Louisiana’s 2022-23 WMA small-game forecast

Hunters have to be quick on the trigger to get a shot at a moving rabbit when they race across open ground, especially when a pack of rabbit hounds is on their trail.

A dedicated veteran game biologist recently said it’s special that Louisiana has enough public lands where, say, a man and his 6-year-old grandson on his first squirrel hunt, can step into the woods for an easy chance to bring home at least two squirrels each.

Why two? Well, keep reading.

There are four Wildlife Management Areas, big and small, in the state that fit the bill based on results from the 2021-22 season. One of them is Dewey W. Wills WMA in the LDWF’s Pineville Region. Of course, there are many days that hunters take lots more than two. Limits aren’t unusual.

Here’s the rest of the story.

Cliff Dailey, the region’s biologist supervisor who has been with LDWF since 2009, was talking about the squirrel hunting opportunities available in the state while discussing the outlook on his WMAs for the upcoming 2022-23 season. Many of his peers have said the same thing each summer for years when they talk about their annual WMA reports for readers of Louisiana Sportsman magazine. Last season’s numbers are acquired from hunter reports, check-ins and self-clearing permit information.

Dailey’s top WMA is Dewey W. Wills WMA, where 6,721 squirrels were reported harvested last season. That’s a 2.1 average per hunter effort on the 63,984-acre WMA that spans LaSalle, Catahoula and Rapides parishes.

There are other WMAs across the state that yielded an average of two squirrels per hunter effort in 2021-22. They are:

  • Big Lake WMA, a much smaller public land at 19,231 acres in Franklin, Tensas and Madison parishes, gave up 2.4 squirrels per hunter effort, 3,984 total, last season.
  • Richard K. Yancey WMA in Concordia Parish, its 70,872 acres even larger than Dewey W. Wills WMA, boasted the highest squirrel harvest in the state last season with 7,879 in the bag and an average of 2.6 squirrels per hunter effort.
  • Attakapas Island WMA in the Atchafalaya Basin, accessible only by boat, had 542 squirrels taken off its 27,962 acres (Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes) in 2021-22 for a 2.0 squirrels per hunter effort.

Louisiana’s small game hunting season for squirrels and rabbits begins Oct. 1 and ends Feb. 28. This Louisiana Sportsman report from seven regional biologist supervisors or biologist managers can assist residents and non-residents who want to choose one or more WMAs to hunt small game successfully in 2022-23.

The forecast shows lots of special possibilities.

Gary Rodgers takes a squirrel from his Mountain Cur Judd on a hunt last season.

Hammond Region 2022-23 outlook

Top WMA Squirrel Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Pearl River WMA: 904 squirrels reported, (0.6 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Maurepas Swamp WMA: 395 squirrels reported, (2.9 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Sandy Hollow WMA: 100 squirrels reported, (0.5 squirrels per hunter effort)

Top WMA Rabbit Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Maurepas Swamp WMA: 95 rabbits reported, (3.3 rabbits per hunter efforts)
  • Sandy Hollow WMA: 11 rabbits reported, (0.1 rabbits per hunter effort)

Post-Hurricane Ida squirrel hunting success last fall was fair at best on two Hammond Region WMAs, but last year’s mast crop production was below average for all species surveyed in southeastern Louisiana, according to WMA supervisor Bradley Breland.

The lack of hard mast production was attributed to Hurricane Ida’s passage starting Aug. 29, according to Breland. The dropoff in mast production probably resulted in poor body conditions for squirrels leading up to the late winter/spring breeding season and may result in below average production, he reported.

Maurepas Swamp WMA, where 904 squirrels were harvested in 2021-22, was one of the region’s heavily hurricane-impacted areas with large amounts of timber uprooted along the spoil banks. It made access difficult and subsequently reduced squirrel hunting pressure.

Ninety-five rabbits were harvested last season despite the hurricane’s devastation on Maurepas Swamp WMA.

Breland noted that Sandy Hollow WMA, which gave up 11 rabbits in 2021-22, is managed as an upland longleaf forest with intensive, prescribed burns that result in a grass/forb understory that, coupled with recent timber harvest operations, make prime rabbit habitat every year.

