Maximizing Day Hunts

Save gas by hunting these public areas that are very close to where you live.

John J. Woods

August 26, 2008 at 2:09 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Day hunts afford a quick way to help youth hunters gauge their interest.
Day hunts afford a quick way to help youth hunters gauge their interest.
Hunting is a time-intensive activity. Unfortunately in this fast paced whirlwind world, time is a prized commodity. We all have so many obligations with church, family, work, civic duties and everything else it is increasingly difficult to squeeze in just one day of hunting every so often.

But a passion for hunting deer, turkey, waterfowl or small game simply takes time.

Furthermore, having to drive a long distance given today’s fuel costs plus the additional time required on the road only complicates any plan to grab a quick hunting opportunity. Then with the expense of staying over in a motel along with extra money needed for eating out, it all adds up to a costly trip. Many folks don’t have the budgets for such hunting trips.

Others have opted out of joining an existing hunting club, which can cost several thousand dollars a year. Leasing hunting land can also put a drain on the cash flow. Even more expensive is owning private land with maintenance, building infrastructure, food plot work and taxes. These options are simply not possible for a lot of hunters.

So, what’s the alternative? Other options do exist, so let’s explore some of them.

The day-hunt concept

Day hunts are growing in popularity, according to one expert.

“The state of Mississippi’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks uses a calculation of daily hunter activity on its state-owned wildlife management areas,” said Randy Spencer, MDWFP coordinator of wildlife management areas. “The term is referred to as man-days. The simple definition of a man-day is one person hunting one day. Many times it is just a part of a day but participating in a hunt nevertheless on any given single day.”

This man-day concept is the principle behind the idea of purposefully planning for hunts that may only encompass a single day. This means doing a little research to identify which state public hunting areas are close enough to where most state residents live. Then hunters can make viable decisions about which public areas can accommodate their plans to accomplish occasional day hunts without a large commitment of time or money.

The focus here is to illustrate by example the day-hunting options by concentrating on the top 10 population centers in the state. This model will show in reality that hunters all across the state, no matter where they live, can find public hunting areas within a relatively short driving distance from their homes.

With 48 state wildlife management areas, 11 federally controlled national wildlife refuges, seven national forests and hunting lands associated with another seven reservoirs under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the main problem most hunters are going to have is trying to narrow all these choices down for just a few one-day hunts. Of course, nobody said you couldn’t spread those one-day hunts around to several different places.

Population center sites

1. Jackson Metro Area. City people definitely live in the fast lane. However, hunters in the Capitol City have two really good areas fairly close by to hunt.

Good choices here include Pearl River WMA just north of town out near the Ross Barnett Reservoir, especially for primitive-weapons hunts for deer, small game and access to waterfowl hunting. Deer hunters have been reporting good numbers of wild hogs on Pearl River WMA as well.

South of Jackson down Interstate 55 west of Hazlehurst in Copiah County is a 6,500-acre wildlife management area by the same name perfect for day hunts. Hunters having done some pre-scouting can be on this public land site hunting in well under an hour.

Deer hunting on Copiah County WMA is very good with nice bucks taken every season. Turkey hunting is also good on this area as are hunts for rabbits and squirrels. It’s an easy day-hunt option.

2. Gulf Coast Area. Combined together, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula cover a lot of ground and a large number of hunters looking for a decent get-away spot to spend a little time in the woods. Hunters here are in luck because the options are many. Within a reasonable driving distance of the whole Gulf Coast area are eight public hunting areas.

These include Wolf River WMA, Mars Memorial Wildlife Refuge, Old River WMA, Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, Little Biloxi WMA, Red Creek WMA, Pascagoula River WMA and Ward Bayou WMA.

These areas feature thousands of acres open to the public to hunt deer, dove, duck, quail, rabbits, squirrel, turkey and furbearers. In anybody’s book, that is a lot of options. Specific area brochures can be downloaded at the state wildlife web site at www.mdwfp.com.

