Mississippi's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

Mississippi's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

Deer can be found in every part of the Magnolia State, but some areas produce far more whitetails than do others. Here's an in-depth look at the best places in which to bag a deer this fall. (October 2008)

If you want to kill a whitetail this fall, knowing where to go is key. And if you know where the deer are, your chances of killing a deer -- any deer -- are greatly increased.

White-tailed deer hunting opportunities are plentiful throughout the Magnolia State, so your odds of bringing home the venison are excellent, particularly if you spend time in one of the counties or on a tract of public land whose deer densities are high.

That in mind, Mississippi Game & Fish went to two sources to find out where hunters have a good shot at bagging a whitetail. First, we talked with Chad Dacus, deer program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, to get his statewide perspective. Then we went to the most recent report from the MDWFP's deer program for hard numbers on where hunters have consistently taken deer in recent times.

STATEWIDE

Statewide, the deer herd is clearly in excellent shape. "We look really good for this fall," Chad Dacus said. "Last year we had a record acorn crop in Mississippi, and there were still acorns on the ground long after deer season was over. So food quality and quantity statewide was really good."

The one exception Dacus pointed to was extreme northeast Mississippi. In April, a late freeze there damaged a lot of the acorns.

"That's the one spot where the acorn crop didn't carry on into the year," the coordinator said. "The rest of the state? Everything looks good.

"It's going to be interesting to see how the flooding in the Mississippi River, especially inside the levees in the south Mississippi Delta, will affect fawn recruitment for this year."

The water there did not begin to recede until late May, and then the Midwest was buffeted with new rounds of flooding in June. "Because of the flooding there may be some fawn recruitment issues in some parts of the state, particularly in the south Delta region," Dacus warned. "Any of the deer that were there before the flood will return to areas where they were previously."

Another factor was summer browse production in the area. In areas where the water remained, the amount of available food likely will be lower this year than it has been in the past.

"I don't expect there to be much effect that we will notice this year, " Dacus said with regard to deer numbers, "but we could notice it in future generations because of a possible reduced fawn crop. The one place I think we're going to see a little reduction in antler production is in the 1 1/2-year-old age-class, just because those deer were 8 or 9 months old when they went through this stress. They could show some lack of antler production this year, but I don't expect to see any decline in the older age-class animals this year."

Based on that outlook, many sites should prove good for hunting. "There are a number of places that have traditionally been good producers," Dacus said. "One is the south Mississippi Delta. The area around the Big Black River bottom is another one. This area extends through seven counties, and I'd put that area on a per-acre basis up against any place in the nation -- it's that good."

Another region Dacus suggested is the Noxubee County area. "Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge is there," he noted. "Around that area you have not only Noxubee NWR, but also John W. Starr WMA and Choctaw WMA and the Tombigbee National Forest. There's a tremendous amount of public land available to hunt in that part of the state that traditionally has had some fairly exceptional deer."

Any of the national wildlife refuges in the Delta area should be good bets for deer, too. "The one thing about some of those areas, and even the WMAs in the south Delta, is that some of those are draw hunt only areas," Dacus pointed out. "So hunting on some of those areas has a very reduced availability."

One other thing that the coordinator noted: The minimum antler size on all state WMAs is now above the state's legal antler criteria. "A legal buck must have 4 or more points total," he emphasized. "Our management areas are all different. The majority of our Delta areas require a 15-inch inside spread or an 18-inch main beam. It used to be just Delta and 'other,' but now that we have some 15-inch and 18- inch areas across the state. Most WMAs are going to be a 12-inch inside spread or a 15-inch main beam."

But at Mahannah WMA, which is in the south Delta area, it's actually a 16-inch inside spread or a 20-inch main beam, Dacus added. In other words, check the regulations on the WMAs before you go.

BY THE BOOK

A look at the 2006-07 installment of the Mississippi Deer Program Report will yield the questing hunter some reliable statistics on where deer were taken two years ago, the most recent year for which data are available. Although this provides no guarantees about where hunters can kill a deer, it does provide a look at WMAs and counties that have proven track records of giving up deer.