Lafayette Region 2022-23 outlook

Top 5 WMA Squirrel Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Richard K. Yancey WMA: 7,879 squirrels reported (2.6 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Sherburne WMA: 2,427 squirrels reported (0.9 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Grassy Lake WMA: 745 squirrels reported (1.7 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Attakapas Isand WMA: 542 squirrels reported (2.0 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Pomme de Terre WMA: 542 squirrels reported (1.2 squirrels per hunter effort)

Top WMA Rabbit Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Sherburne WMA: 217 rabbits reported, (0.3 rabbits per hunter efforts)
  • Attakapas Island WMA: 113 rabbits reported, (0.9 rabbits per hunter effort)

Rabbit hunters harvested 217 rabbits last season on one of the popular WMAs in the Lafayette Region.

Don’t be surprised if more rabbits are taken from Sherburne WMA in 2022-23. A higher harvest won’t surprise Tony Vidrine, Lafayette Region biologist manager and 38-year veteran with the LDWF.

“We seem to be seeing more rabbits,” Vidrine said from his office in mid-July.

He attributes that to the lack of flooding this past spring and drier conditions since. The combination enhanced cover and available browse for rabbits, he wrote in his report June 29.

Since heavy flooding a few springs ago, rabbit hunting pressure has decreased significantly on all his region’s WMAs, he wrote. That has given the rabbit population a chance to rebound.

Sherburne WMA should lead the rabbit harvest on Lafayette Region WMAs, according to Vidrine. Some timber harvesting there has improved habitat for rabbits and other wildlife.

Ty Thompson bags a squirrel with help from his hunting dog, Little Buster. Squirrel hunting is where most young hunters get their start in the woods.

“Timber harvest … has been down for the last few years due to the timber market. If we ever get back to harvesting timber on the WMAs, we should see improvements in the rabbit populations on many of our WMAs,” he noted.

The 2022-23 squirrel hunting outlook is bright for the region, which had average mast crop numbers last year that shouldn’t be a detriment to squirrel populations on five popular WMAs led by Richard K. Yancey WMA.

Nearly 8,000 squirrels were harvested last season at RKY WMA. What makes it so popular for squirrels and squirrel hunters?

It’s a huge WMA, spanning nearly 80,000 acres, with oak stands plentiful. Mast production has been good the past several years, thus paving the way for good squirrel reproduction, according to Vidrine.

“Hunters have had good success squirrel hunting on this area in the past and we expect the same good success during the 2022-23 season,” he reported.

Some of the most consistent squirrel hunting action is on Attakapas WMA, which receives little pressure.

“Attakapas is only accessible by boat, but those hunters who do utilize this area have good success,” Vidrine said about the area that has few acorn-producing oaks but enough other mast-producing trees to keep squirrels settled in that habitat.

Lake Charles Region 2022-23 outlook

Top WMA Squirrel Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • West Bay WMA: 60 squirrels reported, 302 hunter efforts (1 squirrel per 1,909 acres, 1 squirrel per 5 hunter effort)
  • Fort Polk-Vernon WMA: 49 squirrels reported, 136 hunter efforts (1 squirrel per 2,154 acres, 1 squirrel per 3 hunter effort)
  • Clear Creek WMA: 39 squirrels reported, 136 hunter efforts (1 squirrel per 1,348 acres, 1 squirrel per 4 hunter effort)
  • Sabine Island WMA: 35 squirrels reported, 52 hunter efforts (1 squirrel per 247 acres, 1 squirrel per 5 hunter effort)
  • Peason Ridge WMA: 12 squirrels reported, 75 hunter efforts (1 squirrel per 619 acres, 1 squirrel per 6 hunter effort)

Top WMA Rabbit Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Clear Creek WMA: 49 rabbits reported, 110 hunter efforts (1 rabbit per 1,703 acres, 1 squirrel per 2 hunter effort)
  • West Bay WMA: 31 rabbits reported, 139 hunter efforts (1 rabbit per 1,909 acres, 1 squirrel per 5 hunter effort)

You can’t hit what you can’t see.

