Mississippi Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014
October 01, 2014
"The more things change, the more they stay the same." When Alphonse Karr, the French writer, coined this phrase, the status of Mississippi's white-tailed deer herd was not on his mind. However, these words are an accurate description of the current status of the Magnolia State's deer herd.
Most deer hunters are surprised to discover that Mississippi has one of the highest deer density rates in the nation. The best estimates indicate that the Magnolia State is home to nearly 2 million white-tailed deer. To put this number into perspective, that amounts to 1 deer per every 10 acres of forested land. And with a projected 155,000 deer hunters expected to hit the Mississippi deer woods during the 2014-2015 season, that computes to around 13 deer per hunter. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the odds of taking a deer this season are very good for hunters in the Magnolia State.
However, opportunity does not always account for whether or not a hunter will actually pull the trigger. Even with extremely liberal bag limits and incredibly long seasons, the average seasonal harvest is 1.76 deer per hunter, with only 75 percent of residents and 68 percent of non-residents harvesting a deer. The only logical reason why twice as many deer are not harvested is that hunters choose not to harvest more deer.
"Herd condition data and field habitat evaluations continue to document the negative effects of current and long-term overpopulation in many areas of the state," said Lann Wilf, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Deer Biologist. "However, reduction of the deer population to levels where the habitat can recover is surprisingly unacceptable to many hunters."
Currently the health of the state's deer herd is in relatively good shape, despite the persisting overpopulation problem. However, the combined effects of nutritional stress, poor management and high levels of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (blue tongue) have reduced some localized deer populations by nearly 10 percent.
According to Wilf, the heavy mast crop of last season resulted in fewer deer being harvested and higher doe body condition scores. These two factors indicate an unacceptable carryover of the doe population and a high fawn crop for 2014. In order to maintain the deer herd in its current condition, it will be paramount for hunters to increase their doe harvest.
Even the DMAP clubs, which are some of the better-managed hunting grounds in the Magnolia State, continue to report inadequate doe harvest numbers. On average, these clubs fall 10 deer short of their doe harvest goal each year. Over a 10-year period, the result is 100 extra deer on each property, not counting the fawns born during that time period.
In addition to an inadequate doe harvest, the feeding epidemic occurring statewide is causing even more problems. Where deer feeding is allowed, the data shows that harvest numbers do not increase as many might expect. Instead, the deer harvest numbers stay the same or even decrease, which is more often the case. However, body size increases due to feeding, resulting in lactation jumping from 60 percent to 80 percent. And with an already overpopulated deer herd, an increase in fawn production increases the problem.
An abundance of valuable information about the condition of Mississippi's deer herds by region, including harvest data, is available in the Annual MDWF&P Deer Program Report, which can be found on the agency website at www.mdwfp.com.
Now, let's take a closer look at each of the six deer regions established by MDWF&P and identify the better locations to harvest a deer this season.
A traditionally strong local sentiment against harvesting antlerless deer in this 14 county region has resulted in deer herds expanding at some of the fastest rates in the Magnolia State over the last decade. Grossly overpopulated deer herds continue to be a problem on lands where antlerless harvest is either severely limited or completely restricted.
"Fortunately, overpopulated deer herds in this region are much easier to control than in other areas of the state," said Wilf. "Also, the soil fertility is high enough to allow the habitat quality to be restored after deer numbers are reduced. Therefore, management potential in the North Region is almost as high as any region of the state."
Normal to better than average acorn crops in the North Region over the last couple of years have inhibited the ability of hunters to see and harvest deer. This factor also caused hunters in the region to underestimate the actual numbers of deer on their properties. This trend is likely to continue in 2014-2015 with predictions of another good mast crop this fall. If this occurs, deer visibility will be reduced, but herd health, productivity and fawn production should be higher. These factors will cause the deer population to increase even faster, which can be devastating if hunters in the region continue to refrain from antlerless harvest.
When it comes to consistently producing good numbers of deer, Tate, Panola and Marshall are the top counties in the North Region. Hell Creek and Charles Ray Nix, two WMAs that have sizeable deer populations, offer draw hunts that greatly reduce the hunting pressure seen on other public lands. But if elbowroom isn't an issue, ample deer hunting opportunities abound on the expansive Holly Springs National Forest.
North Central Region
Consisting of 15 counties, the North Central Region is home to Camp McCain Military Base, nine WMAs, three separate tracts of the Holly Springs and Tombigbee National Forests, and the expansive Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. With such an abundance of public-land hunting opportunities, hunters are certain to find plenty of whitetails for the taking.
Although the overall herd in this region appears to be relatively healthy, site visits by the regional biologist revealed vastly overpopulated localized areas in the region in desperate need of a change in management.
According to the regional biologist, the management emphasis across this region shifting from the traditional deer management of harvesting every legal buck and few does to more quality deer management has had some very beneficial effects. However, this increased interest in deer management has not been able to stabilize the deer population growth in the North Central Region.
The deer herds in this region peaked in the early 90s, but are currently experiencing a second peak with many clubs having more deer now than then. And despite coyote depredation being at the highest level of any region in the state, increasing the deer harvest is the only way to combat the expanding deer herd.
