Mississippi is one of the best places in the country to deer hunt. Our seasons are long, from October through February, our bag limits liberal with five does and three bucks. We have nearly two million acres of public hunting lands including 51 state wildlife management areas, seven national forests and 11 National Wildlife Refuges.

Mississippi allows deer hunters to use a wide variety of implements in their white-tailed pursuits. Deer hunters can use various types of bows, crossbows, traditional black powder rifles, centerfire classifications of “primitive” weapons, and regular modern centerfire rifles. We can even use shotguns or suitable handguns if we want to. 

These options are clearly up to the individual. Of course, a great majority of deer hunters are crossovers and will use bows, guns and primitive weapons. The number of hunters using crossbows is increasing, too. Crossbows have been limited in past years to hunters with disabilities or other issues that prevented them from using traditional archery gear, but this year any hunter can use one. 

Every hunter naturally picks the weapons of their choice, based on proficiency and enjoyment. However, it seems most hunters tend to favor one over all others. Let’s examine the true motives of why a dedicated deer hunter would prefer to choose one weapon over the other. It just might make other hunters reconsider what tools they use to deer hunt.

Stretching the String 

Randy Pearcy of Madison clearly chooses archery.

“Bow hunting is like running a triathlon,” Pearcy said. “It definitely is more challenging than other methods. Getting close to deer, bucks or does is addictive. I’ll take the adrenaline of releasing an arrow on a doe at 5 yards over shooting a buck at 150 yards any day. 

“My archery memories successful and not tend to hold more meaning. That first bow doe kill with a 40-lb draw wooden compound was electrifying. So, too my first buck with a bow shooting through a tight hole in the thicket after sitting over nine hours. Some of my unsuccessful hunts were dramatic including not getting a shot at 12 yards on a 130 class buck with a drop tine.”

Pearcy summarized, “Getting close means more time in preparation, laundry and scent control, bow and equipment tweaking for noise, stealthy entrance and exit to the stand. These are challenges that are as equally rewarding when done right and are just another part of the bowhunting experience.” 

The Crossbow Option

It isn’t pleasant to talk about, but as we get older, some of us are unable to continue in some outdoor pursuits. Archery is a prime example, and I have my own story.

I hurt my shoulder over ten years ago when my boots slipped on the wet rungs of a ladder stand. I was able to hold on with one arm, but it put me out of the bow hunting business. I suspect it has happened to others as well. To continue enjoying the full archery season, many of these hunters opted to use a crossbow. 

“Well, yeah, I got older but I just wanted a crossbow because of the relative ease of its use and the accuracy,” said Gerald Moore of Madison. “I bought a PSE Tac-15 with scope. I also wanted to get one so my 8-year-old grandson Clayton and I could hunt together during the primitive seasons from a ground blind.”

It led to a great memory the two would share. 

“Clayton and I were in our ground blind one evening seeing some does and smaller bucks, but not the right one,” Moore said. “Then the buck I had caught on camera came out from behind the blind. It moved across the plot until I ranged it at 38 yards. Using a Primos tripod stand Clayton told me he was dead on. He hit the buck square and it took us no time to recover it. The 10-point scored out at 146 and was aged at 4½.”

“I like the crossbow because it points and trigger fires like a rifle. It lets an older deer hunter that cannot pull a bowstring any more to keep hunting archery-style. For me, the crossbow is ideal. Having my grandson along was the real bonus.”

Crossbows have caught on, and after years of wrangling with bow-hunting purists, the state has approved them for use by all hunters in all seasons. Crossbows can be very accurate especially with a scope. The rigs have proven themselves deadly on deer at proper ranges. The downsides are that crossbows can be difficult and hard to cock using a special tool or cock cord, they are quite heavy, and the triggers are not fine tuned, but practice can cure that. 

Sticking to the Modern Mode

In 2011, Steve Henderson of Madison took the largest buck of his hunting career — 18 points on a 10-point main frame with a gross B&C score of 185+. It netted 174 5/8 in the Magnolia Records books. He took the deer with a Remington 700 in .270 Winchester, which his parents gave him for Christmas back in 1995. Oh, he added a Bushnell scope he bought from a friend for a whopping $25. 

“I have deer hunted on the Gulf Coast and now in the Delta,” Henderson said. “The southern county deer were smaller than those in the farmland rich Delta. The .270 has proven effective on them all. I have taken deer from 60 to 250 yards with no issues. The 700/270 shoots flat and doesn’t create the gaping holes that you find with some of the larger calibers. I trust knowing the deer will be found exactly where I shot him. That is why I prefer to hunt with a modern rifle. After all it’s not the harvest of the animals by itself, but the adventure and preparation of being able to spend time in God’s country.” 

Today’s modern hunting rifles are tools of engineering perfection. Mounted with precision optics, it is hard to argue against their effectiveness. Still their use demands practice and proper maintenance. It’s hardly astonishing that so many deer hunters rely on a favorite classic hunting rifle. 

Love the New Primitive

Kerry French of Holmes County has hunted with every weapon available.

“Truth is, I’ve been a bow hunter and a regular gun hunter all the years I have deer hunted,” French said. “I’m still learning the bow, but have achieved about all I need to do with my bolt action rifle in 7mm Magnum. When the new primitive weapons classification came out, I wanted to extend my hunting during those special seasons without the pain and trouble of fooling with black powder. I hated the cleaning and scrubbing and the front loading hassle.

“I read up on the options for the new primitive weapons and I finally selected a Thompson-Center Encore in .35 Whelen. I heard from others it was a real kicker, but I also heard one connecting shot and the hunt was over. That proved to be true the very first time I pulled the trigger on the Whelen on a big doe. The TC and the Whelen took care of business.”

But why the new primitive season weapon?

“On my property in Holmes County in the shadow of the Hillside National Wildlife Refuge there are big bucks lurking in the area,” French said. “I wanted an optimal firearm and caliber for hunting the three primitive seasons, especially the December two week primitive season. That season often coincides with our prime rut. I wanted to be ready, so I went for a new primitive weapon.” 

There is still considerable hunter comment on the primitive centerfire rule. Mostly it is favorable, because of being able to use centerfire ammunition. It’s still one shot, which is never a given, but most hunters have adapted well to the use of these single shot rifles. They especially like the extra hunting opportunities. Beginning with the 2014-15 deer season, however, hunters on private lands only will be able to use any firearm during all primitive weapon seasons that begin after Nov. 30.

Mississippi is rich in deer hunting. We have many advantages other states would love to have. Most of all we can pursue our sport in a variety of ways from slinging arrows to capping primers. 

 The diversity opens more hunting opportunity, and that is always a good thing.