For as many years as they’ve spent in the swamps, Bruce Scharwath and Jim Boyce knew it was time to hunt the big buck they’d seen cross levees between their Timberton acreage and next-door neighbors, the McElroy Club.
“We know our deer don’t live much past 31/2 years, and this deer was older. He wasn’t going to make it much longer, not in our swamp,” Boyce said.
Scharwath had scouted the deep swamp, the McElroy Swamp south and east of Sorrento and north of Blind River, and knew where the giant buck traveled especially when the McElroy guys turned dogs loose in the last half of the State Deer Area 9 season. His shot was true, and he claimed the trophy, the biggest whitetail taken at Timberton since the season before Hurricane Isaac devastated the swamp and lots of the animals living in it.
Boyce said the buck weighed 240 pounds and green scored at 152 inches.
“We don’t get bucks much bigger than him,” Scharwath said, making sure to note hunting efforts were left to a time after the primary rut, a period when he and Boyce knew the big buck had a chance to breed.
Timberton and McElroy hunters are in league with their fellow Atchafalaya Basin hunters. Boyce said the deer in their swamp have yet to recover from Isaac’s ravages, at least not to pre-Isaac levels, and said history teaches them that it takes a minimum of four years to establish enough of a deer population base to see the first inkling of recovery.
Atchafalaya Basin hunters are coming off a 2011 flood that chased their whitetails over the levees, and while deer return to the nation’s largest overflow swamp when water recedes, it takes about four years to recover to preflood populations. And, with barely enough time to recover — and hunters said they were seeing signs of recovery this season — the water is at flood stage again this year and the deer are across the levees again.
“We’re not seeing the generation of deer at 3 1/2 years old, not the numbers we should be seeing,” Boyce said. “We’re seeing a lot of spikes and 4-points, but we’re missing two generations, two years, of deer and that makes a big difference.”
There are reasons: Isaac’s push into the southeastern parishes shoved water into the swamps along the north and east sides of Lake Maurepas, and the water stayed for weeks, months. State wildlife biologists estimated a 90 percent mortality on the fawns born a month earlier. Adult mortality fell into the 40-50 percent range. The water also reduced food sources for the survivors, a fact that left them more susceptible to disease and much less healthy for the next breeding seasons.
Then there are parasites, mostly liver flukes, that take deer at much younger ages in the swamp than what biologists, and hunters, find in upland environs.
“Overall what we’re seeing is decent weight on the deer. Two-and-a-half year-old bucks are weighing 150 pounds, but there aren’t a lot of them, and we’re leaving them alone,” Boyce said.
“But all the deer in our swamp are not equal.”
Some of that is because of the area’s late breeding cycle, maybe the latest in the country, that means fawn drops come in August. Boyce said he’s seen fawns in the swamp born as late as January and February.
“That means we see some deer eight months younger than the bigger deer we see. We know better quality deer are born in May here, but only about 30 percent of the deer here are born in May,” Boyce said. “And August deer have the roughest time. They tend to drown because of high waters from tropical storms, and we’ve seen floods come on a regular basis here. We had 85 inches of rain in this area in a year. Parasites multiply with all the rain, and food sources in the deep swamp are reduced.”
Still, no “swampateer” is going anywhere: Timberton and McElroy hunters will finish out their season Sunday, and Monday will begin preparations for next season. There’s always next year.
Randy needs help
Randy Barksdale sent a photo of a buck he took Sunday near Dulac, an “old swamp buck with no teeth!” He packed the deer in a 150-quart ice chest, then left his son to take it to a Central taxidermist. After stopping at a friend’s house, Randy’s son forgot he left the truck’s tailgate down, and Randy said the ice chest fell near the Magnolia Road bridge. He said someone in a black truck picked up the ice chest.
Randy said he’d like to have the deer returned. Email Barksdale: firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help him recover the deer.