Magnolia Big-Game Double

Mississippi hunters on muzzleloading trips this month can take advantage of a "December Double" by bagging a deer and a wild hog. Here's where the action is! (December 2005)

Photo by Michael Skinner

It was my first time ever to hunt Pearl River Wildlife Management Area with a muzzleloader. The mid-December morning was a little warmer than I liked, and the trend was to continue until rains began and a cold front cleared the way for another round of winter chill. It is what I like to call December's "three-day" rains; every three days or so the cycle is repeated. It was midweek as well, and from the looks of traffic, I had the whole area to myself.

The hunt was two-fold: first, to get out of the office and into the woods and second, to see what kind of scrape activity I could find near some impenetrable thickets on the area. The very shape of Pearl River WMA in Madison County is deer friendly rather than hunter friendly. It is long, bordered by water to the south and east and the Natchez Trace Parkway and private land to the west and north. There is one road in off State Route 43, so critters in that area know when somebody is coming.

Rather than setting up on a specific trail, I set up in an area with the greatest visibility. After all, I was looking for an area to hunt more than hunting a specific area. About 25 feet up a tree, I capped my rifle and settled in to wait. Within 30 minutes, I saw two does and a yearling feeding along the edge of a thicket. The day was already becoming a moderate success. Before another 30 minutes passed, I was looking at a reddish-black sow hog and six piglets.

As the pigs gleaned the forest floor for acorns, roots and whatever else pigs find palatable, the does were joined by a fair 4-point buck. The young buck was interested in one of the does and harassed her until all the deer disappeared into the thicket. The hogs, feeding 75 yards away, gave them little more than a passing glance.

On the way home, I told a friend I could have shot a doe or a pig but opted to shoot neither. In the subsequent conversation, we agreed that wild hogs have become established in the Mississippi landscape. They are despised by many and loved by a few. However, they are becoming abundant across the state and now allow hunters a second big-game option. They are good to eat and can be as canny as a whitetail to hunt. They lack the eyesight of a deer, but they have excellent hearing and a sense of smell that is very acute. Hogs' senses make them incredibly fun animals to stalk. Getting into range with a bow or a primitive weapon is challenging but not impossible.


'¦ Big hogs and trophy bucks are fond of the places where access by humans is a challenge.
 

For a long time, hogs and deer were common in several areas of the state, such as along the river systems and where domestic hogs had been allowed to roam free, becoming feral. European hogs were imported later and spread beyond the borders of their release to inhabit the surrounding environs. The descendents of these imported hogs are the most prized. The Russian boar, as it is often called, is actually a European wild boar. The hog is believed to have originated in Eurasia, and domestic pigs are allowed to revert, regain their (no pun intended) roots.

That said, we have two species of wild big game on approximately 26 of Mississippi's WMAs. Undisturbed, deer will remain in an area where food and cover are nearby. To an extent, hogs are the same way. However, hunting pressure or just human disturbance will send hogs immigrating to another area, sometimes miles away. Their food sources are so diversified that they can find something to eat just about anywhere and in any type of terrain.

Deer sign include tracks, scrapes, rubs and, for the trained eye, browse markings. Hogs also leave tracks, but a sign of their presence in an area looks more like a field following a demolition derby played with a dozen D-9 bulldozers. Finding rooted areas in the woods is easy. Just look for the ground that resembles the work of a hundred or so energetic Boy Scouts trying to dig foxholes with camp shovels.

While larger males are loners, younger hogs and family groups often travel and feed together. This is good for the hunter. A group wandering and feeding almost always has females and young. A single large hog trotting through the woods as if on a mission is almost certainly going to be a male.

This might be a good point to mention the menacing reputation owned by wild hogs. While deer have been known to attack hunters, hogs are noted for doing so with great vigor. I can find no documented account of a hunter ever being killed as the result of a wild hog charge, but a good number of hunters have been chased up trees. For safety's sake, just bear in mind that a wild hog can and will hurt you.

Now let's take a look at where in Mississippi you can locate your best bets for taking a hog and deer on public land.

MID-STATE

In central Mississippi, the best opportunity to take a deer and a hog on public land is found at Pearl River WMA. The tract covers 6,000 acres located just north of the Ross Barnett Reservoir, east of SR 43. Being hardwood bottomland and cutover, the terrain is good for both deer and hogs. Depending on the amount of rain during any given period of time, the bottoms can be standing in water or tender dry.

When the mast crop is good, hogs are widely dispersed on the Pearl River WMA. As hunting pressure increases, the pigs seek the thickest cover possible in which to rest and feed. Dense thickets are in no short supply along the river.


Hogs also leave tracks, but a sign of their presence in an area looks more like a field following a demolition derby played with

a dozen D-9 bulldozers.

 

Hogs have also been seen in the jungle that exists on some of the small islands along the Pearl River side of the area.

Deer on the Pearl River WMA are on par with the hogs -- they are crafty and easily become aware of increased hunter activity. As on other WMAs in the state, hunters must ensure a buck has a minimum of 4 antler points. No minimum inside spread is required. Anterless deer must weigh a minimum of 65 pounds to be harvested.

