Spearheaded by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the state has developed one of the premier public hunting programs.
As a result, hunters now have affordable opportunities to harvest quality deer, waterfowl and small game throughout the state. Not everyone has a trophy Wildlife Management Area in their home area, but everyone has an opportunity to travel to other regions in search of trophy deer, ducks, squirrels and rabbit.
MDWFP’s Deer Program Coordinator Lann Wilf said the Delta is, predictably, home to some of the most-productive WMAs for deer hunters.
“Obviously the South Delta Region is going to be the premier destination in the state,” Wilf said. “Mahannah and Twin Oaks (WMAs) have the … criteria that says the antlers must have either a 16-inch minimum inside spread or one 20-inch main beam to be legal to harvest.”
As one would expect, the Delta provides everything needed for growing big bucks. The South Delta region has quality soil, as well as highly nutritional crops, vegetation and a varied mix of hardwoods, pines, swamps, fields and thickets in which deer can thrive and survive.
“Other solid opportunities (along the Mississippi River Delta) are O’Keefe (WMA) up around Marks, with a 15- to 18-inch antler criteria, and Charles Ray Nix near Sardis,” Wilf said.
Canemount WMA, which has been opened for hunting only one season, also has trophy potential, according to Wilf.
“Canemount is pretty good, although it is a little expensive and you have to buy a special permit if you get drawn,” he explained. “But you do have a pretty good opportunity to harvest a good buck.”
Hunters randomly selected for hunts at Canemount must pay a $100-per-day fee for a three-day hunting permit, the MDWFP Web site reveals. Each permit affords the opportunity to harvest three does (one per day) and one legal buck during their three-day hunt.
Wilf said the deer population is in flux.
“We ran a camera survey post season, and there were a few decent bucks left on it, but nowhere near what was there beforehand,” he said. “We’re going to have to see what the quality looks like this year with over population and habitat stress, but it still should be good.”
Overall, hunters have excellent chances to harvest venison and wild game for the supper table throughout all six WMA regions. Though many regions aren’t traditionally trophy-producing destinations, trophy bucks are being harvested in places and areas that have never produced animals before.
Hunters have now learned that it takes age, in addition to quality genetics, soil, habitat and proper nutrition to produce mature trophy bucks and trophies are judged in the eyes of the beholder.
Speaking of trophies, Wilf pointed to the aforementioned South Delta Region and the bucks it is producing now.
“You’re going to always see bucks in the 140s harvested in the Delta area and an occasional 150-class buck in that part of the world,” Wilf said. “Most public land deer will be right at the minimum antler criteria, whatever that might be, for that area. They usually make that cut, and then they die.”
But that’s not a problem, he said, because few deer have the potential to ever grow massive antlers — even if they were allowed to die of old age, he said.
“Boone and Crocket deer are extremely rare anyway, and we’re not trying to grow Boone and Crockett deer on our WMAs,” Wilf explained. “We’re trying to provide opportunities for hunters to harvest quality deer, and we don’t want to make it so restrictive that hunters won’t even go or have an opportunity to go.”
In keeping with this philosophy of increasing hunter opportunity, hunters can find public property with all kinds of management schemes.
“We also have some areas that are wide open, where hunters can shoot what they want to without trophy hunting,” Wilf said.
Hunters should check out area regulations at the MDWFP Web site to learn what antler restrictions cover each area before making plans to hunt.
But whether you’re looking for bucks, does, waterfowl or small game, there’s a place for you to hunt.
Here is a rundown of the opportunities each area holds, along with thoughts from the biologists tasked with managing the public lands.
South Delta Region
Mahannah, Twin Oaks, Lake George, Sunflower, Shipland and Howard Miller WMA’s
“Mahannah and Twin Oaks (WMAs) are going to be great for deer hunting this season, and the harvest was up last year at both of these areas,” said Roger Tanksley, WMA biologist for the South Delta Region. “Mahannah was flooded this summer inside the levee, and was under 5 to 6 feet of water.
“The water just came off of there July 4 weekend. The woods are just now greening up, and we’re just getting ready to start our planting for the deer and ducks.”
