Louisiana’s WMAs draw tens of thousands of deer hunters each year during the either-sex managed hunts, but some areas are more productive than others. Here are two of the top WMAs and how to hunt them.
It had been raining for several days, but my hunting partner and I were undeterred.
We had been chosen to participate in the first managed hunt on Buckhorn Wildlife Management Area, and we were determined to score.
Todd Masson and I arrived the afternoon prior to the hunt, unloaded my old Kawasaki three-wheeler and sloshed up the old camp trail to a large, deep slough.
We decided against trying to ford the nasty waterway, opting to hop off and look around on foot.
It wasn’t long before I found what I wanted on the eastern side of Cow Slough.
It was a perfect situation.
The area in which I was interested was nestled in the L of an agricultural field.
The short side of the L ran back to Highway 128, and was bordered by thickets and stands of canes — just the sort of place in which deer would seek shelter. It also happened to be very easy to get to, since the brush line began where most of the hunters would park.
I figured it was a prime opportunity to use hunting pressure to our advantage: Hunters would line the thick tree border the next morning and push the deer toward Cow Slough.
Signs revealed that deer regularly crossed the slough at the confluence of the L before turning southeastward to mosey along the banks of the soggy bottom.
A three-wheeler trail ran parallel to Cow Slough, and was located only about 100 yards away to the east, but that didn’t bother me much. I really thought most of the hunters would ignore this little sliver of woods.
We chose an area a few hundred yards southeast of the deer crossing where the slough and the ATV trail were fairly far apart.
The next morning came early, and we hopped out of bed, loaded up and headed for the WMA.
Three-wheeler trouble delayed our arrival at the slough, but we were finally able to make it to our stand sites just before daylight broke.
After hurriedly attaching our climbing stands to tall, straight trees about 100 yards apart, we sat and waited.
It wasn’t long before we received confirmation that our strategy should be successful.
The first shot came way back toward Highway 128, and it sounded like it was right along the tree line of the field.
Ducks settled into the slough, but our attention was on the tree line, as more and more shots rang out.
I could almost envision what was happening — deer had been spooked near the highway and were running along the thickets. Hunters were taking shots at them as they passed.
The ducks took to the air once more as the shots grew closer and closer, and the air around me became electric. I just knew it was only a matter of moments before at least one of us got a shot.
And then I heard it — those telltale splashes just northwest of our stands that told me I had guessed right.
Deer were crossing the slough.
My rifle was in my hands, and I could see Todd, who was stationed even closer to the crossing, clutching his gun and peering into the thick palmettos.
Then another shot echoed through the woods, this one very close, but behind us on the edge of a pipeline that stretched away to the east.
It was followed by another shot a little farther away on the pipeline.
And another shot, and another, each farther away than the last.
Several minutes later, I realized that part of my plan had fallen short — instead of crossing and heading down the slough, the deer had crossed and made a beeline east of us along the pipeline.
Several more hours of sitting revealed nothing, and we left the woods muddy, frustrated and dejected.
The ride out was even worse than the ride in, with the trail having disappeared amongst massive mud holes that apparently had no bottom.
We lost equipment, and at one point I thought I had lost Todd.
The closest we got to a deer was when we stopped at the check station and watched as several deer, including one massive buck killed by a kid, were examined by biologists.
The WMA had beaten us.
That was back in 1995, and we swore we would never return.
Since then, neither one of us has participated in a managed hunt, but according to a hunter who grew up hunting the property now known as Buckhorn WMA, Todd and I should head back there again.
“There are a lot of deer on that property,” Crowville resident Jimmy Vines said. “I love that place.”
Vines, who owns and operates Vines Piers Inc., was secretary-treasurer for the hunting club that leased the property before it was made public, and has intimate knowledge of the bottomland-hardwoods tract.
In fact, he wasn’t surprised to hear that Todd and I had trouble negotiating the soupy terrain.
“It’s the toughest (WMA) to hunt in the state,” Vines said. “It’s thick. The palmettos are over your head. It gets pretty sloppy.”
The number of deer prowling the WMA, however, make it a prime target for hunters looking to score during the either-sex managed hunts, he said.
