Deer Program: Research and Management

White-tailed deer are an abundant and sustainable game species in Louisiana. LDWF’s Deer Program biologists and technicians collect harvest and biological data and conduct other research on public and private lands across the state to inform our deer management activities such as setting seasons and limits.

In a constantly changing landscape, it’s also important to continually monitor and habitat variables that may affect deer carrying capacity, health, and recruitment, all of which determine hunting opportunity and potential success. In addition, we provide technical assistance for managing deer populations and their habitats to private landowners and hunters through our Deer Management Assistance Program.

Research

In addition to collecting harvest and biological data, we gather herd health data, which our wildlife veterinarians analyze to monitor for white-tailed deer diseases including chronic wasting disease, Epizootic hemorrhagic disease, blue tongue virus, and leptospirosis. Our biologists and veterinarians conduct additional disease surveillance monitoring and necropsies (autopsies on animals) on reported deer mortalities.

We also cooperate with universities on other research projects. Current projects include:

Deer Disturbance from Small Game Hunting

Genetic Differentiation of Wild and Pen-Raised White-tailed Deer

Past Projects:

Bottomland Hardwood Telemetry Study

Pine Habitat Telemetry Study in North Louisiana

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge White-Tailed Deer Population Dynamics Study

Space Use and Movements of Adult Male White-Tailed Deer in Northeastern Louisiana

Pass-A-Loutre Wildlife Management Area Project

Management

2017 Deer Management Plan

Deer Population and Management History

Before Louisiana was colonized, the statewide deer population was estimated at 400,000. During the 19th century, early settlers and market hunting reduced the herd. Large-scale timber cuts in the late 1800s and early 1900s left deer concentrated in remaining cover and habitat where they were vulnerable to overharvest (St. Amant 1959). Hunting laws and bag limits were too liberal or not enforced, and deer numbers fell dramatically. The deer population was lowest between 1915 and 1925, with an all-time low estimated at 20,000 deer in 1925 (St. Amant and Perkins 1953). However, some deer survived in the deep swamps and margins, and as formerly deforested habitats grew into second growth forests, deer began to recover (St. Amant 1959).

Deer management began in the late 1940s, and by the early 1950s, a successful restocking program was well underway. Deer were captured at numerous public and private land tracts throughout the state, initially using box type traps and later airboats, such as at Delta National Wildlife Refuge (Moreland 1996). Deer were also imported from Texas and Wisconsin (McDonald and Miller 2004). However, recent DNA analysis does not show any remnant genetics from northern lineages. Most successful restocking efforts were in-state transplants.

In response to increasing deer herds, enforcement efforts, and habitat improvements, managers were able to relax harvest regulations. In 1960, there were 22 deer management areas) and most deer seasons were only 2 to 4 weeks, with the longest at 56 days. The season limit was two deer, hunting was often limited to mostly bucks, and many areas were closed to hunting altogether (Durham 2014). Today, we have 90-plus day gun seasons in some areas, 120-plus day bow seasons, and a six deer statewide limit of which up to four can be antlerless, with reduced limits in two of the ten deer management areas.

Moreland (1996) estimated the Louisiana deer herd at one million at its peak. According to our long-term mail survey, harvest estimates peaked in 1997 at 267,600 deer. Since then, harvests trended downward until about 2012*. The deer population is estimated to be at a minimum of 500,000 today.

*The survey technique was modified in 2012 to include senior hunters; previous surveys did not count this group.

Deer Habitat Productivity and Historical Harvest Rates

According to reporting data, the highest harvest rates come from upland and bottomland hardwood habitats, primarily along the Mississippi River. These highly productive habitats have the most fertile soils and more hard mast and are surrounded by large-scale agriculture, which contribute more food resources to deer.

Most of the statewide deer harvest comes from the low to moderately productive northwest mixed pine/hardwood habitat due to its vast acreage. This is a large region, consisting of rural, heavily forested and mostly pine dominant parishes.

The rest of the state’s deer habitats are considered low in productivity. These habitats include swamp hardwoods, coastal marsh, coastal prairie, longleaf flatwoods, and historic longleaf. See Managing White-Tails in Louisiana, Volume 2, for a description of the deer habitat types in Louisiana.

Documents

2016-2017 LDWF Annual Deer Harvest Report

2016 Wildlife Management Area Either Sex Deer Hunt Summary—Firearms

U.S. District Court Ruling Regarding Kisatchie National Forest Deer Hunting with Dogs (November 27, 2013)