According to Tanksley, deer are already back on the WMA and the population will bounce back quickly and be back to normal when the fall hunting seasons rolls back around.
Mahannah is probably the best bet to harvest a quality whitetail buck, but Twin Oaks is right behind it for opportunities at a trophy buck, he said.
But there are other great options.
“Lake George is the hidden gem in the area, as far as harvesting quality bucks, and the harvest is going out the roof now,” Tanksley said. “We’ve put a lot of work into the area planting clover fields and we’ve got several clover patches on the WMA.”
Part of the appeal of hunting Lake George is that it has stayed under the radar of most hunters, as it was planted with trees a few years ago and the area was so thick it was very hard to hunt. The dense habitat has translated into greater survival of deer and bigger bucks.
But some places on the WMA have started thinning out, making it easier for hunters to get a better look at deer.
The area backs up to farmland, which is planted in soybeans and corn, on three sides. The WMA is also full of briar thickets, trumpet creeper and over 100 acres of clover fields, which the deer really love. All of that habitat provides deer readily available food sources in the summer and fall when bucks are fattening up.
“Last year there were some really good deer killed on Lake George and it’s not uncommon for someone to harvest a 150-inch 8-point,”Tanksley said.
“Howard Miller and Mahannah (WMAs) are going to provide the best opportunities to harvest ducks this year,” Tanksley said. “Howard Miller should be jam up again, with about 1,000 acres of beans and 1,000 acres of rice and about 400 acres of moist soil management.”
Last year was a banner season early on for Howard Miller because it was one of the few areas that had water on it.
“Both Mahannah and Howard Miller have water pumped into the flooded fields, so there’s going to be feed and water there,” Tanksley said. “We also had a diverse group of ducks harvested here last year, with mallards, green-winged teal, pintails, shovelers, widgeon and gadwalls.
“Most bags had a mix of a couple mallards and a couple gadwalls or teal.”
Mahannah has a lot of mallards and pintails with wood ducks in the woodland sloughs. And there’s also gadwalls and widgeon, along with some teal and diving ducks.
Small game hunting
Mahannah and Twin Oaks WMAs are the best bet for squirrels, according to Tanksley, and there are plenty of red and black fox squirrels there, as well as cat squirrels.
Sunflower WMA also has a lot of black squirrels to provide plenty of hunting opportunities, Tanksley said.
Charlie Capps, Malmaison, Indianola, Muscadine Farms, Stoneville, Leroy Percy and O’Keefe
“O’Keefe and Sky Lake are the best bets for trophy deer hunting in this region,” said Wesley Howard, regional wildlife biologist in the North Delta Region. “There are some phenomenal 2-year-old bucks being harvested there now, and you’ll see a 150-class deer or better come out of there every year or two, as well.”
These two WMAs have a lot of hunting pressure, but they’re still very productive, he said.
“Sky Lake is draw-hunt only, and it’s real good for whitetails,” Howard said. “It’s got a lot of (Conservation Reserve Program land), and it’s pretty tough to hunt. And it’s thick as a dog’s back.
“But if you get out there and scout and hunt, you have a pretty decent chance at harvesting a decent buck.”
Howard said Leroy Percy WMA is designated as a archery-hunting area only, and it offers a great opportunity to harvest a deer with your bow.
“Due to timber applications, we’re seeing improved habitat, and the hunting should only get better from now on,” he said.
Small game hunting
“Sky Lake rabbit hunting is phenomenal,” Howard said. “We have a lot of rabbit hunters, and they’re very successful.”
Howard said O’Keefe is the premier squirrel hunting target in the region, and about 2,000 squirrels are harvested during a typical season.
“We have a lot of squirrel dog hunters and they bring champion squirrel dogs in the $20,000 to $30,000 range,” he said. “They’re serious about their hunting and good at it, too, and we have the squirrels.
“Last year, we had a youth squirrel hunt in February. We had about nine youths, and they harvested 54 squirrels in just a couple hours. Ninety percent of the squirrels will be greys, with an occasional fox squirrel harvested.”
