For whatever reason, and many say it was the weather, Mississippi’s overall deer harvest was down during the 2013-14 season.
Of course, that can be viewed as a positive sign for the upcoming season, which begins in one week, on Oct. 1, with the opening of archery season in the Hill and Delta Zones. Surviving deer are a year older and a year bigger.
“I know we had a lot of weekends last year that the weather was just so bad, with heavy rain and all, that we just didn’t hit the woods as hard as we normally do at our camp,” said Dave Robertson of Brandon. He hunts the northern Madison County area above Canton. “I think last year was one of the lowest kill rates we’ve ever had, but at the same time I think it produced three of the four biggest bucks we’ve ever killed there in the last 15 to 20 years.
“The weather was just awful, but when the big bucks were moving, the hardcore hunters were still going. What happened was an average annual harvest of 60 to 70 total deer dropped to 39.”
Robertson said the impact has been easy to see on trail cams.
“We’re seeing more images of deer than ever before, and those images have more deer, too,” he said. “We’ve made sure that every member has seen those photos, too, trying to encourage them to get ready to shoot a few more this year. A biologist told us that we couldn’t afford, or at least didn’t need, another year of reduced harvest; otherwise, he said, we’d start seeing a negative impact on the habitat.”
During the archery season, longbows, recurves, compound bows, and crossbows are all considered legal archery equipment and can be used during all seasons for deer. There is no minimum or maximum draw weight, no minimum arrow length, and fixed or mechanical broadheads may be used.
Annual deer limits of three legal bucks and five antlerless deer and the daily limit of one legal buck per day are unchanged from last year, but the daily limit on antlerless is different. Regulations now allow hunters to take as many antlerless deer per day as possible up to the annual limit of five.
Hunters in most areas could have the opportunity to fill their limits.
“Deer numbers are high statewide, and abundant rainfall has had a positive impact on antler development,” said Lann Wilf, deer program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Also, the white oak acorn crop is looking good, which is a recipe for abundant bowhunting opportunities and better than expected antler quality.
“We are excited about the potential overall deer harvest and buck quality this season may bring. We are coming off of a couple of years of reduced harvest, which was partially related to weather. Hopefully, weather will be favorable for improving deer visibility and harvest this year.”
Hunters are reporting the same acorn report, including one who has developed a sudden interest in squirrel hunting.
“The areas where I have been scouting for deer are loaded with squirrels,” said Jerry Thomas of Jackson, whose camp is located in Claiborne County. “I’ve been out the last few weeks checking cams, finding trails, even hanging a few stands, and I’ve seen squirrels everywhere I have gone.
“This is how good it’s been: I’ve been looking for hot acorn trees for stand locations, and seeing squirrels at a distance has led to me to good places.”
Thomas said his plan for opening day is already set.
“I found two white oak trees next to each other that are both dropping acorns,” he said. “The ground underneath is covered in tracks. I got stands in two trees, one for a north or west wind and the other for south and east winds, and another on a trail leading to the trees. There’s a big 10-point and a couple of other shooter bucks on my trail cam, and I have a few shots in the afternoon. I’m excited.”
His only concern involves the squirrels.
“We’ve got some youngsters in camp and we are planning to squirrel hunt this weekend with them,” Thomas said. “I’ve already told the guys to please leave that area alone. There are only a couple of us who bow hunt and the other guy is also on a hot spot on the other side of the property, and I know he is pleading his case, too, so I think we’ll be OK. There’s plenty of other acorn-loaded areas for the kids to hunt.”
The MDWFP reminds all Wildlife Management Area (WMA) hunters that they are required to wear a full-body harness (fall-arrest system) while climbing a tree, installing a tree stand that uses climbing aids, or while hunting from a tree stand on a WMA. While required on WMAs, the MDWFP urges all hunters to wear and know how to properly use a full-body harness while hunting from an elevated position. Take time before your hunt to be sure you have all the proper safety equipment and remember that the most important part of the hunt is making it home.
For more information regarding deer, hunting zones, or hunting opportunities in Mississippi, visit the agency online at www.mdwfp.com/deer or call (601) 432-2199.