The hunting terrain across northern Mississippi is some of the most varied in the state, giving hunters opportunities to take deer from the lower reaches of the Appalachians to the deep rich Delta soils along the Mississippi River.
Plenty of hunting land is available, both private and public, with 17 Wildlife Management Areas open to hunting in either the Northwest or Northeast Regions.
These lands also produce quality deer. The Magnolia Deer Records Program database is loaded with deer 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.
The month of December begins with the final day of the first regular gun season (ends Dec. 1), then changes to primitive weapons (Dec. 2-15), but primitive weapons are only required on public land. Private land hunters can use weapon of choice. Regular guns return on Dec. 16 for the rest of the month, and, of course, archery hunting is allowed during any open season.
Because deer rut earlier in North Mississippi than any other areas of the state, hunters in the region have plenty pre-rut and rut strategies to choose from this month.
As December arrives, most hunters are still keying on food sources to find deer. Planted food plots, feeder locations, and natural browse sources such as green briar, honeysuckle, and kudzu, as well as hard-mast crops like acorns, will draw deer.
It’s also time to start paying attention to does which will be the source of interest for bucks the closer the rut gets, depending on location, sometime in December.
With all these variables in mind, let’s take a look at a few mainstream and some not-so-mainstream deer hunting strategies that will produce a wall hanger during the final states of the pre-rut.
Staying ‘bowed’ up
Even though many hunters put the bow back in the case once gun season starts, archery hunters should periodically practice with a bow throughout the season if they plan to shoot them again. Matthews Archery pro Doug Goins said he couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of keeping your skills and the bows settings in tact.
Changing climate over the course of the fall and into winter not only restricts your movements because of heavier clothing, it can also make the components of the weapon a little stiffer.
Also gone is the foliage that allowed the archer to draw behind the cover of leaves that have now fallen to the ground.
“The act of shooting the bow creates tremendous vibration through the weapon, and it needs to be periodically checked, re-aligned, and tightened, throughout the season,” said Goins. “This is especially true if you hunt the entire length of deer season with archery tackle where changing environmental conditions can add to the dilemma.”
In-depth topographical maps and aerial photography give hunters the benefit of scouting without ever setting food on a piece of property. Numerous Internet cartographers offer close-range detail maps as well as photographs in high resolution.
Armed with any of these, a hunter can narrow his “field scouting” down to just a few hours, even after the season has opened.
“First I’d obtain an aerial photo of the land I intended to hunt,” said Goins. “I want to see how the land lays. I’m looking for draws, bedding areas and feeding areas. Then I want to find travel corridors that run between these two locations.
“Once I’ve marked likely bedding, feeding and travel routes on the map, I’m going to look for choke points. These are fingers of trees or funnel areas where I can put a stand, and know the deer will have to walk by these locations traveling from one area to the other.”
Food source strategies
Planted food plots are going to come into favor his month as acorns become scarce. Lafayette County deer hunter Steve Wilson said if you planted food plots during the summer or early fall, you already know what’s in there. Hopefully you planted a variety of greenery that will ripen and be attractive to deer late season.
“By December peas are gone, clover is gone; that’s why you want to make sure you plant your grains like wheat, oats, and rye grass,” Wilson said. “Other than food plots there are also a couple of options, both natural and manmade that can help you find deer.”
Most hunters think of acorns as an early season food source, but deer continue seeking out acorns through the end of the year because acorns provide a lot of high energy fat that they need.
By December, the species of oaks in an area really doesn’t much matter. Wilson said white oaks and red oaks will have been on the ground the longest and may have rotted, but smaller acorns like water oaks and pin oaks will stick to trees longer and fall later in the season.
“I would bet that somewhere, hidden in one of the long forgotten areas of your property, is a water oak tree or two that’s still dropping. It’s probably right in the middle of some really thick cover, but you figure out how to get in there and hunt it and you’ll be surprised what you see,” he said.
Choose your targets
With regard to a deer for the wall, much emphasis is placed on antler size when the deer is in the crosshairs and after it’s on the ground. When it comes to selecting a trophy-class deer on the hoof, Natchez outfitter Bruce Heard, president of Independence Land Company, said that antler size is one of the least determining factors.
After a buck has passed the management benchmark ages of 3½ and 4½ years, body features are how land managers determine a buck’s age.
“Most hunters and land managers never take the time to learn body types to age deer,” said Heard. “They simply look at headgear to make the distinction of whether or not that deer is going to walk or be shot on that particular day.”
Watch the weather
Quitman County’s Earl Parrott, who spends as much time as possible during the fall hunting areas along the Mississippi River, suggests that hunters should abandon their normal daylight to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to dark hunting times, and instead pattern December deer based on the weather.
“The weather here may not get all that extreme in December but we often get an early cold front that will bring temperatures down below freezing for several days,” Parrott said. “If that happens, my experience is that deer will stay bedded down at night, especially if the wind gets up. After a day or so of really cold temps, deer will get up and move to the closest food during the middle of the day. He may not have to go more than a few hundred yards, but he’s out in the open and that’s when it’s up to you to be ready.”
During these weather patterns, Parrott will stay in the stand all day or go into the stand late and hunt through the middle part of the day. Another option on cold frosty nights is to slip quietly into a stand well before daylight and hope to catch deer moving back into bedding areas after they’ve fed at night. That was the situation last season when he scored his best deer of the season, a 10 pointer of record-book proportions.
Public-land hunters might not have the luxury of food plots, so being able to identify natural browses that ripen during the late season and attract deer becomes important.
This broad category of late-season browse includes things like poplar buds, hemlock branches, multi-floral rose, and maple saplings. In areas with limited farming activity, browse makes up the majority of a deer’s late season diet. Fortunately, browse is typically hidden inside overhead cover, so deer will not be as reluctant to visit browse patches during daylight as they would a food plot.
Most hunters think about hunting from trees, but never over fallen trees as a food source. Carl Camden, a retired logger and avid deer hunter from Tippah County said a single fallen tree could provide a lot of nutrients to a deer.
“When I’m scouting during the month, I look for areas where trees have fallen from wind damage or recent logging activity,” said Camden. “You will find trails coming in and out of these areas that let you know where to locate your stand to increase your chances of seeing a good December buck.”