“All of the WMAs in this unit are artificially pumped and they’ll all have water, which is an extreme advantage when you have years of drought like last year,” Howard said.
A word to the wise, however: Hunters should contact the agency and ensure there is water on the WMA they’re going to, as pumps breakdown sometimes and leave areas without adequate water.
Muscadine really shines in the region, Howard said
“Muscadine is a draw unit and it’s really good for first time hunters,” he said. “There’s really good hunting early in the year, and last year we had excellent results. And hunters will see a greater variety of ducks on this area.”
Another WMA offers late-season options, he said.
“O’Keefe is an open unit, and there are several impoundments on it,” Howard explained. “It’s managed with crops and moist soil management, and is really better later in the year. Mallards will be a mainstay and the most prevalent duck on this WMA.
“This WMA also has a lot of flooded timber, as does Malmaison, and its good for walk-in traffic to the flooded timber.”
This year, there will be soybeans and millet planted for the ducks, along with the native vegetation growing in the moist soil areas.
Howard said there’s also a new public option for waterfowlers.
“Indianola WMA is a new management area opening this year, and it’s going to be good,” Howard said. “It’s made up of 1,200 acres of retired catfish ponds, and about 700 acres will be planted in beans or rice this year, so there should be plenty of feed for the ducks.
“We saw a lot of birds this past winter, but we really don’t know just how good it might be. But it’s traditionally been a good duck-hunting spot.”
Charlie Capps is another relatively new WMA open to duck hunting, and it’s limited to six groups per draw.
“During the latter part of the season, it was just covered up in ducks,” Howard said. “The first year we started working on duck hunting we didn’t get everything done, but we’ve done a lot since then, and the hunting should be excellent.
“Hunters can expect to harvest teal and shovelers early, and there should be gadwalls and mallards in the area, also.”
Canal Section, Hell Creek, Calhoun, Upper Sardis, Chickasaw, John Bell Williams, Charles Ray Nix, Divide Section, Tuscumbia, Sardis Waterfowl
“All of our WMAs offer deer hunting and we have pretty decent deer hunting across the region,” regional biologist Brad Holder said.
“Charles Ray Nix is one of the jewels of my area and has lots of deer, and offers the best bet to harvest a deer in this region,” Holder said. “We’ve got a lot of management practices in place, with good soil that grows pretty good food for the deer.
“And our management has really put a lot of deer on the ground, and their numbers have really increased.”
There are also excellent bow hunting and primitive weapons hunting opportunities on this WMA. Primitive weapons hunting is a draw hunt only, Holder said.
“Along with the improved habitat and intensive management and the increase in the deer population, we’ve also seen a pretty good harvest,” Holder said. “And due to the soil quality and management, it has some of the better bucks in the region.”
Just to the east is a great option for young hunters.
“Sardis Waterfowl is also a great opportunity for youth, and they draw out for only eight at a time,” Holder said. “The deer will really pile up on that place, and it’s rare for a youngster not to see a deer or get a shot at one there.”
Lann Wilf said Hell Creek up in Union and Tippah counties is also a pretty good destination.
“It’s a native warm-season grass, open-type landscape similar to Black Prairie, and has a draw deer hunt on it, also,” Wilf said. “You have to kill a doe before you can harvest a buck.
“We’ve done a lot of habitat work on it, and it’s just a quality destination. It would be worth showing up for if you got drawn. I would encourage people in North Mississippi to put in for it, that’s for sure.”
Other WMAs in the region also offer plenty of opportunities.
“Calhoun County is primarily utilized for deer hunting and has about 8,000 acres of prime hunting for deer with dogs,” said Holder, “and it’s really popular up there.
“Upper Sardis also has some great deer hunting, and every other year someone will harvest a really nice buck. And occasionally you’ll see a good buck come off of Canal, and Calhoun County.”
Tuscumbia WMA offers some of the best waterfowl hunting in the region, and it’s helped by a draw-only hunt.
“It’s really unique, and it will surprise you about the number of mallards and ducks on the place,” Holder said. “John Bell Williams is also an often-overlooked area for waterfowl, but it has some green tree reservoirs that provide water that will hold some ducks up there.”
