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Forecast By Cliff Covington

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”

This paradoxical quote from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens perfectly describes the status of the overabundant whitetail deer herd in Mississippi.

Despite all the changes made over the last few years to increase hunter opportunity and reduce overall deer numbers, Mississippi continues to hold the title of the state with the highest deer density in the entire nation. An estimated 2 million whitetails call the 30 million acres of the Magnolia State home. And even though that computes to one deer for every 15 acres, we need to keep in mind that only 19.8 million acres of the state is forested land. That means that there is one deer for every 10 acres of forestland in Mississippi.

So how could a super dense deer population be both good and bad? By definition, a paradox is a true statement that seems to contradict itself. It is “the best of times” for Mississippi deer hunters due to the increased opportunities of seeing and harvesting whitetails. However, the massive deer population that affords Magnolia State deer hunters with these incredible opportunities also positions the state’s whitetail herd for “the worst of times”. Without a targeted reduction of the deer population to levels allowing the habitat to recover, the deer herd almost certainly experiences a long-term negative impact.


Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Currently, the deer herd is in relatively good shape. However, a poor mast crop or disease outbreak coupled with a heavily overpopulated herd could have devastating long-term effects. It is paramount for hunters to increase their doe harvest in order to maintain the deer herd in its current condition. According to Lann Wilf, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks deer biologist, we have been losing ground herd health wise for the past two decades. Some have gone so far as comparing Mississippi’s deer herd to a ticking time bomb. Meanwhile, Magnolia State deer enthusiasts need to take full advantage of the bountiful deer population that exists today.

An abundance of valuable information about the condition of Mississippi’s deer herds by region, including harvest data is available in the MDWFP 2012 Deer Program Report, which can be found on the agency Web site at www.mdwfp.com.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the six deer regions established by MDWFP and identify the better locations to bag a deer — any deer — this season.

NORTH REGION

According to the 2012 Deer Program Report, the overall herd health in the North Region remains stable. However, stable in this region equates to overpopulated deer herds that have heavily stressed the available habitat.

“Fortunately, overpopulated deer herds in this region are easier to control than in other regions of the state, and the soil fertility is high enough to allow habitat quality to be restored after deer numbers are reduced,” reports Lann Wilf, MDWFP regional deer biologist. “Therefore, management potential in the North Region is almost as high as any region of the state.”

Additional data form the 2012 Deer Program Report revealed a stable or slight improvement in the body weights in all doe age classes. Most of this improvement can be attributed to an early spring and an above average acorn crop. The resulting increase in lactation and fawn recruitment further indicates the need for an increased harvest in the 2013-2014 deer season.

When it comes to the top deer producing counties in the North Region; Marshall, Tate, and Panola are hard to beat. Charles Ray Nix, Hell Creek, and Canal Section WMAs offer sizeable deer populations with greatly reduced hunting pressure when compared to other public land hunting spots. But if crowding isn’t an issue, the expansive Holly Springs National Forest and the Upper Sardis WMA offer ample deer hunting opportunities.

NORTH CENTRAL REGION

The 15 counties that make up the North Central Region, like most of the deer regions in the Magnolia State, has been struggling with a serious overpopulation problem in recent years. And there is belief that this deer density problem is contributing to the high rate of Hemorrhagic Disease cases seen in this region in the last few years.

Despite the negatives, the 2012 Deer Program Report revealed that the spring herd health evaluations indicate the deer herds in the North Central Region are in excellent condition. However, increased harvest rates are critical in order to address the high fawn production rates and the corresponding overpopulation issues.

The good news is that harvesting a whitetail in this region shouldn’t be too difficult a task this season. Some of the top producing deer counties in this region include Noxubee, Monroe, Carroll, and Attala. When it comes to public land options, the North Central Region is home to the 48,000-acre Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest tract of the Tombigbee National Forest, and a trio of top deer producing WMAs in Calhoun County, Chickasaw, and Choctaw.

But if you’re looking for a less crowded public hunting option in the North Central Region, Malmaison WMA is a good choice. Located on the western border of the region, Malmaison WMA consistently produces some very impressive deer harvest numbers.

EAST CENTRAL REGION

The East Central Region is the most diverse deer region in the Magnolia State, and in more than one way. Containing seven of the eleven soil types found across Mississippi, this region offers a diverse habitat and fertile soils that provide everything necessary for a healthy deer herd. Much like the diversity in soil types, deer management practices vary greatly from the east side of the region to the west side, resulting in a considerable difference in the corresponding herd health parameters.

“Harvest rates are more than double and buck age structure is much older in the western counties in this region,” reported William McKinley, MDWFP regional deer biologist. “When comparing a western and eastern county, Madison and Lauderdale, doe and buck body weights in the western county are 21 pounds and 35 pounds heavier, respectively. The western county is harvesting 247 percent more deer per acre than the eastern county. Harvest needs to increase drastically in the eastern counties.”

