Louisiana advertises that it's a "Sportsman's Paradise," and for sure it is. Even though it's best known for waterfowl hunting and fishing, the state has a lot more than that, including deer – about 750,000, with just 150,000 killed a year.
Some of those deer are good ones: "Believe it or not, there are still some really fine deer in Louisiana – some Boone and Crockett, and a number of Pope and Young," said Emile LeBlanc, the state's deer management assistance program coordinator. "Of course [trophy animals] aren't as prevalent here as in more northern states, but we have some good-quality animals and we have quite a few deer."
That's because Louisiana is a tremendously fertile state. As LeBlanc noted, "Some areas have a lot more deer than we need, typically along the riverine systems where fertility is real high."
That's also where Louisiana has seen more than its fair share of extreme weather, but apparently deer there haven't suffered. LeBlanc's eyes were opened to that when doing deer counts after Hurricane Katrina. "I was absolutely amazed, and I continue to be impressed by their resilience," he said.
Deer Population: 750,000
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $500 million
For deer numbers, head to the mixed pine-hardwood forest in the northeast part of the state. LeBlanc said, "Our highest kill consistently comes from Union Parish because that parish is predominantly rural – there's deer habitat everywhere."
Louisiana's highest-quality deer are found along the Mississippi and Red rivers, which are fertile agricultural areas. Because of farming, there's less deer habitat and fewer deer, "so the quality is very high," he said.
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
LeBlanc pegged his state at a 4, in part because of ongoing weather issues. "We've had issues with flooding and will back off the hunting days in [affected] areas, to kind of give those deer a little reprieve," he said. "We had some mortality, but I don't feel it was monumental. For centuries, when flood waters have come, those deer have moved out of those areas to adjacent higher ground. And when the water recedes, they move right back."
Status 5 Years From Now
He feels that five years from now his state will be at least a 4. "I think it will look as good as now or possibly a little better. That depends on what the habitat is like, how people manage that habitat, and how human encroachment continues to develop."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
"Habitat change to me is the most significant issue we're going to see," LeBlanc said, meaning "human encroachment and land management by some large landowners.
"Human encroachment chips away every year. In five or 10 years, who knows what the habitat will be like." And as far as land management goes, "a lot of times with a large pine plantation, they'll harvest and then spray it with herbicide which absolutely degrades the habitat as far as whitetail deer are concerned. "
He's also keeping an eye on his state's "aging population of hunters. Like a lot of other states, we're attempting to bring younger hunters into the ranks."
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, LeBlanc said, "No, I don't. Even hurricanes only hit a small portion of the state. That might hurt the [deer] population for a while [in a certain area], but I don't see anything catastrophic – unless somebody drops a nuclear bomb on the state [laughs]. That's the only catastrophic event I could consider."