The hunting terrain across North Mississippi is some of the most varied in the state. Hunters have an option of taking deer from the lower reaches of the Appalachians to the deep, rich soils along the Mississippi River.

There are plenty of hunting lands available, both private and public, with 17 WMAs open to hunting in either the Northwest or Northeast regions. These lands also produce plenty of quality deer. The Magnolia Deer Records Program database is loaded with bucks that were harvested in counties all across these two regions, including a 219-inch non-typical monster that was killed in Marshall County in 2006.

November brings the end of the regular bow season and the beginning of gun season across North Mississippi. With a number of options, including public or private land, rifle hunting or archery gear, hilly terrain or river bottom, hunters in North Mississippi have plenty of deer strategies to choose from.

Archery season
Lester Smith hails from Coldwater, and hunts private lands near his home. Two years ago, the veteran bowhunter arrowed a buck that measured just over 138 inches. Smith described his kill as a combination of luck and perseverance.

"My buddy and I had scouted this particular deer coming into a food plot earlier in the year before bowseason came in," he said. "We both planned to hunt it, me with a bow and my partner using a video camera."

Unfortunately, Smith was still recovering from a recent shoulder surgery, and after carefully hanging his stand near the entrance to the field that the big buck had been entering, missed the shot when he had to draw the bow and hold while waiting for the deer to offer a clean shot. After discussing the hunt with his partner and viewing the video several times, Smith decided he'd give the buck a couple days to settle down and try it again.

"We knew the deer hadn't seen us and just hoped that he wasn't too spooked by the missed shot," said Smith. "We returned to the same area, andgot back into our stands hoping for the best. Sure enough, the same deer came back, and this time, I redeemed myself with a 27-yard shot that anchored the buck within 80 yards of where he stood."

Smith credits his preseason scouting and attention to detail with being able to get not one but two shots with a bow at a trophy deer. By using binoculars to long-range scout open food plots, he was able to pattern this particular deer without having to stomp up its living room. He was also confident that his typical hunting routine had not alerted the deer to the presence of hunters.

"Deer tend to use the same trails when they enter and exit a feeding area," he said. "We decided to hang our stands downwind of the place he entered the field and place the stands far enough inside the wood line to give us cover and still have a shot within 35 yards of where the deer was walking the edge of the field."

One of Smith's secrets is to never let hunters spook deer on the property he is hunting. With vast acres of planted fields, it isn't unusual to have deer still standing near his stand when darkness falls and evening hunts are over. While many hunters would simply start climbing down and run the deer off, Smith relies on another tactic.

"We communicate by radio, and whoever can get down first will drive a four-wheeler to the other hunter's locations and bust the hunters out," said Smith. "Four-wheelers are used on our property year round to maintain the property and refill feeders. Deer are not alarmed by the sound of an approaching four-wheeler because they're used to it. Once they file out of the field, then the hunter can climb down, and the deer never know they were that close to a hunter."

Hunting invisibly
Two other tactics that Smith has found to help him remain invisible while getting close to big bucks is a near religious attention to remaining scent-free and placing his bow stand where he can make the most of available cover. The hunter dons himself in camouflaged Scent-Lok clothing before heading out into the woods, and is careful to remove any scent he may pick up by spraying down with scent-removing products before the hunt.

"I also have a certain type tree I prefer to hunt from," he said. "I want a straight tree like a pine that has smaller trees - cedars or some other leafy tree cover that has grown up maybe 12 to 15 feet around the tree I'm in. This way if the deer looks up, I'm hidden by the ground cover.

"Another tip is to find a tree that gives me a view both well into the food plot and also allows me see a ways down the trail leading to the field. Smaller bucks may come right out into a food plot, but as the season progresses, bigger bucks will hang back along the trail waiting until full dark, and you may not get a shot at him in the field at all."

Gun season
Veteran deer hunter and master taxidermist Jody Shults changes his tactics completely when bow season gives way over to firearms. He describes his bow tactics as entirely tree-based, but prefers to get on the ground to stalk big bucks when gun season comes in.

"We'll have a pre-rut season here in North Mississippi a few weeks before the full rut kicks in during the middle of December," he said. "That's the time you want to be paying close attention to places you find does, and you can even get on the ground to do some rattling and grunting to get the bucks stirred up."

Shults recommends finding food sources away from heavily pressured areas, and waiting on does to file in. As a former public-land guide, he found that much of the access to public land was blocked by private lands. One of the best access methods was from areas that bordered property owned by the Corps of Engineers. This often meant land adjacent to public lakes or waterways.

"Usually the lakes are drawn down for the winter, and you can ride an ATV from a public launch site to get to the public land areas that border Sardis Lake, Arkabutla or Enid. If the water was still up, then using a boat to get back into those areas works well," said Shults. "You not only have a quiet way to slip up on the hunting area; you also have a ride to get deer out if you kill something."

Once in an area he wants to hunt, Shults keys on acorn crops, as well as green briar, honeysuckle or kudzu patches to find deer. Once he finds the food sources that does are using, it's just a matter of staying downwind in a good ground vantage point to see if a buck shows up. Often, as November winds down and bucks get frisky, he'll take the hunt to them.

Turkey tactics
"Most hunters think rattling is only something that works in big open areas like Texas or Montana," said Shults. "I'll rattle for bucks once the conditions get right, but I'd prefer to do it in tighter areas where I have a better chance of seeing the deer before he sees me. I only want to be able to see about 50 yards around me when I start rattling. That way I can tell more about what a buck is doing.

"If he runs and goes the other way, it was probably a smaller buck. A good buck will often charge right in and start pawing around and rubbing trees, or a smarter one may circle around and try to get in behind the rattling sound."

Shults suggests that North Mississippi deer hunters forget the big plastic rattling antlers made for deer hunters and go with a real set of horns that came off of a smaller-racked deer. He prefers something that had a 12- to 15-inch spread, and sported a smaller 6- or 8-point rack. He believes a buck responds better to a smaller deer that invades its territory than a monster, and that bucks judge the size of the invading deer by the sound produced by its rattling antlers.

"It's very similar to turkey hunting," he said. "I'll sit down next to a tree wearing a 3-D leafy camo suit and start rattling the horns, thrashing the bushes and pounding the ground next to me to make it sound like hoof beats. Then I'll wait a couple of minutes, and do it again. If nothing shows up, I'll pick up and stalk into another area where I can get a change of scenery and start all over.

"It usually doesn't take long if you're in an area where deer are located," he said. "I've had small bucks come in just to watch a fight and does come in out of curiosity. If a deer I don't intend to shoot comes within sight, I just sit still and hope that a big buck will come in and transfer his attention to the other deer. That gives me time to get my gun up."