This site will have annual hunting season information, rules, regulations and a map of each wildlife management area. Check out this information.

3. Hattiesburg/Pine Belt. In practice, it would be possible for hunters in the Hattiesburg region to hunt many of the same public areas that are accessible from the Gulf Coast. It might be a stretch to do a day hunt on some of these WMAs, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Red Creek and Wolf River WMAs would be two to consider for a day hunt, or perhaps combine it with a weekend camping trip with the family along.

Another huge public area within reach of the Pine Belt is the Chickasawhay WMA east of Laurel in Wayne County off Highway 84 with over 100,000 acres. The Mason Creek WMA is further east in Greene County near Richton with 28,000 acres. Then there is Leaf River WMA in Perry County with 42,000 acres.

South of Hattiesburg on Highway 49 is the half million acres of the Desoto National Forest. I hunted here many years when I lived in Hattiesburg. It has great squirrel hunting, and tons of deer as well as turkeys. Scout the trails along the Black Creek or try a canoe float hunting trip for a neat little twist that can be a real challenge.

4. Heart of the Delta. The Greenville and Greenwood area is nearly the epicenter of the Mississippi Delta and its rich hunting resource heritage. The Delta usually means waterfowl hunting, and it is certainly found there; however, hunters should never negate the availability of quality deer, turkey and small game.

Three really good public choices for the mid-Delta region include Stoneville WMA, Leroy Percy WMA and Yazoo NWR. If I only had the time, money and energy to concentrate on one of these options, I would target Yazoo NWR in southern Washington County near Hollandale from Highway 61. If you’re a deer hunter, this is the place to be. It takes scouting time, off-the-beaten-path tactics and hunting times when others are less likely to be pressuring the deer.

On the other hand, if duck or goose hunting were my thing, I’d head up to Malmaison WMA in Grenada County. I have toured this area, and it is a top spot in the state for public duck hunting. It’s a smart bet to call ahead to the area manager, Dale Adams at 662-453-5409, to get an update on waterfowl hunting on this WMA. Go early.

5. Meridian. Located right on the Mississippi-Alabama line, Meridian is somewhat isolated from the state, but the Interstate 20 corridor is a good feeder highway for easy access east to the Bienville National Forest.

Here are two wildlife management areas with equal reputations as good spots for a day hunt. These are Tallahala WMA in Jasper County and Caney Creek WMA in Scott County.

Caney Creek is roughly 29,000 acres of rolling hills topped with towering pines with ravine bottoms lined in hardwoods. This WMA is a good area for deer and turkey hunting.

Tallahala has about 28,000 acres, and is also decent for deer and turkey as well as small game. Both are easy to access from I-20 on Highways 35 and 15.

“Tallahala and Caney Creek are nearby my custom turkey call and hunting supply store in Raleigh,” said Paul Meek. “A lot of local hunters and others from across the state drop in here to report their hunting successes on these WMAs.

“Both of these public areas are good hunting sites for deer hunting, and the turkey hunting is on par with anything else in the state. If you’ll drop by my store, I’ll give you some tips. That is if I’m not out hunting myself.”

6. Tupelo. If Elvis Presley had been a hunter, he likely would have ventured out to a nearby public management area. His choices would have been John Bell Williams WMA, Canal Section WMA and Chickasaw WMA.

The first two of these WMAs are small areas of 2,900 and 9,700 acres, respectively. Both are located in Itawamba County on Highway 371 northwest of Tupelo. Deer and small game are big here.

Chickasaw WMA is southwest of Tupelo near Houston on Highways 15 and 32. While the Natchez Trace goes right through this WMA, off access points are few and far between. I cruised through Chickasaw a while back, and it is a big, sprawling area covered in heavy pine forest. Some super deep ravines revealed hardwood oaks likely producing good acorns for deer. Whitetail hunting is popular here as is turkey and small game.

7. South of Memphis. “Watching Southaven grow like it has over the past decade one would think the area was too metropolitan to have that many hunters around,” said Holly Springs resident Gary Adams. “However, it’s just the deal for day hunters.”

