Out_Squirrels

Tyler Weimer, 12, shows a limit of cat squirrels he bagged on family property in Raceland on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Weimer used a 20 gauge shotgun. The LDWF is conducting a study on small game hunting and how it affects deer activity.

If there’s one time in Louisiana’s extra-long deer hunting seasons that excites deer hunters, it’s the rut.

That’s because the bucks are excited, too, because it’s time to make little deer. The prospect of finding a receptive doe leaves even the most mature bucks with little else on their minds than females.

While states up north have much shorter seasons than the five-months-plus hunting opportunities we have here, Louisiana’s diverse habitat has created a confusing picture of the rut to hunters.

Not too many other states have this diversity from bottomlands, swamps, upland hardwoods to hardwoods mixed with pines, then what’s described as longleaf pine flatwoods and longleaf plantations, then, to the southern extremities, the coastal prairies and coastal marshes.

What is means is Louisiana’s whitetail deer can go into the rut as late September and early October in a small portion of the Mermentau Basin west of the Atchafalaya Delta and can run as late at the last two weeks in February in areas along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ biologists who make up the agency’s Deer Study Program have spent years tracking this divergent rutting regime and posted it on the LDWF’s website: wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/louisiana-estimated-deer-breeding-periods.

What’s more, because the woods belong to other hunters, notably small-game hunters, the state’s upland game biologists are in the process of either adding or detracting from the popular belief that small-game hunting makes hunting deer a much tougher game.

This small-game hunting study focuses on the potential impacts on the distribution and activities of whitetail deer.

“We are working with (LSU) to deploy GPS collars on deer while varying levels of small-game hunting are conducted on study sites,” the report stated, adding the group collared two deer in Livingston Parish and 15 more in East Feliciana Parish.

“We were able to recover all GPS collars,” the report continued. “Each collar collected approximately 9,250 locations, for a total of about 150,000 locations. With 17 GPS-collared deer and 14 small-game hunting activities spaced over time, we were able to evaluate and analyze 240 unique small-game hunting/deer interactions.”

While the researchers noted some preliminary findings, it’s customary among biologists not to jump to conclusions before, as the report noted, “determining final protocols for managing and archiving the data and developing a peer-reviewed publication.”

It’s going to be interesting.

Back to the rut

Quality Deer Management Association took time to send along an explanation the rut or what triggers this furious activity, and why this breeding cycle happens near the same time every year in specific locations.

Citing years of data complied by grad students and state agencies, the consensus is rutting “is not influenced by moon phase, weather changes or planetary alignments. Photoperiod (length of daylight) is what triggers does (females) to come into estrus, and the does are what dictates rutting activity.”

But why so much of a disparity in the rutting dates in our state?

Years ago, Joe Herring (God rest his soul) believed some of the early-rut times came from the deer LDWF biologists relocated into the state from Missouri and a couple of other Midwest states in the 1950s.

Later on, when David Moreland was the LDWF’s top Deer Study man, he took a closer look. Building on earlier studies, Moreland and his team found deer adapted to their environs apparently in an effort to maintain and grow their herds.

For instance, in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya flood plans, even extending into the reaches of the southeastern and south-central parishes, the breeding cycle was much later, and the reasoning was the mama deer didn’t want to give birth to fawns during floods.

Hence, the rut came later: the primary rut, a period occurring in the central parishes in October, didn’t happen in these flood-prone areas until near Christmas, which would make fawn drop happen sometime in late August, even into September.

That’s why archery hunters, taking to stands on Oct. 1 in these late-run areas, continue to see spotted fawns, and why, when it came time to set hunting seasons, did Moreland and his crew recommend a 15-day bucks-only opener in State Deer Areas 5, 6 and 9 before opening either-sex deer take running Oct. 16-Feb. 15.

It was simple: it was time to give fawns a chance to wean before there was a possibility of losing a parenting doe.

There’s more to explain why rutting in these three areas can run into February. If a doe in estrus is not bred during the primary rut, the doe will “come into estrus” about 28 days later — a secondary rut.

It’s best to check out the LDWF’s rutting chart to know about when to look for early stages of the rut in your hunting location.

Then take this information, begin scouting to locate the does, and you’ve taken a good first step into stand location and, hopefully, seeing bucks.

WMA notes

The unusually high water in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers will affect hunters taking to the Richard Yancey Wildlife Management Area. The LDWF announced flooding has forced the closure of Union Point, Lincecum and Blackhawk roads and the Blackhawk Boat Launch along with Jacks Bayou, Lincecum and Blackhawk ATV trails.

The WMA will remain open, and the roads will reopen when “conditions are deemed safe for travel.”

The Thistlethwaite WMA is a popular St. Landry Parish deer-hunting destination, and after Wildlife and Fisheries managers took a glance at the 2018-19 state hunting pamphlet they found the WMAs didn’t have hunting season dates listed for the either-sex modern firearm season.

Here they are: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-9 and Dec. 22-23 to go along with bucks-only primitive firearms dates of Nov. 10-11, 2018 and Jan. 7-13, 2019 and Dec. 24, 2018 and Jan. 6, 2019 modern firearms opportunities.

And, folks using the main camping area at the Sherburne WMA will have to bring water for drinking and washing and all the other water uses. It’s because the WMA’s water supply system does not meet Department of Health and Hospitals’ regulatory requirements.