Mississippi deer hunters are blessed in many ways. To begin with, we have an extremely long season when compared to other states - Oct. 1-Jan. 31, except for Zone 2, which doesn't close until Feb. 15.

Then there's the issue of our abundant whitetail population, which ranks among the highest in the nation. The Magnolia State is home to more than 1.5 million deer. Since the early 1970s, deer numbers have exploded throughout the state.

However, an overabundance of deer and a lengthy season doesn't guarantee every hunter a trophy buck to hang over the fireplace.

"Every year, more hunters compete for less land to hunt on, and this overcrowding is a constant source of grief for some," said Rick Dillard, Fish and Wildlife Program Director with the U.S. Forest Service and founder of the Magnolia Records Program. "With private land becoming more difficult to find as a result of leasing and development, many hunters are forced to pursue their passion on public lands. Today, hunters must compete for available bucks everywhere, and the competition is intense."

The remarkable white-tailed deer, however, has adapted to increased hunting pressure with great ease. Harvesting today's "pressurized" edition of white-tailed buck is a thorough test of any hunter's skill. While some hunters choose to complain about dwindling opportunities and overcrowded hunting conditions, those willing to hunt smart and utilize other hunters to their advantage can still be consistently successful in harvesting pressured bucks.

Tactics that are productive where deer are undisturbed, however, are rarely effective where hunting pressure is heavy.

Without a doubt, the primary reason for adult white-tailed bucks becoming wary is hunting pressure. However, hunting pressure is not the only kind of pressure experienced by whitetails. There are many types of human pressure in the whitetail's world, and deer are phenomenal at learning to adapt to every type.

For instance, go to a state park, a Boy Scout camp, a military base or inside the city limits where hunting is prohibited, and you will find that the deer roam around without much fear of humans. Several farmers I know regularly harvest nice bucks while feeding their cattle or operating their tractors. Even loggers have told me they often use their knuckle-boom loaders as deer stands at the end of the workday, and with great success.

The obvious reason for deer having a lack of fear of humans in these situations is simple - with the consistent presence of non-threatening human activity throughout the year, the deer become accustom to it and feel safe.

However, the presence of hunting pressure is dramatically different. The vast majority of hunting land in Mississippi receives a brief amount of hunting activity during the spring turkey season and other than that is pretty much left alone from February through August.

Then all of a sudden pre-season scouting and food plot preparation begins, and there is human activity in the woods that has not existed there all year. This sudden human presence will definitely impact the movements of adult white-tailed bucks that have survived prior hunting seasons.

Contrary to what many hunters seem to believe, deer don't just up and leave the country when hunting pressure intensifies. Instead, they hunker down in the thickest cover they can find, and limit their movements to nighttime and very brief daytime excursions.

And that's not just an opinion.

In 1988, researchers from Mississippi State University, along with biologists from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, began a telemetry study of 10 radio-collared bucks in Claiborne County. The study was designed to determine the causes of white-tailed buck mortality over a period of several years. Tracking those bucks and observing their behavior over that period proved to be quite revealing.

With only a few exceptions, most of the radio-collared bucks moved very little, even when hunting pressure intensified. One buck in particular, the largest-racked of the study group, never ranged outside a small thicket about the size of a football field during the entire hunting season. With ample food, water and cover, along with an abundance of does in the vicinity, he had no reason to venture outside his tiny domain.

That thicket lay in the midst of several large hunting clubs, but I doubt if a hunter's boots ever made a track there. It was simply too small an area for hunters to give it a second look, but it was the perfect size for a trophy buck to use as his sanctuary.

I learned a great deal from those bucks in the study. My hunting success increased dramatically once I accepted the fact that mature bucks don't leave the country when hunting pressure mounts, but instead bed down in thick cover and usually remain there most of the day.

Since that time, my method of pinpointing such haunts has evolved into a routine. Experienced deer hunters understand that preparation is the key to successfully hunting pressured bucks.

It starts with information collected from folks who live or work around whitetail coverts. Farmers, foresters, wildlife management area biologists and game wardens are all good sources of information. Don't be shy about asking these guys where they have seen a nice buck recently. Most of the time, they'll not only tell you about their latest sighting, but will also provide you with the exact location. Knowing the time of day the buck was spotted can also be helpful. A buck on the move at dawn is usually moving toward his bedding area, while a buck moving at dark is probably leaving his bedding area to feed.

The next step is to obtain aerial photographs and topographic maps of the spots you plan to hunt. The aerial photographs are helpful in locating thick cover, while the topographic maps aid in identifying distinct changes in elevation. Mature white-tailed bucks prefer to bed just over a ridge edge with the wind at their backs. From this vantage, they can see approaching danger downwind and smell it from behind.

