Everything is lining up for a great hunting season on the wildlife management areas scattered around the state.

"I'm looking for good things once again this fall and winter with our deer hunting," said Chad Dacus, MDWFP deer coordinator. "Our deer population across the entire state seems to be really good, but the Delta wildlife management areas are going to be the highest-quality production areas."

Anything in the South Delta complex is traditionally going to have bigger deer, according to Dacus.

"This year we've been real lucky as far as rain is concerned, and we haven't had a drought and the habitat should be in really good shape going into the hunting season," Dacus said. "One thing that is really nice across the whole WMA system is that we're doing more habitat work, which is creating more huntable acreage on almost all of the hunting areas.

"At the present time, the numbers aren't in on the WMA harvest and size of bucks harvested on them. However, I do know we've already confirmed seven Boone & Crocket bucks that were harvested around the state last year, both public and private, with possibly a couple more making the book."

A lot of big bucks were harvested from areas not traditionally known for producing big bucks.

"From Southwest Mississippi to East Central Mississippi, it was crazy," Dacus said. "From a statewide aspect this year should be just as good as last year because we didn't have a winter and they didn't really have any stress from winter weather.

"Some other areas like Charles Ray Nix and Black Prairie, that are outside the Delta, have good, quality bucks, as well. And Copiah County WMA produces, as far as numbers and quality, probably near the top in the state. The numbers of deer produced on that WMA really blows my mind."

Hunters also have a brand-new tract of public property -

"Cane Mount is ... the old Cane Mount Plantation in Claiborne County at the old Windsor Ruins," said Dacus. "We acquired it this spring, and we'll have our first deer hunting season there this fall with a very limited draw hunt."

Cane Mount has about 3,500 acres of hunting territory, and will be open for archery and primitive weapon hunting only.

"It's different than the surrounding area, but it is the bluff hills and has some pretty good gullies and hills on it, too," Dacus continued. "The habitat is dominated by cherry bark oak with a few pine plantations, but mainly mature hardwoods."

The area was previously managed as a commercial hunting operation, and the former owners wanted the public to be able to continue utilizing it for that purpose.

Dacus also advised that it is each hunter's responsibility to learn and know the rules and regulations at the WMA they're hunting because they're not all the same.

"The season structure and weapon class may be different on each WMA, and they need to know the rules and regulations on land they're hunting, whether public or private," Dacus said.

And one very important rule, as far as WMAs are concerned, is a regulation that requires all hunters hunting from tree stands to wear a safety harness.

"It's for their own safety, and people should wear them whether they're on public or private land," Dacus said.

 

Northeast WMA Region: Canal Section, Chicasaw, Divide Section, Hell Creek, John Bell Williams, Tuscumbia, Calhoun, Charles Ray Nix, Sardis Waterfowl, Upper Sardis

"Charles Ray Nix WMA in Panola County is going to be your best place to hunt for numbers of deer," said regional biologist Brad Holder. "Our deer numbers have been growing there the past five or six years, and it has great habitat and we have a good habitat management program in place."

Deer hunting here is by permit draw only with primitive weapons, but the season is about a month long and provides ample opportunity to harvest a deer - and possibly a nice buck.

"On Nix, we have the upper thick loess soil that is very fertile, much more so than on the other WMAs in this region, and we see better quality overall in both weight and antler size," Holder said. "A mature 4 ½- to 5-year-old buck may score in the 130s to 140s and weigh in the 160 to 170 pound range, depending upon the current environmental conditions."

With nearly 1,300 acres of bottomland farmed as late as 2008 and 2009 butnow converted to grasslands, the habitat is home to a wide variety of game.

"We've opened up the upland woodlands with selective timber harvest which is providing a lot of browse, food and cover," Holder said. "And our habitat management plan calls for a lot of prescribed burning, which helps with that, also.

"It's definitely deer heaven, and it has about as good of a habitat for everything that you can find anywhere, especially for bobwhite quail and deer."

As the food and cover increases, managers are also seeing an increase in the population numbers of rabbits, as well.

