It begins with the roar of shotguns from a duck blind and will end with the sound of a sharp blast of a rifle from a deer stand.
In between has come the squeal of fishing line stripping from reels and laughter from sportsmen of all ages as they enjoy another year of outdoor adventures in Mississippi.
Welcome to 2017 — and a calendar filled with outdoor possibilities.
Although they cut holes in ice to fish up north in January while we usually need ice to keep our catch cool, our temperate climate allows for 12 months of sporting pleasure.
The author has enjoyed more than 40 years of hunting and fishing in the Magnolia State, and a joy it has surely been. It is from that experience — and with the input of other hunters and anglers — that we offer this yearlong look at the top adventures to be found in Mississippi.
Let’s get going.
January: Ducks, deer and crappie
Top choice — Duck season started in November and ran through December, just as always.
But let’s not kid ourselves: January is the peak time, and, if the migration holds true to course, it’s when the Delta fills with ducks.
“After Jan. 1, if the conditions are right, you start hearing shotgun blasts at sunrise and it comes from all around you,” said Madison’s Jacob Sartain, who hunts near Belzoni in Humphries County. “We have to pick and choose, and even plan when we’re going to shoot, but once we get a week deep into January all that goes out the window and we hunt whenever we can.
“That’s when the mallards are here in numbers.”
Available public opportunities are is plentiful, either through the federal Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex or the state’s wildlife management area system. But leasing land in the Delta also is big business.
Other options: Deer season is still open. While the peak rut might have passed in your area or may still be ahead for the southern third of the state, there’s plenty of time to get a trophy or fill the freezer.
But think it’s too cold to fish? Well, the fishing is as hot as it gets for crappie on the Mississippi River oxbows, so it’s worth all the extra clothes to chase the suspending fish at Chotard, Albermarle, Washington and Eagle.
February: Rabbits, crows and bass
Top choice — Ask Dr. Henry Jones of Kosciusko what he feels is the sweetest sound in the world, and he might even mimic one of his beagles in response.
“If the howls of beagles on the trail of a rabbit doesn’t soothe your soul and at the same time get your blood pumping, then there’s something wrong with you that can’t be fixed,” the veterinarian said. “Rabbit hunting is all the medicine you need to cure what ails you.”
Rabbit habitat — aka rabitat — varies throughout the state, but biologists say every county in the state has places where rabbits thrive.
CRP set-asides are great for several years, as are the edges of agricultural fields.
And thick creek bottoms hold the big swamp rabbits Jones loves so much.
Other options: While it might sound a bit off beat, crow hunting is one of the most fun ways to spend a cold, blustery February day.
Pecan orchards are great locations.
Most crow hunters rely on electronic — very loud and ear piercing — crow and owl fight calls to attract flocks of crows, while some have perfected calling on their own, communicating with the big black birds.
The action can be nonstop but it’s not easy: Crows are smart and have keen eyesight, so build a good blind and camouflage everything.
February is also a good time to break out the bass gear. They’ll be spawning in the southernmost counties and entering the pre-spawn in the rest of the state.
Bass will feed heavily on a warm stretch, so they will be at their heaviest.
Davis Lake near Houston is the top pick for pre-spawn action. Be sure to take shaky-head worms to tempt these fish.
Look to Lake Bill Waller and Lake Perry in the south to find bedding bass.
March: Bass, crappie and turkey
Top choice — If you were expecting turkey to be the No. 1 option, wait a month.
I always thought April was best for gobblers, which is good because March is time to look for pre-spawn bass on Barnett Reservoir.
And that means swimming lizards in shallow pad stems on the main lake.
“That’s what I did: swam a lizard in the pad stems on the Rankin County side,” said Ridgeland’s Gene Bishop, who won the Bassmaster Central Division Open on the lake in March 2015. “I watch the thermometer, and when the surface temp reaches 60 degrees, it’s time. It’s no secret, that’s what we do on Barnett.”
That can mean the peak period is in the middle of the day, which is what happened for Bishop during the Central Open. Bishop took control of the leaderboard by catching 47 pounds of his three-day stringer on the final two days.
Other options: Grenada Lake consistently ranks as the No. 1 crappie destination in the country, and March is a big reason why.
That is when the Grenada giants start stirring. Three-pounders are caught daily when the weather allows.
The pre-spawn pattern puts them on the move along main-lake points and creek channels.
Lake Washington is another good option, and trolling in 8 feet of water makes for a short day and a limit of big old good’uns.
And, yes, turkey season opens on the Ides of March (March 15), so get your calls gathered, pick your listening spots and hit the woods.
