Drought was the biggest concern of most wildlife management area managers throughout most of the state going into the dog days of summer.

"It's been dry for a lot of June and the first part of July," said Scott Baker, Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks regional WMA supervisor. "It has had a negative impact on the browse; it's not as palatable."

As plants dried out and new, tender growth slowed, deer were often forced to find other groceries.

"We've seen deer hitting some browse species earlier than normal," said Brad Holder, who manages public areas in the state's northwestern region. "Poke weed normally is browsed in late July, but it was browsed earlier because of the drought."

Dry conditions also backed up work on food plots.

"If we didn't wait, we would just be wasting the seed," southern regional WMA Manager Josh Moree said.

Fortunately, rains began falling in early July, and conditions turned around.

"Since the rains began, we've started planting food plots," Moree said.

For a comprehensive look at exactly what hunters can expect from the state's WMAs, Mississippi Sportsman picked the brains of those responsible for the management of these areas.

Here's what they had to say:


Northwest/North Central Region

WMAs: Choctaw, Chickasaw, John W. Starr, Upper Sardis, O'Keefe, Chalhoun County, Malmaisson, Sardis Waterfowl, Yockanookany

As in almost every other region of the state, managers held off sowing summer food plots until the drought finally broke in early July.

"We try to hedge our bets with rainfall," manager Brad Holder said.

But he said crops like cowpeas and soybeans were put in the ground as soon as the rains began, and he expected habitat to be in great shape on the nine WMAs under his management.

While not much has changed since last season in terms of regulations region-wide, Holder said one exception is Calhoun County WMA.

"We've added a few more either-sex days for deer," he explained. "We feel like we can offer more opportunity and allow harvest to get the herd more balanced."

But one of the big draws to the area is the ability to hunt deer with dogs. In fact, managers set up two dog seasons, the first running Nov. 21 through Dec. 1 and the second starting Dec. 24 and ending Jan. 20.

"That consistently draws a following from those who like to hunt deer with dogs," Holder said.

This area attracted 1,409 man days of effort, with 50 deer killed for an average of one deer killed per 28 efforts. Half of the deer taken were bucks.

Holder didn't see any reason harvest would be down, considering the available deer population and popularity of the WMA.

There's little squirrel hunting opportunity, however, since most of the property is composed of pine plantation.

"It's pretty minimal," Holder explained "There are a few hardwood draws, but that's about it."

Deer dogs are not allowed on Charles Ray Nix WMA, but hunters found far more success there with 72 deer taken in 1,028 efforts for an average of a deer for every 14 efforts.

Holder pointed to habitat work being conducted on the tract.

"This is about the third year of fairly intensive habitat management," he said.

Oddly, the goal is not specifically to provide better deer hunting.

"We're focusing our management on small game - quail, rabbit and doves," Holder said.

However, since two of those species need more cover to thrive, a healthy deer population has been a bonus.

"This management is going to produce a lot of habitat not only for small game but for deer," Holder said.

Charles Ray Nix also provides an increased opportunity for hunters to kill quality bucks, with antler regulations beefed up from the state minimums. Legal bucks must carry a rack measuring at least 15 inches inside spread or having one main beam stretching to at least 18 inches.

Despite that increase in minimum requirements, there still were 27 bucks killed on the property.

And while this is one of the most-productive WMAs in the region, Holder said he would welcome even more hunters.

"We've got good deer numbers," he explained. "There's a huge population out there, and we need help keeping them at the number the habitat can support."

On the small-game side, rabbit hunters probably will be happy with the results of the management scheme.

"Rabbits are starting to bounce back, and we should continue to see an increase over the years," Holder explained.

The availability of doves is in question, despite the stated goal of increasing available habitat.

"We have one dove field, but it was planted during the drought, so we're going to have a dove field but it's not going to be pristine," Holder said.

Malmaison is another great deer-hunting option, with an average of 19 hunter efforts per deer last year.

"It's good ground, and good ground produces better-quality deer," Holder explained.

This is another area where hunters have to let smaller-racked bucks walk, with the minimum standards being at least a 15-inch inside spread or one 18-inch main beam. Thirty of the 115 bucks killed during the 2008-09 season met those requirements.

As with Charles Ray Nix, however, increased hunting pressure on Malmaison would be helpful.