"Charles Ray Nix also provides excellent rabbit habitat, and is also utilized by rabbit hunters, also," said Holder. "In fact, it's probably your best bet when it comes to harvesting rabbits in this region. It's got that rabbitat habitat."

Rabbits can survive almost anywhere but, with plenty of browse, open land and almost ideal cover on this WMA, there should be plenty of rabbits to hunt this fall.

Waterfowl

Tuscumbia and Canal Section are the top waterfowl areas in the region, according to Holder.

"Tuscumbia may be one of the best waterfowl areas in the state," Holder said. "It's real unique and able to provide a lot of opportunities for harvesting an assortment of ducks in areas outside of the main flyway.

"Tuscumbia is by far the best in our region, and is managed primarily for waterfowl. It has a number of impoundments intermingled with and managed for natural vegetation management, supplemented with planting. And we have the moist soil here and plant millets, sprinkle top, panic grasses, Japanese millet, sorghum to enhance the habitat and provide food and to attract ducks."

That makes the WMA one of the most-consistent duck-hunting areas in Mississippi.

"We've seen in the past that when nobody else was harvesting ducks in the state, Tuscumbia was," said Holder. "An assortment of ducks can be harvested here, with mallards, teal, gadwalls and shovelers being the main fare, with a few wood ducks, as well.

"We also have a green-tree reservoir on the John Bell Williams WMA, which provides additional opportunities to harvest ducks and is a pretty good bet, as well."

Squirrel

"We've got plenty of squirrel-hunting opportunities on our WMA's in this region," said Holder.

"If you're looking to harvest a limit of squirrels, Chickasaw WMA in Chickasaw County has plenty of squirrel-hunting habitat, and the primary habitat is forest. There's plenty of good squirrel habitat here, and we have a fair amount of squirrel hunting by squirrel dog hunters."

Another area with plenty of squirrels is the Upper Sardis WMA.

"I hunted up there last year and did pretty well with the squirrels," Holder said.

 

North Delta Region: Charlie Capps, Muscadine, Leroy Percy, Malmaison, O'Keefe, Sky Lake, Stoneville

Best duck hunting

Malmaison WMA

"Historically, we've seen more ducks and harvested more (ducks) on Malmaison than in our other WMAs in the Delta," regional biologist Jackie Fleeman said.

Malmaison is located west of Grenada in Leflore, Grenada and Carroll counties. It encompasses some 10,000 acres of prime duck habitat and offers almost unlimited opportunities to harvest limits of ducks.

Mature stands of red and white oaks, loblolly pine and beech are interspersed with wildlife openings on the hills section of the WMA.

Whitetail deer, turkeys and squirrels inhabit the hills portion of the WMA.

The Yalobusha River also runs through Malmaison and, along with oxbows, cypress-tupelo swamps, sloughs and seasonal wetlands, are abundant and provide additional waterfowl hunting opportunities, also.

Muscadine WMA

"I would also recommend that folks take a look at Muscadine," Fleeman said. "It is a complete draw unit with standby hunting, and if it's not full up you have a really good chance to go hunting."

Traditionally, the WMA was split up into two halves, and hunters hunted half of it two days and the rest two days a week. However, according to Fleeman, there could be see some changes to that regimen this year.

Muscadine has 2,930 acres, and is intensively managed for waterfowl including annual plantings of duck food and cover.

"I'm pretty sure that we're going to allow hunting on all of the management area four days a week this year, so there should be more opportunities there than there has been in the past," Fleeman said. "I think we've had 22 to 24 hunt units on the area, and normally hunt about half of it."

The whole Muscadine Area is composed of old catfish farms and attracts large numbers of ducks due to water availability and food.

"We see about everything in the way of ducks on this unit," Fleeman said. "We plant millet and sorghum Sudan and a variety of plants occasionally, but the sorghum sudan is planted not only for food but for cover for the hunters; that's a lot of the reason why we plant that.

"It gives hunters a place to hide in those old catfish ponds."