One significant note about the WMAs listed here: Several WMAs posted better hunter success rates than did the ones listed here. However, those WMAs offer draw hunts, so not just anyone can walk up and go hunting on them. Instead the focus is on the tracts where you can actually get access.

The WMAs

Copiah County WMA tops the list of public tracts containing plenty of deer. "There are a lot of deer on the property, and there are some good deer on the property," said deer program biologist Chris McDonald. "It's a very good place to hunt, but there's also a lot of hunting activity on the area, so you will be competing with other hunters to find a location. It's probably one of the most hunted areas we have, on a per-acre basis, but for the acreage there's a lot of game." McDonald went on to describe the area as a mix of pines and hardwoods in which many food plots are found.

Deer program biologist Lann Wilf said that Hamer WMA, which is No. 2 on the list, has a strong whitetail herd. "We need antlerless deer removed," he emphasized. "There are a lot of deer on this WMA."

Lake George WMA, No. 3 in the rankings, can boast very high deer numbers. "During the first two weeks of the rifle season, hunters can go in and kill a doe a day," Wilf offered. "And it's not uncommo

n to have a 150- or 160-pound doe come from there. The area has a lot of opportunity, but it's hard hunting, because it's real thick, and there aren't any trees you can climb."

No. 4 on the list is Malmaison WMA, which has been chronically overpopulated for a long time. "There's a certain portion of the season that's does only," said deer program biologist William McKinley. "If you harvest a doe during that first early gun season, you're eligible to come back and hunt for a buck during the peak of the rut. After that short time of buck hunting for only those who've killed a doe, it then opens to the general public."

An increase in the number of does taken from the area and changes in the antler restrictions are producing much better bucks than in the past.

Listed at No. 5: Nanih Waiya WMA. "This is one of the more under-tapped management areas we have because of limited access through the Pearl River," McKinley said. "If you're willing to take a boat, there are a tremendous number of deer on Nanih Waiya. But water definitely controls the access. To adequately hunt this area you need waders or a small canoe or pirogue."

Composed of three noncontiguous properties, John Starr WMA comes in at No. 6. "The deer kill on this area has been outstanding for the past few years," McKinley asserted.

No. 7 among the public tracts, Bienville WMA is an excellent area for deer. "Most of the area that I've been on is older-age mature pine timber," said deer program biologist Amy Blaylock. "There are food plots on it, so there's additional nutrition for the deer."

Chris McDonald said that as Marion County WMA -- No. 8 on the list -- is in a lower-quality soil region, deer living on the tract might not be as large as are those at some other areas. "However, for the soil region, the area is very good," he said. "The habitat is managed very well, and that's why we're seeing the deer numbers we're seeing on that area."

Tallahala WMA may be ninth on the list, but it's far from a poor choice for hunters. "It's similar to Bienville WMA in terms of habitat," Amy Blaylock noted.

TOP COUNTIES FOR BAGGING A DEER STATEWIDE
2006-2007 DEER MANAGEMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
COUNTYACRES IN PROGRAMDEER HARVESTWILDLIFE DISTRICT
Warren149,9372,9033
Claiborne95,3851,9685
Issaquena107,6961,8153
Yazoo54,6259783
Adams74,9889515
Hinds43,5909103
Carroll52,4548742
Madison40,2648693
Jefferson54,4198865
Noxubee54,9006891
Washington34,9346332
Bolivar41,8246322

The Counties

Warren County tops the list of areas to be reckoned with in terms of deer on private land. "Warren County has had a good deer population since the dawn of time," Lann Wilf remarked. "The area has both high deer numbers and high-quality deer, especially on properties that are doing management and are keeping the numbers down."

The main factor producing a lot of deer is that the parts of the county bordering the Mississippi River have very good soils, which in turn means good nutrition for deer.

