The ridges of Tunica Hills WMA are the closest thing Louisiana has to the Smokies, but the woods there hold a deer population that is one of the best in the state.
Chris Davis had put in his time, scouting the rugged Tunica Hills to narrow down the options, and he had found what he hoped was the perfect set-up.
“I knew there was a good buck in the area because of the rubbings,” Davis said. “It was a travel corridor, and I knew they were traveling around the edge of a gully.”
Perched in a treestand along a low ridge that ran east to west, Davis was in position to watch two trails snaking near the ridge of Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area.
The hunter, who had spent many years on the public property as a biologist, had carefully picked the day to sit the site to ensure the wind was right and his scent wouldn’t blow over the two active trails.
And it was Jan. 19 — right at the height of the rut.
“I was set up right on the edge of a gully that ran parallel to the ridge,” he explained. “I was to the north of that gully, and there were two (game) trails. One ran parallel to the ridge and south of the gully, and the other one branched to the north of the gully.
“I was set up to shoot both sides of the gully.”
The first sign of a deer sent a boost of adrenaline spiking through Davis’ body, placing him on alert and chasing away any hint of boredom.
“The first thing I saw was big horns sticking up,” he said.
The rest of the buck soon materialized under what Davis quickly determined was a really nice rack, and he hurried to prepare his bow for the shot.
“I didn’t see a doe, but it must have been trailing one,” the hunter said. “It was on a mission.”
The buck, moving quickly and with purpose, turned at the branch of the two trails and headed straight for Davis’ concealed position.
“It crossed darn near under the tree I was sitting in,” he said.
The hunter doesn’t like to take straight-down shots with a bow, but this buck was too good to pass — and it didn’t look to be hanging around long.
So Davis quickly drew and, when the buck paused momentarily, loosed his arrow.
“The deer ran off, and I gave it about an hour,” the hunter said.
The long minutes finally ticked by as Davis replayed the scene in his head. While he was confident it was a good shot, he wasn’t quite sure just what he had shot.
“I knew it was a good buck because I had seen those long times, but I didn’t know just how big it was,” he said.
Finally, Davis climbed down and found a really good blood trail that soon disappeared into a thicket. That’s when he thought he had messed up.
“I got on my hands and knees and started into the thicket, when bloosh the deer comes out and runs off,” he said.
Most hunters have had that experience, which many times leads to lost deer.
Davis hurriedly pulled out of the area and let the deer sit for a couple more hours, and then picked up the trail again.
“I found it dead about 75 yards away,” he said. “I had gotten one lung (with the shot).”
But all the concern melted away when he saw the downed deer.
“You see those antlers sticking up, and you just go, ‘Oh, yeah!’” Davis said.
The deer was a dandy, with 10 long tines and great mass that pushed the score to the mid 130s.
Interestingly, the inside spread was only 14½ inches, which Davis said is about what to expect from deer there.
“You get those great big, long tines and you get mass, but you don’t get wide inside spreads on (Tunica Hill) deer,” he said.
The hunt during which Davis stuck his trophy was in 1996, and he has spent many days sitting in a tree on the property since then.
But his primary duty to the property is as a biologist for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and he said Tunica Hills WMA is a great place for deer hunters to head in terms of numbers and quality deer.
“It’s real high-quality soil, so we can grow food that tastes good and is high quality,” Davis said. “We can grow bigger deer than, say, in Tangipahoa Parish.”
That’s not to say the deer are monstrous, but there’s no question it’s one of the finest pieces of public property in southeastern Louisiana, Davis said.
“They’re going to grow a whole lot more deer and better deer on Cat Island, but we can grow pretty good deer,” he said.
Contributing to the great growing capacity is the large number of hardwoods — which basically make up the entire forest system. These hardwoods provide tons of acorns to send deer into the winter and rut in great shape.
Twenty years ago, when the WMA was brand new, large thickets also provided plenty of cover. That, however, has changed because the property hasn’t been extensively timbered since, so the forest is beginning to open up.
“The big saving grace for us was Hurricane Gustav, which knocked the tops out of a lot of trees,” Davis said.
That allowed more sunlight to hit the ground and promoted the growth of thick underbrush. And wildlife cuts are being planned to provide even more habitat.
“That’s going to improve the long-range habitat,” Davis said.
The population is pretty high; in fact, Davis said it’s on the high end of the property’s carrying capacity.
And that equates to one of the best kill ratios in the WMA system last year. The 352 muzzleloader hunters who hit the area last season killed 52 deer during the 17-day black-powder season. Those are excellent odds, translating into a deer for every 6.9 efforts.
The key to success is really understanding the property, which isn’t your typical Louisiana topography.
“It’s straight up and down,” Davis said.
In other words, it’s tough hunting. As ancient foothills, the Tunica Hills are some of the most-rugged land in the state.
“If you’ve got a bad back and hunt by yourself, you want to find another place,” Davis said.
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