Mississippi's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2

Mississippi's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2

In the Magnolia State big bucks can show up anywhere, but some areas produce more of those impressive racks. Here's an in-depth statewide look at the best of these locations.

In Part 1 of Mississippi's 2010 Deer Outlook, we focused on the best locations in the Magnolia State to harvest a deer -- any deer. This month, we redirect our attention to the one thing that white-tailed deer hunters crave the most -- trophy bucks.

A close examination of each of the six deer regions established by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks should help us identify where we stand the best chance of bagging a wall-hanger this season.

NORTHWEST REGION

Much like the other five deer regions in the Magnolia State, the deer herd in the Northwest Region is expanding at dangerously fast rates. Fortunately, an increased interest in quality deer management is beginning to show positive results. Both the age structure of the buck harvest and the misplaced sentiment against harvesting antlerless deer have changed for the better.

"Hunters are realizing that age is a major limiting factor in their harvest and are choosing to let some state legal bucks go," said Lann Wilf, MDWFP Regional Deer Biologist. "The percent of 4 1/2-plus-year-old bucks in the harvest is on an increasing trend, but is still lower than most of the state. However, even with the increase in management, the percentage of 1 1/2- year-old bucks in the harvest continues to be high at 20 percent."

The frequent summer rains the last couple of years resulted in better than average acorn crops. According to Wilf, this inhibited the ability of hunters to see and harvest deer. It also deceived hunters by causing them to underestimate the actual deer numbers on their properties.

It is no accident that the top trophy producing areas in the Northwest Region can be found in the counties with the highest soil fertility. Carroll, DeSoto, Marshall and Panola counties have yielded the highest numbers of record book bucks in recent years. This can be directly attributed to an increased level of deer management combined with quality habitat.

Trophy deer hunting opportunities on public land are somewhat limited in this region. The best choice would be to try Charles Ray Nix Wildlife Management Area in Panola County. However, it is a comparatively small tract and only has draw hunts with a limited number of deer permits available each season.

Another option is Malmaison WMA in Grenada County. It has some fertile soil and lower hunting pressure than most public land in the region.

Located in Quitman County, O'Keefe WMA is another outstanding trophy prospect. This 6,239-acre WMA is unique because it is one of the largest tracts of timber in the north Mississippi Delta outside of the Mississippi River levees.

NORTHEAST REGION

According to William McKinley, MDWFP Regional Deer Biologist, management emphasis in the Northeast Region has shifted from traditional deer management of harvesting every legal buck to more quality deer management. Quality deer management allows a greater number of bucks to reach older age classes and promotes habitat manipulation in favor of wildlife.

The mature buck harvest of 4 1/2-year or older animals has remained stable in this region at around 25 percent of the total buck harvest. Even though more intense deer management in the Northeast Region has increased the opportunity for hunters to bag a trophy buck, it has not been implemented intensively enough to stabilize the rapidly growing deer population in this region.

Trophy whitetail hunting opportunities abound in the Northeast Region. Bordered by the Mississippi Delta and the Big Black River, Attala County has traditionally produced exceptional numbers of trophy whitetails. However, several of the counties in the eastern half of this region like Noxubee, Lowndes, Monroe, Oktibbeha, and Winston can more than hold their own when it comes to producing trophy bucks.

The Northeast Region offers an abundance of public land hunting opportunities. However, limited hunting pressure, fertile soils, and abundant agricultural crops Black Prairie WMA in Lowndes County your best bets for scoring on a public land trophy whitetail.

Or you can try Hells Creek WMA in Union County.

EAST CENTRAL REGION

The East Central Region combines the most diverse soil types in the state with quality habitat to produce a healthy deer herd and impressive numbers of trophy bucks. The top trophy-producing counties found here are Leake, and Kemper.

There is also a trio of good public lands to try. Bienville, Caney Creek, and Tallahala WMAs in the Bienville National Forest are the best public land offerings available in the East Central Region.

According to Amy Blaylock, MDWFP Regional Deer Biologist for the region, these three have seen an increase in antler quality in recent years as a result of changing the antler criteria to a minimum of 12-inch inside spread and 15-inch main beam length. Similar results are expected across the East Central Region because of the new antler regulations for Zone 1 of a minimum 10-inch inside spread or 13-inch main beam, which was designed to protect yearling bucks from being harvested.

SOUTHEAST REGION

Due to low soil fertility, the Southeast Region is known for having poor deer habitat. However, a combination of antler restrictions and limited hunting opportunity after Hurricane Katrina helped to improve the age structure of harvested bucks in this region. Deer Management Assistance Program data indicated that 61percent of harvested bucks from the Southeast Region were 3 1/2 years old or older in the 2008-2009 season, a 10-year high. The outlook for this region is more than hopeful to say the least.

Unfortunately, recent data indicates that the deer herd may be reverting back to pre-Katrina conditions. Unless herd numbers are decreased while maintaining the much improved age structure, trophy deer hunting in this region may disappear.