Small game hunting
Charles Ray Nix’s featured species is bobwhite quail, and prescribed burning has really changed the landscape and boosted the quail population.
“We’ll probably have a quail hunt on the area in the 2014-15 season,” Holder said. “We’ve been managing strictly for the quail, and the population is really growing.
“We started with eight coveys five to six years ago, and now we’re up to about triple that number.”
Habitat management is the key to that success, according to Holder.
“If you build it they will come, or they will respond in this case,” he said.
And that work has benefited other species, as well.
“Prescribed fires are good for the quail population but, it also makes good rabbit habitat,” Holder said.
Bienville, Choctaw Okatibbee, Black Prairie, John Starr, Pearl River, Yockanookany, Caney Creek, Nanih Waiya, Tallahalla
“If you want to trophy hunt in our area, then Black Prairie WMA is definitely the place you want to go,” regional biologist Amy Blaylock said. “We did really well their last year on the deer, but it’s a really hard place to hunt with fields and prairie land.”
Black Prairie is one of the several management areas in the region with antler restrictions.
Blaylock said a typical 4 ½-year-old deer weighs between 195 and 200 pounds and has a 16-inch spread with 20-inch main beams, which is a pretty good buck in that part of the world.
“If you’re going for numbers, then Choctaw (WMA) has some good deer and a large population of deer as well,” Blaylock said. “Caney Creek, Bienville and Tallahalla are great dog hunting areas, providing a lot of fast-paced action, and are utilized by a lot of people.”
Blaylock said Trim Cane WMA is reserved strictly for youth and handicapped hunting for deer.
“We have four plots there with handicapped-accessible shoot houses, and we draw for hunts on Saturday afternoons with two youth and two handicapped people allowed per hunt,” she said.
As a result of these hunting restrictions, they have a real high deer population right now, with little hunting pressure.
“We usually have several handicapped hunters using the stands and taking advantage of the excellent deer hunting opportunities,” Blaylock said.
Hunting pressure also is carefully managed on Yockanookany WMA.
“Yockanookany has draw hunts for archery and primitive weapons, and hunters have almost four weeks to hunt there,” Blaylock said. “This WMA doesn’t get a lot of use for the 2,300 acres of bottomland timber located in the Yockanookany Swamp, but we had some really good deer killed there last year.”
John Star is a great place to hunt if you’re anywhere in the Starkville area and its very convenient and a low cost alternative for the local students and hunters.
“John Star WMA is a little different from the rest of the WMAs, as its controlled by Mississippi State University and you have to get a permit through MSU to hunt there,” Holder said. “But it has a good many deer on it, and there’s been some decent deer killed there, too.”
“Trim Cane is managed primarily for waterfowl, and we have seven impoundments there,” Blaylock said. “Hunters usually have good success, and standby hunts are available as the area is a draw unit.
“It’s only 800 to 900 acres, which is a small area, but hunters have been successful.”
Small game hunting
Small-game opportunities abound in this region.
“Nanih Waiya has draw hunts for rabbits and it’s pretty good,” Blaylock said.
Choctaw, Yockanookany, Caney Creek, Bienville and Tallahalla also offer plenty of squirrel hunting opportunities.
Caston Creek, Natchez, Theodore Mars, Copiah County, Old River, Wolf River, Marion County, Sandy Creek, Canemount.
“Copiah County WMA is one of our most-popular and utilized deer hunting areas in this region,” said Josh Moree, regional biologist. “There’s a good population of deer, and hunters usually have success there.”
This WMA also has one of the most liberal seasons, and it makes it a pretty good draw for hunters wanting to harvest a deer to eat, as either-sex hunting is allowed all season with some restrictions. Check regulations online for specific rules and regulations, for approved weapons and harvest restrictions.
“We also have a late archery/youth firearms season in January,” Moree said.
One of the newer WMAs provides great opportunities for success, although hunting pressure is closely managed.
