Up Close and Personal

Loggy Bayou WMA is thick, so killing deer means scouting and getting in tight with the animals. And the odds for success are pretty darned good.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is part two of a series detailing four Louisiana public areas with historically high odds of deer hunting success.

All Jarrod Hughes could do was watch. He was stuck in a tree with his bow, too far away to do anything else.

At first, the South Bossier hunter thought it was just does milling about in the thick acorn flat, but then he caught a glimpse of the cause of the old nannies’ nervousness.

“I probably got about a 6-second glimpse of him running six does,” Hughes said.

The “him” was a big-racked deer, and even though Hughes wasn’t sure how big, he knew it was the deer he wanted.

He couldn’t believe his luck, since rifle season began the very next day.

All too soon, the show was over, and the does and buck were gone. Hughes was left with a bittersweet taste: He had seen a great deer, but seeing was far from killing.

Showing the optimism of his 19 years, Hughes eased out of the tree when the hunt was over and slipped over to where the buck had been.

Finding a suitable tree, the young hunter trudged out of the woods anxiously awaiting the next day’s hunt.

His confidence remained strong during the dark hours between hunts, and Hughes was back at the new tree before daylight the following morning.

It didn’t take long, however, for the hubris to wane.

“I hadn’t seen anything all that morning,” Hughes said.

And then he heard a sound that heightened all of his senses.

“All of a sudden, I heard deer grunting,” Hughes said.

He searched the nearby thicket, looking for the source of the calls.

“A doe popped up and ran to the left,” Hughes said.

The image of the big-racked buck dissipated as he watched the doe, and the rifle started coming to Hughes’ shoulder.

“I was going to shoot the doe for meat in the freezer because I didn’t think I’d ever see that (buck),” he said.

As the gun crept into position, Hughes saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

“I looked, and it was standing there looking at me,” he said.

The buck had seen the movement of Hughes’ rifle, and was studying the hunter’s position.

Hughes froze, but the buck soon turned back to the business at hand.

“It turned and started chasing the doe again,” he said.

The rifle swiveled quickly into place, the crosshairs were centered and Hughes’ finger tightened.

The buck never knew what hit him.

“It fell right there,” he said.

It wasn’t until he had shot the big buck that Hughes saw a third deer — a 6-pointer apparently hanging out in hopes of getting lucky.

Hughes, however, was more concerned with the big buck he had downed. He knew the deer was a dandy, but he wasn’t sure how big.

“It happened pretty fast. I didn’t really have time to get excited,” he said.

He was able to stay pretty calm even after the shot because there was little more than the white belly visible through the thicket.

When he finally climbed out of his perch and walked to the deer, however, adrenaline kicked in.

The buck was a heavy 10-point, replete with a drop tine protruding from one of the main beams.

The rack was 17 1/2 inches wide, and eventually scored 141 Boone & Crockett.

That was in 1999, and since then Hughes’ father, Brian, has killed a nice 8-point on the same tract of land.

To date, several other deer have fallen to the Hugheses.

They kill enough deer off the 6,657 acres of land to keep their interest.

But they don’t hunt it alone.

No, on this property, any Tom, Dick and Harry can wander around.

But they don’t mind sharing Loggy Bayou Wildlife Management Area.

“We just got sick of dealing with other people in clubs,” Hughes said. “My dad and I wanted to hunt where they didn’t have all those rules.”

And besides, he said, there really aren’t that many hunters utilizing the area.

“Once gun season opens (in the region), most of the people go back to their deer leases,” Hughes said.

As with most WMAs in the state, there is a gun season on Loggy Bayou, but it’s short.

Rifle hunters can hit the WMA’s woods Nov. 26-28, and muzzleloaders are allowed Nov. 29-Dec. 5.

Outside of that, only archery equipment can be used.

“It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “You get up close to deer.”

And the odds of success can be pretty good. Department of Wildlife & Fisheries figures from last year show 106 deer were killed during 950 hunter efforts during the entire season.

That’s a success rate of one deer for every 8.9 hunter efforts — great odds by any standard.

The Hugheses’ success in killing a couple of nice bucks during the past seven years shows the area produces trophy deer, but the younger Hughes also said the deer overall are in great shape.

“The average doe weighs about 110 to 120 pounds,” he said.

But it’s not as easy as walking in the woods and just hanging a stand, particularly during archery season.

“It’s pretty thick,” area supervisor Jimmy Butcher said. “It’s hard to see a lot of deer, but they’re there.”

Hughes agreed.

“It’s intimidating to a lot of people because there’s not a lot of climbing trees,” he explained. “Hunters get frustrated.”

The number of deer and the odds of success, however, continue to draw Hughes and his father to Loggy Bayou year after year.

“I don’t see a lot of deer, but I see enough to keep me interested,” he explained.

The area is typified by dense, bottomland-hardwoods species, such as hackberry, green ash and oak trees, but most are too small to hold a hunter.

That makes scouting crucial.

“You have to hope you can get close to a trail,” Hughes said.

This young hunter makes that easy by focusing on two primary factors — food and cover.

“When I’m hunting, I’m going to be hunting food sources,” Hughes said.

Surprisingly, oak trees aren’t his favorite targets.

“I really like hunting the balloon vines,” he said. “The deer love those things.”

And that fits in perfectly with his strategy to hunt close to the cover deer desire.

While the woods are thick in general, there are overgrown fields that are particular magnets for deer.

“Deer mostly bed up in those overgrown fields,” Hughes explained.

Conveniently the two prerequisites — balloon vines and overgrown fields — usually merge in one location.

“Balloon vines grow along the edges of those fields,” Hughes said.

But that’s not the only food source the fields provide.