With the added cover of the sorghum, hunters can spread out in the ponds and avoid detection by the ducks.

"Muscadine also has about 1,000 acres of replanted trees, so it's good for rabbit and probably a few quail on that place, also," Fleeman said.

"O'Keefe has a green-tree reservoir on it, and we hunt ducks there in the standing timber through the winter and (hunters) normally have plenty of luck on it also," he said.

"Charlie Capps is another WMA that is all waterfowl hunting, which gives duck hunters another opportunity and its pre-draw also.

Best Squirrel hunting

O'Keefe and Malmaison WMAs are home to many squirrels, and provide ample opportunities for hunters from all around the state to harvest a big red or black fox squirrel, along with the traditional grey squirrels that inhabit most areas of the state.

Quality Bucks

"Malmaison, O'Keefe and Sky Lake also have some pretty good deer killed there each year," Fleeman said. "In fact, pretty much on all the Delta WMAs where they allow deer hunting, you're going to kill some quality bucks - bigger than most areas in the rest of the state."

Trophy bucks in the 130s plus Boone & Crockett are fairly common, and occasionally a Boone & Crockett record book buck will be harvested on one of the Delta WMAs.

"Sky Lake is a relatively new WMA and is still young, and it has deer on it and hasn't peaked out in deer production yet, and that makes it prime for harvesting a better-quality buck," Fleeman said. "And we aim to keep it that way, as long as the hunters will harvest the does and antlerless deer."

Sky Lake, at 4,306 acres near Belzoni, is another area that has been replanted with hardwood trees, which are still young and thick and offer plenty of cover for the deer.

That's good for the deer but bad for the hunters, as it makes it difficult to see very far or hunt them effectively: The deer can detect hunters moving through their habitat and often avoid detection.

Hunters who can put in the time to scout Sky Lake are able to find trails and stand locations to intercept deer, and many of them are successful at harvesting trophy bucks. But you've got to invest some effort and do your homework.

Food sources are primarily native browse, as the mast bearing trees are not yet big enough to produce significant crops, Fleeman said.

"It's more challenging unless you can find some openings in there to hunt, but folks do manage to hunt them and kill some pretty good deer on there," Fleeman said. "The reward may just be a trophy Delta buck bigger than you could harvest in most other areas around the state."

 

South Delta: Howard Miller, Shipland, Lake George, Mahannah, Sunflower, Twin Oaks

Best deer hunting

Mahannah, Sunflower, Lake George

Perhaps the crown jewel for quality buck harvest in the whole WMA system, but surely for the South Delta region, Mahannah is a trophy draw unit for deer - except for a special youth season and the late-season archery hunt that typically occurs during the month of January each year.

Mahannah is located in Issaquena and Warren counties near Redwood, approximately 18 miles north of Vicksburg on Highway 61.

"If you're going for numbers, then Mahannah is the best bet," Fleeman said.

The area consists of approximately 12,695 acres of bottomland hardwoods, agriculture fields, hardwood reforestation and waterfowl impoundments. It is one of the most ecologically intact and biologically diverse bottomland hardwood ecosystems in the Mississippi Delta, and is a trophy buck haven.

Each year some of the biggest bucks taken on our WMAs are harvested here, and the quality just keeps improving.

Along with an intensive quality management deer system designed to maximize the quality of the deer and bucks in particular - and the excellent habitat filled with lush food sources and bedding areas - the draw system is paying huge dividends.

Sunflower WMA

"Sunflower runs pretty close to Mahannah, as far as numbers of deer," Fleeman said.

Sunflower is not a draw area, making it much more accessible for hunter, which is a big plus.

This WMA is located in Sharkey County near Rolling Fork, and is the largest WMA in the system, with approximately 60,000 acres located in the Delta National Forest.

The forested area consists entirely of bottomland hardwoods, with stands in varying age classes of water, willow, overcup and nuttall oaks, ash, sugarberry and cypress.

Deer-hunting regulations follow the state seasons, and guidelines on this area are the same as with the regional antler-minimum requirements, which is now the same as Mahannah.

