Mississippi's 2009 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks

Mississippi's 2009 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks

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. (November 2009)

Last month in Part 1 of Mississippi's 2009 Deer Outlook, we identified the best places in the Magnolia State to harvest a deer -- any deer. This month, we will focus on the one thing that deer hunters crave the most -- big antlers.

Let's take a closer look at each of the six deer regions established by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and identify the better locations to take a wallhanger this season.North Region

This region is seeing a slow, but steady, change in the buck harvest as a result of increased management. According to William McKinley, MDWFP regional deer biologist, hunters in this area are beginning to realize that lack of age is a limiting factor in their deer harvest, and are choosing to let more state legal bucks go.

"The percent of 4 1/2-year-old bucks in the harvest is on an increasing trend, but is still the lowest of any region in the state," said McKinley. "However, even with the increase in management, the percentage of 1 1/2-year-old bucks in the harvest continues to be higher in the North Region than in most of the state."

It's no coincidence that the better trophy-producing counties in this region are located along its western border. Panola, Tate, DeSoto and Marshall counties offer hunters the best chances of taking record-book bucks. A higher level of deer management, coupled with fertile soils and quality habitat are the primary reasons these counties are the top picks in the North Region. (Continued)

Trophy deer hunting opportunities on public land are somewhat limited in the region. One of the better choices would have to be Charles Ray Nix WMA. This tract is the renamed incarnation of the former Hamer WMA. The other good choice is Hell Creek WMA. The downside is that both of these relatively small WMAs are draw hunt areas with a limited number of deer permits available each season.

North-Central Region

This deer region is made up of some of the same soil types that are found in the North Region. However, more intense deer management in this region greatly increases the opportunity for hunters to harvest a trophy buck. This is evident by the fact that the number of 4 1/2-year-olds has accounted for around 25 percent of the total buck harvest in this region for the past few seasons.

When it comes to overall numbers of trophy bucks, hunters would be wise to focus on the southern tier of counties in the North-Central Region. Bordered by the Mississippi Delta and the Big Black River, Attala and Carroll counties have traditionally produced exceptional numbers of trophy whitetails. However, you definitely don't want to overlook the four-county area of Noxubee, Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Winston.

Although there is an abundance of public-land hunting opportunities in the North-Central Region, Malmaison and Black Prairie WMAs stand out above the rest. A lack of hunting pressure, fertile soils, and an abundance of nearby agricultural crops makes these two WMAs best bets for scoring on a trophy whitetail.

East-Central Region

By far one of the most diverse soil type habitats in the state, the East-Central Region combines this diversity with quality habitat to produce a healthy deer herd and a number of trophy bucks. In fact, this area's Madison County has more bucks on the Magnolia Records Program list than any other in the state. Situated between the Big Black and Pearl Rivers, Madison County is home to some of the best deer habitat to be found anywhere.

Three other trophy producers found in this region are Rankin, Leake and Kemper counties. In addition, Clarke County is considered a "dark horse" with a lot of big-deer potential.

While lacking the trophy potential found on private lands, Beinville, Caney Creek and Tallahala WMAs that are located in the Bienville National Forest are the best public lands available in the East-Central Region.

According to MDWFP Regional Deer Biologist Amy Blaylock, this trio of WMAs has seen an increase in rack 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.

Southeast Region

While this region doesn't produce the quality or quantity of trophy bucks seen in other parts of the Magnolia State, its future is looking much brighter. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, we have seen improved deer habitat from more sunlight being able to reach the forest floor, along with an improved buck age structure resulting from limited hunter access.

With more 4 1/2-year-old bucks out there feeding on the new abundance of high quality browse, the Southeast Region should see a dramatic increase in the number of trophy bucks harvested. Although you shouldn't expect any racks in the 180-inch class, a few in the 140- to 150-inch category are very likely.

According to the biologists that manage this region, the best chances of harvesting a trophy buck can be found in Jefferson Davis, Covington, Lamar and Marion counties. Correspondingly, the top WMAs for producing trophy whitetails in the Southeast Region are Marion County and Wolf River WMAs.

One state biologist even commented that he expects a few bucks to be harvested this season from the Pascagoula River area and the southern part of the DeSoto National Forest that will surprise everyone with their size.

Southwest Region

The Southwest Region has long been recognized as one of the top trophy whitetail producing areas in the Magnolia State. After all, more bucks harvested from the 12 counties in this deer region have qualified for the Magnolia Records Program than any other deer region in the state. That's even more than have come from the trophy-rich 14-county Delta Region.

Over 700 whitetail bucks from the Southwest Region have met the minimum requirements of 125 inches for typical and 155 inches for non-typical racks to be listed in the Magnolia Records.

