Shortly after the crack of dawn I eased into the hardwood bottom being careful not to make a sound or step on a twig. I made it only about 100 yards when a massive buck exploded from the thicket about 30 yards in front of me.
The buck slowed to a trot while steadily going away from my position. He was a shooter for sure, sporting 10 or 12 long-tined points to go with a wide spread.
I raised my Browning .270 and centered the crosshairs of my Leupold scope on his vitals, and followed him until he disappeared into the sanctuary of the woods. The buck was the largest I’d ever seen in the wild to that point, but I had to pass. The rules of that Wildlife Management Area dictated that I had to shoot a doe before I could harvest a buck.
By the end of that day I’d seen four shooter bucks larger than I’d ever seen in my hunting territory around home.
Was it hard to resist a trophy buck? Of course it was.
But rules are rules, and I did eventually harvest a doe and then killed a trophy buck in the area later on. That one trip to the Mississippi Delta changed my mind about trophy hunting altogether, and showed me the quality whitetail hunting that exists in the that region.
Trophy bucks abound and many hunters harvest the buck of a lifetime each year. If you’re fortunate enough to be drawn for a buck hunt in one of the state’s WMA trophy buck areas, then you’re in for quite an experience. And, who knows, you just may have an opportunity to harvest the buck of your lifetime.
Whether you’re looking for deer, ducks or small game, there’s plenty of public land and game available on Mississippi’s WMAs. This coming hunting season looks good for a bountiful harvest across the state.
If you know anything about hunting in Mississippi then you know that the Delta Region is home to some of the biggest deer in the state, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the South Delta is the premier WMA region for deer hunting in Mississippi. Whether you just want to harvest a quality deer or trophy buck, this region may be your best bet. The WMAs include Howard Miller, Shipland, Lake George, Sunflower, Mahannah and Twin Oaks.
“The best place to harvest a deer in this region would be Sunflower or Lake George,” said Jackie Fleeman, regional biologist. “Both have some good bucks on them and they’re the place to go if you just want to kill a deer.”
With over 60,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods on Sunflower there’s plenty of room to get out by yourself and scout a buck to hunt, he said.
“And both of these areas have longer seasons, more like the statewide seasons,” Fleeman said.
Thus, hunters have added opportunities to score on a buck or deer of any kind in particular. Bucks on Sunflower and Lake George should have either a 15-inch inside spread, or an 18-inch main beam to meet the minimum antler requirements. And there are plenty of those bucks on the areas, according to Fleeman.
“Lake George is mostly replanted tree areas which are starting to open up, but there’s very few trees large enough to climb,” said Fleeman. “But hunters are starting to harvest good bucks on this WMA.
Mahannah for big bucks
Without a doubt, Mahannah is the crown jewel of the Mississippi WMA system and has proven to be the place to hunt for big bucks on public land.
“Mahannah is a draw hunt area, but hunters that get drawn will have the opportunity to harvest a quality buck,” Fleeman said. “A mature buck that gets to 4½ or 5½ years of age will weigh 200 plus, on average. And sometimes you might have a 280-pound mature buck with a good rack or a 180-pound buck of the same age with an exceptional rack as well.
“The number of big bucks harvested last year was not as good as in previous years but that was a result of a larger harvest of bucks the previous year. And I’m looking for a better year this year. We’re also having a youth hunt on Mahannah for deer where kids can kill any buck during the opening weekend youth hunt, which will be held November 8th and 9th.”
Mahannah, Twin Oaks, Shipland and Sunflower: “All are good destinations when it comes to squirrel hunting,” said Fleeman. “I’d recommend Sunflower almost any day because of its size, and you can hunt squirrels almost any day squirrel season is open. There’s plenty of prime squirrel habitat and a lot of squirrels. An added treat is the abundance of fox squirrels, both red and black phase.”
Mahannah and Twin Oaks have a more limited squirrel season, but they’re open during the month of January and on Saturdays during most small game seasons.
“There’s no squirrel hunting allowed during the deer draw hunts, so that limits squirrel hunting somewhat,” Fleeman said.
“There’s not a lot of rabbit hunting on most of the WMAs in this region, but Lake George and Sunflower have good rabbit habitat for hunters looking for a public place to harvest rabbits,” Fleeman said.
