This is a great time to be a sportsman or woman in Mississippi and Louisiana, as there are so many fall hunting options from which to choose.
Louisiana deer hunters might find deer almost anywhere. However, the hardwood bottomlands along the Red, Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers typically offer the best hunting.
"Traditionally, parishes along the Mississippi River have produced the highest deer harvest per acre along with the largest deer," explained Johnathan Bordelon, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist. "The combination of bottomland hardwood forest, agriculture and desirable forest plants provide abundant high quality forage."
Flooding events in 2016, along those rivers and other streams, temporarily hurt deer populations. On the plus side, floodwaters deposited rich soils, promoting plant growth. With good nutrition, bottomland bucks enjoy faster growth rates and antler development.
For the biggest bucks, Bordelon recommends Richard K. Yancey, Big Lake and Dewey Wills wildlife management areas. In western Louisiana, Bodcau, Peason Ridge and Fort Polk are good areas. For hunters who just want to bring home meat, the biologist suggests Loggy Bayou, Bayou Macon, Clear Creek and West Bay WMAs.
"Focusing on WMAs with seasons open during peak breeding will typically lead to increased success," Bordelon said. "The deer breeding map on the LDWF website (www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/louisiana-estimated-deer-breeding-periods) is a great resource for hunters trying to plan public land hunts. The river parish WMAs are typically more productive in January."
While waiting for a deer, watch for hogs. Many public properties allow the taking of hogs when hunting other game. On private lands, people can kill hogs all year long without limit.
"Hunters do not have to travel far from home to bag a hog," Bordelon quipped. "Hogs are found across all of Louisiana and most WMAs."
With 41 percent of the wetlands in the lower 48 states, Louisiana has dominated waterfowl hunting for decades. Some of the best public hunting occurs in Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge occupies 124,511 acres of waterfowl habitat between Calcasieu Lake and Sabine Lake on the Texas-Louisiana line. Besides ducks, hunters might also bag snow, blue or specklebelly geese.
"An abundance of birds use the refuge each winter," stated Diane Borden-Billiot, refuge spokesperson. "Hunters usually average more than three birds per person per hunt. Gadwalls typically account for about 50 to 60 percent of the harvest followed by green-winged teal at about 15 to 20 percent."
In southeastern Louisiana, Pass-A-Loutre WMA offers prime waterfowling in the Mississippi River Delta. Accessible only by boat, it covers about 115,000 acres of wetlands south of Venice. The nearby 48,500-acre Delta NWR also offers excellent duck hunting.
"If I was going to recommend the best place to hunt ducks, without a doubt, I'd point them to the mouth of the Mississippi River, but it's not a place for rookies," advised Larry Reynolds, LDWF biologist.
Other good public places to hunt ducks in south Louisiana include Pearl River, Biloxi and Manchac WMAs or Big Branch Marsh NWR. Near Morgan City, many people consider the Atchafalaya River the "second delta" of the Mississippi. Atchafalaya Delta WMA covers 137,695 acres of marshes and open water at the river mouth.
In central Louisiana, Catahoula Lake can provide outstanding waterfowl hunting under the right conditions. In some years, it holds extremely high concentrations of canvasbacks, plus other birds. Hunters might also shoot some passing geese.
"When it's right, Catahoula Lake is one of the best places to hunt waterfowl in the country," Reynolds said. "Catahoula Lake typically winters 50,000 to 100,000 canvasbacks and another 100,000 ring-necked ducks each year. The area also attracts a lot of pintails and many other dabbling ducks."
Sportsmen can also find squirrels in almost any hardwood or mixed forest. Some better management areas include Big Lake, Boeuf, Russell Sage, Sabine Island, Pearl River, Tunica Hills, Dewey Wills, Sherburne and Thistlethwaite.
Occasionally, squirrel hunters kicks up rabbits, but most people release beagles to hunt bunnies. However, sportsmen without dogs can still bag a bunny or two. Look for rabbits along field edges at first or last light. In wetlands, walk along spoil banks bordering canals. For cottontails, visit Clear Creek, Big Lake, Bodcau, Boeuf, Pass a Loutre, Russell Sage, Sabine, Sherburne and Sandy Hollow.
Under pressure from predators and habitat loss, quail populations have declined, but Louisiana hunters have some bright spots. For the best wild quail action, head to the pine savannahs of the 600,000-acre Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana. The state also did some quail habitat enhancement projects on Sandy Hollow WMA, which covers 4,177 acres in two separate tracts near Wilmer. Sandy Hollow also attracts some doves for late-season hunts.
Must-Reads from G&F
"Like many other states, Louisiana quail populations have declined for several decades due to declines in habitat quality," said Dr. Jeffrey P. Duguay, LDWF biologist. "According to harvest survey data for the 2015-16 season, the harvest of wild quail significantly increased, up 58 percent compared to the previous year, while quail hunters decreased by 25 percent."
Often associated with quail hunting, woodcock actually prefer very different habitat. They thrive in thick hardwood forests with moist soils where they can probe their long bills into the mud to snatch earthworms. Woodcock begin arriving in Louisiana in November. In cold years, Louisiana winters a huge woodcock population with most birds heading to the Atchafalaya Basin.