All the ingredients necessary for a whitetail deer herd to flourish can be found within the borders of this region -- an abundance of extremely fertile river bottoms, plenty of food and cover, and most properties following some form of quality deer management. It is no wonder that this area contains the highest concentration of trophy bucks to be found anywhere in Mississippi.

Although trophy bucks are taken in all 12 counties in the Southwest Region, the top scoring deer tend to be found in the counties adjoining the Mississippi Riv

er and its largest tributary, the Big Black River. Wilkinson, Adams, Jefferson, Claiborne and Hinds are the cream of the crop when it comes to monster whitetails. However, in recent years, more and more exceptional trophies are being taken from "dark horse" counties such as Lincoln and Copiah.

"Even though these counties lack the highly fertile soils found along the Mississippi and Big Black River drainages, lower deer populations and more hunters practicing better deer management have resulted in higher quality bucks," said Chris McDonald, MDWFP regional deer biologist for this corner of the state.

While most of the prime deer habitat in the Southwest Region is privately owned, there are a number of very good trophy deer hunting opportunities to be had on public land. The top choice for hunters opting to hunt a public land trophy whitetail is the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge. This 26,000-acre refuge located along the Mississippi River just south of Natchez is prime deer habitat and receives surprisingly little hunting pressure.

Not far down the road, another 44,000 acres of public hunting land can be found in Sandy Creek and Caston Creek WMAs. Located in the heart of the Homochitto National Forest, these WMAs have historically produced some very impressive bucks for public land.

For hunters in the Jackson metro area, the Copiah County WMA is just what the doctor ordered. Located a short drive to the southeast down Interstate 55, high deer densities and easy access are the primary reasons this 6,583-acre WMA boasts the highest buck harvest rate per acre of all the Magnolia State WMAs.

But if you don't like competition for a stand site, this WMA may not be for you. Copiah County is by far the most heavily hunted per acre of any WMA in the entire state.

"Despite the incredible amount of hunting pressure Copiah County WMA receives, we continue to see 130- to 140-inch deer harvested there each year," said McDonald.

Planning your hunting trip during the week should help avoid the intense hunting pressure you are certain to encounter on the weekend.

Delta Region

While the fertile soils of the Mississippi Delta are better known for their ability to grow high-quality agricultural crops, these same rich soils consistently grow some of the biggest white-tailed bucks to be found anywhere.

An analysis of the more than 3,000 bucks that have met the minimum requirements to be entered in the Magnolia Records Program indicates that deer from the Delta Region have the highest average antler scores. Each year, numerous bucks scoring more than 150 on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system are harvested from this region.

"More properties in the Delta Region are practicing quality deer management and making great strides at targeting bucks in the 4 1/2-year-old age-class, which is protecting more quality 3 1/2-year-old deer," said Lann Wilf, MDWFP regional deer biologist for the Delta.

Over the last decade, we have seen a dramatic expansion of the Delta Region deer herd resulting from the enrollment of over half a million acres of farmland in the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Program, which have increased the available deer habitat.

"The population in the Delta Region is literally exploding, and continued intense harvest is needed to control the deer density and maintain herd health," Wilf added.

When it comes to selecting the best counties in the Delta Region to harvest a trophy buck, one is just as good as the next. That being said, however, the counties with more woodlands tend to produce greater numbers of trophy-class whitetails. A few of the counties in the Delta Region that fit this mold are Warren, Yazoo, Holmes and Issaquena.

The chance of harvesting a trophy buck on public land is better in the Delta Region than anywhere else in the state. There are three WMAs in the Delta that are nothing less than outstanding. O'Keefe WMA, located in Quitman County where the hills meet the Mississippi Delta, is surrounded by cropland that provides plenty of high-quality summer forage for the trophy bucks. Twin Oaks WMA in Sharkey County and Mahannah WMA in Issaquena County also are trophy buck factories in the Magnolia State. This pair of WMAs produces more big whitetails than any other WMAs in the Mississippi.

If you are willing to put forth some extra effort, there are excellent opportunities to harvest a trophy buck at any of the seven tracts that make up the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge complex. The four that consistently produce quality bucks are Hillside, Morgan Brake, Yazoo and Panther Swamp NWRs. Just keep in mind that hunting access and game retrieval can be severely restricted on these refuges.

Summing It Up

It should be obvious by now that a trophy buck can come from any part of Mississippi. However, the regions with the best habitat and most fertile soils are much more likely to produce bucks with massive racks. With a bit of planning, some scouting and a lot of luck, one of these Magnolia State monsters might be yours for the taking!

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