Deer photo

Paul Sparacino is all smiles after taking this 205-pound, 8-point buck on the Richard Yancey Wildlife Management Area on the first day of the three-day modern firearms season allowed on this flood-prone WMA. But, Sparacino admits, he could never have found the deer without the help of Leighton Burley and his blood-trailing dog 'Lobo.' Burley answered the call from the Louisiana Blood Trailing Network and traveled from his home in Monterey to help Sparacino track and recover the deer.

Paul Sparacino knew what he was doing, but it just took him nearly two years to do it.

The accomplished south Louisiana outdoorsman was in the chorus crying about the flood that took away the deer season on the Richard Yancey Wildlife Management Area last year, a flood that turned into months of rising water along Louisiana’s side of the Mississippi River 60 or so miles north (if you're a crow) of Baton Rouge.

The prolonged flood shortened Yancey's deer season this year and Sparacino knew success was going to depend on being at the just-right place on opening day — Friday’s beginning of the three-day modern firearms season on Thanksgiving weekend.

That singular spot has been his longtime favorite. It’s a tree he can shinny up with his climbing stand — he continues to climb, with a safety harness, despite a handful of years removed from open-heart surgery — and get above what he calls “some pretty heavy cover.”

His more-than-a-mile walk into the deep, but mostly dry swamp, and the climb, paid off with a good shot on a big buck.

“Guess I’ve taken seven deer from that one tree. It’s a mighty good spot,” he said.

That’s only part of the story.

Sparacino said he saw more than a hundred trucks parked along the road leading into the WMA’s Yackey Tract.

“There was lots of activity that day,” he said, further speculating on the shortened season to account for the number of hunters. “I used to have this spot all to myself, but there are guys moving in. It’s hard to get away from the crowd, but you have to. But, it was opening day.”

If you take time to ask any veteran deer hunter, they’ll tell you experience teaches you more than any book, any TV show, any blog, any website can. It’s because each location has its quirks, and all deer don’t dance to the same drum beat.

And, on opening day, what the vets will tell you is if you find an oft-used area by the local deer, get in and set up early, know the area — in this case a cut-over necessitating a high hunting perch — and wait for other hunters to set the big whitetails to moving, then you’ve got a chance to take home enough meat to last through the winter.

And, on this day, there’s still more to showing up at the WMA’s check station with an 205-pound, 8-point sporting a near 18-inch inside spread on his top hat.

See, Sparacino knew enough to wait after his shot. He climbed down, found a blood trail and said he followed it nearly a hundred yards before it ran out.

No deer.

“I read somewhere before the season that you could call a group LA Blood Trailers in places all over the state and they would help find a deer,” Sparacino said. “I had a (cell) number, but found out most of the guys were out hunting.

“I finally found a guy who was duck hunting in Venice. He took my phone number — I don’t know how, but my cellphone works sometimes at the base of the tree where I hunt — and he told me he’d find somebody to help me.”

And, Sparacino waited.

“A guy called me an hour later. Said he lived in Monterey and he’d be seeing me in a hour.”

So Leighton Burley showed up with his cousin Blake, and, most importantly, with “Lobo,” the tracking dog. After a few questions, and learning where the blood trail ended, Lobo was on the trail.

“(Lobo) jumped the deer and when we finally caught up, it was more than a mile away from my stand,” Sparacino said. “She found the buck in the water. If they hadn’t showed up, I would have never found the deer. I can’t say enough about these men and their dog.

“If anyone wants to know more about them, there’s a Facebook page for them,” Sparacino said.

The group

According to its Facebook page, the Louisiana Blood Trailing Network — LABTN — there are more than 14,000 signed up to help, and they’re in every corner of the state.

There’s no fee.

“I offered to pay Leighton, but he wouldn’t take it,” Sparacino said. “I offered him a ‘tip' to pay for his gas and he accepted, but he told me he was more than happy to help because it gave him a chance to work Lobo. She was great, and I couldn’t have been more appreciative.”

If this would’ve happened a generation ago, Sparacino likely would never have recovered his prized buck.

Back then, it took a continued three-year push to convince then state Wildlife and Fisheries folks, and the State Legislature, to OK a program to use blood-trailing dogs to recover deer.

Having seen first-hand what a blood-trailing dog can do, it’s a marvelous experience. Years ago, on Davis Island, a yellow Labrador was sent in after a deer in near darkness after an afternoon hunt. In pitch-black conditions, the Lab was on the trail — three of us running with only the faintest hope of matching her speed — and when the bell on her collar finally stopped ringing after her 300-yard burst, she found the deer.

It was the first season blood-trailing dogs were allowed in the state.

The regulation

Taken from Louisiana Hunting Pamphlet — 2019-2020, the rule for using “dogs for trailing and retrieval of deer” states: “A leashed dog may be used to trail and retrieve wounded or unrecovered deer. Any leashed dog used to trail or retrieve wounded or unrecovered deer must wear a collar bearing the owner’s name, address and phone number.”

Hunting WMAs

Every one of the more than 60 state wildlife management areas and federal refuges has its set of seasons. In addition to basic and big-game hunting licenses, you must have a $15 WMA hunting permit for anyone ages 18-59 on “any land administered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, including wildlife refuges and wildlife management and habitat conservation areas.”

Permits are required to hunt federal lands.