Based on the number of entries in the Magnolia Records Program, the best chances of harvesting a trophy buck in the Southeast Region can be found in Perry and Jones counties.

Probably the best option for a public land options is to check out the Pascagoula River WMA.

SOUTHWEST REGION

The Southwest Region has long held the title of the top trophy whitetail area in the Magnolia State. More bucks harvested from the 15 countie

s in this deer region have qualified for the Magnolia Records Program than any other area in the state, including the trophy rich 12-county Delta Region. Over 850 white-tailed bucks from the Southwest Region have met the minimum requirements of 125 inches for typical and 155 inches for non-typical antlers necessary to be listed in the MRP. In fact, six of the top 13 counties for entries can be found in this trophy-producing deer region.

Everything necessary for a white-tailed deer herd to thrive can be found in this region -- an abundance of food and cover, extremely fertile river bottoms, and some form of quality deer management being practiced on almost all properties. It is no wonder that this region contains the highest concentration of trophy bucks to be found anywhere in the Magnolia State.

However, what truly is amazing is that this region can continually produce such high numbers of trophy bucks while maintaining some of the highest deer densities to be found anywhere in the Magnolia State, or the entire country for that matter.

Even though monster whitetails are harvested each year in many of the counties, the highest scoring bucks tend to be found in the areas adjoining the Mississippi River and two of the region's largest tributaries, Bayou Pierre and the Big Black River. Claiborne, Jefferson, Adams, Copiah, and Wilkinson are the cream of the crop when it comes to yielding giant whitetails.

However, in recent years, more and more exceptional trophies are being taken from "dark horse" counties such as Lincoln and Franklin.

According to Regional Deer Biologist Chris McDonald, even the counties in this region that lack the highly fertile soils found along the Mississippi River and its tributaries are producing exceptional numbers of high quality bucks. McDonald attributes the success in these "less productive" counties to improved deer management practices resulting in lower deer populations and more bucks being allowed to reach older age-classes.

While much of the prime deer habitat in this region is privately owned, several very good trophy opportunities on public land can be found. The best of these opportunities is on 26,000-acre St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Adams County. Located along the Mississippi River a few miles south of historic Natchez, this monster whitetail factory receives limited hunting pressure due to somewhat restricted access.

Just down the road in the heart of the Homochitto National Forest lies another 44,000 acres of prime public deer hunting in the form of Caston Creek and Sandy Creek WMAs. Although they tend to fly under the radar of most hunters, these two tracts have yielded some very impressive bucks for public land.

Farther to the north is Mississippi's most heavily hunted WMA on a per acre basis. But don't let the intense hunting pressure fool you into thinking that Copiah County WMA can't produce some very respectable trophies. This 6,583-acre property also boasts the highest buck harvest per acre of all the Magnolia State WMAs. And despite the ridiculous amount of hunting pressure that Copiah County WMA receives, bucks in the 130- to 140-inch class are harvested there each year.

DELTA REGION

Although the Southwest Region yields the most record book bucks, the rich soil of the Delta Region consistently produces the Magnolia State's largest sets of antlers. It also contains Madison County, which is the single most productive in the state. An analysis of the more than 3,500 entries in the Magnolia Records Program indicates that bucks from the Delta have the highest average antler scores. Each year several whitetails scoring more than 150 Boone and Crockett Club points are harvested from this region.

"The majority of the properties in the Delta Region are practicing some form of quality deer management," said Regional Deer Biologist Lann Wilf. "They are making great strides at protecting more quality 3 1/2-year-old deer by targeting bucks in the 4 1/2-plus-year-old age-class.

"The population in the Delta Region is expanding rapidly on average, and continued intense harvest is needed to control the deer density and maintain herd health on normal weather years," Wilf added.

Based on entries in the MRP, the top trophy producing counties in the Delta are Madison Yazoo, Holmes, Issaquena, and Warren. However, the river counties of Washington, Bolivar, Coahoma, and Tunica also produce large numbers of high scoring whitetails that you never see in any record book. Hunters in these counties are reluctant to enter their trophies in any record system for fear of being priced out of their hunting leases by wealthier hunters.

When it comes to harvesting a trophy buck on public land, your odds are better in the Delta Region than any other part of the state. Mississippi's top trophy producing WMAs can be found here. Mahannah WMA in Issaquena County and Twin Oaks WMA in Sharkey County are the Magnolia State's premier trophy whitetail factories. In fact, the quality of bucks taken from this pair of WMAs often exceeds that of many of the better managed DMAP clubs in the Delta Region.

For those willing to put forth the extra effort, the seven refuges that make up the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex offer excellent opportunities to harvest a trophy whitetail. The four that consistently produce quality bucks are Hillside, Morgan Brake, Yazoo, and Panther Swamp NWRs. However, hunting access and game retrieval can be severely restricted on these refuges.

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