The negative stigma associated with hunting public lands in the Magnolia State needs to be dispelled. As hunters we simply cannot turn our backs on nearly 2 million acres of prime hunting property, which after all is land that actually belongs to us.

It is a resource all outdoor enthusiasts should appreciate and utilize for its true value.

Prime among these public properties are those owned and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers out of their regional Vicksburg District offices. These include four major waterway reservoirs with associated adjacent hunting lands.

Hunting - especially for deer - is excellent on these lands.

If done right, done smartly, following some non-traditional hunting strategies that are tailored to hunting public lands.

The list of properties includes forests surrounding the reservoirs of Arkabutla near Coldwater, Sardis between Sardis and Batesville and Grenada just outside the city limits of Grenada.

But Enid near Oakland is the shining jewel of them all.

"Growing up on Enid Lake with no access to private lands for hunting, it was critical for my father, brother and me to learn the tricks that other hunters had not figured out in order to successfully harvest deer on the public hunting lands surrounding the lake," Oakland's Tommy Hoff said.

Hoff started hunting the lands around Enid Reservoir at age 7. Though still learning the ropes of hunting public lands, he finally has a lot of it sorted out.

 

The Enid profile

Enid Reservoir is a big lake surrounded by a lot of land. Though it is perhaps known best for its fine crappie fishing, the land adjacent to Enid is a great hunting property, too.

Its main course is the white-tailed deer, but the area also holds abundant squirrels (both fox and grey), wild turkey and surprisingly decent duck hunting in years when lake water levels are up.

Enid has 17,000 acres open to public hunting. It contains two wildlife management areas: Springdale WMA and Dean Hill WMA at "Wildcat Brake."

These WMAs comprise some 3,700 acres, so they are worth checking out.

Springdale hosts a special deer hunt by permit only. Check out all the information on Enid and other Corps lands at www.mvk.usace.army.mil/Lakes/ms, or conduct a Google search for detailed information on narrow topics of interest.

The habitat at Enid is a layout of old river runs that serve as sanctuary areas for bucks and does. There are countless sloughs threaded throughout the property, with water resources being key to holding the deer.

Open bottomlands of various expanses can be located by the dedicated scout. Some areas will sport wetland grasses. Local timber stands are a mixture of hardwoods and pine.

For the unfamiliar, Enid Lake is just off Interstate 55 at Exit 233 near the town of Enid, just north of the Oakland exit. It is 140 miles north of Jackson and 72 miles south of Memphis, Tenn.

On the lake, there are 12 recreation areas, 231 picnic sites, 251 campsites, 11 boat ramps and the George Payne Cossar State Park is located on the property with overnight lodging available.

 

Capitalize on crowds

This may sound a little odd at first, but read on.

"The most important thing that I learned was to take advantage of times that other hunters often overlook," Tommy Hoff said. "One of the biggest competitive edges I have now is with my non-traditional work schedule. My regular work routine allows me to hunt during the week. This allows me to have very little contact from other hunters, but more importantly (to have) an escape from the large crowds of ATV riders that come on weekends.

"In general, the woods around the lake are very quiet during the week, allowing low-impact hunters to be successful."

Hoff maximizes his hunting schedule by focusing on times of the day when few others weekday hunters are likely to be in the woods.

"Most hunters will hunt the few hours after dawn or before dusk, as these are traditionally the most-productive times for deer movement," he said. "One thing that deer do better than most animals is adapt to changes in their environment: If the majority of disturbance in their habitat is during these traditional hunting hours, deer will simply adjust their patterns to compensate.

"This being said, I have had tremendous success harvesting mature deer while hunting late morning and midday. Many mornings I will often sleep in and get up just to hunt these often overlooked hours."

Hoff also mentioned that even the larger numbers of ATV riding hunters on the weekends can be used to its advantage. The critical time to be getting settled into the woods is when these noisy ATVs are coming out.

Deer bedded all morning long will now tend to get up and move. That's the time to be in a stand and ready to catch for deer creeping through the woods.

 

Pinpointing hotspots

Hunters tend to overlook some of the best places to hunt by searching for those postcard-perfect open areas. Hunting pressure is higher on public lands, so it is unlikely deer will be comfortable being out in the open during daylight hours.

"I focus on thick, brushy areas such as young pine stands or greenbriar thickets that will often produce more deer during legal shooting hours, as they feel less exposed," Hoff explained.

He also seeks out other overlooked areas, including small pockets of land cut off by roads or irregular boundary lines. Hunters often skip such places to hunt, thinking them incapable of supporting deer because the areas are so small in terms of acreage.

"Hunters will never investigate (enough to know) that these small islands are often surrounded by prime habitat on the adjoining private land," Hoff said. "These areas quite often act as travel corridors between public- and private-land areas. You also do not have to travel great distances from the road to harvest deer, as they have adapted to living near roads and other populated areas that receive little hunting pressure."

 

Adopt a low-impact strategy

Highly successful trophy-class buck hunters learned a long time ago to approach their scouted hunting areas with great caution. Attention to every detail and aspect of every hunt will generate positive results as opposed to sloppy hunting.

You might fool a decent buck every so often, but it's not likely to happen repeatedly over time. The best strategy for deer hunting public lands like COE property is to use a cool, calm and calculated low-impact hunting style.

"I have found that low-impact hunting yields a much higher success rate on Corps of Engineers land," Hoff said. "Deer on public lands probably know as much about hunters as we do about them. These deer run into more people in one day than many deer on private lands will in a whole season.

"You could say they have their PhD in Humanology. These deer know the sights, sounds and smells of humans to a point that it is imperative to make as small an impact as possible in order to go unnoticed."

And there are some regulations that mean hunters have to work a bit harder to remain quiet and undiscovered by deer in a given area.

"It is important to remember that all stands and blinds on COE property must be removed each day and cannot be permanently attached to a tree," Hoff pointed out.

So scouting is imperative to make it work.

"A hunter should do his homework and scout the areas he intends to hunt prior to hunting season," he said. "Knowing what tree he intends to climb and the most likely direction that the deer will come from will help to keep him from tromping all over the area leaving human scents behind trying to find a suitable tree.

"By knowing which tree you plan to hunt and deer movement patterns in the area will also help a hunter plan his hunt around the prevailing wind directions for the day."

And there's one piece of equipment Hoff said should be used sparingly.

"One of the best tips for reducing impact is to leave the ATV on the trailer," he said. "Deer definitely associate ATVs with humans. The loud exhaust noises can be heard from great distances."

This means having to pack in whatever gear you need for the day hunt, including a lightweight climbing stand on your back or maybe a small popup ground blind. The whole idea is to minimize your entry, travel, set up and exit each day.

Additionally, this means to pay real close attention to wind and scent control. Spray down liberally with a scent control formula, wear quiet trekking boots and traverse in a stealth mode. Don't handle every tree and bush in the woods as you hike to your hunting spot. Be as quiet as possible as you set up and settle into your hunting position. Stay alert and constantly mindful of your surroundings.

Corps of Engineers public hunting lands is a great North Mississippi hunting resource. Even so, in order to be consistently successful at taking a doe or a buck some advanced planning is essential. Try to hunt optional days when fewer hunters are around. Then use extreme care and caution in how you pack for the hunt and approach your hunting area.

With everything done right, the pride of accomplishment will be worth all the effort.