Photo for Thursday's Outdoors story

Crawford Thornton, the 13-year-old grandson of avid Baton Rouge area outdoorsman Billy Yelverton, took his first deer, a big 8-point, 180-pound buck on a visit from his home in North Carolina. The seventh-grader used his granddad's 30-06 rifle with Yelverton at his side on a hunt near Liberty, Miss., then followed that by taking another 8-point buck Monday on a hunt in the Atchafalaya Basin. 'He's going back to school after this holiday weekend with lots of photos and videos to show his classmates,' Yelverton said.


It’s not that Billy Yelverton hasn’t seen most of what Louisiana’s outdoors offers to hunters and fishermen.

He has been, and he can add similar experiences in Mississippi and even more hunting and fishing locations in several other states, too.

So, guess you can say this guy has been around the hook-and-bullet block – many times.

Then there was Saturday, and he’s still scratching his head trying to figure out how it happened.

It went like this: Months ago, he invited his grandson, Crawford Thornton, to hunt with him over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Yelverton figured it was prime time to get the 13-year-old in a deer stand.

“They usually go skiing for the holiday,” Yelverton said, noting his daughter, London Thornton, had agreed to break that streak and bring Crawford “home.”

Like many Louisiana families, the Yelverton’s have watched their children move away from the Sportsman’s Paradise. And, like many Louisiana outdoorsmen, they’ve not had the chance to share their lifelong pursuits with far-away grandchildren. The Crawfords live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“He’s never hunted. He’s seen deer in his backyard, and this was going to be his first hunt. I’ve let him shoot the rifle before, and he said he wanted to go with the thirty-aught-six, my rifle,” Yelverton said. “He said he couldn’t wait.”

By the time the oldest of his three daughters arrived with her son, grandpa had everything mapped out. He and his grandson would hunt one day at his camp near Jackson, the next day with his cousin near Liberty, Mississippi, then a third, Monday, with his brother-in-law, Mike Ware, at his place in the Atchafalaya Basin.

“We spent hours on the stand at my place, and nothing. No deer, and I ran out of butane for the heater. Man, it was cold,” Yelverton said.

OK, Plan B: “Told Crawford to pack up and let’s go to Mississippi, that we might be able to get in a late-afternoon hunt.

“We got into the stand a 4 o’clock, and been there maybe an hour and 15 minutes and this big rascal walked out. (Crawford) was good and steady. One shot, maybe 85 yards, and he had his first deer,” Yelverton said. “An eight-point, 180 pounds, more than a 16-inch inside spread. I couldn’t believe it.”

Yep, the young hunter was excited. The cold, wind, travel along with the field dressing and blood only fueled his fire.

But he wasn't finished. He wanted more to cram into the three days he had, and he got it.

“It was unbelieveable,” Yelverton said late Monday. “How many hunters go all season and not see two big bucks, but it happened again.

“An eight-point walked right out on us again. This time about 50 yards, and he was steady again. This one weighed 170 pounds and had a 17-inch inside spread. And he was so excited.

“He’s going back with a jillion photos and videos and lots of tales to tell when he gets back to school,” Yelverton said.

And what about next year?

“He’s probably not skiing next year,” Yelverton said all the while wondering if there can ever be a visit to match this first hunting weekend.

And the point is

Yelverton and his grandson confirmed what most hunters have reported during the past three weeks: an unusually late rutting period for bucks and does in the state’s central parishes and lands near the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

Hunters are talking about the variations in activity, how bucks are moving almost daily in some areas, and there almost is no movement in other locations.

Work years ago by state wildlife biologists, especially in-depth analysis by now-retired state Wildlife Division chief David Moreland and his staff, showed these areas have the latest primary and secondary rutting times in the state, and possibly the lower 48 states.

In most years, the first breeding period comes near, or just after, Christmas, with a secondary rut some 28 days later, a time bucks try to inseminate any of the whitetail females still in estrus.

“In both places we hunted, where Crawford took a deer, the bucks were chasing does all over,” Yelverton said. “Yes, the rut is still on, and (the bucks) are rutting hard.”

It’s possible the moon phases have an effect. There was an early full moon in December, and there’s that once-in-a-blue-moon January, when we had a full moon Jan. 1 with another full moon coming Jan. 31.

Moreland continues to keep his finger on the deer-hunting pulse, and said Tuesday he’s hearing the same reports.

“It’s spotty, and (deer movement) is dead right now in Clinton, and you’d think with the cold weather they would need to move to eat, but we’re not seeing anything,” Moreland said. “Then you talk with other hunters and they’re talking about how active their bucks are right now.

“It looks like individual deer herds are acting differently, and that happens sometimes,” Moreland said.

And, on the water

Considering all the factors stymying hunters and fishers throughout the state, Yelverton had one heck of an eight-day, Monday-to-Monday run.

He started last week with a three-man trip with Lafourche Parish fishing guide Vernon Robichaux.

“We ran to a spot Vernon calls his ‘January hole,’ and we limited out on specks and reds, and I bet you we didn’t burn a gallon of gas,” Yelverton said.

It was the best fishing report of the week and predictably came from a deep — or just deeper — canal in the marsh west of Golden Meadow.

Sulphur Mine Lake was not the place for specks after Tom LeBlanc's weekend report cited sparse trout and redfish activity there, but after taking a couple of hours getting the bot off a shell-mud flat, they found a handful of trout, the longest a 21-incher, and a limit of redfish near Bason's Landing.

It’s much the same in other places, especially now with this week’s lows dipping into the 20s throughout the coastal parishes. With few exceptions, most of the best catches are for redfish from both sides of the Mississippi River and over into the Terrebonne Parish marshes.

Warmer weather and, more importantly, sunshine is predicted for later this week, but it will take several days of sun to get water temperatures to rise into the upper 40s.

And, like last week, you can expect the combination of hard north winds and below-freezing temperatures to result in fish kills in the marshes and shallow bays and lakes.

There were three freshwater reports: In last week’s warm-up, bass were taking slow-rolled spinnerbaits and slowly worked soft plastics in the marshes and runouts in the MRGO area, and sac-a-lait were holding on deep, off-the-bank cover in the Verret and Atchafalaya basins and were taken by tightlining blue/clear, blue/white and black/chartreuse tubes.

Weekend conditions

  • National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Forecasts: Find the “Coastal/Great Lakes Forecasts by Zones – Gulf – New Orleans, La.” and a map with 13 different nearshore, offshore and Lake Pontchartrain wind and waves predictions for the next five days.
  • Weather Underground: Current conditions, a 10-day forecast, and hour-by-hour predicted temperatures, winds, precipitation and barometric pressure.
  • National Weather Service’s River Forecast Center: for river stages.