“Mahannah and Howard Miller are going to have food and water, but I can’t promise ducks, but we’re going to have food and water on both of them,” Fleeman said. “And that’s important for the ducks, water and food, especially in years of low rainfall and low water situations. And, we usually have a fair amount of ducks on them also. You’ll always have teal on these areas and assorted ducks. During the first part of the season last year hunters shot a lot of gadwalls and were limiting out on gadwalls. And then came teal and of course mallards kept coming in daily.”
“On Mahannah we plant a lot of Sorghum Sudan and milo along with moist soil habitat, and the sorghum and milo is to provide hunters with a place to hide in the flooded fields. About two thirds of Howard Miller is farmed with rice and soybeans the primary crops, with some milo planted for cover also in the moist soil areas. The farmers who farm the area are required to plant strips of corn, which also provide places for hunters to hide when hunting the flooded soybean fields. And, the farmers also have to harvest some of the rice with stripper headers which leaves some of the rice two to three feet tall for more cover also.”
Last year Howard Miller was the hottest place in the region for duck harvest, with 2.5 ducks per hunter harvested per day of the season. That’s really good for public land and not bad for private land harvests either.
Because WMAs abound, with Pearl River, Bienville, Caney Creek, Tallahalla, Trim Cane, Choctaw, Yockanookany, John Starr, Black Prairie, Nanih Waiya, Okatibbee, so do hunting opportunities.
“Black Prairie is probably your best bet for quality bucks in this region,” said Amy Blalock, WMA Central Region Biologist. “Our largest buck harvested on this WMA was a 258-pound 11-point, that was 4½ years old, had a 17½-inch inside spread with 5¼-inch bases and 24- and 19-inch main beams.”
Although the area is only 5,673 acres, it is home to quality whitetail bucks due to the prime habitat and management of the area. Those are the same qualities that have produced so many trophy bucks on nearby private lands for decades.
“This area is mostly draw hunts with some open archery and youth,” Blalock said. “In fact, the youth get first shot at the deer at this WMA with an early season hunt which will be held Sept. 27-28. This gives the youths a real opportunity to kill a deer early in the season before all the hunters are in the woods.”
According to Blalock, a good mature buck will weigh between 170 to 180 pounds with an occasional 190-pounder. Antler restrictions are strict on this WMA. Legal bucks must have a 15-inch inside spread or 18-inch main beams.
“Hunters have a unique opportunity to participate in a December-only buck hunt if they harvest a doe deer at least 1½ years of age,” Blalock said. “This helps us control our deer herd and give successful hunters a chance to harvest a buck during the late season buck hunt,”
Choctaw and John Starr
“Hunters kill a good many on Choctaw and John Starr,” said Blalock. “These WMAs have plenty of room for hunters and there is a good population of deer on them as well.” Located to the south of Starkville and northeast of Louisville, they offer easy access to hunters who simply want to hunt and harvest a deer.
Located in the central part of the state near Forest, the Bineville, Caney Creek and Tallahalla WMAs are home to some of the finest deer hunting for dog hunters to be found anywhere in the state.
“We have one major change in this region as public input brought about a change in the antler harvest restrictions, which require that a buck must have a 12-inch inside spread or 15-inch main beams,” said Blalock. “And that antler restriction also goes for Yockanookany WMA also.”
Youth and handicapped hunters can enter a draw hunt at Trim Cane WMA in Oktibbeeha County. Blaylock said that the chances for success are high due to a “heavy population of deer. Last year was the first time that youth hunters had been included in the draw deer hunts and it was really a success with much better participation in deer hunting the area.”
Located near Starkville, Trim Cane WMA is managed primarily for waterfowl with seven water impoundments on the area.
“This area has draw hunts for waterfowl and is the primary waterfowl area in our region,” said Blalock. “Duck hunters have a unique opportunity as it is managed intensively for ducks.”
Another good waterfowl choice is Pearl River WMA, located on the northwest banks of Ross Barnett Reservoir north of Jackson.
“Although Pearl River is mostly utilized for deer hunting, this year we’ve opened up some of the waterfowl impoundments for youth waterfowl draw hunts,” said Blalock. “These were a part of the refuge system up there and we opened it up to them for increased participation opportunities for young hunters.”
Pearl River WMA proper also offers excellent duck hunting for all hunters.
“Nanih Waiya WMA runs along the Pearl River and always has real good rabbit hunting,” Blalock said. “It’s usually full of rabbit hunters and is a good place to hunt, although the success rate has slowed down as the trees have matured and the canopy has closed in.