The top producing deer counties in the North Central Region include Noxubee, Monroe, Attala and Carroll. The top deer producing WMAs in this region include Malmaison, Calhoun County and Choctaw. The North Central Region is also home to the 48,000-acre Noxubee NWR, the largest tract of the Tombigbee National Forest.
East Central Region
Because of the extremely diverse soil types found here, the East Central Region is considered to be the most unique deer region in the Magnolia State. Seven of Mississippi's 11 soil types can be found in the 12 counties that make up the East Central Region. The combination of diverse soil types and quality habitat makes for a healthy, yet overpopulated, deer herd.
Deer harvest in this region has remained relatively stable over the past 10 years at one deer per 100 acres. According to Wilf, the deer herd has plateaued in the East Central Region with the number of births equaling the number of deaths. However, if harvest rates are not increased, there is concern that the already overpopulated deer herds in this region may explode due to better than average acorn crops and improved habitat manipulation in pine plantations.
When it comes to hunting opportunities, the highest deer densities in the East Central Region can be found in Madison, Leake and Scott counties. For the best public-land opportunities, hunters should focus on the Bienville National Forest and the region's three top producing WMAs — Bienville, Tallahala and Nanih Waiya.
Thanks to the extremely fertile soils created by its vast river systems, the Delta Region is whitetail habitat heaven. However, recent floods on these same river systems have made it challenging for the hunters in low-lying areas across this 11 county region. Harvest numbers, especially antlerless harvest numbers, have dropped dramatically in this region at a time when the deer population is booming.
"The Delta Region always has high deer numbers," said Wilf. "But with the increase in the WRP and CRP acreage in this region, we are seeing an emerging deer population along with some of the heaviest body weights in years."
Selecting the best counties in the Delta Region is a daunting task, since one is just as productive as the next. However, focusing on the counties with the most timberland is certain to increase your odds of harvesting a deer this season. Warren, Yazoo, Issaquena and Sharkey counties are your best bets for taking a deer in the Delta Region.
Whether it's the 100,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the Delta National Forest or the numerous WMAs, the Delta Region has an abundance of public deer hunting opportunities. The real challenge comes in selecting which of these bountiful deer lands to bag your deer.
Three of the WMAs in this region have a long history of producing exceptional deer harvest numbers. O'Keefe in Quitman County is unique because it is one of the largest tracts of timber in the North Mississippi Delta outside of the Mississippi River levee. Mahannah in Issaquena County and Twin Oaks in Sharkey County are two WMAs in the South Delta that shouldn't be overlooked. Although they are better known for producing trophy bucks, this pair of WMAs also ranks high on the list for total numbers of deer harvested per acre.
And if none of the WMAs in this region suit your fancy, there is always the massive Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is made up of six National Wildlife Refuges. Panther Swamp, Hillside, Holt Collier, Mathews Brake, Theodore Roosevelt and Morgan Brake all contain an abundance of whitetails.
The Southwest Region has long been known for producing monster whitetails, but it also carries the distinction of having the highest deer densities in the Magnolia State. With all the ingredients necessary for deer to thrive, it is no wonder that hunters in the Southwest Region enjoy higher than normal success rates. Much of this region is comprised of acorn-producing hardwood river bottoms, and it has an abundance of browse and some of the most fertile soils to be found anywhere in the state. This extremely high-quality habitat is the primary reason this area contains such a high concentration of whitetails.
Much like the Delta Region, the Southwest Region simply doesn't have a non-productive deer county. However, the counties bordering the Mississippi River contain the highest deer densities in the region. The best choices for taking a deer in this region are Hinds, Claiborne, Jefferson and Adams.
The most popular public-land offering in the Southwest Region is the vast 189,000-acre Homochitto National Forest. However, the normally high hunter success rates on the Homochitto National Forest have been rapidly declining in recent years as a result of excessive hunting pressure, higher than normal levels of disease and poor habitat management. Fortunately, just down the road is St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge with an additional 26,000 acres of prime deer habitat with far less hunting pressure.
Offering exceptional habitat and effective deer management, the Southwest Region is also home to three of the Magnolia State's most productive whitetail WMAs — Copiah County, Natchez State Park and Canemount. Located in the bluffs along the Mississippi River in Claiborne County, Canemount is the newest WMA in the state and offers a hunting experience like no other.
Due to low soil fertility, the 15 counties in the Southeast Region are recognized as having poor quality deer habitat in general. However, increased plantings of summer and winter food plots have produced measurable improvements in the deer population and herd health in the region. Whether or not these improvements can be sustained is yet to be seen.
The best bet at harvesting a deer in the Southeast Region is in the counties in the upper half of the region such as Lamar, Jefferson Davis and Marion. These counties have much higher deer densities than do the southern coastal counties. The Wolf River and Marion County WMAs, along with the vast De Soto National Forest, remain good public-land choices for bagging a deer because of their high deer densities.
That's a look at the top hunting areas in Mississippi for the 2014-2015 white-tailed deer season. Keep in mind that these picks are for areas that produce overall numbers of deer, both bucks and does. Next month, we will take a closer look at where the trophy bucks can be found across the Magnolia State.