"We'd like to see increased hunter participation to harvest enough deer annually to balance the population with the habitat," he explained.

The bottomland hardwoods that support this healthy population of deer also provide ample habitat for squirrels.

"There's an abundance of squirrels on this area," Holder said.

Malmaison also provides some very good waterfowling opportunities in a green-tree reservoir and an area known as the McIntyre.

"We have a lot of mallards and teal," Holder said.

In terms of ducks harvested per hunter, the property is the state's fourth most-productive WMA at 1.5 ducks per hunter. In terms of total numbers, Malmaison sits at third with 2,470 birds killed.

It's worth noting that waterfowl hunting ends at noon each day of the season, and each hunter is allowed no more than 25 shotshells in the two waterfowl-management areas.

On O'Keefe WMA, deer hunters racked up last year with 82 animals killed.

"We had close to a record deer harvest on that area" Holder explained. "We had a lot of does taken."

Forty-five of the deer killed on O'Keefe were does, and hunters enjoyed a pretty good effort-to-success ratio at 21 efforts per deer harvested.

Holder said this healthy deer population is due in large part to the WMA's location.

"It's an island of hardwoods surrounded by a sea of agriculture," he said.

The agriculture combined with the rich natural habitat means hunters could walk away with trophies.

"Your chances of harvesting a pretty good animal are decent," Holder said. "It's in the (Mississippi) Delta, and it's good ground."

Those big stands of hardwoods also hold numbers of bushytails.

"They kill quite a few squirrels on that property every year," he explained.

A greentree reservoir along with managed ag fields provide quality duck hunting. These areas yielded 942 birds for 729 hunters last year. That's an average of 1.2 ducks per hunter, and is the fifth most-productive average in the system.

"We see all the species, pretty much," Holder said.

Upper Sardis WMA primarily draws deer hunters, who made 5,810 efforts last season, and killed 94 deer for an average of a deer per 61 efforts.

That's not a great mark of success, but Holder said more deer could be taken if more hunters would simply show up.

"There are still too many deer for the habitat to support a healthy population," he explained. "We need some help thinning the herd."

Duck hunting is allowed on the area, but each of the 349 hunters last season averaged less than half a duck.

Yockanookany WMA provides about 2,300 acres of bottomland hardwoods snaking along the WMA's namesake river, making it a good deer-hunting option.

"It's a pretty neat little area," Holder said. "It's a place that's managed to stay a secret. You have the potential of seeing some quality deer."

There were only 175 hunter efforts on the area last season, but they shot 13 deer for the excellent average of one deer per 13.5 efforts.

One constraint is that hunting is limited to archery and primitive firearms, and that combines with a preseason draw requirement to keep pressure low.

However, Holder would love to see more permit winners turn out.

"We need more people to show up and hunt," he said.

The one caveat is that the area is subject to flooding by the Yockanookany River, but Holder said there are always areas to be hunted.

"Flooding changes the dynamics of the game a little bit, but there are ridges down the river where hunters can find some deer," he said.

Squirrel hunting also is a good bet on Yockanookany, with grey squirrels abounding in the hardwoods.

Choctaw WMA is one area on which antler restrictions have noticeably helped.

"The quality of the bucks has improved because of the antler restrictions," Holder said. "And there's a lot of deer."

Choctaw, along with Chickasaw WMA, is located within the Tombigbee National Forest, and both are managed similarly with buck regulations calling for at least a 12-inch inside spread or a main beam taping out at least 15 inches long.

The big difference is that Chickasaw offers deer hunters the option to run dogs.

"We have two areas, with dogs allowed on one of those," Holder said. "Dog hunters are a user group, and we try to provide something for all our users."

Of the two, Choctaw provided the best opportunity for success last season with 109 deer killed compared to 94 deer taken from Chickasaw. Choctaw's average also was much better, with a deer taken per 26 hunter effort compared to Chickasaw's deer per 51 efforts.

Both areas also offer decent squirrel hunting thanks to the mixed upland hardwood/pine habitat.

Hunters wanting to up their odds of seeing deer should head to John W. Starr WMA, which has a fairly sizeable population.

"Right now it's a numbers area," Holder said.

