A persistent mystique looms about giant bucks coming out of the Mississippi Delta, and the truth is that this soil-rich region is just one area of the state that produces book deer.
Historically, however, it is hard to ignore the concentration of trophy bucks harvested out of those 11 counties along the Mississippi River, plus parts of three other counties. From the outside looking in, it natural to wonder …
Why do so many big deer come from the Delta?
What grows those antlers so big, so tall, and so wide?
Past to present, the Delta continues to yield the big ones; some that are book deer and hundreds more that fall just short. For sure, hunters in that magic land keep taxidermists busy.
Let’s examine why.
Biologists will tell you animals need four basic needs: Food, cover, water and space.
When animals can easily access these essential elements, it combines to produce an arrangement known as prime habitat. The Delta certainly has a lot of it.
Drive through the Delta and it becomes obvious. Heading north of Vicksburg on U.S. Highway 61, past Onward and into the heart of the Delta, it’s easy to see.
The region is rich in agricultural production. In recent years, the traditional cotton crops have given way to corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers and lush green hay fields.
Deer thrive on that, so much so that the farmers are usually up in arms about crop damage. Hogs may steal the headlines in that respect, but deer can munch down a soybean crop in short order. Predation hunts are not unusual, but require permits from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
The Delta is saturated with high-quality natural browse. Passing the fields, it seems every corner of cropland is choked with native brush, honeysuckle, and a plethora of edible briars and browse.
Everywhere there are islands of little woodlots interspersed around the farmlands, rivers, creeks, oxbows and sloughs. These isolated mini-habitats not only provide valuable wildlife food resources but also hiding and escape cover.
Combined, it’s an ideal big-buck environment.
The same foundation that enabled the Delta to drive Mississippi’s economy for two centuries is behind this perfect habitat — rich soil.
The Delta has two primary soil types, batture and delta. Batture is found along the banks of the Mississippi River, while delta soil makes up the majority of the base in the region. The eastern side of some Delta counties has upper thick loess soils.
All of those soil types are rich in prime minerals deposited over eons of floods from the Mississippi River, and secondary rivers like the Yazoo, Tallahatchie, Coldwater and Sunflower help spread that wealth throughout the Delta.
These soils are the basis for why the Delta is able to produce such viable crops and native wildlife food resources. This valuable dirt also contributes to the success of wildlife food plots. Good dirt is hard to beat when it comes to wildlife habitat.
“Many deer hunters in the Delta often forget the long view of what has been happening to the reconstruction of the regional Delta landscape since about 1985,” said Tommy Hoff, a Corps of Engineers biologist familiar with the region. “When the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill authorized the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetland Reserve Program, the whole face of the region began to change.”
Over the past 30 years, nearly a half million acres of farmland have been transformed into bottomland hardwood forests. During this transition, the poorest producing croplands were taken out of production and put into the CRP and WRP programs. Some of the new oak-heavy forests have already matured into wildlife habitat.
These timberland habitats have a higher carrying capacity than the previous arrangements of farmlands with small woodlots. Deer are expanding faster than ever, yet, because of the improved habitat, the overall herd is enjoying a higher level of health.
An expanding, healthier herd has led to an increase in the numbers of big bucks available.
As the Delta was undergoing this important transition, the mindset of Mississippi’s deer hunters was also going through a critical change. The focus on quality deer management increased, and the timing was perfect.
Hunters slowly but surely realized the roles they could play in producing trophy bucks. The most critical was in selective harvest, allowing bucks with the most potential to reach full maturity.
It seems simple now, but it was a slow process that started with letting 1½-year-old bucks reach 2.5 or 3.5 years, and then the realization that 4.5 and 5.5 years were even better.
It’s in the genes
Maturity is certainly an important factor in producing a trophy rack. Another is good genetics, which the Delta appears to have.
Deer biologists are non-committal when asked if buck genetics in the Delta are superior, but that could change. Research is underway at Mississippi State University comparing Delta bucks to bucks from other areas of the state, with the goal of finding which plays the bigger role in producing trophy racks — habitat or genetics.
The outcome will be interesting.
With the Delta producing so many record book bucks, superior genetics must exist. According to state deer records, 70 percent of the largest Pope & Young typical trophy bucks and 40 percent of the state’s Boone & Crockett bucks have come from Delta counties.
What else do you need to know?