In addition to still hunting, Sunflower WMA provides some fantastic deer hunting with dogs. If you can hit a running deer, there should be ample opportunities to harvest a quality buck on this unit.

Lake George

Lake George is located in Yazoo County between Holly Bluff and Satartia on Highway 433, and consists of 8,383 acres of land. This is another relatively new WMA, founded in 1990, and the area is populated by regenerated bottomland hardwoods with less than 40 acres of mature timber.

"Lake George is a lot like Sky Lake, in that it is a relatively new WMA with replanted hardwood trees that are still growing, along with a massive amount of browse for the deer to eat," said Fleeman. "It's pretty hard to hunt, but the hunters who are getting out there and scouting and find deer sign and stand locations are harvesting some pretty decent deer."

When compared to other areas of the state, the buck quality both in antler development and live weight is above average.

Best Duck Hunting

"Mahannah and Howard Miller are the two best duck hunting WMAs we have in this region by far," Fleeman said.

Howard Miller: Howard Miller is located in Issaquena County near Rolling Fork, and is a 2,400-acre tract that has 28 fields grouped into 24 hunt units.

"Howard Miller is all waterfowl hunting, and has about 2,100 acres available for hunting with about 300 acres set aside as a duck sanctuary on the south end," Fleeman said. "It's actually an active rice farm, and we lease about 1,700 acres to a farmer for rice and soybean production."

When the farmer harvests the rice, he's required to cut some use a header that leaves a strip of rice about 3 feet tall for cover for the hunters and places to hide. The farmer also plants strips of corn in between strips of soybeans to provide additional food and cover for the ducks.

Many hunters found success on Howard Miller this past season due to the abundance of food and water in the area. Justin Giles and Jacob Daniels of Meridian had several excellent hunts during which their parties harvested several limits of ducks. While they didn't get the limit every time, some of the hunters in their group did, and they all limited out on at least one occasion.

"We shot teal, ringnecks, shovelers, gadwall, pintails and even some redheads on Howard Miller," Giles said.

Mahannah: Mahannah also provides excellent duck-hunting opportunities, with mallards being the primary species. Other species that also can be found on the refuge are shoveler, canvasback, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, gadwall, pintail, wood duck and widgeons.

Approximately 1,200 acres of open farmland are managed for waterfowl each year, with these the areas either planted in crops (millet, milo, corn, soybeans) or maintained with moist-soil species and flooded in the fall by pumping water in.

"Mahannah is a draw unit with standby hunting available, also," Fleeman said. "We provide plenty of feeding opportunities for the ducks, and also have a sanctuary area for them to rest in."

Excellent duck hunting is had in the flooded fields, but backwater sloughs in several wooded areas are home to hundreds of wood ducks, also. Depending upon the amount of rainfall and cold weather, an assortment of ducks can be harvested throughout the management area in a wide range of areas and conditions.

During one especially high-water year with winter flooding, the author made a deer-hunting trip and encountered thousands of mallards and wood ducks feeding heavily in the flooded hardwood bottoms. Ducks were swarming the area for the freshly flooded acorns, and were having a field day.

Best squirrels hunting

"Sunflower and Twin Oaks are the top producers for squirrels in this area, and Sunflower has thousands of acres of bottomland hardwood mast that affords a large squirrel population, as well as a myriad of opportunities for hunters to harvest a limit of squirrels without too much trouble," Fleeman said.

With a few thousand acres of mast-producing trees, Mahannah is a favorite squirrel-hunting destination of hunters who prefer to hunt squirrels with their dogs.

Red and black fox squirrels are prevalent on all three of these WMAs, making a trip to the Delta almost a necessity if you are an avid squirrel hunter since fox squirrels are a rarity outside of the Delta Region.

Hog heaven

Considered a nuisance by wildlife biologists and many deer hunters, wild hogs are prevalent on all of the Delta WMAs according to Fleeman.

