Veteran deer hunters know the last half of December is prime time in south Louisiana.

It’s rutting time, the breeding period when the future of deer herds is decided. You can’t have deer numbers without fawns, and that’s what the rut is all about, propagation, making babies.

It’s a time when bucks throw caution to the wind, abandon some of the instincts that have kept them out of sight during the early stages of the season in the state’s 10 deer hunting areas, and chase the females coming into estrus.

For years, biologists like David Moreland and Scott Durham, the past two State Deer Study leaders, have tried to orient the major modern firearms seasons in those areas around rutting dates for each area.

In south Louisiana, especially in the Atchafalaya Basin, parishes along the Mississippi River and most of the lands in the nine parishes that make up the Florida Parishes, the whitetail rut just might be the latest of anywhere in the United States.

Moreland reasoned this late breeding cycle is related to a springtime flooding cycle, that deer around here learned a long time ago that dropping fawns in the middle of late spring/early summer floods leads to decreased fawn survival.

Females in these flood-prone areas give birth as late as August, a time when flooding has run its annual course, and food is plentiful to provide nutritious milk for their babies.

That’s why archery seasons in State Deer Areas 6 and 9 have a bucks-only restriction during the first 15 days of October, while the other areas are open for either-sex deer take. The restriction is to allow fawns the two months needed to be fully weaned by the time a doe can be taken by a hunter.

All considered, the south Louisiana rut comes at a near perfect time for hunters of all ages. The rut usually peaks near Christmas when youngsters are on holiday.

Better still is that the rut comes with warnings from bucks. In the weeks leading up the rut, bucks will begin marking their breeding territory, and, yes, there are battles between bucks for the prime spots. Bucks will also be spotted keeping an eye on their “harem,” just to make sure the females know he’s the top breeder in the area.

Bucks will mark their territory with scrapes, areas along the ground where they leave scent. It’s not the same area every year, and that’s why the best hunters spend a few days in December walking their hunting grounds. They’re looking for those clear spots on the ground, usually under a tree with low hanging branches, and, for some reason, the bucks like to find cedar trees to take care of this business.

Bucks will travel this scrape line sometimes daily, but almost certainly every two days to “freshen” the scrape with scent and rub the orbital glands (near their eyes) on the low-hanging branches.

For veteran hunters, finding these scrapes, then setting up near them, produces enough deer traffic to make the hours of scouting worthwhile.

About flooding

Recent rains across the Midwest and South have pushed the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to unusually high stages for the late fall.

Without additional rains, the current Mississippi River projections call for a crest of 32 feet on Dec. 15 at Baton Rouge with a fall to 20.6 feet by Jan. 6. At New Orleans, there’s a forecast of a crest at 11.5 feet on Dec. 18, with a fall to 7.7 feet on Jan. 6.

For the Atchafalaya, hunters and fishermen can note that Thursday’s 3.7-foot reading at Morgan City will rise to a 4.4-foot stage Monday, and continue to about a 4-foot reading for at least another week.

What’s ahead

Ever hunted in a hale storm? How about in the snow? Freezing rain?

There’s a good chance you’ll face something like this through February in south Louisiana after Jonathan Brazzel at the National Weather Service in Lake Charles presented a wintertime forecast last week.

The current El Niño pattern, possibly the strongest on record, will bring unstable weather patterns to the Deep South for the next three months, with cooler-than-normal temperatures and a the possibility of snow or frozen rain, hale and an increased threat from tornadoes, Brazzel said.

He said south Louisiana got snow in two of the six strongest El Niño years and that is snowed across the southern U.S.

And it’s going to be wet because the southern jet stream will bring in the warm Pacific Ocean (from the El Niño) into our area.

Brazzel said recent warm weather comes from a “positive swing in the Arctic oscillation,” but explained that the Arctic’s influence on Louisiana can change in a two-to-four week period, and a change to the negative will push much colder temperatures into the Gulf states.

“It won’t be colder than normal every day, but our studies of El Niño patterns indicates there a 40 percent chance for cooler-than-normal temperatures,” Brazzel said.

If you want to watch the near 11-minute presentations, it’s on YouTube at zero)K4.