"Louisiana represents important wintering habitat for the American woodcock," Duguay said. "Woodcock populations have been stable over the last 10 years across their range. Look for woodcock in the bottomland hardwood forests throughout the Mississippi Alluvial Valley."
When woodcock season opens in December, visit Sherburne WMA after a good cold front pushes more birds south. Also try Yancey, Clear Creek, Bodcau, Sandy Hollow, Dewey Wills and Pearl River WMAs.
Like woodcock, snipe make challenging targets with swift, erratic flying. Snipe prefer marshes, soggy pastures and rice fields to timber. Sportsmen might find snipe in any marshy place, but some better WMAs include Biloxi, Manchac, Pearl River, Pass-A-Loutre, Pointe-aux-Chenes and Salvador.
Across the river, Mississippi offers vast forests and more than 1.75 million deer, providing some of the finest whitetail hunting in the South. Numerous wildlife management areas, federal refuges and more than 1.2 million acres in six national forests offer sportsmen many public hunting places.
"Warm weather and abundant food last year led to a high carryover of older age-class bucks," explained William T. McKinley, Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks biologist. "A very abundant acorn crop resulted in deer having extremely high fat indices during our spring deer herd health evaluations. We expect a good fawn crop and a good antler year. The densest deer herds tend to be in the northwestern part of the state and in the hills adjacent to the Mississippi Delta."
McKinley recommends Mahannah, Twin Oaks, Canemount and Charles Ray Nix WMAs for producing the biggest bucks. He also suggests Panther Swamp, Hillside and Yazoo NWRs. People who just want to put venison in the freezer might try Copiah County, Leaf River, Canal Section, Malmaison, O'Keefe or Nanih Waiya WMAs.
The Magnolia State also has countless rivers, oxbows, bayous, cypress brakes and swampy areas that provide significant wintering waterfowl habitat, especially along the Mississippi River. The region attracts many mallards, gadwalls, pintails and green-winged teal, as well as some snow, blue and specklebelly geese.
"Typically, the best duck hunting in Mississippi is found in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, commonly called the Mississippi Delta," explained Houston Havens, MDWFP waterfowl biologist. "The Mississippi River and adjacent topography allows winter water to be captured relatively easily for an abundance of waterfowl habitat."
About 15 miles north of Vicksburg, Mahannah WMA includes 12,695 acres in Warren and Issaquena counties. Managed as a quality waterfowl hunting impoundment, Howard Miller WMA covers 2,400 acres in Issaquena County. Havens also recommended Malmaison, Charlie Capps, Bolivar County and O'Keefe WMAs.
In a state practically covered in timber, squirrel hunters can find almost unlimited places to pursue squirrels. Sportsmen might find good squirrel hunting in Canal Section, Malmaison, O'Keefe, Pascagoula, Sandy Creek and Upper Sardis WMAs.
"Overall, squirrel populations are abundant with the exception of the upland fox squirrel subspecies that is much more localized as a result of habitat suitability," said Rick Hamrick, MDWFP biologist. "A very good acorn crop last fall and a mild winter should have been favorable for producing young squirrels this spring into summer."
In the Mississippi Delta, sportsmen might take home a prized black squirrel, a melanistic color variant of a fox squirrel. While hunters might bag a black squirrel anywhere in the state, head to Delta National Forest in western Mississippi for the best chance. Delta NF covers about 60,695 acres of bottomland hardwood forests in Sharkey County.
Rabbit populations have declined across Mississippi during the past 50 years. However, sportsmen can still find some cottontails and swamp rabbits in good habitat.
"Rabbit populations are good where habitat is suitable, but in a statewide context, populations are generally low to moderate relative to providing good hunting," Hamrick commented. "The mild winter we had may have led to better survival coming into spring."
Some better public properties for rabbits include Canal Section, Charles Ray Nix, Hell Creek, Sky Lake and Upper Sardis WMAs. Trim Cane WMA offers limited draw hunts for rabbits.
Like most states, Mississippi wild quail populations have suffered greatly in the past 50 years. These declines stem mainly from changing land usage and an increase in predator populations. While many hunters turn to commercial preserves, sportsmen can find a few wild birds in pockets around the Magnolia State.
"Wild quail populations remain low and are generally found in too few numbers to provide much hunting opportunity," Hamrick lamented. "For quail, hunters will have to cover a lot of ground, but DeSoto National Forest in southeastern Mississippi has some larger tracts of public land that hold some quail."
DeSoto covers 518,587 acres of mostly longleaf pine savannahs and flatwoods in southern Mississippi. Southeast of Hattiesburg, the forest contains two wilderness areas and the 42,000-acre Leaf River WMA east of Wiggins.
If bird enthusiasts can't find sufficient wild quail, they might look for doves. Most people only hunt doves during the September season, but migrant birds actually come south later in the year.
Howard Miller, Indianola, Muscadine Farms and Black Prairie WMAs usually offer good dove shooting.
Whether seeking fur or feathers, sportsmen can take their pick of November hunting opportunities. If they can't find their favorite species, they might still bag something unexpected, so stay flexible and enjoy the outdoors.