However, those numbers really haven't translated into great success rates. More than 1,500 hunter efforts last season produced 45 deer for an average of 34 hunter efforts per deer.

On the upside, almost half of those were bucks.

Sardis Waterfowl WMA is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it's got plenty of ducks, but the area is closed to waterfowl hunting.

"It's a refuge," Holder explained.

However, it provides excellent opportunities for a select number of youth deer hunters. Last year, the 320 efforts made by youth selected in the preseason draw popped 32 deer for an incredible average effort per deer of only 10. And 15 of the deer were bucks.

"It's a really good opportunity for youth," Holder said.


Northeast Region

WMAs: Tuscumbia, Divide Section, Canal Section, John Bell Williams, Black Priarie, Hell Creek, Trim Cane

This area bucked the dry trend that plagued most of Mississippi during the early summer.

"We actually have gotten some rain," manager Jerry Hazelwood said. "We had a short drought period, but I don't think it hurt anything.

"We got a lot of rain when a lot of the state didn't."

That allowed summer plantings to take place on schedule.

"The rains brought (those plots) along nicely," Hazelwood said.

Prior to last hunting season, Hazelwood worried that an outbreak of blue tongue could have harmed the deer herd, but he said in July that the concern turned out to be unnecessary.

"I know (overall) harvest numbers were down slightly, and on some of the (private) hunting clubs, harvest was down drastically," Hazelwood said. "But it wasn't a major issue on the WMAs."

Looking at individual pieces of property, Tuscumbia WMA was pretty productive with an average last season of a deer per 22 hunter efforts.

However, Hazelwood said the potential is there for the property to produce even more.

"Tuscumbia has been under-utilized," he explained. "Not many people realize we allow archery hunting on Unit 2 (the waterfowl unit) up until the first week of December.

"It's got a lot of deer on it."

He said those clued in to the availability of early hunting on that unit enjoy really good days afield.

"Some of the people are putting up pop-up tents on the waterfowl levees where the deer travel, and they're catching them in those funnels," Hazelwood said.

On the waterfowl side of the coin, the impoundment draws in numbers of birds.

"There's a good stand of volunteer millet as well as planted food," Hazelwood said.

A variety of species utilizes the area, but Hazelwood said there's a definite preference by hunters.

"They get mallards, wood ducks, pintail, mergansers, teal, shovelers, gadwall, ringnecks and teal, but people primarily hunt mallards," he said.

Last season, 730 killed 610 birds on the property, for an average of .84 birds per hunter.

Managers also have planted 13 acres of sunflower and browntop millet to draw in doves.

"We'll bushhog it about two weeks before the season, and that should offer some good dove hunting," Hazelwood said.

Divide Section WMA along the Tenn-Tom Waterway offers even more dove-hunting opportunities, with three fields planted in browntop millet.

Hunters are allowed to hunt these fields anytime during the statewide season.

This was one of the areas in which blue-tongue hit the deer herd, but Hazelwood said numbers bounced back quickly.

"Our harvest numbers were good last year, and I don't see any reason they'll be any different this season," he said.

The disposal areas, where spoil was deposited when the Tenn-Tom Waterway was created, are keys to deer-hunting success.

"About a third of the area is in disposal areas, and that's covered in early successional growth," Hazelwood said. "There's plenty of cover for the deer."

Divide Section also provides great handicapped hunting, with 11 wheelchair-accessible shooting houses in a 900-acre section reserved specifically for that purpose.

"We allow them vehicle access three days a week, and ATV access on the rest of the days," Hazelwood said.

Of course, the same thick cover that houses so many deer also provides rabbit hunters with a lot of action.

Hazelwood said squirrel hunters also have ample opportunities on the Divide Section, if they look in the right places.

"The disposal areas are separated by strips of hardwoods," he explained. "There's some good squirrel hunting, but you have to find your spots."

Squirrel hunting is the star just down the Tenn-Tom at Canal Section WMA.

"We had 1,579 man days of squirrel hunting there last year, and 2,289 squirrels killed," Hazelwood said. "That's quite phenomenal."

And those numbers are typical.

"We are usually right around 2,000 squirrels annually on Canal Section," Hazelwood said.