“There’s also a pretty good opportunity for waterfowl hunters in this WMA, with the river and sloughs running through it.”
“Yockanookany and Caney Creek also have good squirrel hunting areas,” Blalock said. “There’s a good mix of hardwoods and mast producing trees that provide ample forage for the squirrels and easy pickings for the hunters who want to get out and go after them.”
A high number of WMAs in this region gives hunters a lot of choices: Caston Creek, Natchez, Theodore Mars, Copiah County, Old River, Wolf River, Marion County, Sandy Creek anbd Canemount.
“The number one area to kill a deer is probably the Copiah County WMA,” said Josh Moree, Southwest Region biologist. “This WMA allows either-sex hunting as the population is such that hunters should be able to harvest legal bucks or does through archery and legal firearms seasons.”
Along with Marion County and Natchez, there is a minimum antler restriction of a 12-inch inside spread or a 15-inch main beam on Copiah County WMA.
“The average weight for 4½ -year-old bucks last season was 168 pounds,” said Moree. “The average inside spread was 15.2 inches and the average beam length was 18.5 inches for 4½-year-old bucks.
“Kids are allowed to harvest any antlered buck, however, and that’s to provide more opportunities for those children who will hopefully grow up and continue hunting.”
The restricted draw hunt at one of the state’s newest WMAs offers the region’s top opportunity at seeing a true trophy buck.
“If you’re looking for a place to harvest a quality buck then Canemount is probably your best bet in this region,” Moree said. “Last year was a good year with fewer deer being harvested but several quality bucks were taken.”
Canemount has limited hunting, and it’s all draw hunting which makes the success rate better than most areas for harvesting quality bucks, if you’re one of the fortunate few to draw a tag. Canemount is also open to archery and primitive weapons only, with archery starting first followed later by primitive weapons starting in mid-November.
“There’s plenty of mast producing trees, and plenty of browse, as the timber was thinned, opening up the area to sunlight, which brought a lot of browse growth,” said Moree who offered a warning to hunters. “It’s pretty rugged terrain, with steep gulleys and thick vegetation on the ground. That makes for hard hunting and good survival rates among the bucks.”
There were a couple of nice 10-points and several 8-points harvested according to Moree.
“Our total deer kill was down some, but the quality was really good with lots of good mature bucks on the area,” the biologist said. “The average weight for 4½-year-old plus bucks last season was 200 pounds. The average inside spread was 16.4 inches and the average beam length was 20.9 inches for 4½-year-old bucks and older.
“The heaviest buck harvested on Canemount WMA last season was an archery harvest, an 8½-year old 7-point that weighed 245 pounds with an 18.75 inch inside spread and 24.75 inch beams.
“Waterfowl hunting is not super popular in this region, but Old River WMA provides one of the better waterfowl hunting opportunities as it has the Pearl River, many oxbows and creeks running through it,” said Moree. “The wood ducks are the most prominent duck in this area and they are plentiful.”
Small Game Hunting
“With 16,000 acres of mixed hardwood and upland hardwood terrain Sandy Creek WMA is one of the best squirrel hunting areas in the state,” Moree said. “There are ample opportunities to harvest squirrels on the area and many people take advantage of the fantastic public hunting opportunities.
“The most popular rabbit hunting destination is Wolf River, as it has lots of pine plantations, briars and cutovers. “When you have the habitat, rabbits will be there and hunters will follow. Lots of people utilize this area and hunt rabbits with beagles.”
When hunters think about the upper half of the Mississippi Delta, they mostly think about ducks, but with plentiful WMAs — Charlie Capps, Malmaison, Indianola, Muscadine Farms, Stoneville, Leroy Percy and O’Keefe — other game is plentiful.
“If you’re looking for quality deer in the North Delta region then O’Keefe and Malmaison are two of the best,” said regional biologist Wesley Howard. “Although harvest numbers were down across the board in this region there were some really good bucks harvested. There was a 15-point harvested on O’Keefe and there were several good mature bucks aged 3½ and older taken.”
Howard said O’Keefe has approximately 4,200 acres of mature bottomland hardwood isolated by agriculture fields and crops. That makes for some mighty fine hunting and big bucks indeed. The WMA is also doing some timber management to open up the canopy to allow the understory to grow browse and improve the habitat for the deer and other game as well.
