Deer biologists have been concerned with lactation rates of does and will continue to monitor. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)

Deer season underway and outlook similar to 2016

Deer season in much of St. Mary Parish has been open since Oct. 1, when archers took to the woods.
Last Saturday, the Area 7 primitive weapon deer season got underway. But, the big show starts Saturday when the firearms (still-hunt) only season begins.
With the weather being unseasonably warm the early part of October, it’s hard to get excited about deer hunting when the mercury is pushing high in the thermometer.
But, with the front that pushed through during the early part of the week, it ought to kick in some deer hormones where hunters should begin to see some rutting activity.
St. Mary Parish is unique in that it has divergent rut periods. Typically, around the third week of October, the rut begins in the marsh and runs into mid-December. I’ve personally found it difficult to differentiate between what most hunters refer to as a first and second rut in Area 7, because of this divergence. My guess it will be much the same for the 2017-2018 hunting season.
A review of the 2016-2017 Louisiana Deer Report released by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reveals that annual deer harvest numbers peaked in the late ’90s and early 2000s. For several years during that period, hunters harvested more than 250,000 whitetail deer annually.
Since, deer harvest numbers have been in steady decline and have sort of crisscrossed the 150,000 mark. Last season, Louisiana hunters harvested 138,300 whitetails.
A couple of concerns deer managers continue to look at are low lactation rates and a feral hog population that saw some 130,600 pigs harvested by hunters – a number nearly equal to deer harvest totals.
By studying the lactation rates of does, it provides biologists an estimate of the reproductive health of the herd. In short, it impacts recruitment, where there will be fewer fawns in the mix the following year.
In the course of 2015-2016, lactation rates in all eight of Louisiana’s physiographic regions, except one, had less than 50 percent of the does lactating. Physiographic simply means those landforms specific to a region, such as piney woods, bottomland hardwoods, coastal marsh, etc.
“We did see improved lactation rates during the 2016-2017 season,” Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Deer Program Manger Johnathan Bordelon said. “In addition, harvest was down, but the combination of improved production and reduced harvest should set the stage for a good season in 2017-2018.”
Louisiana hunters, for all intents and purposes, are harvesting as many hogs as they are deer these days, give or take a few. The problem with a burgeoning hog population is hogs directly compete with deer for food resources. They also prey on fawns and carry diseases such as leptospirosis and brucellosis.
It will take intense management effort to come even close to putting a dent in hog populations, as the animal’s reproductive rate far exceeds that of deer. Essentially, hogs are here to stay, and their harvest numbers will again rival deer harvest.
For the 2017-2018 deer season, there are a few notable changes hunters need to be aware of. Deer limits have been changed in areas 4 and 10. Hunters in these areas only will be allowed to harvest three deer of which includes no more than two antlered or two antlerless deer per season.
The reporting window also has changed this year. Previously, hunters had a seven-day reporting window. In 2017 the reporting period is 72 hours.
And, lastly, a portion of Deer Area 8 has been consolidated into Deer Area 3. It will be important for hunters to become familiar with the boundary of these areas for the upcoming season.
Year in and year out, Louisiana deer hunters harvest their share of big bucks. Some interesting statistics that Bordelon reports in his deer management presentation is percent of buck harvest by age class. In all eight physiographic regions, more than 50 percent of bucks harvested are more than 2-1/2 years old.
In bottomland hardwood habitats, the biologist says 79 percent of bucks are more than 3-1/2 years old and 54 percent are 4-1/2 years.
According to Bordelon, 2017 has been unseasonable wet. The frequent rainfall has promoted favorable growing conditions across most of the state, the biologist says, although some areas will be negatively impacted due to localized flooding.
Whenever flooding occurs, it can reduce the amount of available habitat.
Nonetheless, look for the 2017-2018 deer season to be much like last year harvest-wise, with plenty of big bucks winding up in taxidermist studios.

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