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Hunting Mississippi Whitetail

Bucks On The Big Black

by John J. Woods   |  September 30th, 2010 0

This river valley in the southwest quadrant of the state has a long history of giving up trophy whitetails. Join the author in exploring the facts behind this legacy.

The movie A River Runs Through It depicts the intertwining relationships of a family and a community both with one another and with the river that plays an inescapable role in the daily lives of the characters. The river is always the backdrop.

That scenario’s not a whole lot different from the relationship of the Big Black River to a huge segment of the trophy deer hunting community in that river basin in southwest Mississippi.

This river corridor is very significant in terms of yielding trophy-class whitetail bucks in the Magnolia State. In fact, the waterway’s basin has earned a reputation is as one of the top buck-producing areas in the Southeast, and the 11 counties along the flow of the Big Black River — Claiborne, Warren, Hinds, Yazoo, Madison, Holmes, Attala, Carroll, Montgomery and Webster — are consistently found near the top in rankings of Mississippi’s best trophy-buck regions.

THE FACTS
Mississippi’s trophy bucks are classified under three different rating systems. As is true throughout North America, the Pope & Young Club recognizes trophy archery kills, and the Boone and Crockett Club tracks the state’s trophy bucks taken by means of firearms. Mississippi goes one step further with its Magnolia Records Program. Each of these systems has separate categories for typical and non-typical racks.

To make the P&Y all-time record book, a typical rack must score 125 points, while non-typicals must total 155. For B&C the threshold is 170 for typical and 195 points for non-typical racks. And any buck scoring 125 typical points or better makes the Magnolia Records, regardless of how it was killed. The minimum for non-typicals is 155. Additionally, the Magnolia Records are broken down into archery, muzzleloading and modern firearms categories, with the bucks also listed by county.

To date, Mississippi has given up 68 bucks that have made the P&Y record book. Of that number, 26, or 38 percent, have come from the 11 counties in the Big Black River basin.


With regard to B&C records, 58 Mississippi bucks have made the all-time list. Of that number, 17, or 29 percent, came from this river basin.

Finally, of the top 100 bucks listed with the Magnolia Records Program — out of the current total of 2,749 on the list — 32, or 32 percent, came from the Big Black River counties.

Rounding the data off suggests that about a third of the officially recognized trophy bucks from Mississippi have been surrendered by the counties in the Big Black River corridor.

ESSENTIAL HABITAT
The obvious question that comes to mind is: Why does this area of the state produce so many record-class bucks? The answer lies in understanding the fundamental elements that whitetail bucks must have to thrive and to grow big racks.

The three key factors are nutrition, age, and genetics; you can also throw in cover. This habitat has all of these critical elements.

Mother Nature is basically responsible for providing the nutrition for wildlife, and she’s done an admirable job in this regard within the Big Black River basin region of the state. But there’s more to it than the simple luck of an area replete with more-than-ample supplies of nutrient-rich natural browse.

Tracing the origin of the Big Black River from Webster County southwest to its confluence with the Mississippi River in Claiborne County takes you across a wide swath of some of the finest soil in America. This dirt, an extremely calcium-rich soil type known as “loess,” is a heavy, loamy soil highly conducive to growing the high-quality plant cover that’s extremely beneficial to a big buck’s development. Calcium is vital for bone growth, which is the basis for producing large, heavy antlers.

State wildlife biologists have been monitoring the buck harvests in this region for years and have done considerable research to identify the factors that have contributed to the area’s reputation for quality bucks. They consistently point to natural browse as the key ingredient.

Additionally, about 39 percent of this river basin’s land is cultivated agriculturally. A typical growing season finds fields of soybeans, spring wheat, corn, milo sorghum, pasture grasses, alfalfa, and hay growing tall in the fertile soil. Of course, area farmers hate the losses inflicted on their crops by wildlife, but hunters know that these easily available and highly nutritious food sources attract whitetails in droves.

The Big Black River basin is also well provisioned with natural forage — native plants including blackberries, wild grapes, persimmons, pears, native grasses and honeysuckle. Areas with stands of oak produce acorn crops as well, a perennial high-protein deer food.

One of the hunting clubs I frequent every season is smack in the middle of this river basin. With over a mile’s river frontage, it encloses 600 prime acres whose habitat diversity is amazing. Part of the property is forested in hardwoods that yield a phenomenal acorn crop in good years. When the acorns are dropping, you can sit in a ladder stand in dry woods and hear them plummeting out of the oaks with a sound like rainfall.

Like any well-stocked pantry, this river habitat provides the staples for good nutrition, and thus grows big bucks.