“Malmaison has about 13,000 acres of bottomland surrounded by Agriculture fields and the Yalobusha River splits the WMA into separate tracts with plenty of mature timber,” Howard said. “And there were a few 140s harvested on Malmaison as well.”
Other good choices are Sky Lake and Stoneville WMAs.
“Although Sky Lake is a draw hunt area, it’s really good as well,” Howard said. “And Sky Lake had a tremendous 8-point harvested, which scored right at 150 gross.
At Stoneville, Howard said a hunter harvested a 160-class buck last year.
“Malmaison historically has been the best when it comes to harvesting ducks,” Howard said. “And O’Keefe can be good as well. Last year they had successful youth hunts there too.
“Charlie Capps had probably the best year yet last year and we expect things to be good this year also,” said Howard. “We did a lot of work on the area and had a lot of ducks too. Hunters harvested a good many canvasbacks and redheads also.”
But duck hunting here is by draw only and there are only six spots available to hunt, so access is limited.
Historically, Muscadine Farms has always been a good choice, and it’s draw hunting only.
“Muscadine had water early in the year last year when other places didn’t so we had a good early season hunt there,” said Howard.
But enter a new area.
“Probably one of the best kept secrets last year was our newest WMA in the region, Indianola,” Howard said. “This WMA has about 12,000 acres of agriculture ponds with some row crops and food sources on the area as well.
“Last year nobody hunted it much, and there were a lot of ducks on the area. This year we’ve also planted about 400 acres of row crop to provide additional food sources for the ducks.”
“O’Keefe had some unbelievable squirrel hunting,” said Howard. “And there’s good squirrel hunting on Malmaison and some squirrel hunting opportunities on Muscadine as well.
“Sky Lake has about 4,300 acres of replanted timber and it has been good for rabbit hunters as a result. Hunters have been successful when hunting rabbits as a result of the timber reforestation also.”
“There are several dove hunting opportunities this year with hunts scheduled for Malmaison, O’Keefe and Indianola,” said Howard. “We have planted sunflowers in some locations also.”
The past decade has seen an increase in public land opportunities, which now includes Charles Ray Nix, Sardis Waterfowl, Canal Section, Tuscumbia, Chickasaw, Hell Creek, Divide Section, John Bell Williams, Choctaw, Calhoun, Upper Sardis, and Graham Lake WMAs.
“Within the Northeast WMA Region, deer hunting success is typically better at Charles Ray Nix and Sardis Waterfowl WMAs,” said Biologist Brad Holder. “A few 8- and 10-point bucks were harvested on Charles Ray Nix, Canal Section and Chickasaw during the 2013-14 seasons. They averaged 1- inch main beams and 15-inch inside spreads and the buck weight averages are typically around 155 pounds.”
“Charles Ray Nix and Canal Section WMAs probably offer the best shot at a quality buck. We attempt to grow better bucks on both areas through more intense habitat management and more progressive antler criteria. The habitat is intensely managed on Charles Ray Nix using controlled burns, which when used properly provide excellent habitat for a variety of game and non-game species.”
Holder said that good bucks are harvested on the rest of the regions WMAs, but with less frequency.
“Sardis Waterfowl WMA also offers a permit deer hunt for ‘youth only’ that affords excellent opportunities for youth hunters,” said Holder.
“Tuscumbia WMA is intensively managed for wintering waterfowl and waterfowl hunting,” Holder saod. “And that’s going to be your best bet when it comes to harvesting ducks on WMAs in this region.
“Canal Section is another popular area also frequented by duck hunters. Hunters can typically expect to harvest teal, gadwall, mallards, wood ducks, northern shovelers, and several species of diving ducks on these WMAs.”
“Upper Sardis, Canal Section, and Chickasaw WMAs offer better squirrel hunting given their expansive forests which have a good hardwood component,” Holder said.
“Charles Ray Nix and Divide Section WMAs have quite a bit of rabbit habitat and should be a hunter’s first option on rabbits. Some rabbits may be found on the southern end of Canal Section and the northern portion of Upper Sardis also.”
An added opportunity in this region is a chance to harvest quail and dove.
“Habitat management at Charles Ray Nix has focused on increasing the local quail population and we’ve been fairly successful,” said Holder. “A quail harvest study will be conducted on Nix during the 2014-15 season (additional details for this study are provided in 2014-15 Nix WMA regulations).
“Permitted quail hunts are offered at Hell Creek WMA. A few quail may be found at Divide Section WMA as well, but you need to check WMA specific regulations for details.”
