While most deer hunters have already put their guns and bows away for the season, or will after today's final day in the Hill and Delta zones, those in the southeast corner of Mississippi remain in a rut.

Make that, The Rut.

"It's true that down here in the southeasternmost part of the state the primary reproductive period for deer is much later than the rest of Mississippi," said Justin Thayer, the region's deer biologist for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "We have such a large geographical difference between north and south that we see a large variance in the rut.

"We have bucks chasing does as early as mid November in extreme northwest Mississippi and it continues throughout December and January as you travel south. Down here, we'll see bucks running does in February, which is why we see the extended season here."

Mississippi's extended primitive weapon and archery seasons end today in the northern two-thirds of the state, but south of U.S. Highway 84 and east of Mississippi Highway 35, the season continues through Feb. 15. Hunters 15 and under can continue to use regular firearms and take either-sex deer, but hunters 16 and over are limited to approved primitive weapons and archery equipment and can only take legal bucks. 

Thayer explains that the deer season has always coincided with the mating season to give hunters the best chance to cross paths with a mature buck, which is most vulnerable when he drops his guard to chase hot does. Without that advantage, hunters would rarely, if ever, see the smart and wary bucks old enough to achieve trophy status. 

As February approaches, Thayer said there is still a lot of chasing to take place in south Mississippi. 

"I've been talking to hunters around the area and have been told that bucks were starting to chase does around the Columbia and Laurel areas (last weekend) but in areas south of Hattiesburg toward the Gulf Coast, they are still in pre-rut stage," the biologist said. "That means the peak of the rut is still ahead in most of our territory, and that includes some of our best public wildlife management areas." 

That opens the door for additional opportunity for hardcore north Mississippi hunters who haven't filled their limit or their desires. WMAs to look at (visit mdwfp.com) include upland areas like Chickasawhay, Marion County and Leaf River, and the swampy Little Biloxi, Pascagoula River, Red Creek, Wolf River and Old River. 

"I think hunters coming in from out of the area will find it a different experience, hunting these coastal river swamps," said avid hunter Phillip Moore of Biloxi. "We have a lot of remote areas that are hard to get to and if you want to get away from the crowd you can certainly do that. The advent of GPS has really helped us get around in these areas. I keep one in my boat and in my backpack because I want a backup."