take anything,” he reminded me.

“Well, I know you did, but I’m holding out. Man, I know what kind of deer y’all produce. I still have this evening and tomorrow. Besides, David shot,” I said.

“That was David who shot?” he questioned excitedly; but he knew as well as I did, because of the location the shot came from. Like a lot of us, Wiggins gets jazzed when the teenagers score.

“Yeah, and I’m pumped up. This is not his first deer, but first buck,” I responded, with my proud Daddy grin ear to ear.

The hunt took place the weekend before Christmas 2003 on a private lease in St. Mary Parish near the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area.

Like many leases in the area, this is managed land, where the taking of an 8-point or better buck is strictly enforced.

In our case, we had experienced a poor season at our club. Wiggins invited us over as a last chance to put some meat in the freezer before the season ended. I figured on my two boys taking care of that. I was looking for a rack, and this was the place to do it.

Texas has its “Hill Country” and Alabama has its “Black Belt.” Both are known to produce excellent deer hunting and trophy whitetail bucks.

With that said, an overlooked region in my opinion, extends outward from Morgan City in a 25-mile radius in all directions.

This hotspot includes the eastern two-thirds of St. Mary Parish and smaller parts of St. Martin, Assumption and Terrebonne parishes on the east. Those parishes cover portions of two state hunting areas — 6 and 7. The surrounding land is largely private leases.

However, that should not discourage anyone from thinking there isn’t an opportunity here, especially if you’re a bow hunter.

The Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management area rests a short boat ride south of Morgan City, and is open to the public. The WMA allows camping and reasonable access for everyone. Moreover, the trophy bucks the WMA produces are next to phenomenal.

Public record shows a number of deer taken off this WMA that score close to 130. The Brewer buck was taken on Atchafalaya Delta WMA, and has never been scored.

In addition to excellent bowhunting opportunities, the WMA holds a youth-only gun hunt around the Christmas holidays? This is a beginner’s luck, dream-hunt opportunity for many youths under 16 years of age.

On New Year’s day, I had the privilege of rough scoring a buck that totaled 144-6/8 after deductions that was taken off of private land in Patterson. If that weren’t enough, the next week, one of the guys I work with showed me pictures of the buck he had taken on private property near Stephensville. I had the privilege of scoring his buck, when it came back from the taxidermist this spring. Broussard’s buck scored 135 after deductions.

Wiggins has taken two exceptional bucks over the past several years on his private hunting club’s lease. Moreover, he and his brother Brian have guided a number of friends and family members to “lifetime” trophy bucks.

I have been in the living rooms of two other local acquaintances to see their bucks. One was a monster 12-point and the other a huge non-typical 16-point. Both were taken from the same lease in this geographical area surrounding Morgan City.

The question hunters have to ask themselves is why? In an essay by Forest Technical Services Administrator Timothy L. Evans titled “Down and Dirty Deer Management,” the author focuses on two points. The first is the fertility of the soil, combined with a long growing season. To quote Evans, he says, “Basically it’s all about the dirt.” The second point is age.

The Atchafalaya Delta region surrounding Morgan City is virtually a deer buffet. I have watched deer browse hardwood hackberry leaves and willow tree leaves, and eat wild persimmons. They love green briar, black berry vegetation and white acorn mast, and I have seen them eat palmetto seeds by the mouthful.

As the Delta pushes closer to the marshes, the deer feed on succulent water vine (alligator weed) and what we call deer peas. These legumes grow on a vine that I have seen climb up roseau cane, myrtle tree limbs and anything else that will form a trellis in the marsh.

Find a pea patch and you’ll find deer close by. I have seen these patches so thick the deer have broken trails through them. These patches continue to produce until the first hard frosts hit, which is often close to Christmas.

One of the guys in my hunting club has tinkered the past couple years with food plots. He had a net zero success sitting over them. I am certainly sure that food plots work under the right circumstances and right locations. However, in the Delta region the food on the buffet is just too good to pass up.

In order to produce quality deer, the animals have to reach an age old enough to have the opportunity to grow a good set of antlers. Evans points out that 3 1/2 years is the minimum age a buck requires to develop trophy headgear. Therein lies the prime ingredient to bagging a trophy in this region.

As I mentioned, many of the clubs in the area have strict 8-point-or-better rules. Many also participate in the State’s Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). For meat, they take does and let the younger bucks walk, as difficult as that is sometimes.

If private land hunting is your thing, I wouldn’t give up hope trying to hunt in this region. Each year I see a number of clubs running ads for members in the local papers. If you’re the proactive type, run your own ad and shake the bushes a little.

Finally, most of the land leased to hunters is not privately held by individuals. It is typically owned by corporations that have waiting lists you can get on. I suggest contacting the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries or local chambers of commerce for possible information that can point you in the right direction.

When we got to David, he was waiting impatiently in his tree stand and said, “Gawh Dad! I couldn’t take it much longer. I shot over two hours ago. I called Momma on my cell phone to tell her. She told me to go see where he went. I told her no, ’cause y’all said to stay in my stand.”

David was some excited.

“Where’s he at?” I asked him.

“I don’t know. He ran that way,” he replied.

“Did you get a good shot on him?” I asked while walking in the general direction he pointed.

“Yes, sir. He ran though.”

“He didn’t go far buddy,” I reassured him. “That .257 Roberts has a fast bullet. He most likely didn’t even know he was hit.”

We walked no more than 60 yards when we found his big 6-point piled up in the cover — the last place David saw him. David’s shot was exactly where he aimed, slightly behind the shoulder. The bullet took out both lungs. He wasn’t going far.

There is nothing like being part of these kinds of experiences with your children. As for me, I never placed my scope on another deer the rest of the weekend. That was O.K. with me. My son took his first buck — a big one at that. Moreover, Wiggins invited us back for the opening week this year. He promised to put me in a spot where I’ll take a big Atchafalaya Delta trophy buck.