Getting Ready for the Mississippi Bow Season

Now's the time to plan your archery season in the Magnolia State. Using online resources can put you ahead of the pack in finding your buck this year!

Photo by Michael H. Francis

By Dottie Head

By now, Mississippi sportsmen have been preparing for archery season for weeks, perhaps even months. In anticipation of the coming deer season, hunters dust off their gear and make the requisite trip to the sporting goods store to check out the latest technology.

With gear in order, it's time for some target practice, at the range or in the backyard, followed by a scouting trip. In addition to finding the best spot to set up a stand, there are also the logistics of getting yourself and your gear to the perfect spot before someone else claims it. Once the gear and plans are intact, it is time to reminisce with friends about deer hunts past and dream of the great hunts yet to come.

While hunting is an ancient and honored tradition, the 21st century has ushered in some technology that makes planning and executing a hunt much easier. When planning this year's hunt, it's well worth the effort to take a look at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Web site. This resource offers a wealth of information for hunters that will not only make it possible to pinpoint the best places to hunt, but also provide insight into what type of deer each spot is likely to produce.

The best place to start is with the Deer Data Book on the Web site. This invaluable resource is an effort on the part of the wildlife division to consolidate deer-related information into a single document that is useful not only for wildlife managers but also for hunters. The book contains a wealth of information ranging from deer herd health evaluations and soil resource areas to deer feeding concerns and herd health evaluations. While most of the data is a few years old, much of it is still relevant to this year. When used in conjunction with some of the other information on the Web site, it can help you determine the best spot to take a child hunting with a good chance of bagging a deer or to plan where to go to maximize your own chances of taking a trophy buck.

Over the years, Mississippi hunters have taken their fair share of trophy deer, and the MDWFP Web site has done a tremendous job of cataloging them. The Magnolia Records Program has done a phenomenal job of documenting big deer harvested in the state. A collaborative effort between the Mississippi Wildlife Federation and the MDWFP, the MRP has become the official white-tailed deer record-keeping program for the state.

The MRP was designed to recognize quality bucks taken in Mississippi with archery gear or firearms and uses the scoring systems employed by the Pope & Young Club for bow kills and Boone and Crockett Club for gun kills. While many of the MRP deer are also recognized by those national clubs, some are not. What makes the MRP unique is that it evaluates each deer based on the county in which it was harvested. For example, a deer taken in the piney woods or one of the other less fertile regions of the state can be compared to others from similar areas, instead of just with giant bucks taken in the more fertile Delta region.

Since its inception, the MRP has developed a list of the top typical and non-typical bucks taken in each of Mississippi's 83 counties. It's a great tool for hunters to use to gauge how their buck rates compared to others harvested in the same county. As the database grows, the rankings continue to be shuffled around.

From a biological perspective, the MRP is a great program, because it allows managers to quantitatively evaluate the quality of mature bucks at a county level. From a hunter's viewpoint, it's a great repository of information about where big deer come from in the Magnolia State.

Another useful tool for hunters surfing the web for information is the Pope & Young Club Web site. Founded in 1961, P&Y is a non-profit scientific organization that advocates and encourages responsible bowhunting. The club promotes quality, fair-chase hunting and sound conservation practices. Modeled after the Boone and Crockett Club, which maintains records for deer harvested with firearms, P&Y is best known for its record program. The club maintains records for all big game taken with bow and arrow and recognizes the finest specimens submitted for its all-time record book on a biannual basis.

Like B&C, Pope & Young maintains established the benchmark scoring system that sets the standards for measuring big-game animals in North America.

The P&Y Record Program is open to any bowhunter. In order to qualify, hunters must harvest the animal with bow and arrow using the rules of fair chase during a legal hunting season and in compliance with state and local hunting regulations.

The minimum score for a P&Y-eligible typical whitetail deer is 125; for non-typical racks the standard is 155. If you suspect that you have a deer that qualifies for this program, you first need to find a certified measurer. A list of certified measurers in Mississippi can be found on the P&Y Web site. In addition, there are certain requirements that must be met for a deer to be eligible for the program. First, the antlers must be allowed to dry at room temperature in normal humidity for at least 60 days from the date of harvest before being measured. If the final score meets or exceeds the established minimum score, the hunter is asked to submit the following information for possible inclusion in Bowhunting Big Game Records of North America: a scoring form completed by an official measurer, a fair chase affidavit completed by the hunter, three photographs of the antlers, including front, left side and right side views, and a $25 recording fee.

With a general understanding of how the MRP and P&Y programs work, it's possible to compare the deer that you have taken with the ones on their lists to see how they stack up.

The largest typical archery-harvested deer recorded in Mississippi was a 164 7/8 P&Y buck taken by James R. House in Issaquena County in 1999. The largest non-typical P&Y quality deer was a 204-point buck harvested by Denver Eshee in Warren County in 1996. But in 2003, that buck was supplanted atop the list by Tracy Laird's 236 1/8 P&Y monster from Adams County.

When combining the P&Y and the MRP lists, one comes up with a total of more than 200 deer meeting the minimum 125 score necessary to qualify for these programs.

The next obvious question for hunters is: "Where are these deer coming from?" Well, the Internet can shine light on that as well. Just head back to the Deer Data Book and the TEL-CHEK program.

TEL-CHEK is a telephone-based harvest reporting and compliance system designed to improve deer management in Mississippi. H

unters who harvest a deer can call a toll-free number, to report their harvest information. Hunters receive a confirmation number at the end of the harvest survey that they record on their Harvest Report Card printed on the hunting license.

The telephone survey records the county and land ownership (private, wildlife management area, or other public land) where the harvest occurred. It also records the sex of the deer, weapon type and length of longest antler main beam. All of this information is logged into the system, where it is accessible to all - very useful for biologists who manage the deer herd, but also valuable to hunters who are trying to figure out the best hunting locations!

