Anticipation is a deer hunter’s mantra, as important to the enjoyment of the sport as pulling a trigger. 

• A season seldom ends before thoughts of the next season begin to creep into our thoughts. 

• A young buck with a promising rack travels past and the first thoughts are of whet he will be like next year. 

• A shed found during turkey season is the promise of “one that made it.” 

• Trail camera pictures in late summer of velvet-covered antlers on big-bodied bucks starts the hunting juices flowing all over again. 

• Even deer camp workdays add to the excitement.

• And, for many, the final key is waiting to find out if they were drawn for a hunting opportunity on productive public land.

Mississippi is blessed, and so are a lot of its hunters, with an abundance of public land. Some of this open land is included in the state’s Wildlife Management Areas, giving hunters many options.

Rules and regulations vary somewhat from WMA to WMA. Most are open to hunting at the same time statewide seasons are open on private lands. 

Others, for one reason or another, have special considerations governing the ways they are hunted. These considerations might include limits on the time a hunter has to use the area, perhaps just a few days, as much as a week or more. 

To be fair in seeing that every hunter has a chance to hunt some of the more popular areas a draw system is in place. Hunter must apply for the draw and can give their primary dates of preference. The application process is open for the month of August for all areas where draw hunts are required. The drawings are completely random. The entire process is explained at mdwfp.com.

“Applicants this year must make their request on the MDWFP website,” said Chad Dacus, the agency’s Director of Wildlife. “They (applicants) must also have a valid hunting license at the time of the application. Exempt hunters will be directed to use a valid Mississippi Drivers License.”

Draw hunts in a controlled environment can insure a quality experience, but isn’t always necessary.

“I need to say this right up front, we have open areas where no draw is required that are as good as most of the draw areas,” said Lann Wilf, an MDWFP deer biologist. “By this I mean there is an excellent chance a hunter can score on many of our areas where no draw exists. I hope those who apply and are not drawn or who were drawn and hunted public land just the one time, will explore some of these other areas.”

Wilf said two of the heavy draw favorites are Mahannah and Malmasion WMAs, both loaded with bottomland hardwoods. 

A prime example of why these Delta WMAs are attractive is the story of Eddie Peterson of Waveland, who was hunting Mahannah in December 2009. The shadows were long and the evening light beginning to fade when a rutting buck followed some does into a clearing and Peterson took a shot. The now famous 10-point buck sported a rack that scored 169 5/8, just short of the Boone & Crockett minimum. It had an inside spread of 21 ½ inches and main beams that measured 24 ½ inches. The entire story of the hunt can be found in the archives of Mississippi Sportsman. Just go to our website ms_sportsman.com and search Mahannah Buck.

“That next year we had tripled the normal requests for permits,” said Jackie Fleeman, WMA Coordinator for the MDWFP. “Of course there were a lot of excited people who were chosen at random, and a lot of folks who were disappointed.”

The rich alluvial soil of the Mississippi Delta provides deer with the nutrition necessary to grow big bodies, and with age, impressive antlers. For that reason antler restrictions in the Delta are greater than in other areas of the state. Inside spreads must be a minimum of 15 inches or a main beam must be 18 inches for a buck to be considered legal.

“Mahannah has the potential to produce another bruiser of a buck, but it will require some work on the part of the hunter,” W. M. Golden of Petal said. “I’ve been drawn a few times, although I don’t apply every year. There is no need to apply in those years when I know it is unlikely I’d be able to make that trip. On those years I’ve hunted, I’ve always seen deer, both does and bucks.”

Golden, when asked what advice he’d give a freshman draw hunter, included three rules: 

• First apply for the period of time when the duck fields are flooded. This will cut down the places deer can hide during the day. 

• Second, do your pre-season scouting in September. Scouting opportunities are limited to Saturdays only when deer season opens October 1. 

• Third, look for the thickest, ugliest, meanest thicket on the property, and place a stand as near there as possible.

Drawings are for three-day hunts, so scouting is vital to a successful hunt. A bonus on the Delta locations: Hogs are on all properties and hunters are urged to shoot them at every legal opportunity. 

CRP land near the entrance to Mahannah has a few places to hang a tree stand, and hog sign there is prevalent. More information on Mahannah can be found at mdwfp.com.

West of the massive Sunflower WMA, just across the Sunflower River is Twin Oaks WMA, another permit only area. In the past years improved roads on this area has allowed greater hunter access. Hardwood bottomland abounds and the area is between farmland to the west and the Sunflower WMA/Delta National Forest to the east. Increased hunter pressure on the Sunflower could push deer across the river onto the quieter Twin Oaks area.

“I’ve seen a lot of deer cross the river,” Golden said. “There are some ditches that allow deer easier access to the steep banks. Look for a tree near one of these crossing points and give it a wait. If you can get drawn during the rut (mid-December) and have does use that trail, a buck is likely to be close behind.”

The reason behind draw hunts on Delta WMAs is simple, according to Fleeman.

“The reason we have Mahannah and Twin Oaks set up as draw-only hunts is to limit the pressure on those buck classes that might be statewide legal but need more time to mature into true trophy animals,” he said. “The soil and conditions on these areas are right for that kind of development. Legal bucks on these areas must have an inside spread of 16 inches or a main beam of 20 inches to be legal. Outside the WMA boundaries in the Delta region a legal buck must have a 12-inch inside spread or 15-inch main beam length. 

“Allowing the deer to get older, and bigger, and using the draw system means more people have a chance of being drawn and taking a quality buck.”

On the same token, Fleeman said the reason some other areas were designated as draw only is to protect a small land area or an area where deer are not the primary managed species. 

One such area is Yockanookany WMA. With fewer than 2,400 acres the area has limited space. And that space is at the mercy of the Yockanookany River. Regular periods of high water are problematic, but as fast as the water rises, it also falls. Draws on the “Yock” are for longer periods, allowing a hunter more time to access the area.

In the past few years, the new Canemount WMA in Claiborne County has become popular, but it comes at a high price. If drawn for a hunt, the permit is $300 for a three-day hunt. The reason is simple — this 3,500-acre tract has long been under trophy management. The previous landowner worked hard with the MDWFP’s Deer Management Assistance Program with limited buck harvest. It is home to giants. 

Three other WMAs are managed for quail but allow limited deer hunting since the resource is there. To allow deer hunters access while protecting the quail hunting theme of the area a draw system was implemented. These areas are Hell Creek, Black Prairie and Charles Ray Nix.

“When looking at harvest data for these areas it may seem the harvest numbers are low,” Fleeman said. “But, considering the limited access to deer hunters, those numbers are not that out of line.

“Too many people think our WMAs are overcrowded with people and a waste of time to hunt. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the areas, even those that allow dog hunting are far underutilized. Knowing the quality of the areas as I do I urge hunters to come on out and see what we have to offer.” 

So there you have it. Mark your calendars and apply to hunt one of the limited access WMAs around the state. But don’t limit your use of public land to just those areas. Mississippi has thousands of acres where hunters will find excellent deer hunting. Just put in the time to scout and then be patient. 

Most of all be safe.