The adjoining John Bell Williams WMA also provides quality squirrel hunting, but managers have worked hard to provide adequate rabbit habitat on John Bell Williams and Divide Section by maintaining cover along the Tenn-Tom Waterway levees.

An area along the southern portion of Canal Section WMA also is prime rabbit territory, with fields that were replanted in hardwoods in the mid 1990s.

Hunters on Canal Section alone reaped the benefits of this thicker habitat last year with 1,112 rabbits taken during 1,735 efforts, Hazelwood said.

Deer hunting can be pretty good on the area, with last year's hunters killing 94 animals with a success rate of one per 30 hunts. However, Hazelwood said the area could use more hunters.

"It is underutilized for deer," he said.

The biggest problem is getting to the hunting areas.

"Access if pretty tough," he said. "The whole area is best accessed by boat, whether you use the Tenn-Tom Waterway or the old Tombigbee River."

That said, there are six wheelchair-accessible shooting houses on a reserved 250-acre portion of Canal Section to provide quality hunting for handicapped hunters.

Duck hunters also can find success on the Canal Section, as 1,138 hunters proved last year by shooting 824 birds.

"They kill a lot of wood ducks and mallards," Hazelwood said. "There are a lot of river runs and sloughs that wood ducks use.

"This is one area you'll need to study some aerial photos, and you can find some sloughs and get off by yourself."

However, there also are a couple of impoundments open to hunters until noon on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays.

Hell Creek and Black Prairie WMAs are primarily reserved for field trials, but deer hunting is allowed at various times during the season.

While these deer hunts have traditionally been preseason draw affairs only, Hazelwood said Hell Creek managers have even added two open late-season archery hunts on each WMA.

"It's an up-and-coming population on Hell Creek," he said. "I went over there, and I saw more deer tracks than I've ever seen."

The area is by and large open agricultural fields, but the ditches and creeks snaking through the WMA provide cover for deer.

"It can be some good bowhunting if you set up right," Hazelwood said.

The numbers from last season bear that out, with 18 deer being killed in 123 hunter efforts for an average of one deer per 6.8 hunts.

There also is a draw-only quail hunt in February, with hunters required to show up at WMA headquarters on Jan. 9 to fill out applications.

"We have had so many people applying and not showing up," Hazelwood said. "If someone from South Mississippi is drawn, they're probably not going to drive to Tippah County for a quail hunt. So we made it where you have to apply in person."

Those who win the lottery should have good hunts.

"During the June call count, workers heard 35 different calling birds in one morning," Hazelwood said. "That's outstanding."

Deer harvest on Black Prairie last season was even better than on Hell Creek, with 24 animals taken in 139 tries. That's a whopping deer for every 5.8 efforts.

The advantage this field-trial area offers deer hunters is the chance to kill big-racked bucks.

"The Black Prairie soil region, where this WMA is located, is known for some big deer," Hazelwood said. "Black Prairie (WMA) will grow some antlers."

In fact, he said this would be his pick among all the public tracts of land in his region.

"Black Prairie will grow bigger deer than any other area in Northeast Mississippi," he said.

Trim Cane WMA is primarily a waterfowling retreat, with hunters chosen by lottery.

"It's really good hunting," Hazelwood said. "And there's easy access."

Hunters last season killed 179 birds, with most being ringnecks.

Rabbit hunting also can be very good, with pressure controlled through a preseason draw.

"What's not in mature woods or waterfowl impoundments is being maintained in early successional growth, so there's a lot of cover for rabbits," Hazelwood said.

The property is closed to all other hunting, with the exception of eight days of handicapped-only lottery hunts.

"The manager has built three wheelchair-accessible shooting houses, and he's adding two more hunt stations this year," Hazelwood said. "I think every one of the hunters last season either saw deer or killed deer.

"They just had a blast."


East Central Region

WMAs: Bienville, Caney Creek, Okatibbee, Nanih Waiya, Tallahala

Despite the drought, region manager Scott Baker said conditions were looking pretty good by mid July. And he expected there to be plenty of groceries on the ground in the fall.

"We could have a decent red oak crop this year," Baker said.

The five WMAs in the region are composed mostly of pines, but that doesn't mean there aren't pretty good deer living on the properties as a 140-class buck taken a couple of seasons ago proved.

