Eight years ago state managers began an experiment designed to grow quality bucks on Thistlethwaite WMA. Those efforts seem to be paying off in spades.
Gerald Ducote of Melville had reason to be optimistic on Dec. 26.
He, his father Kirt Rodriguez and his brother-in-law Jason Bergeron had left the woods that evening after seeing 1 ½- year-old bucks and spikes chasing does within the interior of Thistlethwaite Wildlife Management Area.
“We had been hunting active deer sign on the edges of a 2-year-old cutover,” the 27-year-old crane operator said. “There were rubs and scrapes just all over the area.”
The next grey, cold morning found Ducote jacking up a tree in his Summit climber, facing the cutover. The wind was at his face, and he was ready to see deer.
“It was 45-degrees, and my clothes were wet from traveling to the area through thick stands of palmettos at 5 a.m.,” Ducote recalled. “I was very cold, and just about ready to stop and get down from the tree.”
The next thing Ducote heard was something crashing through the cutover thicket to his left.
“There was a doe coming out of the cutover, and a buck was trailing about 30 seconds behind her,” he said. “I saw immediately that he had four points on one side.”
After the doe ran just 20 yards in front of the hunter, he readied himself and his .300 WSM.
After the weapon unleashed its projectile, the buck fell into a nearby thicket.
“I could tell I hit him dead in the front shoulder, but after he fell I couldn’t see him anymore,” Ducote said. “I didn’t get a really good look at his antlers — just that he had those four points.”
His father was hunting not very far from the area, and he got to the deer before Ducote.
“I didn’t think the buck was that big, but I remember hearing him count the points out loud,” Ducote said. “And then he started whooping pretty loud.
“I did, too, when I finally saw the buck for the first time.”
The reason for celebration was that it was a great buck — an 11-pointer (7×4) with massive 5-inch circumferences, 12-inch G2 tines the longest main beam running 25 3/4 inch and a 16 1/2-inch inside spread.
“We field dressed the buck before taking him to the weigh station,” Ducote said. “On the scale, field dressed, he weighed 187 pounds.”
When the buck was later scored, it would become the largest taken at Thistlethwaite for the 2011-12 season.
“It grossed 153 5/8 (inches) B&C,” said Tony Vidrine, District 6 biologist manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. “Its final net score was 142 4/8.”
The deer wasn’t a yearling, either.
“He was an old buck — real old.” Ducote said. “A biologist estimated his age to be around 8 ½ years and (he was) probably on his way down. His teeth weren’t looking that good, and he was not a very heavy buck compared to others in Thistlethwaite.
“But that’s why I hunt Thistlethwaite. It’s the only place available to me where I can go in Louisiana and kill a 150-class buck.”
Quality deer can show up pretty much anywhere on Thistlethwaite, Gerald Ducote said.
“No spot is a bad spot,” Ducote said. “The trail cam pics of deer I have over the years keep me going back.”
Make no mistake, however: Hunting Thistlethwaite WMA successfully is not for those who expect immediate results.
“They’re almost impossible to pattern during the rut, and you have to move constantly to stay on them,” Ducote said.
But this successful public-lands hunter does follow some rules.
“During the rut (late-December through January), we’ll hunt deer sign, rublines and scrapes,” Ducote explained. “And once the rut is on I’ll look for sign, does and activity.
“If the does are there and they’re active, the bucks won’t be far behind.”
The rut occurs from December into January are months, so hunters can take advantage of the bucks-only and muzzleloader segments, as well as the remaining archery season that runs to Feb. 15.
Ducote takes full advantage of the season, hunting with archery equipment, black powder and rifle.
Of course, the amount of time he spends at Thistlethwaite also aids his efforts.
In the hunter’s opinion, Thistlethwaite WMA is one of those few quality places in Louisiana that offers a reasonable chance to get a high-quality deer.
In fact, he said Thistlethwaite deer are as fine in terms of quality as can be found anywhere. Period.
“I’ve hunted Nebraska and other northern states,” Ducote said. “Our deer show quality, especially in antler mass.”
However, hunting pressure can be an issue.
“When there’s pressure — more people in the woods — the less deer you see actually,” he said.
So he doesn’t just sit in a stand and cross his fingers.
“During the rut, I will use estrus scents, but calling deer has not been successful for me,” Ducote said.
His Thistlethwaite experience has been so positive that the hunter would like to see the experiment expanded.
“I wish they (LDWF) would place these antler restrictions statewide,” Ducote. “Under this type of management, people can still cull spikes if they wish to.”
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