Tonight, throughout Mississippi, deer camps will be crowded, bonfires will be burning bright — lighting up faces filled with anticipation — and excited men and women, boys and girls will struggle to sleep.

It’s the eve of the gun season for deer, the biggest day of the year for more than 250,000 sportsmen in this hunt-crazy state.

“This is the one night of the year when a 50-something guy like me can feel like a young kid on Christmas Eve waiting on Santa Claus, only instead of a beard I’ll be dreaming about antlers,” said David Townsend of Brandon. “It’s the only comparison I can make, and it’s been that way since I was a teenager and started hunting with my grandpa.

“I bow hunt some, and I’ve killed a doe already, but the night before gun season brings everybody to deer camp and it’s like a big party. The families come. The fire pit will be roaring, whether it’s 30 degrees or 60, and it’s just a lot of fun.”

Hunting conditions should be OK for the opening weekend, with the best coming on Sunday. The forecast calls for a warm and wet Saturday morning, but falling temperatures throughout the day will lead to a frosty and clear Sunday sunrise. Hunters are already taking those forecasts into consideration and making their weekend strategies.

“They ought to move good, at least on Sunday,” said Ron Gordon of Starkville. “They’re talking about freezing temperatures here, so I’m hoping the deer will need to fuel their furnaces early. I’ve got my eyes, well, actually my trail cam lenses, on a 10-point and I’m saving it for my fiancée. It would be her first deer, and it’s a nice buck. I haven’t shown her his picture, but just a couple of smaller bucks. I sure hope that big boy walks out in the same field he’s been frequenting. I’d love to see her reaction.

“Our shooting house is perfect for a northeast wind, which is what they say we’re going to have (at 15 mph) on Sunday. It’s OK for a north wind, which is what we’re supposed to get (at 15 mph) on Saturday. I’m thinking we’ll wait to hunt that stand Sunday and go somewhere else Saturday so we don’t take a chance on messing up that buck.”

About 300,000 hunters, a combination of residents and non-residents, are expected to be in the woods this weekend, flooding the rural marketplace with a much-needed cash infusion.

Hunting is estimated to produce $1.1 billion in spending in Mississippi, with deer hunting accounting for at least 75 percent of that total.

“I don’t doubt it,” Townsend said. “I’ve already spent about $2,500 myself this year in preparation for the season. By the time it’s over, I’m betting on $5K.

“I just hope a good bit of that is spent at both the processor and at the taxidermist. Especially the taxidermist.”

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Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.