"It's in the eye of the beholder, but I think a 140-inch deer on public land is good for anybody," Baker said.

Bienville WMA is managed primarily for older pines, but Baker said efforts have been made to create more large wildlife openings. That has paid off for deer hunters.

"Bienville produces some solid bucks," Baker said.

The best bet is to hunt transition zones.

"Hunters probably want to hunt on the edge of the thicker young stands (of pines), and catch deer moving out to where they're going to feed," Baker explained.

There also are hardwoods in streamside management zones, but Baker said the amount of hardwood acreage is limited.

Caney Creek WMA also can produce some quality deer, but despite the larger component of hardwoods on the property, Baker said there isn't as large a population as found on Bienville.

"It will produce some solid deer, but it hasn't produced the numbers that Bienville has," he said. "But there's still a lot of deer there."

That said, hunters last season scored a respectable average of one deer per 24 efforts with a total of 80 deer killed.

And this is one of the only WMAs on which more bucks than does were killed, with 45 antlered deer and 35 does taken.

Caney Creek also offers dog hunters an entire section of the property on which to enjoy the baying of deer during four separate hunts.

There also is some fair squirrel hunting available, although there are hold-over issues from Hurricane Katrina damage.

"It's a little bit thicker because of Katrina, but it's getting better each year," Baker said.

Tallahala WMA is pretty similar to Caney Creek, although deer hunters killed more deer (105) and enjoyed a better success ratio (21 efforts for each deer).

"It's managed in longer rotations, and there are more hardwoods in the bottoms," Baker explained.

Again, there are four splits during which use of deer dogs is allowed in a portion of the WMA.

The hardwood component also makes this a pretty good choice for squirrel hunters, he said.

Okatibbee WMA traditionally has been a squirrel-hunting mecca, with hardwoods harboring bushytails aplenty. However, that hasn't been the case since Hurricane Katrina pummeled the forests in 2005.

"Prior to Hurricane Katrina, our No. 1 activity was squirrel hunting," MDWFP's Jeff Mangrum said. "Since Katrina, squirrel hunting has plummeted. The hardwoods have been laid down pretty good, and it's hard to get around."

Of course, the resulting early successional growth isn't wholly a bad thing.

"The carrying capacity for deer is up," Mangrum explained.

However, there were only 23 deer killed on the property, primarily because the forests are broken up by human development.

"There aren't big, huge blocks of land where people can walk for miles and miles," he explained.

Deer hunting is limited to archery, shotguns and primitive weapons to ensure safety of nearby residents, Mangrum said.

The lake offers fair waterfowling opportunities, with woodies, mallards and teal making up most of the harvest.

Nanih Waiya WMA surrounds the Pearl River headwaters, and produced 49 deer last season. About the only real issue on this archery- and primitive weapons-only area is late-season access.

"It's got good ATV access until the river floods," Mangrum said. "After the river floods, usually in mid to late December, the access is by boat."

But there are plenty of deer to chase.

"The potential to see deer is high," Mangrum said. "You've just got to learn how to hunt the draws and funnels."

And, occasionally, a really fine buck will be taken.

"There's the potential for good, quality deer on the property," he said.

While squirrel hunters should find plenty of action, with last season's totals hitting 654, rabbit hunting is a bigger deal. In fact, managers were forced to institute a preseason draw system for the December, January and February hunts.

"People tend to hunt where we reforested, and there tends to be a lot of competition among the rabbit hunters, so we wanted to improve the quality of the hunt," Mangrum explained.

Each lottery winner can bring two guests along for the hunt.


West Central/Delta Region

WMAs: Stoneville, Sky Lake, Leroy Percy, Shipland, Twin Oaks, Lake George, Sunflower, Mahannah, Muscadine Farms, Howard Miller, Pearl River

Water has been the big issue this year on these 11 public tracts.

"On the very southernmost WMAs (Sunflower, Mahannah, Twin Oaks and Shipland), the water (from the high Mississippi River) covered most of those areas early," MDWFP's Jackie Fleeman said. "On the other WMAs, we didn't have enough water.

"One field would be too wet, and one field was too dry to do anything."

Mississippi River flooding always is a concern with those tracts of land lying in the lower Mississippi River Delta, and Fleeman said that always raises questions with the deer herd.

