Josh Clark spotted the massive buck working his way toward his stand, and, more importantly, toward the business end of his cocked-and-ready .35 Whelen rifle.
The hunter squeezed the trigger and the rifle roared, resulting in a kill that provides undeniable evidence that trophy bucks can be taken on public land in Mississippi.
By any definition of trophy bucks, this Clark’s certainly was, with an 18-point rocking chair rack with a 19-inch spread. Its 26-inch main beams were anchored by 6½-inch bases. The initial green score was 205 inches.
Killed on Dec. 14, 2016, on the final day of the primitive weapon season at the Canemount Wildlife Management Area, it is one of the largest bucks ever taken on public land in Mississippi.
Clark, from Tishomingo County in the northeast corner of the state, had traveled to Claiborne County in the southwest corner, after being drawn for the highly sought-after hunt on the WMA.
Harvesting such a buck on public land was unheard of not too long ago. With increased antler restrictions, hunter support for harvesting older age class bucks, and good genetics, the game has changed for public land hunters. If last year was any indication of things to come then public land WMA hunters should have another banner year for harvesting lots of deer and other wild animals.
Many WMAs around the state offer excellent opportunities to harvest quality bucks and maybe even the buck of a lifetime. If you’re looking for the best area to harvest a deer, duck, rabbit, squirrel, or hog, there’s sure to be a WMA somewhere near your home that will give you that opportunity.
Here’s a regional look at what the WMAs offer.
This year the Delta Region was combined into one management region whereas it was formerly broken into the North Delta and South Delta. Roger Tankesly will be the WMA regional Biologist and have responsibility for the 14 WMAs that are currently listed in the region going into this season.
Malmaison WMA is now a part of the Northwest Region.
The Delta Region is crown jewel of the WMA system due to a variety of factors, but first and foremost due to the rich black alluvial soil, and to the waterfowl opportunities. The Delta has the rich minerals that grow big deer. Always a producer of trophy bucks, the region has only improved as quality deer management techniques have intensified.
“Mahannah, Twin Oaks and Sky Lake are the top three draw areas for deer hunting in this region,” Tankesly said. “Hunters have been very successful at harvesting quality bucks from these areas.”
Mahannah is in Issaquena and Warren Counties near Redwood and has 12,912 acres of land to hunt, and to hunt it during the peak period first requires harvesting a doe.
“Successful hunters who harvest a doe in our earlier deer seasons have an opportunity to be drawn for a buck-only hunt held the last two weeks of December,” Tankesly said. “Hunters have been very successful in harvesting quality bucks during that hunt. The bucks are usually rutting then and if the weather is right there will be a lot of buck activity during the daylight hours and that usually means that hunters will have increased opportunities for harvesting a quality older buck.
“Last year 93 bucks were killed on the WMA and 60 were 3-years old or older. We really want to protect the 3-year-old bucks and we’re doing that on Mahannah and we’re getting some really good bucks here now. Last year there was a 7.5-year-old 8-point killed here that weighed 230 pounds had 5¼ -inch bases, 21.9-inch main beams and was 18 inches wide.”
Special buck tags are also issued to some hunters on Mahannah to control inferior bucks. The tags are for bucks that have at least one unforked antler.
“Hunters killed deer from 3.5 years of age to 7.5 years old with typical scores of 125 to 135 B&C with a handful of 140s taken too,” Tankesly said.
Sky Lake has 5,060 acres of prime deer hunting habitat near Belzoni in Humphreys and Leflore counties, and according to Tankesly, “has great deer hunting and the 3- to 4-year-old bucks are nice.”
Not all of the Delta’s WMAs require draws to enjoy quality hunting.
“O’Keefe WMA is in Quitman County near Lambert and has about 6,000 acres of land, and it’s relatively small but it’s open to hunters with no draw,” Tankesley said. “It’s been producing some high quality bucks and shouldn’t be overlooked.”
The Massive Sunflower WMA on the Delta National Forest is in Sharkey County near Rolling Fork and has 62,000 acres of prime hunting land with bottomland hardwoods, thickets and sloughs.
“We’ve had a lot of flooding in the area and we’ve cut back on the doe harvest so we should see more deer this year,” Tankesly said. “We’ve been cutting timber and doing some habitat improvement.”
Lake George WMA has 8,200 acres in Yazoo County near Holly Bluff. Although this area is hard to hunt, the population is on the increase according to Tankesly. Last year, 48 bucks were harvested on the WMA with 26 being 3.5 years of age or older. Astonishingly, eight of the bucks harvested were 5.5 or 6.5 years old — at that age in the Delta there’s a great chance they’ll be the buck of a lifetime for some fortunate hunter.
“Hunters kill a couple of 300 pounders on this WMA every year and if a buck lives three years he’s going to be a good buck,” Tankesly said. “An old mature buck will generally weigh about 275 pounds and be an 8-, 10- or 12-point bruiser. The habitat allows them to grow old and we’re not overhunting it but you do have to deal with increased hunting pressure around the holidays and weekends.”
High hunter pressure makes the bucks go nocturnal and they only move at night. Cameras placed on scrape lines on the WMA show bucks working the scrape lines only at night with no daytime activity. Tankesly said that most of the hunting pressure comes around the food plots and roads, so hunters that work a little harder and put their time in may have an edge in harvesting one of the old monarchs when the pressure ramps up.
Two of the smallest Delta WMAs, Shipland at 3,700 acres in Issaquena County near Mayersville, and Stoneville at 2,500 acres in Washington County near Leland, produce good bucks, too.
“Shipland is hard to get to and difficult to deer hunt but it’s a good place to hunt,” Tankesly said. “While it can get overcrowded with hunters at times, there’s usually 10 to 15 wall hangers killed here every year.”
“The deer they kill at Stoneville are good deer. It’s surrounded by soybeans and has everything you need to grow a quality buck. You could walk out there and hunt the place for the first time without ever seeing it before and kill a really good buck.”
“Mahannah and Twin Oaks are open every Saturday for squirrel hunting except during special youth deer hunts,” Tankesly said. “Hunters should always check the local WMA seasons and regulations before going hunting but there’s usually a place nearby to squirrel hunt if you show up and find out at the last minute that a deer hunt is taking place.
“Sunflower WMA is not too far away and it’s open to some excellent squirrel hunting as well. In fact, if I was going to take my family squirrel hunting, my wife and kids, I’d go to Sunflower.”
Squirrel hunters have an opportunity for a Delta triple: black, red and grey squirrels all in the same bag. It is the Delta red squirrel in a black phase that is the most rare squirrel in the state, making it a trophy for most hunters. They are only found in the counties that border the Mississippi River.
“Leroy Percy and O’Keefe are both good squirrel hunting WMAs,” said Tankesly. “O’Keefe has got a lot of squirrels and there’s a lot of people that hunt it regularly and harvest a lot of squirrels too.
It’s no secret that the best duck hunting in the state is found in the Delta and the Delta WMAs are smack dab in the middle of some of the best duck hunting in the whole world. They offer ample opportunities for hunters to quench their thirst — and taste — for waterfowl.
“Mahannah, Howard Miller and Muscadine Farms are draw areas with standby hunting,” Tankesly said. “If some of the draw hunters aren’t here then standby hunters can have an opportunity, and they usually get a chance to hunt. The only time standby hunters are usually left out is doing the busy season around the holidays and New Year’s. Otherwise, there’s a great opportunity to fill in for somebody who didn’t show up.”
Charlie Capps and Indianola WMAs are draw only with no standby and they have really good hunts.
“Capps has the best habitat we have for ducks anywhere in the Delta,” said Tankesly. “We have six units to draw from and we really need everybody to hunt there to keep the ducks moving. If hunters are not in some of the units the ducks may fly there and not move any more.”
“O’Keefe and Twin Oaks WMAs are also pretty good areas as O’Keefe has farm management on it and we have moist soil areas along with Greentree areas that water is pumped into. Sunflower is open every day so we have it set up where you can drive somewhere and have a place to hunt if you don’t make a standby hunt,” Tankesly said. “Sunflower has cypress sloughs throughout, as well as some openings maintained for waterfowl.”
“Mahannah and a lot of the Delta is chock full of hogs,” Tankesly said, adding that the WMAs are home to plenty. “They’re a nuisance and destroy a lot of habitat so we encourage hunters to take them if they get an opportunity.”
While many hunters don’t want to shoot a hog and spoil their Delta deer hunt, others relish the chance. Pigs do make some of the finest sausage known to man. They also provide tender, succulent pork chops that are tasty indeed.
The biologist cautions that when hunting late afternoon or early morning on any of the Delta WMA’s, especially around Mahannah, it is possible that hunters can encounter bears. Killing one is against the law.
“While Mahannah has plenty of hogs we’ve also got a lot of bears,” Tankesly said. “Hunters must identify their target and don’t automatically assume that a dark object that comes out late in the afternoon is a pig, because it could be a bear. We’ve documented 10 to 15 sows and cubs in the area so there’s a good possibility that you may see a bear while hunting.”
East Central Region
“We have a lot of different opportunities in the East Central WMA region,” said Chad Masley, WMA Regional biologist. “The draw opportunities like Black Prairie WMA give hunters a better chance to harvest a quality deer but the other WMAs in the region give you a great opportunity to harvest a deer. Going into this fall hunting season we’ve made a lot of habitat improvements and we’re looking for a good quality season as a result.”
Black Prairie WMA in Lowndes County near Brooksville is a draw-hunt-only unit managed for quality bucks, and it has produced quality bucks for many years. The best last year was a 195-pound, 10-point. Hunters fortunate enough to get drawn have the opportunity to harvest the buck of a lifetime if he or she is willing to put in the time to scout and find the right places to hunt. Black Prairie has 6,000 acres consisting of hardwood, pine, grown up fields and agricultural land producing a diverse habitat that gives deer plenty of browse and bedding areas. If you spend time scouting out fields and learning the travel corridors, trails and food sources you should be able to get a shot at a deer.
Masley said that Choctaw and John Starr WMAs are best bets for simply killing a deer in the region, and Nanih Waiya is right there with them in terms of harvest numbers.
Choctaw WMA is in Choctaw and Winston Counties near Ackerman and has 24,314 acres of land with lots of mature hardwoods, pines, and open forest terrain. Last year, 29 bucks and 32 does were harvested on the WMA.
John W. Starr WMA is in Oktibbeha and Winston Counties near Starkville and has 8,244 acres with similar hunting land. Last year it produced 17 bucks and 19 does.
Although Trim Cane is managed primarily for waterfowl, the WMA has 4 wheelchair accessible deer stands available on a draw basis, with two reserved for handicapped hunters and two for youth hunters each Saturday.
“We draw on Saturdays during deer season and we’ve had success on them,” Masley said. “I’ve been supervising this WMA for about nine years and last year a handicapped hunter killed the biggest deer harvested during that time. They killed a really good deer, a 16-pointer.”
Two WMAs offer some good waterfowl hunting.
“Trim Cane WMA in Oktibbeha County near Starkville is the best bet for waterfowl,” Masley said. “It all depends on the rainfall as we don’t pump water into the impoundments, but it’s a great duck hunting opportunity if we get adequate rainfall. You (don’t find) many duck hunting opportunities like this in East Central Mississippi”
“We plant something every year and we plant several waterfowl impoundments and manipulate them every year. If the rain comes the feed will be there for the ducks.”
Nanih Waiya along the Pearl River is the region’s other waterfowl-producing WMA, with the ducks found along the river and beaver sloughs adjacent to it.
“Yockanookany WMA near Kosciusko is a good place to squirrel hunt with all but 60 of the 2,400 acres populated in bottomland hardwood trees with plenty of acorns for squirrels,” Masley said. “There’s quite a few hunters who take advantage of the good squirrel hunting here and they harvest a lot of squirrels. As long as the river is not flooded hunters should have excellent squirrel hunting.”
Masley said rabbit hunters have an excellent opportunity at Trim Cane, where draws are held for hunts.
Black Prairie WMA puts on a special youth dove hunt on the opening day of the season.
“We have a good youth hunt on Sept. 4 and it’s open to the first 50 kids who show up on a first-come, first-serve basis,” Masley said. “We’ll feed them lunch and then have a skeet shoot with safety instructions, and then we’ll hunt doves that afternoon. It’s a good opportunity for the kids to enjoy being outdoors and experience good dove hunting action as well.”
Masley said Yockanookany WMA has an opening day dove hunt that is open to all hunters with a 20-acre sunflower field to hunt.
Located near Port Gibson, Canemount WMA has approximately 3,500 acres in the Loess Bluffs of Claiborne County near the Mississippi River. This WMA has very fertile topsoil with upland and bottomland hardwoods offering plenty of mast throughout the WMA. Kudzu is plentiful and the deer use it for cover and browse in late summer. Hunting Canemount WMA is a totally unique hunting experience compared to other WMAs, and is the top deer hunting destination in the region for hunters wanting to harvest a trophy buck.
“Hunting at Canemount is more like a private land hunting experience,” biologist Josh Moree said, referring to the WMAs draw hunting opportunities. Limiting it to a draw hunt insures a good future.
“Most of the mature bucks that are at least 4 years old or older weigh 200 or more pounds,” he said. “We had an 8-point buck killed during archery season last October that was 7.5 years old and weighed 205 pounds. And the Josh Clark buck was a 6.5-years-old deer that weighed 200 pounds.”
Canemount is comprised of six draw units with two hunters drawn for each unit for each hunt. Although the permit fee is $300, it’s a small price to pay for a chance to harvest a trophy buck. The Canemount property has a long history of trophy deer management as the previous owner was on the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) to facilitate quality deer management. No doubt their efforts paid off and is still yielding dividends.
Last year, 22 bucks were harvested on the WMA with minimum antler criteria set at 16-inch inside spread or a 20-inch main beam.
“The prime rutting time at Canemount is from around Christmas through the first of January,” Moree said.
“County Copiah WMA near Hazlehurst in Copiah County is traditionally the second best area to hunt in this region,” Moree said. “The area grows good deer and it’s not a draw unit, but there’s a good chance to harvest a quality buck.”
Last year, there were 37 bucks harvested at the WMA and 22 of them were at least 3 years old, with the oldest being an 8.5-year-old buck. There were also a couple of 5.5-year-old bucks harvested averaging 10 points and 185 pounds.
Though located in central Mississippi near Forest, Bienville WMA, Caney Creek WMA and Tallahala WMA are now included in the Southwest Region for management purposes. These three WMAs are all open to deer hunting with dogs, making them a popular destination for hunters who prefer the thrill of the chase and hearing the dogs pack together and push the deer by standers. There’s nothing quite as exciting as hearing a pack of hounds bringing a buck towards you during a cold winter morning when nothing’s moving or feeding.
Although the deer are generally not as big as the ones in the Delta WMAs, there are plenty, and offer excellent opportunities to harvest a legal buck.
Though not a region noted for duck numbers, the Pearl River WMA near the upper end of Ross Barnett Reservoir on the west side of the Pearl River offers an excellent chance for youth waterfowl hunting by special permit only. The reservoir waters adjacent to the WMA also provide excellent waterfowl opportunities for hunters of all ages.
“Sandy Creek is one of the best squirrel hunting areas in this region,” Moree said. “With 16,407 acres, the area is large enough for the hunters to spread out and hunt squirrels. Canemount also has limited squirrel hunting in February with a maximum of 2 hunters per unit allowed per day.”
Although the sandy soil doesn’t promote the quality deer that other areas of the state do, the Southeast does have ample opportunities to harvest a deer, and, on some WMAs, opportunities to harvest a good quality buck. However, doe opportunities are slim.
“One significant change in this region this year is that doe harvest will be restricted to archery season only (on WMAs) and after the gun season opens that’s it for harvesting does,” said Nathan Blount, the Southeast Region WMA biologist. “Some people were worried about deer sightings and deer numbers being down, so we cut back on the doe harvest this year.
“A lot of our bucks are harvested from mid-January through February when the rut is going on and hunters will have increased opportunities to harvest a buck during that prime time if they hunt through the end of the season in this region.”
“If you’re looking for a quality buck then Old River and Pascagoula WMAs are your best bets,” Blount said. “Old River WMA is adjacent to the Pearl River and there’s 15,000 acres of hunting property there.”
Old River’s difficult terrain and thick cover, bucks can survive a little longer and reach maturity, and that means more quality deer are being grown.
“Last year we had a couple deer killed that weighed nearly 200 pounds with one weighing in at 190 and one at 200,” said Blount.
The 37,000-acre Pascagoula River WMA in George and Jackson Counties near Lucedale is another popular WMA that’s a little better than average for producing older and quality bucks.
“The river bottom soil is a little better than most of the soil in this region and some of the deer are living longer, which allows them to grow and mature,” Blount said. “Last year a hunter killed a heavy-horned 10-point buck here on opening day that had 20-inch main beams and 5-inch bases.”
The Southeast has two of the most utilized WMAs in the state, based on man-days and man-hours, with Leaf River coming in No. 2 and Pascagoula No. 3. Many of those hunters are successful at harvesting deer and a few quality bucks.
“Leaf River WMA with 41,411 acres in Perry County near Wiggins is the most popular place to harvest a deer as far as numbers go,” Blount said. “There were 220 deer killed there last year with 108 of them being bucks and we’re expecting another successful season this year. “
Leaf River is comprised primarily of Longleaf Pine timber with hardwood drainages and branches interspersed throughout the area. The MDWFP does a lot of prescribed burning, promoting better browse and better hunting around those areas.
Pascagoula and Ward Bayou WMAs have handicapped and wheel chair access stands available on a permit basis with first-come, first-serve access after hunters secure a permit.
“Pascagoula and Ward Bayou are the top WMAs to squirrel hunt in this region,” Blount said. “Pascagoula had the highest harvest number for squirrels at 3,500 and Ward Bayou had the highest harvest rate per man day of hunting. Old River is another popular squirrel hunting area as well.
“Little Biloxi and Wolf River WMAs have a lot of good rabbit habitat and hunters have good success at these areas. Theodore Mars WMA is another favorite destination for rabbit hunters in this region. We also get a lot of raccoon hunters in the WMAs in this region.”
Blount said the region offers some good public quail hunting.
“Desoto, Chickasawhay and Leaf River WMAs have the best quail hunting opportunities and our quail survey routes were better,” he said. “We hope for increased hunter success this year.”
“Mason Creek and Ward Bayou are probably your best WMAs as far as prime ducking hunting opportunities,” Blount said. “Old River is another area that has all kinds of backwater sloughs and holes that will hold ducks. There’s a fair amount of ducks but it can take some effort to find where they are.”
Pascagoula WMA is another area that has a lot of backwater sloughs and holes that hold ducks, but the key is to get out and scout and find the hot spots.
“Deer hunting is offered on all of the WMAs in the region but the best chance at harvesting a quality buck is at Charles Ray Nix, Malmaison or Canal Section,” said Brad Holder, the biologist for both the Northeast and Northwest Regions, which were combined for this story. “We’ve been working toward a better quality deer on these areas and we are starting to see the fruits of our labor, as we’re seeing better age-class bucks and more balanced herds.”
Charles Ray Nix WMA covers 3,812 acres in Panola County near Sardis and it just might be the best place to hunt in the North Region.
“Charles Ray Nix is one of our more intensively managed areas for quality deer in the North Region,” Holder said. “We manage the habitat and try to create optimum conditions to grow quality deer in the WMA. There are a lot of open fields, old CRP type fields, upland forests and open successional habitat. We also practice thinning and use fire for prescribed burning, which really promotes a lot of browse for the deer to browse on.
“Charles Ray Nix is a deer factory, bottom line. Last year we had a lot of 8-points and a couple of 10-pointers taken here. A 4- to 5-year-old buck is going to score anywhere from the 120s to 140s on average. The antler criteria is also helping us to pass on the younger bucks, so the deer are reaching maturity and growing better racks as a result.”
Last year there was one exceptional 4-year-old 10-point harvested on the WMA that weighed 170 pounds and scored 135 to 140 inches.
“We have a primitive-weapon draw hunt that runs six to seven weeks,” Holder said. “We also have an open archery hunt and some youth hunts, too. When an adult is drawn they may take one youth with them, and there’s a collective bag limit. Just be sure to check your local regulations to get specific information for that particular WMA hunt.”
Canal Section WMA has 29,672 acres along the Tenn-Tom waterway in Prentiss, Itawamba and Monroe counties near Fulton.
“Canal Section has a little better soil than most of the WMAs along the river and it’s comprised of bottomland hardwood and thick swamp areas,” Holder said. “Mature bucks harvested on this WMA typically weigh from 160 to 165 pounds.
“Divide Section is also a good area to take a good buck with plenty of upland hardwoods, open fields with blocks of hardwood and pines mixed in. They’ve harvested a few good bucks on this one also.”
Divide Section is in Tishomingo and Prentiss counties near Iuka.
“Malmaison WMA is in Grenada, Carroll and Leflore counties near Greenwood and has 10,000 acres of hunting land, and it’s managed for quality deer with a 15-inch (spread) 18-inch (main beam) antler criteria,” Holder said. “It’s in a real fertile part of the state that has the Loess Hill and part of the Delta land along the Yalobusha River. Last year there were a couple good bucks taken in the 140- to 150-inch class, and that’s due in a great part to the quality habitat and rich soil.”
Tuscumbia WMA consists of approximately 2,600 acres of state-owned land located three miles west of Corinth in Alcorn County, and Holder said it is the premier duck WMA in the region.
“We have two units there which include Unit 1 on the north half which doesn’t have a lot of access but if you get back in there and find some holes you can harvest ducks,” Holder said. “Unit 2 is the draw unit and it has nine holes and each successful hunter drawn can bring three hunters along.”
This area has extensively managed waterfowl impoundments and its proximity to the Tenn-Tom Waterway helps attract a lot of ducks.
“During years when we are able to pump water or have enough rainfall we have a lot of ducks,” Holder said. “We will have an assortment of ducks in the area including mallards, widgeons, gadwall, wood ducks, teal, ring necks and scaup. If the weather cooperates we’ve got the habitat and should have some good duck hunting action. We hunt on Wednesdays and Saturdays each week during the season.”
“Squirrel hunting opportunities are good at Canal Section, Malmaison, Upper Sardis, Chickasaw, and we have quite a few squirrels,” Holder said. “Our two best WMAs for rabbit hunting are Charles Ray Nix and Divide Section. Hell Creek has pretty good rabbit hunting also and these are open hunting areas. Just be sure to check the local regulations for the open season on rabbits for that area.”
If you’re located somewhere in Mississippi or near the Magnolia State, there’s sure to be a WMA within easy driving distance that will fulfill your desires and whet your appetite.
With a state chock full of WMA’s teeming with deer, ducks, squirrels, rabbits, doves, hogs and even a few quail and raccoons, there’s something for everybody. If you can imagine it, the possibilities are limitless.