An old Washington Senators power pitcher’s words come to mind after hearing veteran game biologist Wendell Verret talk about squirrel hunting prospects on at least two WMAs in the Lake Charles Region.

Walter Johnson (1887-1946) uttered that quote about opposing hitters trying to make contact with deceptive pitches. It’s apropos before squirrel hunting starts in Louisiana for Sabine Island WMA and West Bay WMA, typically two choice areas to bag squirrels.

Smith, a 33-year LDWF veteran who has been the region’s biologist manager since 2007, said Sabine Island “is loaded with cat squirrels.” However, beaucoup trees were knocked down there during Hurricane Laura’s passage in 2020.

“Problem is, when it knocks trees down they grow back with vines, all the early successional vines and growth, it’s pretty hard to see squirrels. If you can find a place you can see …,” Sabine Island WMA is the area to hunt, Smith said.

“You get under a hardwood tree, you can see up. The problem is getting to a clearing with other trees,” he said.

It gave up only 35 squirrels in 52 total efforts in 2021-22, one year after the hurricane hit. That was the fourth-highest harvest in his region.

Smith called Sabine Island WMA, actually two islands accessible by boat only, the most underutilized WMA for squirrel hunting in Louisiana.

West Bay WMA’s 60 squirrels taken in 302 total efforts last season led the Lake Charles Region, followed by Fort Polk-Vernon WMA, 49, and Clear Creek WMA, 39. West Bay WMA trees suffered the same fate during Hurricane Laura as Sabine Island WMA, so visibility is limited there, also, according to Smith.

Fort Polk-Vernon WMA is another good option, if the military doesn’t have it closed for training exercises.

Smith anticipates squirrel populations to bounce back on all with ample mast crops, which he and his staff survey in late September.

“I expect they’re going to eat good this year and reproduce,” Smith said. “It’s going to be all right. It’s going to be a good year.”

Clear Creek WMA is a top choice among rabbit hunters, he said about the area where 49 rabbits were harvested in 2021-22.

West Bay WMA was next with 31. It’s a popular destination among rabbit hunters because of its lacework of logging roads and ATV trails in which they run rabbits with dogs.

As a side note, Smith pointed woodcock hunters who use dogs to try Clear Creek WMA. It’s adjacent to Sabine River bottomland where woodcock eat and roost.

Minden Region 2022-23 outlook

Top WMA Squirrel Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Bodcau WMA: 960 squirrels reported (0.99 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Loggy Bayou WMA: 232 squirrels reported (0.73 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Soda Lake WMA: 131 squirrels reported (0.92 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Bayou Pierre WMA: 25 squirrels reported (0.43 squirrels per hunter effort)

Before the end of July, as dry as it was in northwest Louisiana, the Minden Region’s biologist supervisor predicted squirrels would have the upper hand with their ears going into the 2022-23 season.

“If it stays dry, the squirrel has the advantage. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch,” Jeff Johnson said, describing how a squirrel hunter would sound the alarm when he or she walks across dry terrain.

“Unless you wear socks. I don’t know if you want to do that, though,” he said with a chuckle. But late summer rains gave the whole region a good soaking, so that shouldn’t be a problem now. In fact, hunters may need bigger boots if they are crossing small ditches and drains.

The 21-year LDWF veteran and hundreds of squirrel hunters had been hopeful late summer rains would alleviate drought conditions in approximately half of the Minden Region and it looks like they got their wish. It makes us realize that forecasting the weather is not much easier than forecasts for squirrel hunting.

Bodcau WMA has the most potential for squirrel hunting success this season, he said. He touts its mix of bottomland hardwood to upland areas with mixed pine hardwood timber and hardwoods along upland drains that provide various mast-producing species, i.e., good options for squirrel hunters.

Also, he pointed out, Bodcau WMA opens for squirrel hunting with dogs earlier than other WMAs.

However, he reported, “The mast crop wasn’t spectacular last fall, but it was better than the previous year, so hopefully that will equate to better squirrel numbers for the upcoming season.”

Loggy Bayou WMA, where last season’s squirrel harvest was 232 compared to 960 for Bodcau WMA, features bitter pecan, overcup oak and willow oak in the lower areas and water oak in the upland areas, he wrote.

