In last month's Mississippi Deer Section, 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 whitetail hunters crave the most — trophy bucks.
Many hunters go their entire lives without ever seeing, much less shooting, a trophy. Of course, what is considered to be a trophy is quite relative. Some hunters just want to be able to show off a nice buck, while others spend their time trying to get a true record book deer.
For both types of hunters, keying in on areas with the most potential for producing big deer provides the best opportunity for bragging rights.
The Mississippi Trophy Deer Section provides an overview of the regions in the Magnolia State with the most potential for trophy whitetails.
Here is an examination of the six deer management regions established by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks to help identify the best areas for bagging a wall-hanger this season.
Much like the other five deer regions in the Magnolia State, the deer herds in the North Region continue to expand at dangerously high 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 is slowly changing for the better.
"Hunters are realizing that age is a major limiting factor in their harvest and are choosing to harvest fewer 1 1/2-year old bucks," said Lann Wilf, MDWFP deer biologist. "The majority of the bucks harvested in the North Region are in the 2 1/2- and 3 1/2-year-old classes. 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."
Consistent rainfall over the past few summers has resulted in successive above average acorn crops. According to Wilf, a large acorn crop inhibits the ability of hunters to see and harvest deer. It also deceives hunters by causing them to underestimate the deer numbers on their properties. Hunters in the northern part of the region are doing a fair job of keeping the population in check. However, hunters in the southern counties in this region really need to ramp up their doe harvests.
It is no accident that the top trophy producing counties in the North Region can be found in the counties with the highest soil fertility. DeSoto, Marshall, Tate 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 limited in this region. The better choices would have to include Charles Ray Nix WMA in Panola County and Hell Creek WMA in Tippah County. However, both of these fairly small WMAs offer only draw hunts, with a limited number of deer permits.
NORTH CENTRAL REGION
According to the MDWFP deer biologists, management emphasis in the North Central Region has shifted from 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. But even though more intense deer management in the North Central 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 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, several of the counties in the eastern half of this region like Noxubee, Lowndes and Winston can hold their own when it comes to producing trophy bucks.
The North Central Region also offers an abundance of public land hunting opportunities. However, Calhoun County WMA in Calhoun County and John W. Starr WMA in Oktibbeha and Winston counties are two of the better choices for scoring on a public land trophy whitetail.
EAST CENRAL 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. Situated between the fertile Pearl and Big Black River systems, it is no coincidence that Madison County leads the state in the Magnolia Records Program. Four additional trophy-producing counties that can be found in this region include: Rankin, Simpson, Neshoba and Kemper counties.
The diverse habitat that produces bucks with massive antlers in this 12-county region also contributes to overpopulation. When an inadequate number of does are removed from the herd each year, the problem is further compounded. Based on the most recent MDWFP data, the whitetail population in the East Central Region has plateaued with the number of births equaling the number of deaths in the herd.
While public hunting opportunities are almost non-existent in the premier trophy-producing counties in this region, Bienville WMA located in Scott County is the best public land area in the East Central Region.
Due to low soil fertility, the Southeast Region has a reputation for having poor deer habitat. The habitat found in the 15 counties that make up this region makes population management even more important than in any of the other deer management regions in Mississippi. It is much more difficult for the habitat in the Southeast Region to recover from deer overpopulation due to this factor. Therefore, it is paramount to keep numbers in check and improve the age structure of deer in this region.
Big bucks can be anywhere in the Magnolia State, including the Southeast Region. However, growing deer with massive antlers in these poor soils takes a huge commitment. Extensive habitat manipulation and year-round food plots are a necessity in this part of the state.
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 Marion, Pearl River, Jefferson Davis and Lamar counties. Not surprisingly, the top WMA for producing trophy whitetails in this region is Marion County WMA.
The Southwest Region has long held the title of the top trophy whitetail producing area in the Magnolia State. After all, more bucks harvested from this 12-county region have qualified for the Magnolia Records Program than any other region in the state, including the trophy rich 14-county Delta Region.
Over 1,150 white-tailed bucks from the Southwest Region have met the minimum requirements (125 inches for typical and 155 inches for non-typical) necessary to be listed in the Magnolia Records Program. In fact, six of the Top 12 counties for entries in the Magnolia Records Program can be found within this one deer region.