With regard to B&C records, 58 Mississippi bucks have made the all-time list. Of that number, 17, or 29 percent, came from this river basin.
 

SECURITY COVER
Besides the availability of food the Big Black River habitat also contains exceptional cover for deer. As mentioned earlier, age is a factor in producing big racks. The best way for a buck to grow old is to have good cover in which to hide.

About 56 percent of property in this region is forested, thus providing plenty of range for the deer and offering many secure areas for the bucks.

Also found on property along this river are cypress swamps with a whole network of drainage creeks that provides difficult-to-reach sanctuaries for the deer. At times you can actually hear the deer moving in the water travel routes — which, oddly enough, they seem to prefer, perhaps because the thick foliage along the banks provides such dense cover. The only point at which you can spot a deer is where a natural break exists in this streamside cover.

The native cover also includes cottonwood thickets, patches of head-high blackberry briars, and islands of waist-deep sedge grass. This type of cover is quite typical all along the Big Black River waterway.

Yet another factor in providing bucks the chance to reach their maximum potential is the limiting of the buck harvest. The enactment of the regulation requiring a legal buck to have at least four points has allowed year-old bucks the chance to grow and get smarter, thus becoming harder to harvest.

Of course, many landowners, especially those in the Big Black River valley, were in the vanguard of those promoting such management practices. Now the concept of passing on young bucks is the gold standard of whitetail management.

GENETICS AND MANAGEMENT
The final factor in the Big Black River basin’s ability to produce quality bucks is the apparently superior genetic makeup of the deer herd in the region.

Bill Lunceford, technical guidance project coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, is the data compiler for the agency’s private-lands Deer Management Assistance Program. He organizes all of the harvest data from hundreds of hunting clubs enrolled in the DMAP, many of which are located in this river basin region.

“The consistency of big bucks coming off the Big Black River points to one thing,” he remarked. “It’s greatly due to the strong genetics possessed by these deer.”

Rich nutrients allow big antlers to develop, but only when there is a viable genetic base enabling them. Bucks in the Big Black River basin certainly have been gifted by that double whammy.

Over the years landowners have become a very savvy group of whitetail managers. They’re also the caretakers of the bulk of Mississippi’s hunting properties. This has had a major impact on the quality of bucks coming off private lands in the last decade — one that’s been very evident along the Big Black River.

POINTS OF ACCESS
Now for the bad news about hunting deer along the Big Black: There’s only a finite amount of land in the corridor, and as the saying goes, “They ain’t making any more.” The vast preponderance of the acreage in these 11 counties is privately owned. Obviously, access to hunting land can be difficult.

If old Uncle Charlie passes away and leaves you the family farm, you might want to simply sell it and invest the proceeds in some property along the Big Black. Prices do vary quite widely by exact location and big-buck potential, but hunting land in the corridor often fetches $1,500 to $2,000 per acre; undeveloped land without roads, ATV trails, or food plots goes for less.



A major factor in the Big Black River basin’s ability to produce quality bucks is the apparently superior genetic makeup of the deer herd in the region.
 

Another, more practical route to take is get a group together to form a hunt club and lease some property. Lease terms for hunting rights along the river basin region vary widely, too. Too, leases are fairly difficult to locate, given the tight market for this type of high-demand property. Currently, lease rates run from a rare $5.00 per acre annually to more than $20. Again, this depends greatly on where the land is and what special features it might offer.

What about public lands along the Big Black River? While there are no public hunting lands directly on this river, four different public tracts — two national wildlife refuges and two state-managed wildlife management areas — offer hunting options within the corridor.

The Hillside NWR covers 15,400 acres of land in Holmes County, while the Panther Swamp NWR spans 22,000 acres in Yazoo County. Deer hunting on both of these tracts is controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The larger of the two state-managed tracts in the corridor is the Lake George WMA, also in Yazoo County. Covering 8,383 acres, the WMA offers an array of archery, primitive weapons, gun and youth gun hunts for deer from October through the end of January each year. For more details, contact area manager Rusty Odum at (662) 673-2393.

The state hunting land is on the new Yockanookany WMA in Attala County. Lann Wilf, the area manager for this 2,379-acre property, can be reached at (662) 459-9259 for more details on the area’s deer hunts. These include permit-only gun, primitive weapons and archery sessions spanning October to the end of January. There is also a non-permit youth gun hunt.

Check out these two WMAs further by visiting the MDWFP Web site at
www.mdwfp.com. Then follow the prompts through Hunting and Wildlife Management Areas.

The big-buck potential along the Big Black River is certainly well established. The record books are full of entries from this area, and there’s no reason to believe that more are not on the way in the future.

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