"We encourage people to shoot the hogs if they get a chance," he said. "If you're hunting on one of the WMAs, then you can legally harvest the hogs with whatever weapon is legal for that season."

Though many folks think wild hogs are not good to eat, the author attests to the fact that they make some of the best smoked sausage you'll ever taste and that pork steaks from the tenderloin areas are very good, indeed.

 

Southeast Region: Chickasawhay, Leaf River, Little Biloxi, Mason Creek, Pascagoula River, Red Creek, Ward Bayou

Best deer hunting

"Our top two WMA's in terms of deer numbers are probably Leaf River and the Pascagoula WMAs," said regional biologist Josh Moree.

Leaf River

This WMA located in Perry County near Wiggins is a short drive from the Mississippi coast.

"Dog hunting is very popular on Leaf River, and it has one of the highest deer harvests in the Southeast region, if not the highest reported harvest," Moree said.

Pascagoula

Another very popular deer-hunting spot located near Lucedale, this WMA is primarily open to dog hunting.

"The Leaf and Pascagoula areas have the highest reported deer harvests and provide perhaps the best opportunities to harvest deer in this region," Moree said.

Still-hunt only areas

"Chickasawhay, Mason Creek, Little Biloxi and Red Creek are all still-hunting-only areas for deer, which gives still hunters a chance to hunt undisturbed," Moree said. "And Chickasawhay has about 30,000 acres of hunting availability."

Top picks for ducks

"Your best bet for ducks is going to be along the river system in Pascagoula WMA and along its tributaries, oxbows and farther south in Ward Bayou WMA," Moree said. "You'll have a lot of wood ducks along the Pascagoula River and in the WMA. When you get farther down to the marsh areas in Ward Bayou, you'll see a wider variety of ducks.

"These are your best bets down in this region, but they're nothing like the Delta has."

Squirrels

"Most of the squirrels and rabbits are found on the Pascagoula and Ward WMA's also," said Moree. "The squirrels and rabbits will be found in abundance along the Pascagoula River and in the hardwood bottoms. That's where I'd go if I wanted to kill a squirrel or rabbit."

 

Southwest Region: Caston Creek, Copiah County, Marion County, Natchez WMA, Old River, Sandy Creek, Theodore Mars, Wolf River, Cane Mount

Best deer hunting

"We don't really have any areas that have bigger deer than others, but we do have Marion, Old River and Wolf River and little pockets there; they're all about the same, as far as quality and amount of deer that come off of them," Moree said. "And the hunting pressure is about the same, also.

"Old River, along the Pearl River, has a lot of bottomland hardwoods, and on any of those areas you have a good chance to kill a deer. And a few good deer come off each of those areas each year."

"Over on the west side we have Caston Creek, Sandy Creek and Copiah County which are all good. The majority of Caston Creek is open to dog hunters, while Sandy Creek and Copiah are still hunt only for deer."

Copiah, in particular, is a great little tract.

"This is a smaller state-owned area, where the deer harvest has been great the last three or four years and the word's now getting out," Moree said. "More hunters are coming now and the hunting pressure is showing, so they have to contend with more pressure from other hunters as a result."

And now Natchez State Park is an option.

"We now have hunting here by draw only, but we do allow hunting on it," Moree said. "It's limited and a hunter has to apply for a limited number of spots, but the possibility of harvesting a deer is there."

Rabbit hunting

"Old River and Wolf River are two areas that would be better for rabbits, in my opinion," Moree said. "Old River because it has habitat and it's real swampy and has a lot of thickets, and Wolf River has a lot of clear cuts and thick cover, which is good for rabbits."

Squirrel hunting

Sandy Creek

"Another popular squirrel-hunting area is Sandy Creek ,and we get a lot of squirrel hunters and they're really successful there every year," Moree said.

Natchez State Park

"This year, for the first time, we're having something new: a youth squirrel hunt on Saturdays by draw," Moree said. "It's something we haven't done in the past and the squirrels haven't been hunted before, so it should be a good opportunity for some youngsters who are drawn and can go."