A look at Department of Wildlife & Fisheries data makes that clear: Buckhorn is one of the top four WMAs as far as the number of hunter efforts required to produce a deer.
The 9,816-acre Tensas Parish property drew 400 hunter efforts last year during the two-day managed hunt, and 82 deer were taken.
That might not sound like a lot of deer, but when you compare the two numbers you find that one in every 4.9 efforts was successful.
Those are fantastic odds.
Vines said the very thickness and nastiness of the environment is directly responsible for the productivity of the WMA.
“The more miserable it is, the better the hunting is,” he said.
The die-hard bowhunter said that makes for some exciting hunting, since soggy conditions combine with thick understory to allow deer to get very close without being detected.
“I’ve had them walk within easy bow range, and you couldn’t see them,” Vines said.
The tract of land is home to innumerable oak trees, which sounds like a good thing but can actually work against hunters during years when the acorn crop is particularly good.
“When the acorn crop is good, the deer don’t concentrate. They can find acorns everywhere,” he explained.
It’s when the crop is relatively light that hunters can find consistently used feed trees.
“A lot of times the acorns are scattered, and that’s what you want,” Vines said. “Then they have to go to those few trees to feed.”
When scouting for feed trees, Vines suggested keying on striped oaks.
“That’s what they love,” he said. “You’ve just got to go scout and find where they’re feeding.”
An added benefit of finding a striped oak under which deer are consistently feeding is that the trees normally will be located in bottoms.
But don’t look for deep depressions of land.
“There’s not really much difference in the elevation,” Vines said. “A lot of times it won’t even be slopes. The palmettos just get thin because the water stands in the area so much.”
That means deer won’t be hidden in the towering fans of palmettos.
“Those deer will come out of that thick stuff to feed,” he said.
Locating feeding areas is particularly important during the managed hunts, which are scheduled for Nov. 28-30, because the rut occurs so late.
“The rut up here doesn’t start until after Christmas,” he said.
If you find it difficult to locate active feed trees, another ticket to success is to locate an area that has thick stands of cane.
“They love cane, period. There’s not a lot of cane on the property, but if you do find it, there’s a lot of good deer there,” Vines said.
He said the best bet to find cane is along the pipeline that runs northwest from Cow Slough.
Deer bed down in the thick canes, so positioning a stand near trails moving into and out of the vegetation can pay dividends.
Vines also recommended looking for old logging trails created when the property was logged years ago.
These trails have largely grown up with thick underbrush used as cover by deer, but there also are trails along the edges that can normally be walked.
“I still walk those old mudboat trails,” he said. “Those deer are traveling those trails.”
The western portion of the WMA, particularly that land surrounding Lake Marydale, also can hold numbers of deer.
“That is really thick,” Vines said. “There are a lot of deer in there. It’s real tight.”
Vines already had made a scouting trip in early September, and he said signs were very good.
“There were lots of acorns, pecans, everything but muscadines,” he explained. “There were a lot of tracks. It looked really good.”
For more information on the Buckhorn managed hunts, contact DWF’s Region 4 office at (318) 757-4571.
Hunters really looking to up their odds of killing a deer can look a little northeast to Ouachita Wildlife Management Area.
The property produced one deer per 3.8 hunter efforts, which ties it with Bayou Macon as the most-productive WMA in the state.
The 8,745-acre tract of land just south of Monroe has a great population of deer, said Monroe’s Russell Pippins Jr..
“You can go anywhere on the place and find amazing deer sign,” Pippins said.
All of that sign really doesn’t translate into meat on the table, however.
“Most of the real heavy sign is nighttime stuff,” he said. “I want to know where the deer are during the daytime.”
That leads this life-long hunter to take a slightly different approach than many hunters.
“The main thing is to find where the deer are during the day — just go in there and walk, and quit looking at tracks,” Pippins said. “I ain’t going to hunt a spot unless I’ve seen deer during the daytime.”
The 29-year-old Pippins will choose an area he wants to scout, and he’ll ease along until he spots deer.
“I’ll stay next to something so I don’t stick out,” he said.
