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Chaz Messina prepares to scale with a tree stand for hunting. Safety should come first when it comes to your stand. That includes checking for rust, weak or rotten wood, fasteners and chains or ropes. And in 2020, it means watching for hurricane-weakened trees and branches.

Squirrel and rabbit hunting season opened across Louisiana on Oct. 3 and, right on cue, the weather has become agreeable, with pleasant temperatures and low humidity. Deer archery season has also begun throughout the state.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reminds hunters to proceed with caution in the woods this fall, especially in west, central and north Louisiana. The August strike of Hurricane Laura caused tremendous destruction, including blowing down and snapping trees and branches in those regions.

There will also be trees that have been compromised and on the verge of falling, or broken limbs hung up on others awaiting a breeze to complete the fall to the ground, the agency warns in a press release. Hunters being aware of their surroundings of the utmost importance, it said.

Areas where hunters have spent years hunting could look different due to the many downed trees. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reminds hunters it is important this fall to have working navigation equipment and a charged cell phone in case there is an emergency.

“We always recommend that you let someone know where you’ll be when you’re out in the field and when you plan to return," said Travis Dufour, Wildlife and Fisheries biologist and hunter education instructor. “The landscape this year has been altered because of the storm, so it’s key to know where you are, as well as being aware of other hunters in the area. Squirrel and rabbit hunters should be aware of bow hunters because they are not required to wear hunter orange."

Dufour said it’s also important to be mindful of your safe zone of fire when shooting due to the downed foliage in the woods.

“There may be other hunters amongst all the downed trees, therefore, your line of sight may not be clear," Dufour said. “You’re not going to be able to see if you’re shooting in a safe direction when shooting into brush. Hunters should always clearly identify the target and what is beyond it before shooting. Failing to clearly identify your target could result in serious harm to other hunters."

In addition, bow hunters should be sure to use stable trees, use a full body safety harness, and stay attached to the tree at all times when off the ground. Dufour said it’s important to also make sure deer stands are in good working order and that hunters are proficient in how to use the stand.

Wildlife and Fisheries Wildlife Management Areas remain open, but caution when hunting there is advised as well, as damage occurred to the forests on many of these areas.

For information on hunter safety, go to www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/hunter-safety and for information on the Louisiana 2020-21 hunting and WMA regulations, go to www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/seasons-and-regulations.