Quality bucks are not uncommon on Pearl River, but being limited to archery and primitive weapons restricts the hunter and favors the deer. Over the past two seasons, an excellent mast crop has resulted in limite

d deer movement. With relatively mild temperatures and such ample food sources, the big bucks just remained nocturnal and hung close to the dense bedding areas. The 2005-06 season should be one of the best for hunters seeking a 3- or 4-year-old buck with a good rack.

This public area allows archery and blackpowder hunting only for deer and hogs during the normal season. Youth may use shotguns loaded with slugs during the special youth season in November. Regulations are posted at the entrance to the area and may be found online at

www.mdwfp.com.

Nanih Waiya WMA spans 7,655 acres in Neshoba County, where the Pearl River begins its trek to the Gulf of Mexico. This tract of canebrakes, hardwood bottoms and thickets a tick cannot crawl through is a diamond in the rough for primitive weapon deer and hog hunting.

A walk over the area back during turkey season exposed natural deer funnels created by feeder creeks, thickets and open timber. For the hunter willing to spend some time looking for these funnels, the deer hunting should be terrific.

Hog sign was also fresh where we were turkey hunting. We spotted a herd of eight or 10 half-grown pigs with a large sow. All of them were as black as coal and had all the features you expect to see in European wild hogs.

The 4-point rule is enforced at Nanih Waiya for deer, but there is no minimum inside spread requirement. Anterless deer must weigh 65 pounds or more to be considered legal. According to the regulations, the average weight of antlerless deer on the area is 105 pounds.

Only archery equipment and primitive weapons are allowed on Nanih Waiya.

NORTHEAST

Northeast Mississippi also has a good population of wild hogs on public hunting areas. These WMAs are located along or near the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and have sustainable populations of wild hogs as well as fine deer hunting.

The Divide Section WMA, located near Iuka, is the best of these and has a primitive weapon and archery-only area. The daily bag limit on the portion of the WMA dedicated to primitive weapons-only is one legal buck and two antlerless deer per day. With the exception of Jackson Peninsula and the youth hunting period, only archery equipment and primitive weapons are allowed.

Pre-season scouting is an absolute necessity on the 15,337 acres of the Divide Section. Game is abundant but not always easy to find. The terrain can vary from slight hills to swamp to open forest. Creeks may be narrow but deep, making crossing a problem. Based on my personal experience, big hogs and trophy bucks are fond of the places where access by humans is a challenge. By avoiding such contact, the bucks get big, and the hogs stay alive.

"Good deer can be found all across the area," said Doug Epps, manager of the WMA. "The hogs are nomadic. They will be here today, disappearing for a month, then one day they will be right back. If a hog is on your list, just hunt for fresh signs and hang a stand in a tree and wait for them to come out. Just as with deer, hogs will be where the acorns are the most plentiful. But unlike deer, the hogs will root for all kinds of underground tidbits."

SOUTHWEST

Moving to the southwest quadrant of the Magnolia State, Twin Oaks WMA in Sharkey County offers giant bucks and plenty of hogs. For those hunters who have drawn a permit, hog hunting has become a backup for fruitless days of deer hunting.


While deer have been known to attack hunters, hogs are noted for doing so with great vigor.
 

According to Area Manager Brian Ballinger, several hunters last year completely stopped hunting deer and started shooting hogs. Hunters may shoot hogs during any open season at Twin Oaks, using the weapons for the game and season that are open at the time.

Also in southwest Mississippi, St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Adams County is a good bet for hunters who want a shot at a mixed bag of bucks and boars. Again the hogs are never predictable. This makes scouting a necessity. A total of 18,820 of the NWR's 24,442 acres are open to hunting.

St. Catherine Creek is another area where the habitat is diverse. Hunters find themselves in hardwood bottomland and newly reforested areas. Approximately 50 percent of the refuge is forested. The remainder includes open water and swamps.

As the Mississippi River rises and falls, the game in the refuge adjust by moving to higher ground. The southern end of the refuge where the Homochitto River enters the Mississippi is one place to catch game moving up to higher ground.

Hunting at St. Catherine is not for the faint of heart or the hunter looking for a powder-puff hunt. The game is in the remote areas of the refuge. This challenges hunters to test their mettle when hunting trails or retrieving game.

Pre-season scouting is limited to a two-week period in late September. Only one deer may be harvested per day, and feral hogs must be taken with either archery equipment or primitive weapons. Rules and regulations for St. Catherine Creek NWR can be found on their website at

www.fws.gov/saintcatherinecreek/.

SOUTHEAST

The Pascagoula River WMA is another buck and boar opportunity for those seeking a mixed bag of big game. This 37,124-acre WMA in George and Jackson counties is open to all types of weapons, but the primitive weapon season extends the hunts from Jan. 19 to Jan. 31. As in other areas, the hogs relocate when pressured by hunters.

Deer regulations for this area have been changed for the 2005-06 season. Legal bucks, in addition to the four antler points, must have an inside spread of 12 inches.

Of course, when you head to this part of the state, be aware that Hurricane Katrina did more rooting in the region than a mega-herd of wild hogs. It would be wise to call ahead to the regional office of the MDWFP to check the status of access to the WMAs.

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