Smart scouting is the final piece of the preparation puzzle. Finding well-used trails, fresh scrapes, rub lines, mast trees, escape lanes and bedding cover is all extremely valuable information. But if at all possible, scouting a particular area should be done in one full day rather than several trips prior to the season opener. When it comes to scouting a new area, less time spent in your hunting area can be more beneficial. Instead of scouting harder, try scouting smarter.

But most importantly, always believe that the bucks haven't taken off for the next county. Even if you don't actually see the deer, they are most likely right under your nose. Consider how wary a trophy buck must be to survive high-pressure hunting.

Bagging a pressured buck is one of the toughest challenges any whitetail hunter can accept. It takes some extra effort and strategy, but the hunter who continues to work with this system can dramatically increase his chances of taking a trophy buck that is as smart as they come. Remember, luck is primarily knowledge and skill meeting opportunity.

No matter where whitetails live, the rut is triggered by the amount of daylight in any given 24-hour period. This phenomenon, known as photoperiod, affects nearly everything that happens in nature. In the case of white-tailed deer, it means that they breed so that their fawns will have the maximum chance of survival. In most parts of Mississippi, the peak of the whitetail rut falls somewhere around Christmas Day.

"Hunting pressure is heavy at the beginning of archery season in October and only intensifies through the peak of the rut in December," said Chad Dacus, deer program coordinator with the MDWFP. "With hunters pounding the woods daily, most mature bucks have long since gone nocturnal. Since they rarely venture out during daylight hours, harvesting one of these trophies becomes even more difficult."

If pressure gets too intense, mature bucks will either relocate to areas where the hunting pressure is not as intense or hunker down in the thickest cover they can find and move very little. By the time the rut arrives, deer are harder to find and much more wary of their surroundings.

But as the rut gets into full swing, these same bucks begin throwing caution to the wind. In search of a hot doe, bucks become less skittish and begin to greatly increase their movements during daylight hours. During this time, you are just as likely to encounter a mature buck chasing a doe at noontime as you are early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

White-tailed deer are masters at adapting to changes in their environment. This is especially true when it comes to increases and decreases in hunting pressure. Prior to the beginning of the rut, the best hunting strategy is to get away from other hunters. But as the rut intensifies, this strategy becomes less and less effective.

During the peak of the rut, your only strategy should be to look for cold fronts and stay out in the deer woods as much as possible. Find a hot doe, and a love-struck buck is sure to be not too far behind.

As the rut tapers off in late December, so does the hunting pressure. For some unexplained reason, hunters begin to vacate the woods as the New Year approaches. Many are burned out from three solid months of deer hunting, while others opt to throw in the towel and pursue other interests.

Regardless of the reason, there are fewer hunters in the woods come the end of December. Deer respond to this reduction in hunting pressure by returning to more predictable movement patterns and becoming less wary.

The smart hunter will take advantage of this situation by remaining patient and persistent and continuing to hunt on through the late-season. Or as Winston Churchill stated in his speech at the Harrow Hall, "Never give in! Never give in! Never, never, never, never - in nothing great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

With that kind of mindset, I am quite certain Sir Winston would have made a great late-season whitetail hunter. One thing is for sure, you will not reap the late-season rewards unless you stay in the game until the end.

Having confidence in your abilities and your hunting location is also extremely important when chasing pressured bucks. Believing in yourself and knowing that you have selected the right stand location will help you stay more focused on the job at hand. This inner confidence makes it much easier for you to keep your head in the game, remain in your stand longer, and take advantage of the rare opportunity a trophy buck might afford you.

Once in your stand, the time for second-guessing is gone. It is time to stop worrying about what's happening at your other stands and focus completely on the stand you are in. Unless something major happens, like a change in the weather, always stick to the game plan you formulated the night before. There will be plenty of time for questioning your game plan after the hunt is over and you are on your way home.

Every single time I go afield, I believe that I will encounter a trophy buck. If I didn't believe that, I may just as well have stayed at home. Staying confident all day long is extremely important. Theodore Roosevelt, an excellent hunter in his own right, hit the nail on the head when he said, "Believe you can, and you're halfway there."

If you still think that hunting pressured bucks in the Magnolia State consists of long hours of seeing nothing but trees and the occasional squirrel, you need to give it another try. Although it can be frustrating at times, hunting this time of year can also yield great rewards for the hunter who is both patient and persistent. And the only way to find out how good hunting pressured whitetails in Mississippi can be is by giving it a try yourself. It is an opportunity well worth investigating.