The Wild Side: Hunters try to find place in seasons

Sometime in the next few weeks, something has to come along to break this abysmal heat wave.

When that first refreshingly cool wind blows into south Louisiana, tens of thousands of folks will haul out camouflage, check out their hunting weapons, try to secure enough ammo to last the season (a tough chore these days) and take a deep, thankful breath that this wretched summer is at long last over.

At least that’s what deer, duck, goose, squirrel and dove hunters will do.

Rabbit hunters have to wait and wait for their camo-wearing brothers and sisters to vacate stands and blinds just to give them a few days to run beagles, listen to the howls and yips of a chase and, hopefully, take a few swampers for the pot.

Fried, stewed, fricasseed, cooked in sauce piquante or thick tomato sauce, wild rabbit makes a terrific dish, especially when the body demands stick-to-the-ribs fare.

State wildlife managers annually recommend rabbit and squirrel seasons run the first Saturday in October through the end of February.

Sounds like a lot of days, but here’s the rub: For the last couple of decades, deer have held sway when it comes to setting seasons, and longer deer seasons mean fewer days when hunting clubs and landowners allow rabbit hunters to take the field.

Four years ago, when state managers decided to extend the deer seasons into the middle of February (after years of ending south Louisiana deer seasons in late January), rabbit hunters in and around the Capital City area read the handwriting on the wall.

“We were running out of days and running out of places,” Tommy Boudreaux said. “We needed to do something.”

More than 100 rabbit hunters showed up at a hastily called meeting at Moonie Bergeron’s place in Port Allen back then and agreed it was time for them to unite, to let the hunting world know they buy hunting licenses and the stamps they need to hunt on wildlife management areas. They contribute to the economy that drives the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, feed-store operations (dog food and vet supplies), gas stations and outdoors shops, just like deer hunters do.

Four years later, the Bayou State Rabbit Hunters Association has ballooned to more than 1,000 members.

“Nobody had any idea how many rabbit hunters there were in the state,” Bergeron said. “When we reached out, they came and made a stand that we didn’t want extensions to the deer season. We needed more days.”

Boudreaux said because most of their members are deer hunters, too, their pleas were heard by state biologists, and as many as eight state management areas were opened to rabbit hunters. The group also has set up field trials, and what turned out to be a well-attended handicapped-hunter hunt.

The group will meet Saturday from 5-9 p.m. at the Scott Civic Center in New Roads for their annual banquet. Boudreaux and Bergeron said all will be welcomed.