"Normally, the problem we have is losing (deer) fawns," he explained.

There also are some issues related to spring and early food-plot plantings, but Fleeman said the good news was that the water receded early enough this year that there should be minimal impacts on deer.

One of the big changes for the WMAs under Fleeman's watch is the opening of Sky Lake WMA near Belzoni.

"We've taken over about 3,500 acres from the Corps of Engineers, so we've got the acreage," he said. "Before, we hadn't even had the access to what we owned."

A majority of the 4,200 acres is planted in relatively young trees.

"They're anywhere from 5 to 10 years old, so they're mostly 8 to 12 or 14 feet tall," Fleeman said.

Rabbits will be the real star here.

"Sky Lake should compare with what Lake George was at it's best (when trees on that WMA were young), and they killed a lot of rabbits there," Fleeman said.

Quail hunters also should find enough action to keep them interested.

"I don't know exactly what the quail population is there, but the little bit of time I've spent there I've heard quail," Fleeman said. "So they're there."

The problem will be getting a shot.

"The trees and grass are pretty high," he explained. "It's huntable; it's just hard to hunt."

There's also a decent deer population on the property, but hunters will face the same problem facing quail hunters.

"It's going to be hard to find a tree to climb," Fleeman said. "It's pretty thick."

Hunters should note that the buck harvest is limited to those sporting racks with at least 15 inches inside spread or at least one main beam measuring at least 18 inches.

Waterfowl hunters will find expanded opportunities on several WMAs in this region, with draw hunts moving away from preseason draw hunts to include mostly early morning draws.

"With only preseason draws, we were having people not showing up," Fleeman said. "We would have less than 50 percent of the hunters drawn for hunts show up on the day of their hunts."

The solution on Mahannah, Muscadine Farms and Howard Miller WMAs is to allow hunters to just show up and participate in a draw for the majority of the waterfowl hunting units.

"We'll have five or six areas filled by preseason draw, and the remainder will be filled that morning," Fleeman said. "We're trying to give people a little chance to know they'll be hunting through the preseason draw, but still allow opportunities for walk-up hunting."

On Muscadine Farms, waterfowl units are converted catfish ponds managed for moist-soil food sources supplemented with plantings that provide cover for hunters. And hunters earning the right to hunt will have plenty of room to move around.

"Normally, each hunt unit is three or four catfish ponds, so the size of the unit is probably 40 acres," Fleeman said.

While mallards will fall into the ponds, Fleeman said teal will be the top species taken during these hunts.

Muscadine Farm's waterfowl management portion doubles this year to about 1,400 contiguous acres thanks to a corps purchase.

"This is all flooded fields," Fleeman said.

Teal and mallards should be the main players here.

Howard Miller WMA is totally dedicated to waterfowl hunting, with fields normally planted to optimize the opportunities for teal and mallards. This year those plantings were delayed because of flood waters.

"That was one of the areas that was a problem with the water, but it should be in good shape for the season," Fleeman said.

Twin Oaks also provides some limited duck hunting on a few green-tree reservoirs, with mallards and woodies being typical targets.

"They're small, but at times the hunting can be good," Fleeman said.

In addition to some waterfowling opportunities, Mahannah also provides limited deer hunts for most of the season.

"It's all draw hunts, except for January," Fleeman said. "January is bow-only, buck-only, and it's just come and hunt."

And when a buck is taken from the property, it's usually a good one, since regulations require at least a 16-inch inside spread or one main beam stretching at least 20 inches in length.

Twin Oaks deer hunters also are subject to a preseason draw for most of the season, but diverse hardwood stands support a healthy population.

"There's been timber harvest on that piece of property for years, so there's a lot browse on Twin Oaks," Fleeman said.

The best option for hunters who don't want to participate in a draw, however, is probably 60,000-acre Sunflower WMA.

Great habitat and plentiful feed trees combine to provide hunters with plenty of options, and Fleeman said hunting pressure usually isn't an issue.

"You get a burst of pressure early, and then the crowds are gone," he said.

Stoneville and Leroy Percy WMAs provide pretty good deer hunting, although they are on the small side. Stoneville is only 2,500 acres, while Leroy Percy holds less than 1,650 acres.

"They kill good deer in there, but they're small places," Fleeman explained. "They can get too many people real quick."