April: Turkey, crappie and more crappie
Top choice — All that work you did to chase stubborn gobblers in late March only to be beaten by hens starts to pay off in April.
This month is when turkey season gets crazy.
“Once the hens start going to nest and the gobblers have gotten used to having plenty of love around them, that’s when you can really concentrate on a the oldest and wiliest and hardest gobblers,” turkey-hunting legend Preston Pittman said. “That gobbler is used to having his pick of females, and suddenly they are gone.
“You can get his interest.”
Other options: The spawn is on, and the crappie are at their most vulnerable.
Fish the grass at Barnett Reservoir, or wade Sardis, Grenada, Arkabutla and Eagle — get you some of that action.
May: Bream, cobia and specks
Five months into the year and we haven’t been to the Gulf Coast yet. That ends now, but not before we talk about basic fishing at it’s finest — bedding bream.
“Give me an 11-foot B’n’M jig pole with an ultra-light spinning reel, a bobber and some crickets, and I’ll put on a fish fry that is second to none,” Canton’s Joe Watts said. “May, man — that’s when they hit the beds heavy and when we slaughter them.
“Big lakes, small lakes, all lakes: They’ve all got bedding areas and if you can see them, then you can smell them.”
Other options: Now we are southbound to the Gulf Coast for the cobia run.
“We get some of the cobia migrating in from Florida in April, but May is when it’s prime and when we can start chumming up the big sows on the shallow bars outside the barrier islands,” said cobia fanatic Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel of Whip-a-Snapa charters in Biloxi. “Usually, the first half of May is when we have the best chance of giants, and then later in May they move on out to offshore structure for the summer.”
If the cobia don’t wish to play or the weather makes it too difficult, the Gulf has another option.
“I love May for big speckled trout, either wading on the beaches or on the Katrina reefs,” Gulfport’s Phil Green said. “I can get in a couple of sunrise hours of wading before work, and I love to throw a topwater early and then bounce plastics.”
June: Redfish, snapper and noodling
Top choice — Back on the Gulf Coast, where we will be heading for a few months, it’s time to look for redfish.
“That’s when I start looking to make runs to the Biloxi Marsh because you can make a day of it, working the banks on a rising tide with spinnerbaits and grubs,” Green said. “On a falling tide, I look for drains where the water is pulling out of the ponds into bayous. They’ll stack there pretty good.”
But it’s important to note that a Louisiana license is required to fish the Biloxi Marsh.
Other options: In bigger boats — and in a short window whenever the federal fishery people allow — June is the time to plan at least one or two trips to the oil rigs for red snapper.
For a fish supposedly in short supply, they can be readily caught, so anglers can be choosey when it comes to the size they wish to keep.
Mangrove snapper limits are less restrictive and there is no closed season, so that’s another option and a challenge you’ll read more about soon.
Our last option is reserved for those brave souls who don’t mind going underwater and reaching into dark holes and fighting big, fat, tabby and blue cats by hand.
The grabbling season runs May 1 to July 15, but June is the best.
July: Mangroves, sharks and bulls
Top choice — Mangrove snapper, to me a more-tasty option to its red cousins, fill a big void and are more of a challenge for offshore fishermen than their more popular kin.
“They suspend, but sometimes are right on the surface — and they have keen eyesight,” Biloxi’s J.J. Reynolds said. “That makes them a challenge. If they see the line or any part of the hook, they are outta there.
“I chum with big cut pieces, and I match my bait to the chum — same size and shape — and I free-float my bait in the chum. I use braided line, but always with 5 to 6 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon line, and I bury the hook in the piece of chum. Any twitch of the line means a bite.”
Other options: Capt. Scott Simpson of Impulsive Charters in Long Beach frequently posts photos of customers online (captainscottsimpson.com) with sharks, and the summer is when it peaks.
You will also see a lot of smiles and big bull redfish.
“For a lot of customers, sharks are all they’re interested in, and that’s OK because they aren’t that hard to find — and some are good to eat, too,” Simposn said. “I guess the reason they want to catch them is the mystique about sharks.
“We can catch bull reds in close proximity, too.”
August: Gar and crappie
Top choice — I love offbeat fishing action, and late summer provides one of the weirdest angling options in the state: gar, using frayed rope for bait.
“You want the hottest, most-brutal days you can get, and fishing below the big dam in the lower lake at Sardis Reservoir even makes it feel worse,” said avid gar angler Mark Beason of Clinton. “Gar are tough fish, and they can handle the high surface temperatures and they can actually gulp air, which is their giveaway sign.
“You will see them when they come up, and then you throw that 6-inch piece of frayed rope in there, work it back and when they hit, they get those needle-like teeth all hung up in it. The more they fight, the more they get tangled. The more gar fray the rope, the more effective it becomes on the next fish.”
