A hunter's anticipation of the upcoming deer season is triggered by positive events. One could be a visit to the Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza, where a record number of high-scoring deer will be on display. Another could be the setting out and checking of a trail camera, and seeing the pictures that bring first-hand proof of the promise the new season holds.

Last, but not least, are the words you are about to read from the brightest deer minds in Mississippi, who in a unified voice say this may be the very best deer season in Mississippi - ever!

The 2011-12 deer season was definitely one of contrasts. Record-breaking mild weather, near-record mast crop, fewer deer sightings reported and hunter numbers continuing to fall.

But the Big Buck Contest at the 2011 Mississippi Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Extravaganza proved Mississippi had the bucks to excite the hearts of the state's deer hunters.

And the Magnolia Records book is seeing an increase in the average score of the bucks, so we know the potential is in place for another banner season.

To find out just what to expect, we went to the people who eat, sleep and work deer in Mississippi - the "Deer Team" at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

"It takes a while to crunch the numbers," said Chad Dacus, former deer coordinator and acting chief of Wildlife for the MDWFP. "But on the surface it appears we are headed into an upward cycle in overall deer population. Winter carryover was good. Brood does were treated to an early green-up of native browse and should be able to give birth to healthy fawns."

William McKinley, a biologist and member of the deer team in the Central Zone added to the overall picture with what appears to be conflicting statements: But read all the way through to realize how the negatives will translate into positives.

"The DMAP clubs in my area reported what has to be considered as very poor deer observations. In addition, those same clubs saw a 10 1/2-percent drop in total harvest," McKinley said. "The same area experienced an absence of cold weather for an extended period, and an immense mast crop."

According to McKinley, some of the key hunting weekends and holiday periods were far warmer than normal. And deer entered these periods with an abundance of fat reserves.

As he put it, deer didn't have to move far or often to meet their nourishment requirements. The result was fewer deer sightings, resulting in a lower harvest.

"Even with this downturn we are seeing what may be a banner year for Boone & Crockett trophies," McKinley said. "As bucks move into the antler growing season, they are in great health, which will result in very good antler growth.

"It is well documented that when the state experiences an early spring antler growth and deer health is always improved."

McKinley went on to say that 150- to 160-class bucks should be plentiful during the upcoming season, with the number of 180- to 190-class deer also increasing.

He bases this statement on the large carry-over of older class bucks.

"To see a truly record-setting year, we need to have hunters in the woods on days when the temperatures are very cold for an extended period of time," McKinley said. "I'll go on a limb and say if those factors come to pass, combined with a normal rutting period, we should see the best deer season Mississippi has ever experienced."

All deer hunters have heard that deer must eat to maintain their body temperature. So just how many calories does a deer need on any given day to maintain the status quo, so to speak? How often does the average deer feed during the day to maintain this calorie count?

For that answer, we looked to Mississippi State University, one of the top whitetail research centers in the nation, where Steve Demarais and Bronson Strickland work to answer all questions related to deer.

"There is absolutely a link between warm weather and large acorn crops reducing deer movements," Demarais said. "Deer are prey, so they know innately that they should move only as much as needed to find their preferred foods. A bumper acorn crop like last year combined with the warm weather reduced sightings generally.

"But, we had a great year for harvest of really big-antlered bucks. The mild winters of the last two years combined with early green-up has set us up for another great year of great deer."

Hunters must consider conditions to maximize their odds of success.

"What hunters can do exactly, depends on growing conditions between now (mid-July) and then (how long drought lasts) and the acorn crop," Demarais said. "Prior to rut, food is key to locating any deer - so find where it is, and hunt between it and heavy cover.

"During rut, hunt in high-use areas that have the best visibility to see the most buck movements. Bucks are either looking for does or tending a moving doe. Prior to being receptive she leads him on quite a walk-around."

According to MSU research, deer on average require 2 to 3 percent of their body weight in food daily just to maintain an average weight. That unit of measurement is specified as "dry browse."

For the hunter, consider everything the deer eats is dehydrated, and then weigh 3 to 5 pounds to get an idea of what the animal requires.

"Deer will not overeat," Demarais said. "They eat what they need and stop to digest it. If metabolism allows, they put the excess into fat reserves. Otherwise they metabolize what they eat with normal activity."

As for the weather, Dacus just shrugged his shoulders and stated that he hears the same things everyone does - we are in for another mild winter.

However, Barbie Bassett, chief meteorologist at WLBT-TV in Jackson, said making any long-term forecast is impossible.

"If anyone tries to tell you what the trend will be 90-days from now, run the other way," Bassett said.

That said, the summer weather in part of the state could have a real impact on the upcoming season - again because a seeming negative turns into a positive.

"June proved to be a very hot and dry month, putting stress on a promising soft-mast crop," said Lann Wilf, MDWFP deer biologist for the Northern Zone. "If the hot dry weather of June had extended into July, much of the hard-mast crop (acorns), will be cast by the trees.

"The poorer the fall mast crop for the deer, the better the hunting season for the deer hunters, as deer will have to move more in search of food."

As Wilf pointed out, that was not the case as most of Mississippi received average to above-average rainfall in July: He stated that areas along the Mississippi River that had been hit hard by the 2011 flood had rebounded well this spring, and conditions for an excellent mast crop also should be very good.

Wilf agreed with McKinley that an extended period of cold weather will be the best thing that could happen for hunters.

He also had another piece of advice for hunters seeking a trophy buck this year.

"The doe carryover and fawning this year is exceptional," Lann said. "This means there will be more competition for food. Despite the fact that there should be a fine hard-mast crop, other species, such as hogs and turkeys, squirrels and birds will also have benefitted from a mild winter and spring and the food demand will be high.

"For this reason, I suggest hunters take antlerless deer early in the season, for two reasons: First, the food supply will stretch a bit further, in case the weather turns off cold and wet, and, second, there will be fewer does vying for a buck's attention when the rut kicks into high gear - resulting in increased buck movement."

Wilf added that deer and squirrels are very dependent on the hard-mast crop, where other species have far more varied diets.

He also said it cannot be stressed enough, that wild hogs should be shot on sight.

The report from Southwest Region biologist David Graves is the same song, third verse. An almost non-existent winter season left the deer in great health with excellent numbers.

"I think we got the most rain of anybody in the state," said Graves. "We're coming off three years of excellent hard mast crops and lower-than-average deer sightings.

"Buck quality was very good in the DMAP clubs in the area. Fawns started showing up right on time in July. Harvest data indicates fewer deer were killed, but that could have been due to the very mild winter and bumper mast crop."

In the Southeastern counties, where the poorer soil deprives deer of needed minerals for trophy sized racks, hunters are faced with a double dilemma.

According to Justin Thayer, deer biologist for that region, much of the forest habitat destroyed by Katrina has generated vast thickets where deer can move about in near obscurity.

"Mast-producing trees downed by Katrina will be decades coming back, but those just damaged have six years of added growth and are bearing fruit," Thayer said. "The early green-up allowed the deer to have needed food at a critical time. While we may not have the biggest deer in the state, the numbers are as good as anywhere."

Thayer said hunters will be challenged in those areas where succession growth is heavy.

He adds that the later season has been popular with local hunters who find the late rut in the southernmost counties the best time to catch a buck out of the thickets.