All deer hunters have a lot in common, including the consistent desire to harvest a nice buck for bragging rights with friends and a wall display at home or at the office.
When it comes to deer hunting on public lands like state wildlife management areas, however, on the surface it might seem like achieving such goals is pretty unrealistic. Yet, hunters across the state prove that statement wrong every eer season in Mississippi on WMAs.
The 2013-14 Mississippi Outdoor Digest from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks lists 53 wildlife management areas in the MDWFP system. Some are state owned, others are federally owned, such as U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands, under the management of the MDWFP through memorandums of understanding.
Situated around the state and requiring only a $15 annual WMA permit for non-exempt sportsmen, there is reasonable access to any resident.
The WMAs range in size from the tiny 891-acre Trim Cane WMA near Starkville to the overwhelming 58,480-acre Sunflower WMA just east of Rolling Fork.
In between are WMAs of all sizes, and several offer plenty of acreage. There are 13 other WMAs in the state with over 20,000 acres and eight more over 10,000 acres. Consult the MDWFP website at mdwfp.com and click under Deer Program and a second click on Wildlife Management Areas at the bottom of the deer page for complete information on WMAs, including a statewide map and a lot of helpful information on draw hunts (see feature on draw hunts by David Hawkins in this edition of Mississippi Sportsman).
The bottom line is that there are more than enough quality open public land options in this state to satisfy any deer hunter, providing a tremendously valuable resource.
Deer hunting habitats vary widely across these lands as does the topography and terrain. Literally there is something here for every deer hunter.
Also don’t forget the many thousands of other acres open to the public for hunting as well on property identified as National Wildlife Refuges, and lands controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers situated around the several water resource reservoirs dotted around the state, as well as 10,000 acres of state land around Barnett Reservoir near Jackson.
All total, there’s nearly two million acres of public hunting lands in the Magnolia State.
Targeting a Big Buck WMA
Unless you just happen to personally know or have experienced deer hunting on a particular WMA how do you choose one for hunting bucks? As you can read further in the associated sidebar to this feature, there is a wealth of information about all state WMAs in the annual Deer Program Report.
Paramount in the listing of harvest data and other information on all WMAs are the numbers for bucks taken on each individual property.
Is this a guarantee that you will take a trophy buck on that WMA? Hardly, so let’s get real. The laws of averages improve in the deer hunter’s favor when they select a site to hunt that has a proven record for yielding decent numbers of bucks. The odds for taking exceptional bucks go up when you compare the average antlers of bucks taken at the different WMAs.
By hunting these top buck harvest WMAs you elevate your chances, all else being equal.
Fortunately, we have already condensed the available data from the most currently available Deer Program Report. We have selected for further detailing the top five WMAs for buck hunting based on the total buck harvests from those lands. It’s a darn good place to start.
Top Five Buck WMAs
1. Bienville WMA. This 26,136-acre area is located north of Morton in Bienville National Forest.
Its last reported buck harvest was 119, the largest yield since the 2007 season. Habitat conditions have been improving due to increased area management work. The average inside spread on 3½-year-old bucks was 13.4 inches with average main beams of 16.4 inches.
Mean conception dates for Bienville WMA are from Dec. 21 to Jan. 24. Watch the weather and monitor the rut activity to hunt the peak rut. Man-day use on this WMA was 3169 days. Twelve deer were taken for each man-day.
2. Sunflower WMA. The largest WMA in the state at 58,480 acres, it is near Rolling Fork. The buck harvest was 116. Average inside spreads were 14.4 inches with main beams of 17.4 inches for 3½-year-old bucks. The most bucks taken on Sunflower were aged at 3.5 years.
Sunflower is a wetlands area as well and is often considered an excellent area for waterfowl hunting. During duck season, deer hunters should expect to see and hear the duck hunters. This apparently has little to no impact on the deer hunting on this WMA. Man-day use was 7761 days, which could have been a lot of duck hunting as well as deer hunting.
3. Leaf River WMA. At nearly 40,000 acres, this WMA is big, too. It lies in Perry County within the Desoto National Forest. The buck harvest was 115 which was well over the 42 bucks taken back in the 2007-08 season. The 3 ½-year-old bucks averaged main beams of 14.7 inches.
Eighty-seven percent of the bucks taken met the antler criteria; youth hunters under age 16 could take any antlered buck. Leaf River’s habitat can be thick and tough to get through in areas. Its timberland is mostly pines with hardwood bottoms. The man-days use here was 7,552 total days, and the harvest rate was one buck per 363 acres.
4. Mahannah WMA. Located off Highway 61 north of Vicksburg, Mahannah’s acreage runs 12,675. The land is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but managed by the MDWFP. Deer hunting is by draw permit only, but it is worth the risk and wait. Usually there is a January archery hunt open to the public.
Buck harvest was 86 with a man-day use of 2,487 days. Average inside spreads went 14.8 inches with 18.1 inches average main beams on 3½-year-old bucks, making it very desirable to hunters.
“We put in for Mahannah deer permits every year; sometimes we get them, sometimes not, but it is a great place to hunt,” say brothers Jay and Ben Harper of Vicksburg.
The conception dates on Mahannah ran from Dec. 8 to Jan. 7. Buck harvest rates are up since the 2007-08 season, but man-day use is up, too. The main reason for this seems to be the ever increasing reputation for big bucks. Several have been taken on Mahannah over the past few years.
5. Copiah and Sandy Creek WMAs. These two WMAs tied for the same buck yields at 82 apiece. This is significant given the two areas are nowhere near each other — Copiah is located just south of Jackson and west of Hazlehurst, while Sandy Creek is in Adams County in the Homochitto National Forest.
Copiah’s land mass is 6,583 acres, with gently rolling wheat grass hills, scattered pines and hardwood stands in the bottoms. To look at it you would think it was perfect quail habitat.
By contrast Sandy Creek is 16,407 acres of tall pines and equally tall ridges with fast falling slopes into thick bottoms.
Man-day use on these areas were similar — 4,007 on Copiah and 4,050 on Sandy Creek. Copiah like Mahannah is slowly gaining a history of producing some very nice bucks.
Sandy Creek should show more use given its hunter base includes a lot of Louisiana deer hunters. Know that going in.
Acres per buck on Copiah as 80, but on Sandy Creek it was 200. Copiah is a good WMA to put a doe in the freezer as well.
Are there other WMAs worthy of a dedicated buck hunt? You bet.
As you further study the detailed area information from the Deer Program Report on the top five areas listed above, also be sure to check out Upper Sardis, Tallahala, Marion County, Chickasaw, Caney Creek, and O’Keefe WMAs. Of course, any of the 53 state WMAs could yield a record book buck any day. It is just a matter of pinpointing the right one to be hunting at on the right day.