Avid archer Gene Thacker already knows his plan for the opening weeks of Mississippi’s bow season on deer.
“I won’t be on a food plot; we don’t have any,” said Thacker, of Brandon, who hunts in the Central part of Mississippi where drought has been a summer-long problem. “We always try to plant a few early plots for bow season, but this year, no way. The bad part is, this one year our deer could have certainly used it. Natural food sources are suffering, too.
“I haven’t been able to tell how the acorn trees at our camp have been affected, but I know in years past, when we’ve had such dry conditions, the acorns fell early or just didn’t make. Our browse is in horrible condition. There was a browse line forming in early September.”
Ever the optimist, Thacker sees a bright side to the drought.
“The good news is that if, with a lot of scouting, I can locate one or two decent food sources, whether it’s a tree with some falling acorns or a persimmon tree, then I should be good,” he said. “The less food available, the better those few spots will be.”
Lann Wilf, the biologist who serves at the deer program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said trying to plant early food plots is always a risky matter during the summer. A dry one like 2015 is nearly impossible to produce successful plots. He never recommends planting before late September or early October anyway.
“I always tell people to prepare plots early, like spraying and disking, but plant later,” Wilf said. “I know there are bow hunters who like to have food plots up during the October archery season, but it’s just tough to get them going in a dry, hot season.”
Many hunters cancelled their early plantings and listened to the advice of wildlife biologists. Now they just sit and watch for rain in the forecast.
“We had our first work day on the first Saturday of September before dove hunting that afternoon, and I spent a lot of time looking for signs of what deer were doing,” said Randy Howard of Grenada. “We were planning on planting a couple food plots but were advised by the biologists against it since there was no rain in the immediate forecast.
“So we worked on clearing ATV trails, checking and fixing stands and preparing the fields we will plant so that we could hit them quick and get them planted when rain is coming.”
Howard was disappointed in his oak trees.
“I noticed that many acorn trees that I normally count on in October for bow hunting weren’t bearing a lot of acorns,” he said. “I found a couple of hot spots, including one white oak that was already dropping heavy, which is probably not a good thing in early September, and one fruit tree that had tracks all around them.
“Those will probably be used up by Oct. 1, but there will be others to find. I think those examples show that when food sources are few and far between, it can help a hunter find deer simply by finding food.”
The dry conditions are expected to continue for at least another two or three weeks. The long-term forecast for mid Mississippi shows only one day in the next 15 with at least a 50 percent chance for rain.
How dry has it been? Barnett Reservoir is over a foot low and getting lower every day (.1 of a foot every three days), “and October is always one of our dryer months,” said general manager John Sigman.
He is one of many Mississippians who is watching the forecast daily hoping for a wet change.
Said Thacker: “The first time we see a forecast with a three-day window of rain, we’ll be headed to camp to plant as fast as we can. I bet the highways of Central Mississippi will be loaded with trailers pulling ATVs and even heavier equipment to deer camps.”