When it comes to hunting opportunities, the highest deer densities in the East Central Region can be found in Madison, Jasper and Leake counties. For the best public land opportunities, hunters should focus on the Bienville National Forest and the three Wildlife Management Areas found within its borders — Caney Creek, Bienville, and Tallahala. Nanih Waiya WMA located near Philadelphia in Neshoba County is another very good prospect.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The sandy soils and pine-dominated ecosystem of the Southeast Region severely limit its deer producing capabilities. The combination of poor soils, heavy hunting pressure, and the lowest deer densities in the Magnolia State earn the Southeast Region an unfavorable reputation. However, impressive results have been seen in this region with the necessary inputs and management.

“Unlike some of the highly fertile soils in the state, the coastal habitats of Southeast Mississippi require more work to make them right for optimal deer nutrition and growth,” said Justin Thayer, the MDWFP deer biologist assigned to the Southeast Region. “Lime, prescribed fire, a timber management plan, sound data collection, herbicides, and a selective harvest are all key ingredients for a good deer management plan in Southeast Mississippi.”

Your best chances for harvesting a deer in the Southeast Region are in the counties in the upper half of the region such as Lamar, Marion, and Jefferson Davis. These counties have much higher deer densities than do the southern coastal counties. The Wolf River and Marion County Wildlife Management Areas, along with the vast De Soto National Forest, remain good public land choices for bagging a deer.

SOUTHWEST REGION

The Southwest Region continues to lead the Magnolia State in both quality and quantity of whitetails. Even the fertile Delta Region struggles to keep pace with the deer-producing factory found in the Southwest Region. And despite intensive deer management being practiced virtually region wide; hunters are unable to keep the deer population in check. Even with an increased doe harvest, the remaining females seem to produce even more fawns. This only adds to an already problematic overpopulation issue in the region.

The vast majority of this region consists of acorn producing hardwood river bottoms, an abundance of high quality browse, and some of the most fertile soils to be found anywhere in the state. This extremely high quality habitat is the primary reason this region contains such a high concentration of whitetails.

There really isn’t an unproductive county for whitetails in the Southwest Region. However, if pressed for the top three deer producers, there is no doubt that Claiborne, Jefferson, and Adams counties would have to fill those slots.

The most popular public land deer hunting opportunity in the Southwest Region is the massive 189,000-acre Homochitto National Forest. Nestled inside its southern boundary are two sizeable WMAs — Sandy Creek and Caston Creek. Despite the intense hunting pressure they receive, this pair of WMAs continues to produce decent hunter success rates. But if you prefer public land with far less hunting pressure, St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge is just down the road and offers an additional 26,000 acres of prime deer habitat.

Featuring exceptional habitat and effective deer management, the Southwest Region is also home to three of the Magnolia State’s most productive whitetail WMAs — Copiah County, Natchez State Park, and Canemount. Located in the bluffs along the Mississippi River in Claiborne County, Canemount WMA is the newest WMA in the state and offers a hunting experience in a league of its own.

DELTA REGION

Hunters in the Delta Region have faced a number of challenges over the past few seasons. The same vast river systems that created the extremely fertile soils found across the Delta have created havoc for hunters in low-lying areas. Heavy spring flooding in the Delta and along the Mississippi River causes harvest rates to plummet.

“Many hunters and managers tend to panic on flood years and either cease or significantly reduce antlerless harvest,” noted Wilf. “Often, hunters forget that deer along the River have been dealing with flooding for hundreds of years and have adapted to fluctuating water levels.”

According to Wilf, flooding oftentimes helps the deer herd more than it hurts; especially in herds that were grossly overpopulated prior to the flood due to inadequate historical harvest.

Choosing the best counties in the Delta Region is a challenge, since one can be just as productive as the next. However, you are certain to increase your odds of harvesting a deer this season by focusing on the counties with the most timberland. With that in mind, the top counties in the Delta Region would have to include Yazoo, Warren, Sharkey, and Issaquena.

From the 100,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex to the numerous Wildlife Management Areas, the Delta Region has an abundance of public deer hunting opportunities. The real challenge comes in choosing which of these bountiful deer lands to bag your deer.

Three of the WMAs in this region are perennial picks when it comes to producing exceptional deer harvest numbers. O’Keefe WMA in Quitman County is unique because it is one of the largest contiguous tracts of timber in the North Mississippi Delta outside of the Mississippi River levee. The harvest numbers on O’Keefe have remained high enough to keep it in the top 10 WMAs for the past several years. Mahannah WMA in Issaquena County and Twin Oaks WMA in Sharkey County are the shining stars in the South Delta. Although they are better known for producing trophy bucks, this pair of WMAs also ranks near the top of the list for total numbers of deer harvested per acre and man-days per deer.

And if none of the WMAs in Delta Region suit your fancy, there is always the Delta National Forest or the massive Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is made up of six National Wildlife Refuges. Panther Swamp, Hillside, Holt Collier, Mathews Brake, Theodore Roosevelt, and Morgan Brake NWRs all contain an abundance of deer.

Don’t forget to upload your best deer photos to our Camera Corner!