Other options: Dog days are great days for finding crappie on bigger lakes like Grenada, Sardis and Ross Barnett.
Grenada and Sardis offer great trolling on the main lake points, while Barnett is good for jigging deep structure and trolling the contours along the river channel.
September: Dove, teal and white bass
Top choice(s) — Wing shooters live for the arrival of dove season, and the first weekend of September — Labor Day — starts it off.
And later in the month, in some of the same Delta areas, teal are added to the list of targets.
“I love September, and I put in a lot of work to make sure it’s productive,” Jacob Sartain said. “I plant a lot of sunflowers to bring doves in, and we have great shoots throughout the month.
“I also manage some nearby converted catfish ponds into mixed shallow water and mud flats to attract blue-winged teal for the September teal season. The two together — teal in the morning and dove in the afternoon — is a special time.”
Other option: Another offbeat option is available in September: white bass along the Mississippi River when the water drops and exposes the tops of many dikes.
“When you find a dike right on the surface, there will be some low spots in it where the river tops it,” Ridgeland’s Sidney Montgomery said. “Those little breaks push current and baitfish through the openings, and the white bass will stack there.
“A small Bandit 200 crankbait or a grub on a jighead is all you need.”
October: Archery, squirrel and redfish
Top choice — When deer season is open in Mississippi, that’s where you have to start, and archery season opens Oct. 1 in most of the state (Oct. 15 in the Southeast Zone).
“Sometimes, like (2016), we get so dry we can’t get food plots up and green by October, so it’s important to find what and where bucks are eating, and identify where they are bedding,” archer Barrett Van Cleave of Woodville said. “Put stands up along the travel routes between the two and you have your best shot.
“Make sure you have stand options for any kind of wind so you can be ready for whichever way Mother Nature blows.”
Other options: Once Mississippi’s No. 1 hunting sport, squirrel hunting has declined as the state’s deer herd has expanded.
Yet, for many veteran hunters, it’s still No. 1.
“Stalking squirrels is still my favorite, because it requires good woodsmanship to be successful,” Tupelo’s Jerry Smith said. “I’ll hunt with a dog later in the season, when it’s cooler and the leaves are gone, but in October you just have to cover ground.”
Our fishing option this month is back on the coast along the southern shores of the barrier islands, where huge schools of bull redfish roam like wolf packs.
“Find a school, and you can follow it all day and wear yourself out,” Phil Green said. “I’ve always measured a fisherman’s want-to by how many big bull reds they are able to catch in a day before saying ‘uncle.’”
November: Deer, sheepshead and more deer
Top choice — Of course, deer is No. 1. The gun season opens for kids in early November and for everybody else on the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving.
The special early primitive weapon season also gives hunters a throw-back way to kill antlerless deer.
“This is such a big part of the economy in Mississippi,” said Van Allen, owner of Van’s Sporting Goods and Deer Processing. “It’s not just dealers like me, but also so many country stores and rural gas stations/convenience stores, and the state’s general fund.”
Other options: For fishermen, there’s plenty from which to choose, as bass and crappie are plentiful and feeding heavily for the winter months.
But my favorite fall trip is to the Coast involves fishing the bridge pilings in either Biloxi Bay or Bay St. Louis. That’s where sheepshead — great-tasting fish that are plentiful — are easily caught and they are often joined by black drum and redfish.
Of course, there’s always more deer hunting ….
December: The rut, spotted bass and Davis Lake
Top choice — Deer hunting hits its peak in December, when whitetails start the breeding process.
“I have places in the North Delta to hunt, and the bucks start chasing good in early to mid December,” said Columbia native Tommy Sutton, who recently relocated to Slidell, La. “But, honestly, my favorite time is mid-December in other areas of the state where I can physically work the rattlin’ horns and call the dominant bucks to me during the pre-rut period.
“About Christmas, the bucks start chasing everywhere.”
Other options: One of Mississippi’s best-kept secrets is the spotted bass action in December, and there are two areas you have to try.
The first is the upper river at Barnett Reservoir, as well as the spillway below its dam.
The other is the Tenn-Tom Waterway’s Bay Spring Pool, where you can often catch them 35 feet deep on points when it’s really, really cold, and then the immediate tailrace below the lock at the Bay Springs Dam.
A good way to end the year is planning a trip to Davis Lake along the Natchez Trace near Houston. Take some shaky-head rigs and 7-inch worms, and work them slowly around any deep structure you can find on electronics.
If you only get one bite, that’s OK — because it could produce the best Christmas present you’ll get.