Johnson favors Loggy Bayou WMA over Bodcau WMA for rabbit hunting potential in 2022-23.

“These two WMAs consistently produce the most rabbits harvested out of the WMAs in the Minden Region. The numbers aren’t incredibly high, but all things relative, these are usually the top two,” he wrote.

Despite the earlier drought, food and cover for rabbits were in “good shape” at the time. After the rains, it was even better.

(Left to right) Logan Spillers, Karson Cruse and Weston Jeane after a successful rabbit hunt in Beauregard Parish.

Monroe Region 2022-23 outlook

Top WMA Squirrel Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Big Lake WMA: 3,984 squirrels reported, (2.4 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Boeuf WMA: 1,955 squirrels reported, (1.5 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Russell Sage WMA: 770 squirrels reported, (1.06 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Buckhorn WMA: 456 squirrels reported, (2.26 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Bayou Macon WMA: 387 squirrels reported, (1.88 squirrels per hunter effort)

Top WMA Rabbit Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Russell Sage WMA: 45 rabbits reported, (1.18 rabbits per hunter effort)
  • Big Lake WMA: 43 rabbits reported, (1.48 rabbits per hunter effort)
  • Buckhorn WMA: 31 rabbits reported, (1.4 rabbits per hunter effort)
  • Boeuf WMA: 23 rabbits reported, (0.37 rabbits per hunter effort)
  • Bayou Macon WMA: 1 rabbit reported, (0.5 rabbits per hunter effort)

Mitch McGee, biologist supervisor since 2016 for the Monroe Region, is hopeful that “decent” weather this past spring means improved mast production on the region’s WMAs for fall 2022.

McGee, a 13-year veteran with LDWF, said hurricane damage in fall 2020 resulted in a poor red oak mast crop that impacted squirrel and deer populations last season on Russell Sage WMA, as well as other areas in the Monroe Region. The squirrel harvest was “down a little bit” to 770 on Russell Sage WMA.

However, 19,231-acre Big Lake WMA led the way for that region in 2021-22 as there were 2.4 squirrels per hunter effort killed for a total of 3,984. Many of the area’s squirrels traditionally are bagged near Hog Lake, around Buckshot Trail and off Roaring Bayou. Squirrel hunting with dogs is very good on Big Lake WMA, McGee has said in the past.

As for rabbit hunting success, hunters should be optimistic because the region’s WMAs didn’t see as much flooding as in the previous few years, McGee wrote in his report June 21. That bodes well for the rabbit population in the region, as well as ample rainfall across the dense reforested areas that offer great rabbit habitat — beaucoup ground cover with briars.

Russell Sage WMA’s rabbit hunters harvested 45 (1.18 per hunter effort) in 2021-22. Big Lake WMA was a close second with 43 rabbits harvested.

These areas went through the drought this summer as well, but got pounded by heavy rain leading into the fall.

Turner Bowser of Bluff Creek, La., pictured here with his brother Ty and sister Bristol, owners of Hooks and Heritage, harvested his first rabbit on Feb. 5, 2022.

Pineville Region 2022-23 outlook

Top WMA Squirrel Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Dewey W. Wills WMA: 6,721 squirrels reported (2.1 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Sabine WMA: 222 squirrels reported (1.6 squirrels per hunter effort)
  • Little River WMA: 275 squirrels reported (0.92 squirrels per hunter effort)

Top WMA Rabbit Harvest Numbers 2021-22

  • Sabine WMA: 59 rabbits reported (0.9 rabbits per hunter effort)
  • Dewey W. Wills WMA: 43 rabbits reported (0.2 per hunter effort)

Cliff Dailey, who appreciates the fact a grandpa and his young grandson can average two squirrels apiece on one of his region’s WMAs, said a subpar mast crop last year might lead to smaller squirrel harvests this season. That’s not a limit, but it is enough to make for a really fun trip and learning experience.

“Based on what we had last year and to be able to make an inference on what the squirrel population will be this season, I don’t think it’ll crash. (But) I don’t think there’ll be an abundance of squirrels because of poor mast on the landscape,” the Pineville Region’s biologist supervisor said from his office in mid-July.

