Down on the Farm

Put in now for a lottery hunt on Sherburne WMA. It may just be the time of your life.

A hit song by the late John Denver, way back in 1974, has lyrics that go, “Well life on the farm is mighty laid back, Ain’t much an old country boy like me can’t hack. It’s early to rise, early in the sack, thank God I’m a country boy.”

There’s some truth to those lyrics if you’re lucky enough to draw out for one of Sherburne Wildlife Management Area’s South Farm lottery hunts, where a blind for you and a couple buddies is guaranteed. But that’s not your only option on this WMA. You also can take your chances on a Tuesday or Thursday weekday hunt by showing up and pulling a lucky number for a blind assignment.

Either way, it is an early-rise and laid-back hunt, plus a whole lot of fun. What’s more, October is the month you’ll want to put in for this lottery.

No fewer than 50 guys milled about shivering outside the refuge check station shack in the South Farm parking lot hours before legal shooting light. A bitter cold front had pushed through the night before and with it prospects of a good shoot, as fresh numbers of birds came in on the jet stream.

There’s only so much gear to be checked and secured to four wheelers when the air temperature stings your ears. A lost glove causes brutally cold air to chafe your hand in disrespect for being so feeble-minded and nonchalant in your preparations.

To say they took care of business like a military mobility exercise was an understatement. Like the song, it was apparent there wasn’t much these old boys — country or not — couldn’t hack either.

In spite of the conditions and the wait, it appeared most were feeling pretty lucky they’d be shooting ducks at dawn.

Sherburne’s South Farm, located between Baton Rouge and Lafayette just north of I-10 off the Ramah Exit, meant some of these guys had to be up way before the early bird who got the worm to take their chance. What’s more, some of the college-aged guys in the group probably never went to bed.

Nonetheless, the odds of drawing out on a morning when birds would be flying were almost 50/50, since it was a second-split hunt, when more blinds are made available to hunters, according to Sherburne WMA Manager Tony Vidrine.

“We have hunts on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays,” he said. “The Saturday hunts are the pre-application lottery hunts, where you apply before the season. If you get drawn, you can have two other hunters come with you, or three per group.

“On Tuesday and Thursdays, we have what they call an on-site lottery, where we issue lottery tickets and put them all in a bucket and draw numbers. If your number is drawn, then you and your group can hunt.

“In the first split, we only hunt four groups, and there are three hunters per group — so that’s 12 hunters. The second split we hunt seven groups, and so we hunt 21 hunters.”

As Vidrine called out numbers, groans could be heard as more and more the odds of hunting on the blustery morning were diminishing for some in the crowd. The final count was 52 guys who had braved the cold, loaded up gear and drove to the South Farm. Thirty-one of them would go home disappointed.

Vidrine says the department knows how much trouble it is for hunters to get up early, only to be sent away, and how important public access is to hunters who have no other place to go to hunt waterfowl.

“It’s a popular hunt,” Vidrine said. “It’s real close to Baton Rouge and Lafayette, so we get a lot of hunters from those cities and other communities around here.

“On some of the hunts starting in January, when ducks really start getting here, there are some guys who average 5½ ducks a hunter. It’s really good then and when word gets around — you know these guys start talking on the Louisiana Sportsman website — that’s when you start getting 75 to 80 people in the morning for a draw.

“We tell them we put in a rule several years ago that you can only hunt once a week, because we try to give everyone a chance. If you get picked on Tuesday, we try to give other people a chance to hunt Thursday. It’s not to eliminate guys from hunting — it’s to give other guys an opportunity who maybe didn’t get picked on Tuesday’s hunt.”

By contrast, hunting is hunting no matter where you go. When the hunting on Sherburne is slow, often there are just enough people who come out to barely fill a morning hunt on the South Farm. But Vidrine says most mornings 50 hunters will show up to take a chance on a weekday hunt. What’s more, when schools and colleges are out between semesters, quite a few young people participate on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Early on, when the South Farm hunt was developed, Vidrine says the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wanted to provide a place where the public could enjoy a quality hunt.

“When we developed this hunt, we felt if we just left it wide open we’d have problems with overcrowding, people arguing claiming they were taking other people’s spots, and shooting at birds that weren’t working,” he said. “That’s why we developed the lottery. The mission was to provide a quality waterfowl hunt.

“When we put these guys out there, they each get a unit for themselves — there’s nobody around them — they’re kind of spread out. We also only hunt three days a week, so we give the birds a lot of rest. And we also stop hunting at noon.”

The South Farm property on Sherburne WMA is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and is managed by the LDWF.

Just to the north along the levee is the North Farm complex, where the department holds a limited number of lottery youth hunts. Quite often, when South Farm hunters are lucky enough to hunt the same day youth hunters are in the North Farm fields, it can mean a windfall of overflow. Just like the South Farm Waterfowl Lottery, October is the month to put in for Sherburne’s North Farm Lottery Youth Waterfowl Hunt. Besides paying attention to the South Farm hunts at Sherburne, parents and legal guardians will want to be sure applications for the youngsters are filled out and sent in as well.

Where the South Farm is hunted three times a week, the North Farm is hunted three times the entire season and maintained as a waterfowl refuge otherwise.

The goal for the LDWF is to cater to youth and use the experience as a recruitment tool.

“We make it a good hunt, so the kids remember it,” said Vidrine. “A lot of these youth hunters that come out here — it’s the first time they ever duck hunted. We want them to harvest some ducks. We’ll cook for them and we cater to them. We want them to stick with it.”

Though not lucky enough to draw a blind assignment, I was fortunate to join a couple of youth hunters and share in their North Farm Youth Hunt. In the frigid air, the young people I sat with did excellent and limited out in short order.

Back at the check station, groups of hunters came in with mixed bags of ducks that included mallards, pintails, teal and a few bonus specklebellies, all in all, making their lottery hunt a huge success. What’s more, they had the smiles to prove it.

Like John Denver’s song, life down on the South and North Farms at Sherburne can be mighty laid back and require an early rise. But you don’t have to be a country boy if you happen to live in one of the nearby cities and are willing to make the drive to take a chance.

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