Thistlethwaite WMA – the 10-year quality deer management experiment

Thistlethwaite WMA’s 11,000 acres of palmetto-laced hardwoods, located six miles north of Washington on state Highway 10 will be entering year eight of a 10-year experiment designed to deliver quality whitetail bucks such as Ducote’s.

The quality management regulations on the property limit public hunters to take only spikes or bucks with at least four antler points (at least 1 inch long) on one side.

The taking of any buck not meeting these restrictions is prohibited.

A “slot restriction,” of sorts, the goal of this management prescription is to move at least 50-percent of the bucks usually taken at 1 ½-years of age or younger into the older buck segment of the deer herd.

At its inception, the experiment at Thistlethwaite WMA was designed in response to LDWF surveys demonstrating that a large percentage of hunters (86-percent) statewide were in favor of quality deer management.

“I want hunters to understand that (quality deer management at Thistlethwaite WMA) is not trophy management, which is aimed toward allowing bucks to get to be 4 to 6 years of age before harvesting them,” biologist manager Tony Vidrine said. “Sure, a few trophies will appear, as they have always shown up here even before we started the experiment.

“We have always had deer taken in the 140s and above at Thistlethwaite.”

In 1975, a beautifully palmated 180 5/8-inch B&C 13-pointer was taken by Shawn Ortego of Ville Platte. This trophy made statewide news because it was the first, high-ranking trophy buck taken following the restocking era in Louisiana.

Prior to the Ortego buck, there were only three other higher-scoring typicals. These deer were taken in 1914, 1943 and 1961.

Now ranked at No. 5 in the typical gun division of the Louisiana Big Game Records, the Ortego buck has been eclipsed only once by a buck taken in trophy-rich Avoyelles Parish by Donald Riviere, an 11-pointer scoring at 182 5/8 B&C inches in 1998.

Vidrine said the heftiest buck in the Thistlethwaite WMA records was one that weighed 332 pounds.

Over the years, Thistlethwaite WMA has delivered its share of trophy whitetails to the record book — two modern gun trophies, three archery trophies and three muzzleloader trophies.

There has been some confusion as to the brood stock origin of the “restocked” deer of Thistlethwaite.

In the past, newly retired wildlife chief David Moreland claimed the deer here were restocked from the Chicago Mills area (now called Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge). Many area hunters, however, continue to claim that these deer have genetics from some Wisconsin “blue” deer that came from 363 traded to Louisiana from Wisconsin.

But here is the actual record of Thistlethwaite WMA restocking courtesy of LDWF deer study leader Scott Durham:

• 1961— eight males and seven females from Madison and Tensas parishes released at Thislethwaite.

• 1962— 10 males and 15 females from Madison and Tensas parishes released at Thislethwaite.

Regarding habitat and nutrition, Thistlethwaite WMA is well-known for its diversity of forage produced by tremendous mast-producing forests, along with a variety of ground plants made available by prescriptive harvesting of hardwoods.

Recently, forestry decisions have come under fire by local hunters who claim there has been much more timbering of the hardwoods than in years past. They reason that the resulting loss of mast could reduce the carrying capacity of this WMA — and possibly lower the quality of the bucks to be taken there in the future.

“First of all, the timbering will actually create even better habitat in terms of a broader diversity of food, and the new undergrowth will also give deer more cover,” Vidrine said. “There’s a lot more food on the floor as a result, and there is nothing to indicate we will see any decrease in quality at all.”

And unbeknownst to many hunters who frequent Thistlethwaite WMA, the area is not owned by the state; instead, it is managed by the LDWF under a 10-year, renewable lease from the Thistlethwaite heirs. Therefore, the timber as well as mineral interests belong to the family.

About Chris Berzas 368 Articles
Chris Berzas has fished and hunted in the Bayou State ever since he could hold a rod and shoot a shotgun. Berzas has been a freelancer featured in newspapers, magazines, television and DVDs since 1989.

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