Thistlethwaite WMA habitat
Thistlethwaite WMA habitat
Thistlethwaite WMA map
One of the nice sized bucks harvested on Thistlethwaite Wildlife Management Area.
LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet (seated) with (standing, left to right) John Rik Thistlethwaite, Lawrence Thistlethwaite and Dr. Patrick Thistlethwaite.

Thistlethwaite WMA In St. Landry Parish Produces More Than Its Share Of Big Antlered Bucks

story by Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information


When most deer hunters in and around Acadiana - and other areas of the state - think of quality deer on public land, they turn their attention to Thistlethwaite Wildlife Management Area in St. Landry Parish. For more than 50 years, Thistlethwaite WMA has produced its share of large antlered bucks that rank among the top of Louisiana’s big game records list.


That will continue for years to come thanks to the Thistlethwaite family, which agreed in December of 2020 to continue its partnership with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on the 11,100-acre WMA. The Thistlethwaite heirs signed a lease agreement with LDWF in May of 1966 with the intention of providing quality land to the public on which to hunt and enjoy outdoor activities.


“The reason was to allow the public to use this wonderful piece of property for the enjoyment of hunting and outdoors conservation,’’ said Lawrence Thistlethwaite, spokesman for the family. “We’ve had a good relationship with LDWF, they’re always willing to listen to any concerns we might have and we’ve always been able to work well together. It’s been a good partnership and benefitted the public.’’


“We’re so pleased the Thistlethwaite family will continue to allow us to use this treasured land for public use and wildlife focused recreation,’’ said LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet. “Thistlethwaite WMA features some of the best public land deer hunting in the state. We’ve worked with the Thistlethwaite family in managing the public access for consumptive and non-consumptive use of the wildlife resources present on this bottomland hardwood forest. It’s a place in which we take great pride in overseeing.’’


LDWF biologist supervisor Tony Vidrine, based in Lafayette, oversees Thistlethwaite. It’s a place with which he is well acquainted. He started hunting there while in high school, usually hunting for squirrel. When in college he began deer hunting there, increasing his appreciation for the WMA.


“I always enjoyed hunting there no matter what I was going after,’’ Vidrine said. “It’s such a nice area. It’s known for the quality of the bucks. Every year there are several nice ones that come out of there. There is a moderately dense deer herd in Thistlethwaite at this time.’’


LDWF features many bottomland hardwood WMAs throughout the state that have yielded large antlered bucks. Some surpass Thistlethwaite in numbers because of larger acreage. But, LDWF Deer Program Manager Johnathan Bordelon said Thistlethwaite WMA is considered among the best due to the size and potential for adult bucks.


The WMA features enhanced browse species such as dogwood, redbud, elderberry, French mulberry, greenbrier, rattan and blackberry.


“Thistlethwaite produces everything a deer needs in the form of quality browse, abundant hard mast and dense cover,’’ Bordelon said. “The surrounding agricultural landscape further complements the nutritional plane in which these animals live. The two main ingredients to produce older bucks are age and nutrition.’’


The dense cover in the understory of palmetto can be a hindrance to deer hunting, but is sort of an iconic signature of Thistlethwaite. You don’t have to travel far into the WMA to notice the palmetto. It seems to be everywhere.


“Palmetto is good cover,’’ Vidrine said. “The Thistlethwaite family has a long history of forest management on the property, but after Hurricane Gustav (in 2008), they started logging more intensively and have been logging regularly ever since. That helps make good habitat. It’s a tough place to hunt and I guess that’s why those bucks get so big.’’


Bordelon said the forest management practice produces the cover in which deer rely to elude hunters and predators. That cover, conversely, serves to increase the amount of forage for deer. Then, as a public hunting ground, the WMA has a shorter deer hunting season to accommodate increased hunting pressure.  “In general, shorter WMA seasons serve to limit harvest pressure on deer, which allows some to reach older ages,’’ Bordelon said. “The deer on Thistlethwaite have a long history of good physical condition due to available resources and deer harvest strategies.


“I have observed many deer on Thistlethwaite WMA over the years. Most of those observations were along roadsides and the numerous pipeline rights-of-way. The limited visibility in the forest does make seeing deer a challenge.’’


Vidrine has heard and been part of plenty stories of hunters harvesting prized deer. Sometimes, he and LDWF personnel are able to lend a helping hand.


“One year we had a guy kill a big deer and he couldn’t load it by himself,’’ Vidrine said. “So, he came to the check station to ask for assistance getting his deer out of the woods and we went in and helped him load it. When we weighed it, it was 325 pounds, a really big deer. That was the biggest one we’ve ever weighed. And we’ve had some 200 pound does, which is not very common in Louisiana deer.’’


But, deer aren’t the only species that thrive in Thistlethwaite. Squirrel are plentiful and hunters also pursue rabbit, wood ducks and the long-billed woodcock. Trapping for furbearers is permitted with harvested species including beaver, raccoon, mink, bobcat, otter and opossum.


In addition, Thistlethwaite is a good place for birding as you could possibly observe hawks, owls and woodpeckers. Neotropical migrant songbirds are common, too.


Vidrine said local knowledge is good, as some hunters from the area will come out with a limit of squirrels almost every time they go into these woods.


“It’s a very popular squirrel hunting place,’’ Vidrine said. “Like deer hunting, it’s tough because of the palmettos, but there are a lot of oaks in there. It’s a high quality oak area. A lot of hunters go to hunt wood ducks in season. Wood ducks make up the majority of ducks found on Thistlethwaite, with a teal occasionally taken. You have the bottoms and the sloughs and the bayous where hunters can pursue wood ducks. We also have a good number of feral hogs so many hunters harvest hogs incidental to other hunting.’’


Lawrence Thistlethwaite said he’s proud of the bucks and other wildlife which the WMA produces. But he is also pleased with how LDWF has made sure the property is available to students for deer hunting during the Christmas break. There is also a youth deer season available.


“We discussed with the Secretary concerns we had about young people not being able to hunt at that time,’’ Thistlethwaite said. “There weren’t any seasons (at Thistlethwaite) open when the kids were out of school in December. So we were able to get the season back open at that time of year. There are a lot of people in our area who utilize the property and they all have kids. We were happy to give them that chance.’’


Though getting around Thistlethwaite when hunting can be difficult, getting to the WMA is relatively easy. It’s just a stone’s throw from I-49 by taking the Lebeau exit and driving east. Access is also available northeast of Washington off Louisiana Highway 10. LDWF maintains 17 miles of roads on the WMA.


“We work to make sure the roads are in good shape,’’ Vidrine said. “They’re all limestone. It’s just tough getting through the woods.


“Thistlethwaite is a place we’re all very proud of. We have a good working relationship with the Thistlethwaite family and it’s benefitted many of the WMA’s users. We’re excited about the future of this great outdoors place.”