By comparing the MRP and P&Y lists and using TEL-CHEK, you will find that your best chances of bagging a P&Y caliber buck are to be found in Region 3 or Region 5 of the state. A breakdown of the MDWFP regions can also be found in the online Deer Data Book. Over the years, deer from 57 counties have qualified for either the P&Y or MRP lists. However, Washington County in Region 3 tops the list, with 37 P&Y quality bucks harvested. In the P&Y typical rankings, positions No. 2 through 4 all came from Washington County, including a 161 2/8 P&Y rack taken in 1995 by Randy Brasier, a 160 1/8 buck taken by Odis Hill, Jr. in 1990 and a 1986 harvest by Steve Nichols of a 159 6/8 buck.

INTERNET RESOURCES


To access information on deer hunting in Mississippi on the Internet, log onto the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Web site, at www.mdwfp.com. Then click the link for Hunting/Wildlife. From the menu that appears, you can then go to Wildlife Management Areas for descriptions and maps of the tracts. The link to the Magnolia Records offers a list of big bucks taken by county. Finally, the link to the Deer Data Book offers a wide variety of information dealing with Mississippi deer hunting.



There is also a link on the page to the Tel-Chek program. On that page, you can find harvest numbers from all counties in the state.



To access information on the Pope and Young Club and their records programs, go to www.pope-young.org.

 

Clairborne County in Region 5 takes the second spot on the overall list with 21 total P&Y caliber deer. Some of the impressive bucks on the Clairborne list include Mary Hendrix's 2000 harvest of a 155 2/8 P&Y rack deer at No. 11 and Trip Stennett's 1992 harvest of a 150 4/8 deer at No. 20.

The No. 3 spot on the county list is a tie between the Region 3 counties of Warren and Issaquena with 15 P&Y bucks and Carroll County, also in Region 3, comes in fourth with 11 deer.

So what makes one region better than another one for bagging a P&Y-caliber deer? Apparently, soil type in each region is at least part of the answer. Not surprisingly, the Deer Data Book has a nice map breaking down the state by the various soil types. To understand how soil type and big bucks are related, you need to have a basic knowledge of antler biology.

First of all, deer have antlers, not horns. The difference is that antlers are grown and shed each year, while horns, such as those of a cow, are not shed. Antlers generally begin growing on mature bucks in April. The antlers are used as sexual display for females and, occasionally, for defense. Deer also rub their antlers on trees and bushes as part of the breeding ritual.

A buck's antler size depends upon nutrition, age, and genes. A healthy buck that has access to a variety of high-quality foods grows a bigger rack than a deer with lower quality foods in its diet. Mature bucks generally reach their prime between the ages of 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 years. During this growth period, a deer's antler volume may increase with age, but the number of points on these antlers may not. Apparently, there is little correlation between the number of points on a buck's antlers and its age. More reliable age indicators include main antler beam length, antler spread, and antler circumference.

So what does soil have to do with all of this? The quality of the habitat is greatly influenced by the nutritive value of the plants growing in the area, and the fertility of the soil has a huge impact on this.

According to the MDWFP Web site, Mississippi is divided into 10 soil types: Delta, upper thick loess, lower thick loess, upper thin loess, lower thin loess, blackland prairie, interior flatwoods, upper coastal plain, lower coastal plain, and coastal flatwoods. The soil type in a particular area dictates its ability to hold moisture, composition and natural fertility.

The area considered the most fertile is the Delta Region. Not coincidentally, the deer harvested in the Delta, or Region 3 on the MDWFP map, are among the largest in the state. The P&Y quality deer taken in Mississippi's less fertile regions, such as the lower coastal plain and coastal flatwoods are fewer and far between.

Of course, soil type is far from the only determining factor in deer antler size. Even in the best areas, deer may be in poor physical condition if the area is overpopulated. Conversely, deer in great condition can be found in areas with low soil fertility if they have access to agricultural crops of high nutritive value and the deer density is relatively low. How the habitat is managed plays a critical role in determining deer population and size in any given area.

Hunters interested in more detailed harvest data from each soil type can click on the soil regions map in the online Deer Data Book for a summary of deer data that includes average total deer harvested, deer age, weight and antler points, length and spread for that area that goes all the way back to 1991.

For sportsmen planning hunting trips, the MDWFP Web site includes a list of WMAs in each region with a link to each one for more information.

If you are eager to maximize the chances of bagging a Magnolia Records or P&Y quality buck, a trip to Region 3 may be in order. There are 10 WMAs in this region: Malmaison, Stoneville, Sky Lake, Leroy Percy, Shipland, Twin Oaks, Lake George, Sunflower, Mahannah and Muscadine. The MDWFP Web site information on each WMA includes a map and a contact number for each area. Muscadine and Leroy Percy WMAs are both located in the big deer capital of Washington County.

Region 5 would also make a good destination for archery hunts in the southwestern portion of the state. WMAs in this region are Cop

iah County, Sandy Creek, Caston Creek and Marion County.

Using TEL-CHEK to check harvest numbers for some of the top counties for P&Y quality deer, Warren County reports the highest number of bucks taken in 2003 with 55, followed by Clairborne at 54, Adams at 45, Carroll at 42 and Holmes at 37. Probably not surprisingly, Washington County only had 9 bucks reported in 2003 from the voluntary program. Trophy deer hunters are notoriously tight-lipped!

As with most Internet searches, a computer-savvy sportsman can spend hours on the MDWFP Web site reviewing all the data available. Still, the site is a veritable gold mine of information that any hunter with access to a computer can use to his advantage when planning this year's archery expeditions.



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