Because of the small sizes, hunting is limited to archery and primitive firearms outside of the Nov. 14-20 youth hunts.

Shipland WMA is another great deer-hunting choice, with the 3,500-acre area being composed almost solely of pecan stands providing important mast for deer.

Hunters on this WMA are limited to archery and primitive firearms.

Antler requirements on Twin Oaks, Stoneville, Leroy Percy, Sunflower and Shipland are upgraded from the statewide standards, with a minimum inside spread of 15 inches or a main-beam length of at least 18 inches.

Pearl River WMA on the banks of Ross Barnett Reservoir provides fair deer hunting, squirrel hunting and even some waterfowl opportunities.

"It kind of covers the gamut," Fleeman said. "It's not real good in any one kind of hunting, but there's fair hunting for all of those species."

Those really wanting to whack some squirrels can head back over to Sunflower, which provides some of the best chances of success in the region.

"The squirrel hunters hunt pretty much all year," Fleeman said. "It's usually pretty good hunting."


Southern region

WMAs: Copiah County, Sandy Creek, Caston Creek, Natchez State Park, Pascagoula River, Ward Bayou, Mason Creek, Chickasawhay, Wolf River, Leaf River, Little Biloxi, Theodore A. Mars Jr, Old River, Marion County, Red Creek

The July rains quickly greened up the habitat in this part of the state, and region manager Josh Moree was optimistic.

"There's really been no noticeable effect (of the drought) in the overall scheme," Moree said.

Deer hunting is the main attraction on Copiah County WMA, he said.

"They harvest some nice deer there, and it's really populated," Moree explained. "To be honest, it's overpopulated."

Hunters made 3,587 efforts there last season, killing 146 deer for an average of one deer per 24.5 efforts. That kind of success is beginning to attract more attention, which Moree welcomes.

"The word's getting out that folks are killing some deer there," he said.

Squirrel populations also are pretty healthy, and Moree said Copiah County offers the opportunity to hunt without bumping into others.

"Unfortunately, the population of small-game hunters is declining," he said. "There isn't a lot of squirrel hunting going on there."

Sandy Creek WMA also has a large deer herd, but Moree said there's a big difference in carrying capacity.

"It's got more hardwoods than pines," he explained.

It drew almost as much hunting pressure last year as Copiah County, but hunters took only 67 deer from Sandy Creek.

Squirrel hunting, however, should be great on this WMA.

"Squirrel hunting's pretty popular there because of those hardwoods," Moree said.

Dog hunters in the region can look to Caston Creek WMA to find ample opportunity to exercise their dogs.

"The biggest portion of the area is open to dog hunting," Moree said.

That's because Caston Creek is U.S. Forest Service property, and that agency is very dog-hunter friendly.

However, Moree said there is an area reserved for still hunters.

"We do provide for both user groups," he said.

Squirrel hunting on Caston Creek is minimal, but Moree said there can be some rabbits found despite the aggressive prescribed burning management plan.

"Even with prescribed burning, there are areas that aren't burned," he said. "That's where you can kill a few rabbits."

Natchez State Park WMA is unique in that it's popular among outdoorsmen of all stripes.

"There are fishermen, campers, hikers," Moree said.

To ensure the safety of all users, managers limit deer hunting to those selected during a preseason draw. Such limited entry increases the hunting quality, as last year's data show: 33 deer were killed during 361 hunter efforts for an average of just less than 11 efforts per deer.

"The potential for good deer is there," Moree said. "There usually are some nice deer taken from that place."

No other hunting is allowed on Natchez State Park WMA.

Rabbit hunters should take a hard look at Pascagoula River and Ward Bayou WMAs, which are managed as one unit.

"The rabbits are really abundant due to the thickets allowed by trees being downed during Hurricane Katrina," Moree said.

Both properties are almost entirely hardwoods, and that means there are definitely deer on the area. Moree said getting to them can be problematic, however.

"It's tough access, but deer hunting is good," he said. "A good portion (of the WMAs are) accessible by boat only."

That limits the number of deer killed, but not necessarily the pressure.

Pascagoula River WMA attracted 5,245 man days last season, while the smaller Ward Bayou hosted 1,342 hunter efforts. However, only 76 and 12 deer, respectively, were taken.