“Those overgrown fields provide a lot of good browse species,” Butcher said.

So focusing on the browse instead of mast is a wise decision.

“They depend a lot more on browse than acorns here,” he said.

While the fields are literally overgrown with browse, moving into the fields to hunt isn’t possible for a couple of reasons, both tied to the very nature of the growth in the fields.

“There’s no actual big trees in those fields,” Hughes said.

The trees that are growing in the fields were largely planted by Department of Wildlife & Fisheries employees when the property was taken over, and they’re still rather small.

“They’ll be productive one day,” Butcher said.

But getting to any of the trees in many of the fields that are large enough would be a real problem anyway.

“On the eastern portion of the WMA, it’s so thick only a deer can get through there,” Shreveport’s Robert Taylor said.

Hughes, who really makes the fields his primary focus, does the next best thing.

“You have to hunt the edges of the fields,” Hughes said.

What this young hunter looks for are signs of heavy use.

“We look for fresh tracks and a lot of droppings,” he explained. “That tells us they’re spending a lot of time there.”

Taylor, who has been hunting the WMA for about 12 years, said he likes to hunt over another hot food item — honey locusts.

“There are a lot of honey locusts in the fields,” Taylor said.

But there are also bean trees in the woods, and those are much more attractive to Taylor than those in the thickly overgrown fields.

“The ones in the fields are small,” he said. “They’ll be 10 or 12 feet high, and they don’t produce a lot of beans.”

So he looks elsewhere for deer.

“If the honey locust beans are plentiful, I look for trees that are producing in the woods,” Taylor said.

Just as Hughes does, however, Taylor looks for signs of heavy use by deer before setting up.

Taylor added that he expected the bean crop to be good this year.

“We didn’t have much of a bean crop last year, so I look for a good one this year,” he said.

Another productive strategy is to look for persimmons dropping fruit.

“There are some persimmon groves scattered throughout the area,” Taylor said.

But deer can be very selective in which fruit they eat.

“There’s generally one or two trees they come to every year,” he said. “But those trees can change.

“I’ve seen trees just loaded, and deer wouldn’t touch them.”

In addition to these food sources, there also are a lot of overcup oaks, water oaks and willow oaks that provide hunting opportunities.

Each hunter tries to set up as closely as possible to whatever food source has been drawing deer.

“I like to set up on the (honey locust or persimmon) trees,” Taylor said.

But that’s not always possible, since many of the trees on the area are small.

“If I’m hunting a certain food source, I try to hunt right over it, but if I can’t I’ll hunt the (game) trail leading to it,” Hughes said. “You just hope there’s a tree you can climb.”

If Hughes finds an active mast-producing oak, he’ll scout for the most-used trails leading to the acorn flat. Often he finds such paths lead to the fields.

“Deer move out of the fields to feed on those overcups,” he said.

In that case, he simply finds the best tree along the trail — again, preferably close to the feed tree — and hangs his stand.

Hughes and Taylor share the preference to hunt at least 20 feet high in climbers, but Taylor said he’s at times had to abandon his stands.

“I’ve hunted on the ground quite a few times,” he said. “Sometimes that’s all you can do.”

The biggest issue at that point is the scent.

“You have to watch the wind a lot,” Hughes said.

During the rut, the hunters change their strategies to allow for the less-predictable movements of deer.

“When a buck is in rut, he’s liable to step out anywhere,” Taylor said. “When they’re in rut, they’re crazy.”

The rut usually begins right around Thanksgiving, which means the gun hunters (both rifle and muzzleloader) have the run of the place during the peak of the season.

Hughes said he begins spending much more time on the ground scouting than sitting in trees.

“It’s about 60 percent scouting and 40 percent hunting,” he said.

The reason is simple — he’s trying to stay on top of bucks’ movements.

“I try to stay on fresh tracks, fresh droppings,” Hughes explained. “I move around and stay on fresh stuff.”

He’s also ensuring that bucks haven’t formed new scrape or rub lines.

Taylor said he concentrates less on the heavily used trails and looks for those that have fresh tracks but less traffic.

“They don’t travel the main trails like the does,” he said. “It’ll be a hard trail to tell.

“If I find a dim trail, I’ll know it’s a buck.”

While there are any number of productive areas during the rut, Taylor said one of his favorites is actually adjacent to the campground.

The only problem is catching deer moving around during shooting hours.

“They seem to be nocturnal because it’s so close to the campground,” he said. “I’ll see them right at dark.”

Outside of the gun seasons, when the woods are taken over by those with rifles and muzzleloaders, Hughes said there are only a few squirrel hunters with which to contend.

“There’s not a whole lot of them,” he said. “And they tend to hunt near the trails.”

Hughes and Taylor will sometimes use those small-game hunters to push deer into their laps, but they often will simply hike into the WMA’s interior.

“We walk about a mile,” Hughes said.

Until this season, that meant packing everything in.

“We just put our stands on our backs, and put everything we needed on them,” he said.

But after about seven years of hauling everything on their backs, the Hughes got smart.

“We actually invested in a deer cart,” the younger Hughes chuckled.

Taylor said that access is actually a pretty big problem, particularly for older hunters.

“The new part of the area, Bossier Point, you have to walk about two miles to get to it,” he said.

But Hughes said that, despite the fact that he and his father like to walk a long ways, that’s not necessary to kill deer.

“A person can literally just walk from the main road and see just as many deer as someone who walked a long way,” he said. “I know that contradicts my strategy, but I see and talk to other people who do this and see a lot of deer — even big deer.”

It all comes down to setting up where there are deer.

“If you put in the time, you’ll kill some deer,” Hughes said.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.