MDWFP personnel have prepared dove fields at Canal Section, Charles Ray Nix, Divide Section, and Hell Creek WMAs.
“The dove fields have a variety of plantings including sunflower, millets, grain sorghum, or a combination of plantings,” said Holder.
With Chickasawhay, Mason Creek, Leaf River, Little Biloxi, Red Creek and Ward Bayou WMAs, this region is perhaps the state’s most dependent on public land hunting. And, there are ample opportunities for hunters to score on deer, small game and waterfowl, if you put in your time scouting and hunting.
With over 40,000 acres of timberland available for hunting, there’s probably no better place to start deer hunting than at Leaf River WMA.
“Leaf River is your best opportunity at harvesting a deer in this region,” said Nathan Blount, regional WMA biologist. “It’s got plenty of pine timber and is managed through prescribed burns.
“Although Leaf River is one of the most heavily-hunted WMAs in the state, hunters harvested 100 bucks and around 66 antlerless deer last year. There are a few acorns found in some hardwood slashes, but for the most part, browse from the prescribed burn areas provide most of the deer’s forage in this WMA.”
Little Biloxi also has plenty of room for bucks to roam with about 14,500 acres of land to hunt. While most of the area is pine, there are a lot of thickets that provide cover for the bucks also, Blound said. An added bonus for serious still hunters is the fact that this area is designated as a still hunt area only.
“Last year there were a couple of really good bucks killed on Little Biloxi and a high percentage of the buck harvest was mature deer,” said Blount. “In fact, one hunter harvested a trophy 11-point buck on the area.”
For the best quality buck hunting, however, it’s the massive Pascagoula WMA and Ward Bayou WMA.
“Pascagoula and Ward Bayou have better body weights than most of the areas down here due to the bottomland hardwoods,” Blount said. “Some of the mature deer will weigh up to 170 pounds.
“Mason Creek and Red Creek also have some of the better success rates on deer per man hours hunted, as there’s less pressure on these areas in relation to their size. One of the best bucks in this region was harvested at Mason Creek and it was an 8-point that had a 17-inch spread, 20-inch main beams and weighed about 150 pounds.”
The Southeast WMAs offer a great late-season opportunity. While most of the state is closed to deer hunting after Jan. 31, some of the best deer hunting in this region occurs in February as the extended season coincides with the rut in this area.
“The extended deer season gives hunters an opportunity to hunt during the late rut,” Blount said, adding that it provides an added attraction for hunters in other parts of the state to come down and experience deer hunting down south.
“Although this region is nothing like the Delta, there are places to hunt and harvest ducks,” Blount said. “Pascagoula and Ward Bayou are the best bets for hunting ducks in this region.
“Pascagoula WMA has a lot of duck hunting along the backwater areas of the river and hunters typically harvest a lot of wood ducks there. Ninety percent of the harvest is comprised of wood ducks with a few mallards and other ducks making up the rest.”
Ward Bayou provides an added element with its extension into the marsh estuary. It provides additional opportunities for hunters to harvest a variety of ducks like ring necks, hooded mergansers and a variety of other ducks that prefer the marsh.
“The best areas to squirrel hunt are Pascagoula and Ward Bayou,” Blount said. “Pascagoula led the state in squirrel harvest. Comprised mostly of bottomland hardwoods, both the Pascagoula and Ward Bayou have ample opportunities at harvesting grey squirrels, as well as fox squirrels, which makes for a rare treat indeed these days.”
Leaf River also has some squirrel hunting in the hardwood draws and oak slashes.
Rabbit hunting opportunities abound in the region, especially in the years following Hurricane Katrina, which contributed to the “rabitat” but one WMA distinguishes itself in that regard. Ward Bayou is full of swamp rabbits.
“Pascagoula WMA is the top coon hunting destination down here,” Blount said. “Ward Bayou and Chickasawhay also have a lot of coon hunting opportunities as well.”
Chickasawhay is also a good place to hunt for deer with over 32,000 acres of timberland, but it’s also a quail hunting destination for a few hunters in the know.
“Chickasawhay is primarily pine timber but we use prescribed burning on the area and that’s opened up an opportunity for quail to thrive,” Blount said. “And with the increased quail population there’s increased hunting opportunities and some hunters are taking advantage of that.”
For more specific information on individual WMAs and hunting regulations on the WMAs go to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Park’s website at www.mdwfp.com.