Time is running out on Mississippi’s deer season, with the final primitive weapon and archery season already in its final week in the Hill and Delta Zones, where it closes Jan. 31.
It ends Feb. 15 in the Southeast Zone.
However, for die-hard whitetail hunters, the season never ends. The killing might, but not the work.
Take James Ford of Jackson, a member of two deer camps in two different regions of the state.
Ford hunts in Central Mississippi in Rankin County to have a “close-to-home spot I can run to for a quick hunt,” and in Southwest Mississippi in Jefferson County “where I have a chance to take a monster buck.”
His hunting is done for the year, since Ford filled his buck limit in early January and added a couple of does for meat, but he is already busy preparing for next season. While other members take care of stands and other labor-intensive tasks, Ford hits the books.
“Analyzing, that’s what I call it,” said Ford, a retired accountant with the time needed to do book work that other camp members don’t have. “Both of my camps are really good about keeping records for me. We track deer kills to the letter, we track deer sightings as best we can and we track food-plot activity.”
The harvest and deer sighting information is turned over to a professional biologist, and then Ford goes to work crunching the numbers within the numbers. He does it at season’s end while the memories are fresh and before the information can be lost.
“What I do is the not-so-obvious research, mainly tracking our food plots,” Ford said. “I keep pretty good records of what we plant in each, how they greened-up and the number of deer they attracted.”
Ford’s reasoning is simple: After the cost of leases, the bulk of the club's membership fees are spent on preparing food plots and filling off-season feeders.
“It’s a boatload of money, and being an accountant, I’m naturally curious to see if we are getting our money’s worth,” Ford said. “One of the things I learned pretty quickly is that not all food plots are equal; some simply out perform others. Over five years, I have been able to identify some of the reasons why, and we have acted accordingly.”
Among the things Ford discovered is that location is a priority.
“If the soil quality is similar and the grass we plant is similar and equally productive, we still had plots that had more deer traffic,” he said. “The only other variable was location. Seems you simply can’t grow grass in a spot and attract deer if deer don’t want to be in that area. Duh! Obvious, right?
“What we were able to do was identify what worked and what didn’t and that helped us get more value from our planting effort. We eliminated some food plots altogether, and we moved some a short distance to put them in more desirable areas, at least from the deer’s point of view.”
Ford said that camera studies helped determine the best locations, revealing areas deer frequent.
“In Rankin County, we found some heavily-used trails and cleared some small plots for planting, many less than an acre tucked tight in the woods, small enough that we could do most of the work with implements attached to an ATV,” he said. “Our bow hunters loved that. I did, too, because after we did the original clearing, we saved a lot of money on those areas compared to the bigger fields we were planting in other areas.
“We changed those big fields, too, when we noticed that deer were concentrating on the edges, not the middle. We reduced the sizes and changed the shapes of those plots to produce more edges. That allowed us to create new plots without increasing our costs. We actually have more green ground now than we did five years ago, at the same cost.”
That helps achieve more than one goal.
“We don’t just plant food plots to have a place to kill deer; we plant to supplement what our deer have to eat,” Ford said. “According to our biologists, it is working. We have bigger bucks, but that is also a result of management, letting them age. Our entire herd is healthier than it was 10 and even just five years ago.
“To make sure our success continues, I keep good records of our soil studies and ground treatments. I know which fields need to be tested again this year, and as soon as February gets here, we’ll start collecting samples to beat the crowd.”
Ford’s work also helps his fellow members choose future stand locations, away from the food plots.
“It’s all in the numbers,” he said. “Keep records and use them. It’s important.
“Heck, it’s even fun.”