"It has the Big Black River bottom on one side and the Mississippi River on the other," Wilf pointed out. "There are a lot of high nutrient soils, and the deer there crank out fawns left and right. There's very high fawning success there every year."

The situation in Claiborne County is similar, so it gets the No. 2 ranking. With the Big Black River on the north and the Mississippi River on the west, it's another county that contains a lot of deer.

The deer population in No. 3 Issaquena County is also beholden to soil type for its outstanding level of quality. "A lot of it is land that's behind the mainline Mississippi River levee," Wilf said. "You also have the Delta dirt. A lot of that land has now been replanted in hardwoods and is in a program called the Wetlands Reserve Program. There's some exceptional new deer habitat coming up, and an expanding deer herd."

Most landowners in No. 4 Yazoo County are doing some kind of deer management. "Therefore, the deer density is a little bit lower," Wilf admitted. "However, it's not significantly less. With the Big Black River bottom, and the Mississippi Delta on the west side of the county, landowners literally cannot harvest enough deer to keep the population under control. In many cases, landowners are taking a doe per 25 acres,

and they can't keep up with the population."

Chris McDonald pointed to Adams County as an excellent area for deer, and so meriting the No. 5 slot. "There are a lot of deer in the county, and a lot of quality deer," he said. "There's a lot of deer management under way. And the population is high over most of the county."

Although Hinds County is No. 6 on the list, and a little further east, a little influence from the Big Black River is still felt there. The county has an exceptional deer herd and high numbers of deer, although not as high as some of the counties farther west.

At No. 7, Carroll County has been known for decades as having a tremendous deer population, even when other counties had no deer at all. "In the early 1970s, Carroll County was already suffering substantial browse lines from overpopulation," William McKinley said. "That herd has been overpopulated for years, and probably has the most habitat destruction of any county in the state because of overpopulation. So there's a tremendous number of deer -- but quality isn't what it used to be, because there have been too many deer on it for so long.

"The same thing is true of Montgomery and Grenada counties. That little cluster of counties has some of the highest deer density in the region."

Madison County checks in at No. 8 on the list of counties statewide. Part of the Big Black River region, this is one of the seven counties that Chad Dacus referred to as some of the best in the nation. "As a river bottom, it has more fertile soils and better habitat than other areas," Amy Blaylock noted. Her approval was readily seconded by Lann Wilf: "When you're talking about deer biomass, the entire Big Black River corridor is tremendous."

According to Chris McDonald, ninth-place Jefferson County is similar to Adams County. "Jefferson is a good county to deer-hunt for both numbers and quality," he said.

TOP WMAs FOR DEER HARVEST
KEYWMADISTRICTACRESDEER HARVESTMAN/DAYS PER DEER
1.Copiah County56,583779
2.Harner23,9097617
3.Lake George38,3831520
4.Malmaison210,0168520
5.Nanih Waiya47,6556123
6.John Starr18,2558124
7.Bienville325,3007426
8. Marion County57,2008026
9.Tallahala428,0007426

Noxubee County, No. 10, also has a huge deer population. "The Blackland Prairie runs through Noxubee County, and is known for producing some of the best deer in the state," William McKinley said. "If I were looking for an area to hunt, the Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Winston area would be one of my top picks."

Lann Wilf described most of Washington County as not having the best deer habitat, but still deserving of the rank of No. 11. "Some of the county is in the Delta, in the Wetlands Reserve Program, but most of the hunting taking place in the county is behind the levee," he said. "We've had some flooding there this year, and the jury is still out on what the herd's going to be like this year."

However, the biologist said, this area will continue to be good in the long run , because it's one of those areas where does drop twins frequently and the deer herd is strong and expanding.

The No. 12 ranking goes to Bolivar County, which is similar to Washington, according to Lann Wilf. "Most of the hunting is behind the levee, with some hunting outside the levee in the WRP tracts, which are expanding," he said. "The herds are growing rather than level because it's new habitat. Those deer have new ground to expand into. It's exceptional habitat with a lot of browse, and most of the WRP tracts are quickly filling up with deer."

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