Tired of competing with thousands of other hunters on limited public land and rarely seen game? Want to hunt abundant species with long seasons, liberal bag limits and little pressure — sometimes no seasons or limits?
Sportsmen don’t need to fly to Canada or Africa for such action. While others chase whitetails, hunters who target largely ignored species can enjoy more days afield and bag more game close to home, frequently on public property largely devoid of competition.
The traditional September dove opener kicks off another hunting season each year, but many sportsmen forget about doves until the following year. However, the late season can provide some of the best shooting all year with the top fields empty of hunters. In both Louisiana and Mississippi, split seasons may extend into January with generous limits.
Doves prefer pastures, grasslands or agricultural fields punctuated by occasional trees, brush or fencerows. Both states sometimes lease fields where hunters can pay a daily fee to hunt. Some private landholders also allow hunting for a fee.
Additionally, any wildlife management area with open brush fields might hold doves. A couple worth trying are 10,801-acre Wolf River WMA near Picayune, Miss. or Sandy Hollow WMA, a 3,697-acre plot near Amite, La.
Opening in October, squirrel season usually draws crowds, but most people ignore this species after the first weekend or two. Seasons in both Louisiana and Mississippi last until late February. In a public area that prohibits deer hunting or only allows it for a brief season, squirrel hunters might tramp over miles of woods without seeing another human after mid-October.
Hunters may bag either fox or common gray squirrels. Grays prefer denser hardwood bottoms and swamps. Larger and more colorful fox squirrels thrive in uplands of sparse pines and scattered hardwoods. Both species co-exist in some areas.
In Louisiana, sportsmen might visit the 10,989-acre Ouachita WMA near Monroe or 8,743-acre Sabine Island WMA near Vinton. In Mississippi, try hunting any hardwood forest in the Delta bottoms, such as those on 5,847-acre Twin Oaks WMA north of Vicksburg.
The season for cottontails parallels that of squirrels. That’s when serious bunny chasers love to follow their dogs. They release packs of beagles into thickets and wait for rabbits to emerge.
Once the most popular game in the eastern United States, rabbit hunting fever has subsided somewhat in recent decades. Still a dedicated cadre loves to listen to baying beagles.
“I just like to come out here to listen to the dogs howl,” said J.W. Bolton, a dedicated rabbit hunter from central Louisiana. “If someone has been doing this long enough, he can tell which dog is howling and why. We can tell when a dog is on a hot trail or just searching. I don’t care if I shoot a rabbit at all. It’s exciting just to hear the dogs.”
Southern sportsmen can target two rabbit species, eastern cottontails and swamp rabbits, also known as cane cutters. Cottontails typically prefer upland habitat, while swamp rabbits readily take to wetlands and swim very well. Swampers sometimes escape from dogs by jumping into water and hiding under tangled roots with only their noses protruding above the surface.
Although difficult, sportsmen can bag rabbits without the aid of dogs. When “walking up” rabbits, make a lot of noise. Kick underbrush, log piles or other hiding places. Hunting in teams, walk in a line abreast across a field and kick every clump. In really thick cover, send one person smashing into a thicket while others watch likely escape routes.
Sportsmen can find rabbits just about anywhere from hills to marshes. For cottontails, pick one with open fields or clear-cuts. For swampers, hunt hardwood bottoms.
In Louisiana, visit the 54,269-acre Clear Creek WMA in Vernon Parish. In Mississippi, try the 5,300-acre Black Prairie WMA near Brooksville.
Years ago, gentlemen sportsmen dressed in their best hunting attire to pursue quail on plantations. On the other hand, small farm owners just grabbed their shotgun and headed out the back door to skirt field edges. Bobwhites were everywhere.
Across the Southeast, wild quail populations have dropped drastically as suitable habitat vanished. Quail prefer tall grasses, open pine savannahs and brush. They thrive on field edges with plenty of weeds, grass clumps, briars or woody thickets for cover and seeds for food. Quail can’t survive in monoculture croplands or pine plantations.
“Quail populations have been declining in much of North America since the early 1900s due to a variety of reasons,” said Wes Burger, a quail expert at Mississippi State University. “From the mid-1900s through today, agricultural lands that supported quail no longer do because of the intensification of agricultural practices.”
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