Mississippi’s first gun season for deer ends today, but for most hunters it is nothing more than a hiccup in their hunting plans.

The gun season, with dogs, closes 30 minutes after sunset, and the primitive weapon season begins Friday 30 minutes prior to sunrise and will continue statewide through Dec. 15.

However, Mississippi regulations allow hunters on private lands the choice of any weapon during the two-week primitive period, so many will continue to use their rifles and shotguns.

On public lands, only muzzle-loading or otherwise approved firearms will be allowed. The state’s department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks defines primitive weapons as:

“Single or double-barreled muzzleloading rifles of at least .38 caliber; OR single shot, breech loading, metallic cartridge rifles (.35 caliber or larger) and replicas, reproductions, or reintroductions of those type rifles with an exposed hammer; OR single or double-barreled muzzleloading shotguns, with single ball or slug. All muzzleloading primitive firearms must use black powder or a black powder substitute with percussion caps, #209 shotgun primers, or flintlock ignition. Telescopic sights are allowed while hunting with any primitive firearm during the primitive weapon seasons. A telescopic sight is defined as an optical sighting device with any magnification.”

For at least one hunter, the change has been bittersweet.

“I wasn’t in favor of the change when they first voted to allow weapons of choice on private lands,” said Phil Thomas of Jackson. He’s a longtime fan of muzzle-loaders, and has opposed each step the state has taken that he said cheapened the experience and tradition. “I didn’t favor scopes on muzzle-loaders, and I for darn sure was against calling any centerfire rifle primitive. So, yeah, I was opposed to this, too, until last year.”

Thomas explained that he was still using his old Hawken 50.cal during the primitive season, even when other members of his deer camp had purchased the 350 Whelans and other “primitive” centerfires and then regular rifles the last few years.

“I kept on keeping on,” he said. “Then last year on Dec. 6, I was hunting on the edge of this big field, on a hot trail. I wasn’t hunting the field per se, but I could see it and my grunts and rattlin’ pulled a buck off a hill into the far side of the field. It was 200 yards away and it wasn’t crossing that field.

“I could have shot it anytime in a 20 minute span with my .270 but not with the Hawken. I just sat there and watched a 160-inch 12-point mess around and walk off.”

How did he know it was a 160-incher?

“Because one of the other members shot him the next day with his rifle,” Thomas said. “Same buck. Same area. That’s when I put the muzzle-loader down and picked up the .270. You don’t know how tough that was for me.”

The sting and guilt he said he felt ended a few days later.

“I shot a nice 10-point, 145 inches, with my rifle at 175 yards,” he said. “I wish I could have killed it with the Hawken but I never would have gotten the chance. There was no way to set up on that buck or the first one within range.

“I can’t hunt Friday but Saturday morning I will be in a similar area and will have the .270. I’ve seen a good buck three times while I was hunting the early antlerless primitive season (mid November, does only), but he never stepped out in legal hours during the gun season. When he does, I’m going to make him pay.”