“Canemount near Port Gibson is one of our newer WMAs, and they had really good success there last season,” said Moree. “There is very limited hunting: It’s all draw hunting, so that makes the success rate pretty good.
“When a hunter gets drawn here it’s almost like hunting private land due to the limited draw.”
Canemount is open to archery and primitive weapons only, with archery hunting starting in early October and primitive weapons kicking off in mid-November.
“There are lots of mast-producing oaks and plenty of browse, as the timber was recently thinned and it opened up the area to sunlight, and there’s been a lot of browse growth,” Moree said. “It’s pretty rugged terrain — the typical Mississippi River bluffs, with steep gullies and thick vegetation on the ground.”
And that makes for hard hunting and good survival rates among the bucks.
Canemount was managed privately for years as a trophy-hunting area, and last year was the first season as a WMA.
“There were a couple of 10-points killed, along with several 8-pointers and several (deer) in the 200-pound-plus range,” Moree said. “There were quite a few bucks harvested, and it’s not unusual to harvest deer weighing 220 to 240 pounds in this area.”
Antler restrictions are higher here than most WMAs due to the quality deer herd, genetics and rich habitat. Antlers must have a 16-inch minimum inside spread or a 20-inch main beam to be killed.
Wood ducks are the main target for waterfowlers in this area.
“Old River’s located on the lower Pearl, and it has 15,000 acres of bottomland hardwood along with the old river channel and old oxbows and sloughs,” Moree said. “Local hunters harvest a lot of wood ducks, and many plan their duck hunts as combo hunts. They’ll shoot a few woodies, and then go somewhere else or hunt something else like squirrels or deer.”
“Old River has a lot of small game hunters, and Sandy Creek is one of the best squirrel hunting areas in this region also,” Moree said. “There’s plenty of squirrel habitat for the squirrels and plenty of room for the hunters.
“Wolf River is owned by Weyerhaeuser, and it has a lot of briar thickets, briar patches and plenty of rabbits. It makes some pretty good rabbit habitat, and we have a good many rabbit hunters taking advantage of the area.
“We really have some rabbit hunting opportunities on most of the areas in the southern part of this region.”
South East Region
Chickasawhay, Mason Creek, Ward Bayou, Leaf River, Pascagoula River, Little Biloxi, Red Creek.
There are plenty of options in this management region.
“All of our WMAs in this region have a good population of deer hunters, with people from the coast putting a lot of pressure on them,” Moree said.
This region has perhaps the least-restrictive antler requirements due to several factors, including the soil makeup and habitat, and hunter pressure.
“Bucks must have a minimum 10-inch spread or one 13-inch main beam,” Moree said. “Most 2 ½-year-old bucks will meet that requirement.
But we are seeing quite a few exceptional deer harvested in the region now, also.”
Moree said there are a couple of WMAs that rise to the top.
“Leaf River has 40,000 acres to hunt and had the biggest reported harvest in this region,” Moree said.
Most of the WMA is dedicated to still hunting only, but a small portion is open to dog hunting, he said.
Dog hunters also can loose their hounds along the Pascacoula River.
“The Pascagoula River WMA area is very popular and has a lot of dog hunting on it,” Moree said. “Although the reported harvest is not real high, there are a lot of hunters and quite a bit of it is accessible by boat, so there’s a lot of different ways to come and go. And we may not always get the most-accurate harvest information. But there are deer to be hunted and a lot of folks doing it.
“And the Pascagoula River Swamp usually produces some big bodied deer”
Pascagoula and Ward Bayou WMAs are the top waterfowl areas in this region, and there are lots of woodies and other species utilizing the properties since it’s located in an important flyway for the ducks.
Pascagoula includes 37,000 acres with a lot of water, making it a prime duck magnet.”
The southernmost WMA is another great option.
“Ward Bayou to the south is really a lot of marsh, and is very popular among hunters …” Moree said. “The marsh provides numerous opportunities to harvest an assortment of ducks.”
Small game hunting
“Probably the top squirrel hunting area is the Pascagoula WMA,” Moree said. “It has a lot of den trees and old hardwoods, so the habitat’s there, with everything they need to thrive.”