When the leaves turn brown and temperatures dip into the upper 60s and low 70s, a weatherman will say that summer has officially gone and autumn has arrived.
But a deer hunter will say something different. He will proclaim that hunting season has arrived.
Deer hunting is as popular as it has ever been in Louisiana with hundreds of thousands of hunters projected to make trips this season, according to numbers provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The archery season is already in session in lands throughout Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, having gotten underway on Oct. 1.
The rest of the state’s start dates vary based on location and the type of hunt being done. According to LDWF Deer Program Manager Scott Durham, the early news is good for avid hunters – the 2014 season figures to be a hit because of below-average summer temperatures, which will likely lead to a cooler than normal autumn and winter.
According to Durham and several hunting websites, this should provide more abundant harvests than in normal years.
“I do expect a good year with average or colder than average temperatures,” he said. “We have had a good growing season with abundant rainfall across most of the state. Habitat conditions have been good and recruitment should be good, as well.”
Durham said last year’s season was very good and that numbers were very strong compared to years past. There were more than 160,000 deer and over 200,000-plus hunters who made trips – both numbers that are increased from where they had been in previous years.
“Last season was good,” Durham said. “We had about a 10 percent increase over the previous year. The mail survey estimate was that there were 166,200 deer harvested.”
The big numbers of deer are needed for supply to meet demand out in the woods. Durham said there are more hunters today than there’s ever been before throughout Louisiana.
The LDWF official said last year’s figures reflected an increase and more than 3.8 million days were spent hunting deer in our state.
“Opening deer season is huge for deer hunters,” Durham said. “There are about 200,000-plus deer hunters that spend about 3.8 million days hunting deer in our state. Deer hunter numbers in Louisiana are stable and strong with no apparent decline in sight any time in the near future.”
The reason for that last statement is because of a quality job done by the LDWF to introduce the next generation to hunting. Durham said Louisiana’s hunting population has historically been very top-heavy with the vast majority of statewide hunters being 60 or over. But because of programs and efforts to get younger people involved, the cycle of growth has continued as older hunters have bowed out and newer hunters have moved into the deer stand.
“About one-third of hunters are 60 or over,” Durham said. “But we appear to be recruiting enough young hunters to take their places. First-time hunters should know they must complete their Hunter Safety Course. They must also be aware of the tagging and reporting requirements, as well as the license and what the hunter orange requirements are. It’s our hope that new hunters will have someone mentoring them and teaching them how to be safe and effective with their weapon and tree stand safety.”
But no matter how good things might look, it all boils down to the weather and making sure the conditions stay favorable for deer movement. On warmer days, deer are usually dormant, opting to lay low to the ground throughout the day in order to use the moisture in the grass to stay cool.
Hunting in these conditions is a recipe for disaster for a multitude of reasons, according to lifelong hunter Bo Adams.
“You won’t kill anything, and you’ll be giving the deer a scent that they’ll know to avoid in the future,” he said. “If you’re serious about this and you really want to have a really good season, sometimes the best advice that you could give someone is to just stay home. Sometimes the best day is one where you don’t even try and bother the deer that are going to be resting and unable to be killed anyway.”
According to everyone asked, the peak time for a hunt is right before, during and after a cold front has passed – even if it’s early in the season and the temperature hasn’t dropped too low.
Houma native Tim Moreland said he’s been killing bucks for 17 years throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
He said his experience shows the best time for a hunt is when the air is dry – specifically right after a cold front.
Moreland said that’s the time that deer are usually the most active throughout the forest. Biologists tout that this assessment is true, adding that the cold weather makes deer active because they need to burn calories in order to stay warm. By burning calories, they get hungry more often. In the search for food, they get out and walk around grassy areas, exposing them to hunters.
“You want to be there very early if you can,” Moreland said. “Ideally, you want to be on the grounds even while it’s storming while the front passes. Because immediately after it clears up, the wind changes directions and that temperature drops, the deer come out and that’s the best time to hunt – without question. I think if you ask 50 hunters when their most active days were, probably 48 would tell you a day that just so happened to be right after a front.”