"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.
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 'œgood 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 'œchip-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.
'œI'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 'œBig 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.'