Dailey noted last year’s statewide mast crop was the poorest on record overall since the mast survey program began in Louisiana. That development typically leads to a smaller population of squirrels the following season.

“I expect the average harvest to decrease during the 2022-23 season,” he wrote in his report. He based that on last year’s mast production.

Dewey W. Wills WMA is his pick for the most potential this season in the Pineville Region. He said overcup, willow and nuttall, the area’s primary oak species, are undisputed favorites on the menu for squirrels.

Dailey also pointed out the huge area has a new Small Game Emphasis Area this year that totals 1,700 acres adjacent to Hunt Road south of the Diversion Canal. Hunters can bring their dogs to train June 1-Aug. 31 and hunt rabbits the first part of the season Oct. 1-Nov. 20.

It’s one of the few WMAs in the state with the designation.

Sabine WMA is a close second for squirrel hunting action, he noted. He advised squirrel hunters to stick close to hardwood zones along creeks and drainages there and focus on oak, hickey and beech trees. Improvements to the walking trail system there allows easier access to the public. That’s also a plus for those taking younger hunters with them.

Sabine WMA’s rabbit hunters bagged 59 rabbits in 2022-23. It’s Dailey’s top pick for rabbit hunting action this season. He advises rabbit hunters to check out a large portion of the area that has undergone a clear cut or thinning over the last three years, a practice that provides an avenue of escape cover and early successional food plants.

Dewey W. Wills WMA has prime habitat along roads where plenty of sunlight penetrates and promotes growth of thickets. Rabbit hunters also should look for areas that have been logged within the past five years. The habitat there is great for rabbits.

Coastal Lafayette Region 2022-23 outlook

Two Coastal Lafayette Region WMAs are squirrel hunting destinations that were beat up badly by Hurricane Ida that hit the region last summer.

Squirrel hunting season opened a little more than a month later. There were fewer hunters who harvested fewer squirrels, victims of the significant timber damage that impacted mast production, on Pointe-aux-Chenes WMA. And hunters’ time was also limited because of taking care of their own cleanups and repairs after the storms. Because of that reporting numbers were a bit bleak.

Ten squirrels, or 0.22 squirrels per hunter effort, were bagged on Pointe-aux-Chenes WMA in 2021-22. There was no report on the squirrel harvest numbers for Lake Boeuf WMA, the region’s other squirrel hunting WMA.

For comparison, in 2020-21, 165 squirrels were harvested on Pointe-aux-Chenes WMA and 14 squirrels bagged on Lake Boeuf WMA.

Squirrel hunters who head to Pointe-aux-Chenes WMA hunt only on the Point Farm Unit behind Montegut Middle School. Squirrel hunting efforts cover the entire Lake Boeuf WMA, which is accessible only by boat but offers good opportunity for those squirrel hunters who want to make the trip.

Vaughan McDonald, the region’s biologist manager who has been with LDWF 25 years, expects squirrel hunting success on both areas to be low this season.

Rabbit hunting efforts on all of the coastal WMAs are at their best in the marshy environments of Pass-a-Loutre WMA, Point-aux-Chenes WMA and Salvador/Timken WMA as well as the prime habitat on Atchafalaya Delta WMA and Lake Boeuf, both accessible by boat only.

The harvest was barely fair at best on the areas last season because of Hurricane Ida’s impact on the southeastern part of the region (Pass-a-Loutre WMA, Point-aux-Chenes WMA and Salvador/Timken WMA).

McDonald expects the overall rabbit harvest to be on par with last season.

Based strictly on numbers, he wrote in his report July 1, the most rabbits should come from Atchafalaya Delta WMA followed by Lake Boeuf WMA.

Wherever you hunt, always put safety first, not only in the woods, but going to and from your hunting grounds as well.

About Don Shoopman 563 Articles
Don Shoopman fishes for freshwater and saltwater species mostly in and around the Atchafalaya Basin and Vermilion Bay. He moved to the Sportsman’s Paradise in 1976, and he and his wife June live in New Iberia. They have two grown sons.