Everything necessary for a white-tailed deer herd to thrive can be found in the Southwest Region — an abundance of food and cover, extremely fertile river bottoms and some form of quality deer management being practiced on almost all private property.
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 the region's ability to continually produce such high numbers of trophy bucks while maintaining some of the highest deer densities to be found anywhere in the Magnolia State.
Deer biologists continue to predict a crash in this region if a considerable reduction in the deer population doesn't take place soon. Rampant feeding of corn across the region continues to compound the problem. This high-energy supplement increases the body condition of the does resulting in increased reproduction rates. A larger fawn crop is the last thing you want with an already overpopulated deer herd.
While monster whitetails are harvested in all 12 of the counties that make up the Southwest Region, the highest scoring bucks tend to be found in the counties adjoining the Mississippi River and two of its largest tributaries — the Big Black River and Bayou Pierre. Claiborne, Hinds, Jefferson, Adams, Copiah and Wilkinson are the cream of the crop when it comes to giant whitetails. However, in recent years, Lincoln County has begun to produce more and more exceptional trophies.
Even the counties that lack the highly fertile soils found along the Mississippi River are producing exceptional numbers of high-quality bucks. The success in these "less-productive" counties can be attributed to the implementation of improved deer management practices resulting in 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-hunting opportunities on public land can be found across the Southwest Region. The best of these opportunities can be found on the 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, on the edge of the Homochitto National Forest in Adams County, lies another 19,407 acres of prime public deer hunting in the form of Sandy Creek WMA and Natchez State Park WMA. Although they tend to fly under the radar of most hunters, these two WMAs have yielded some very impressive bucks.
Farther to the north is one of Mississippi's most heavily hunted WMAs 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 WMA consistently yields some of the highest buck harvest-per-acre rates of all the Magnolia State WMAs. Despite the hunting pressure that Copiah County WMA receives, bucks in the 130- to 140-inch class are harvested there each year.
But if you are looking for a unique trophy deer hunting experience and don't mind applying for limited archery and primitive weapon draw permits, then Canemount WMA is certain to fit the bill. Located in the fertile Loess Bluffs of Claiborne County near the confluence of the Mississippi River and Bayou Pierre, the Canemount property has a long history of successful trophy deer management.
Although the Southwest Region might yield the most record book bucks, the rich soil of the Delta Region consistently produces the Magnolia State's largest sets of antlers. An analysis of the 7,500 plus entries in the Magnolia Records Program indicates that bucks from the Delta Region have the highest average antler scores. Each year, several whitetails scoring over 150 Boone & Crockett inches are harvested from this region.
According to Wilf, the majority of the properties in the Delta Region are practicing some form of quality deer management, if not trophy deer management. 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 classes.
"The Delta Region always has high deer numbers," said Wilf. "And due in part to the large acreage enrolled in the Wildlife Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, we are experiencing an emerging deer population along with some of the heaviest body weights seen in years."
Based on entries in the Magnolia Records Program, the top trophy-producing counties in the Delta Region include: Yazoo, Holmes, Issaquena and Warren. However, Washington and Bolivar counties also produce large numbers of high-scoring whitetails that you will never see in any record book. Hunters in these counties are reluctant to enter their trophies for fear of being priced out of their hunting leases by wealthier hunters if their secret gets out.
When it comes to harvesting a trophy buck on public land, your odds are better in the Delta Region than any other region in the state. Three of Mississippi's top trophy-producing WMAs can be found in the Delta Region. Mahannah and Shipland WMAs, both located in Issaquena County, are trophy whitetail factories. Farther to the north 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.
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. The four that consistently produce quality bucks include: Hillside, Morgan Brake, Yazoo and Panther Swamp. However, hunting access and game retrieval can be severely restricted on these refuges.
As you can see, trophy whitetail hunting opportunities abound in every corner of the Magnolia State. And while a trophy buck can come from anywhere in Mississippi, areas with the best habitat and soil quality that follow basic quality deer management principles are much more likely to produce quality whitetails. Of course, it also takes planning and a little bit of luck to get that buck of a lifetime.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '