A year ago in the March, 2016 installment of Happy Trails I announced that the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) reported in their annual Whitetail Report that Mississippi had been deemed No. 1 in the entire country for mature buck harvest. I mean really, in the world of whitetail deer hunting, being No. 1 overall in such a category is a big, big deal. The initial honor that I reported on a year ago was based on harvest information from the 2014 season (technically the 2014/2015 deer season).

Well guys and gals, we’ve done it again. For two consecutive years now Mississippi’s percentage of buck harvest for bucks being 3 ½ years old or older is best in the entire country. For the 2015 season (technically the 2015/2016 deer season), the QDMA report reveals that 77 percent of the bucks harvested in Mississippi were aged at least 3 ½ years old or older. To me that fact is an eye-popping revelation, and indicates that for the most part, deer hunters in Mississippi are passing on marginally legal deer from the standpoint of minimum antler size standards, in favor of older, more mature deer. In other words, they aren’t always shooting the first legal buck that they see.

The QDMA’s data for Mississippi came right out of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks annual collection of deer harvest data. This annual data comes from several sources, such as private lands participating in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges, and at least one military base. 

The main driving force behind Mississippi instituting minimum antler size harvest criteria several years ago was protection of 1 ½ year old bucks. This would suggest to the casual observer that protection of 1 ½ year olds would most likely result in the overall buck harvest being skewed toward harvesting mainly 2 ½ year old bucks, but the data suggests otherwise. The 2014 data showed that 13 percent of the buck harvest fell into that age classification, but in 2015 the projected 2 ½ year old portion of the harvest actually decreased even further to only 9 percent. This all speaks volumes about changing attitudes in the ranks of hunters and also about the hard work and dedication of the professionals in the MDWFP.

Looking at the nation as a whole, QDMA received age structure data from 24 state agencies. Across these 24 states, the average percentage of the antlered buck harvest that was 3 ½ years and older was 35 percent in 2015. To quote the latest QDMA report, “This is the highest percentage of 3 ½-year-old or older bucks ever reported, and it is way higher than the combined percentage of yearlings and 2 ½-year-olds harvested! This is a testament to how far we’ve come as hunters and deer managers. This particular statistic ranged from 17 percent in Wisconsin to 77 percent in Mississippi.” My chest continues to swell with pride as I point out that of the Top-5 States with the highest percentage of 3 ½-plus bucks in the buck harvest for the 2015 season, Mississippi was number one with 77 percent, and Louisiana was No. 4 with 67 percent. 

QDMA also acquired the age structure of the antlerless harvest data for most states. Looking first at fawn harvest, QDMA reported that individually Texas (1 percent) shot the fewest fawns and Ohio (39 percent) shot the most. I am completely dumbfounded by this later statistic! Are you kidding me? Of the overall deer harvest, four out of 10 anterless deer harvested in Ohio were fawns. Thanks given that I live and hunt in the Deep South! I will now shout out the following: Of the five states with the lowest percentage of fawns in the antlerless harvest in 2015, Mississippi was fourth lowest with 7 percent, and Louisiana was fifth lowest at 11 percent. 

In Mississippi, regarding the estimated anterless deer harvest during the period of 2010 – 2014, the average projected harvest totaled 147,312. The state of Louisiana averaged an estimated 65,085 anterless deer during the same time period. Also during the 2015 season, the harvest ratio in Mississippi calculated to be 1.3 anterless deer for every 1.0 antlered deer. 

Interesting tidbits of data just keep coming from the annual deer report. According to the QDMA, “Ten to 11 million hunters pursue deer annually, and they spend nearly 168 million days afield doing so.” That’s a whole lot of voters when it comes to protecting the sport of hunting and our collective Second Amendment rights at the ballot box. Take a look at this. Of the states with the highest number of days afield per deer hunter per year, Mississippian’s and Louisianan’s average 26 and 20 days respectively. Blessed beyond measure!