Generally speaking, those hunters looking for a decent crack at a day hunt will head down to the Holly Springs National Forest and, most specifically, Upper Sardis WMA. This public area is a fair drive from Southaven, but worth it.

In size we’re talking about 42,000 acres offering hunting for deer, dove, duck, quail, rabbit, squirrel, turkey, woodcock and furbearers. That’s a full slate of potential.

The easiest way to get over to Upper Sardis is via State Highway 78, then jump off south onto Highway 7 toward Oxford. Research this area further on-line studying maps closely for drainages, open fields, cutovers and planted food plots. Hunt during the week if you can.

8. Bulldog Land. The Starkville-Columbus area is, of course, home to a major state university, and Columbus is a growing industrial center plus the location of an Air Force flight-training base. Between college personnel, students, cadets and the local regulars, that puts a lot of hunters into the mix.

Luckily for these hunters, there are five public areas within easy reach for maximizing day hunts. In this case, the smart plan might be to stick with larger areas.

This would include the Choctaw WMA southwest in Choctaw and Winston counties with 24,000 acres. Easiest access is off Highway 25.

The other viable spot is notably one of the better whitetail hunting sites in the state in Noxubee NWR with the same highway running right through the northern part of the area.

From Starkville, these areas make really quick day hunts only a short drive away. Hunt on football weekends. From Columbus, it is within reason but a farther drive.

Day hunters from here may want to opt for closer but smaller Black Prairie WMA down Highway 45. Deer and turkey hunting this area is by special permit only. Details are found on the wildlife web site.

9. Vicksburg. This is a classic river city with beautiful sunset views of the Mississippi River overlooking all the casino barges.

Warren County is seated near many really good public-land choices for deer, turkey and waterfowl hunting along with small game, including a population of the unique black-phase squirrels. There are six good areas close by. It’s really a tough toss up to pick one. So don’t.

The Delta National Forest is just north of Vicksburg up Highway 61. Here are two WMAs, Twin Oaks and Sunflower to the east side of the highway. On the west side is Mahannah WMA, which has been producing some impressive bucks the past few seasons.

All three areas offer waterfowl hunting, and Mahannah has some sponsored dove hunts each year.

Also not far away is Panther Swamp NWR with good deer hunting. These are all wetland-type areas, so expect to find lots of water during fall and winter seasons. Buy hip waders, and take them along for help getting into backwoods areas.

10. Natchez. The situation in this river city is much like that of Vicksburg. It sits nearby to some really good areas for quick and easy day hunts again associated with a national forest named Homochitto.

This big public area lies east of town from Highway 84, and contains two state wildlife management areas. These include Sandy Creek WMA and Caston Creek WMA with 16,400 and 25,000 acres.

High ridges lined with tall pines rule on these two WMAs. Deer hunting is very good as is turkey hunting, as well. Rabbit and squirrel hunting are popular also, and some bobwhite quail can be found if you have a good bird dog.

The Natchez State Park area nearby is now open to hunting with special restrictions, so check it out. The last time I drove through the area last year, I was greeted by a flock of 20 turkeys crossing the road. The lake there is also a top state hotspot for bass, so combine a day hunt with some fishing for a bonus trip.

Pulling off a successful day hunt in Mississippi is not that difficult regardless of where you live in any of our 82 counties. With right at 2 million acres open to all kinds of hunting opportunities, all it takes is a little planning and one tank of gas.

South of Hattiesburg, the Desoto National Forest has more than 500,000 acres open to hunting.
The Pearl River WMA is only a scant few miles north of Jackson.
This buck was taken at Natchez State Park, and is evidence of the deer hunting potential there.
Gulf Coast hunters will find the Red Creek WMA an excellent choice for a quick hunt.
Southern Delta hunters will like the isolated woodlands of the Delta National Forest and Sunflower WMA.
       

View other articles written John J. Woods


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