When he spots a deer, he makes a mental note before moving on.
Prime areas for this kind of scouting include anywhere the woods have been thinned during the past year or so.
“When you find an area that has been cut, and they’ve left the tops, man that’s fantastic hunting,” Pippins said. “If you find anything that’s been cut, you’ve got to get on it.”
He added that several blocks of woods throughout the WMA were thinned since last season.
There also are fields scattered about the property in which DWF workers have replanted hardwoods. These hold excellent potential.
“Those trees are just now getting to where you can get in them,” he said.
However, Pippins doesn’t barge into these fields and try to hunt — the trees aren’t tall enough to hold a stand, and it’s just too thick to see much.
Instead, he hunts the ditches along the edges.
“You hunt the ditch lines, the forks of the ditches where they split,” Pippins recommended. “It’s the only place you can get high enough to cover any ground.”
It’s not an easy thing to do, however, since the only real trees from which to hunt are willows.
“You’ve just got to climb up in a willow and hope the limb doesn’t break,” he said.
Pippins just hangs a lock-on on one of the larger limbs, but other hunters take a different approach.
“A lot of guys take a piece of 2×6 and cut a notch in each end,” he said. “They just wedge it between two limbs and sit on it.”
Hunting these thick fields paid off in 1997 when Pippins bagged a 230-pound 10-point sporting a rack with a 20 1/8-inch inside spread. The buck scored out at 146 1/8 Boone & Crockett.
“We had found a lot of sign in that area. He was breaking off willow trees as big as your wrist,” Pippins explained.
It was actually an uncle who located the deer and convinced Pippins to hunt that morning, even though it was supposed to be raining.
“I said, ‘You’re going to come, aren’t you?’ He said he would be there,” Pippins said.
Instead, his uncle decided to sleep in, but Pippins climbed into his lock-on and waited for the day to break.
“There was a thicket to my right behind me. I could hear something that sounded like a deer grunting back in that thicket,” he said.
He kept looking over his shoulder, but Pippins really didn’t give it a lot of thought because the noise was too high-pitched to be a buck.
As the very first light day began to shimmer through the woods, Pippins looked back at the thicket — and a buck was just standing there about 50 yards away.
“I didn’t pay no mind to it. I saw antlers, but I couldn’t see it that clearly,” he said. “I just turned and shot it.”
The buck bolted straight at the hunter’s position, and when it drew closer the size of the antlers came into view.
“I liked to have fell out of the tree then because I could really see those horns,” Pippins said.
The buck stands as the largest this hunter has ever killed.
Although there are some nice bucks killed annually during the managed hunts, there also is a fairly high amount of hunting pressure.
“There are enough four-wheeler trails that people can pretty much get anywhere they want,” Pippins said.
The ease of access amplifies the fact that the WMA is fairly narrow, with the south end being the widest at only about three miles wide.
So getting as far back into the woods as possible might not be the smartest move.
“You’ve got to find the overlooked stuff,” Pippins said. “When I killed my 10-point, I was less than 1/4 of a mile from the campground.”
The last key is to hang with it. Most hunters will hit the woods before daylight and stay until about 8 a.m. before heading back to their trucks.
That’s not very smart, since most deer will lay down until the crowds of hunters thin.
“You’re going to spend $1,000 on a gun, $5,000 on a four-wheeler and all that camo, and then you’re going to sit until 8 o’clock in the morning? That just don’t pay,” Pippins said. “I’ve seen a lot of deer at 9 o’clock when all them fellas have gone back to their trucks.”
Add to this the fact that deer should be in the middle of their breeding season, and mid-day hunts become very attractive.
“The rut usually is right around the time they schedule the bucks-only hunts,” Pippins said.
This year, bucks-only hunting is scheduled for Dec. 13-28, which is only a couple of weeks after the managed hunts.
And, according to projections by state deer study leader Dave Moreland, this year’s breeding activity in Area 2 actually should begin in October and stretch through the middle of December.
That means that the Nov. 28-30 managed hunts will be nestled right between the peaks of the rut.
For more information on the managed hunts, call DWF’s Region 2 office at (318) 343-4044.