Moree also pointed out that dog-hunting opportunities exist on Pascagoula River and Ward Bayou WMAs

Squirrels on these WMAs took a beating during Hurricane Katrina, but Moree said there should be some decent opportunities this year.

"I think since (Katrina) the population's rebounded," he said. "I don't know that it's back to what it was before the hurricane, but it has come back."

Mason Creek WMA is a dog-hunters dream during two portions of the season.

"It's all open to dog hunting," Moree said.

He said there are a fair number of deer in the area, although it's far from overrun.

"The harvest is good, but it's lower than on a lot of other areas," Moree admitted.

Hunters killed 42 deer during 1,612 efforts last season for an average of 38 efforts per deer.

There are more wildlife openings on nearby Chickasawhay WMA, and that has increased carrying capacity for deer.

"The numbers are pretty good there," Moree said.

However, hunters struggled to kill 37 deer during 2,207 efforts last season.

"The harvest doesn't indicate the health of the deer herd," Moree said.

Chickasawhay is limited to still hunting, and has three bucks-only splits.

Squirrel and rabbit hunting opportunities are minimal.

Wolf River is another WMA for which the numbers don't really tell the full story. While deer hunters made 2,437 efforts for only 56 deer, Moree said what statistics don't show is the quality of bucks available.

"There are some nice deer taken from the area," he explained.

Squirrel hunting is limited to a few creek bottoms, but Moree said rabbit hunting can be good.

However, there are special regulations for all hunters entering the WMA.

"It's limited to the first 75 users," he explained.

For some reason, Leaf River WMA attracts a lot of attention from hunters.

"That's the most-popular area in the whole region," Moree said. "We had over 9,000 man days there last year."

Of that, 5,165 efforts came from deer hunters, who managed to take 71 deer.

"Deer harvest was higher there than on any other area in the region," Moree said. "There are some nice deer harvested every year, for that region."

Squirrel hunting also is more popular on Leaf River than on other areas, but Moree said it's still not great.

Ownership of Little Biloxi WMA is split by the state and a large timber company, and that provides a lot more diversity in habitat than on some other areas.

"Half of it is typical Forest Service forest, and the other half is more intensively managed for timber," Moree said. "There's going to be cutover pine plantations on one side and more mature pines on the other."

However, it's not one of the most popular WMAs.

"It has decent deer hunting for the region, but the man days and harvest is typically lower than other areas," Moree said.

Red Creek WMA is a larger area that does attract deer hunters, but its habitat is similar to Little Biloxi, and there aren't many deer killed there. Only eight deer were taken last year during 869 hunter efforts.

Theodore A. Mars Jr. WMA is a 900-acre tract located near Poplarville open for small-game and youth deer hunting only.

"It's a safety issue," Moree said of the limited availability.

Although only one deer was killed last year in 28 tries, Moree said the population seems to be decent.

"There are a good number of deer, judging by the sign," he said.

He hopes the property will provide quality hunting down the road.

"We're in the process of converting that area to longleaf pine, and that will allow us to do more prescribed burning," Moree said. "In the long run, that will improve the habitat."

Rabbit hunting is decent, providing those in the extreme southern end of the state some opportunities.

Old River WMA snaking along the Pearl River's eastern edge is another primarily hardwood forest, and that normally translates into good deer hunting. However, Moree said hunters there have struggled with moving around the property since Hurricane Katrina ripped right through that area.

"Access is pretty tough," he said. "There's definitely a lot of cover for wildlife and deer."

Despite the tangle of blowdowns, harvest has been on the increase since Katrina slammed many of the trees to the ground, and last year 25 deer were killed from Old River's forests.

Of course, the very tangle that makes deer hunting so difficult is a boon for the rabbit population.

Squirrel populations were really hurt during Katrina's wrath, but Moree said the numbers are increasing, and hunters should be able to find some success.

Marion County WMA has a decent deer population, with corresponding hunting opportunities.

"It should be decent," Moree said, pointing last year's average success ratio of 35 efforts per deer.

Bottoms running through the predominantly longleaf pines will hold a few squirrels, and rabbit hunters should be able to flush out decent numbers of hoppers.


For complete regulations, log onto www.mdwfp.com.