Don’t try to tell ReAnn Chatham that hunting bucks early in the gun season, even in warm and windy weather, is a waste of time.
Chatham will counter with a tale of a recent November when she put a bullet through a trophy buck that cameras had shown to be frequenting the area. She remembers making her way to her stand, quickly and silently, after her father, Greg Chatham, dropped her off at the road that afternoon. He wished her good luck, despite a wind that was really kicking up.
She wasn’t deterred; she was stoked, if anything, thanks to images of nice bucks she and her dad had taken from a well-placed trail camera.
Though young by most standards — a student at Clarkdale High School in Clarke County in Southeast Mississippi — ReAnn Chatham is a veteran hunter who has harvested many deer, including her first buck at age 10. She knows more than a little about hunting crafty old bucks.
“Dad told me it was too windy, and that he was going to drop me off and let me hunt by myself,” Chatham said. “About 30 minutes after I got there, I spotted movement and saw a buck coming out into the green field.”
That buck was a nice 8-point, and her anticipation grew as she centered him in the crosshairs.
“I was watching (it) through my scope when I saw a big ol’ buck walk out in the background,” she said. “I got my crosshairs on the bigger buck’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger.”
Chatham’s .308 rifle roared, and the buck was mortally wounded.
“I called my dad and told him, ‘I just shot that 15-point buck,’” she said.
“No way!” Greg Chatham said.
The Chathams had seen the bigger buck on trail-camera images, and ReAnn had been hoping for a chance at him. The photos clearly showed 15 points, including a drop tine.
Upon recovery, however, the buck was actually a 14-point. The drop tine had broken off in the aftermath of the shot.
For the record, the Clarke County buck sported 14 points and scored 1497/8 inches Boone and Crockett. It was the best of Chatham’s career — a top-10 buck for the county, according to the Magnolia Records Program — and it added another notch to her incredible deer hunting record.
Asked what tips she’d have for aspiring deer hunters, Chatham was quick to offer some timely advice.
“Deer are amazing animals, and you’ve got to get in the woods and learn how they act if you hope to harvest one,” she said, emphasizing hunting even in poor conditions. “You just can’t kill them at home!”
Keep up with deer
Ronnie Foy, a veteran hunting guide and member of the Mississippi Outdoors Hall of Fame, has spent a lifetime studying and hunting deer. Suffice it to say, he knows a few things about their habits and preferences.
“To be successful hunting deer, you must keep up with what they’re doing daily,” Foy said. “I keep up with them year-round, and during the season, I’m scouting constantly, whether that’s in the woods close up or just going about my daily chores.”
During early November, hunters have a variety of choices when it comes to harvesting deer. Bow season is still open, and many take advantage of that. The youth gun hunt runs from Nov. 4-17, giving them an opportunity to take a deer before they’ve been hammered and become skittish and nocturnal.
“I hunt a few kids during the youth season and throughout the year, and we’ve had great success,” Foy said. “I guided an 11-year-old hunter on his birthday a while back, and he killed a monster 11-point buck that weighed 260 pounds. It was so big it took four of us to drag him out. His brother also killed a doe that day.”
Youths get a couple days in the woods before the adults get in on the action on Nov. 6, when hunters 16 and older get an opportunity to participate in the doe-only, primitive-weapons season. Open in all zones except the Southeast, the season allows hunters a chance to harvest antlerless deer before the regular season cranks up on Nov. 18.
While many hunters don’t want to harvest a doe, Foy knows it is a very important tool in his deer-management plan, along with habitat management.
“Typically, I like to get my does early; that’s going to save food for the others late in the year and sometimes it makes the bucks walk a lot more in the rut while they’re searching for does,” Foy said. “If you harvest them early, it helps the habitat and it also helps hunters; they can let the remaining does walk during the rut when you should be hunting antlers and not meat.”
On a recent hunt, Foy positioned me along a trail intersection with instructions to harvest antlerless deer. It didn’t take long for deer to show up, crossing trails on all sides of me. I harvested a couple of does that never knew I was there; they were the sixth and ninth does I saw that morning. In total, I saw 21 deer, and fortunately, Mississippi’s regulations for most of the state allow hunters to take more than one doe on a single day to help control the deer population.
“Another positive aspect about doe harvest is that it makes the yearlings disperse, and many of the young bucks have to move out and find their own place,” Foy said. “I think it’s Mother Nature’s way of interspersing deer, as the bucks will run the young bucks out of the area, and they have to establish their own place somewhere else.”
Identify food sources
Foy’s daily interaction with nature as a farmer, hunter and rural mail carrier allowed him to watch the deer daily from a distance, and the knowledge gained was invaluable. If the deer started moving, it didn’t take him long to find out, and he noted the day, time of year and weather conditions. His experiences allow him to get a feel for what’s going on quickly — a good thing for his friends, family and hunters.
“Keeping up with deer movement during the season basically means knowing where the food is currently,” Foy said. “Food availability changes every year, every week and sometimes on a daily basis, so you have to know what’s happening right now.”
Sometimes one acorn tree or grove may be bearing heavily, he said, and deer movement in the area is changed while that food source is available. But it can be gone overnight and the deer will change their feeding patterns just as quickly.
“Last year, a lot of people hunted food plots, and they didn’t see any deer,” Foy said. “We plant corn and soybeans, and we had about the same amount of crop damage as we’ve ever had, so we don’t believe there was a significant decrease in the deer population in our area. I just hunted different places and had another good year.”
During the early part of November, Foy does have some bowhunters come in, and they usually hunt along the edges of agriculture fields planted in corn or soybeans. Later, when the acorns start falling, that will change.
“When the acorns start falling in early November, we hunt the woods,” Foy said. “If the acorns are falling on the ridges, then we just hunt the ridges. If they’re falling in the swamps, then we concentrate on those areas.”
While beans and corn are still in the fields — or in areas where strips are left for the deer — Foy positions his hunters along the trails leading into and out of the fields.
“We’ll hunt those trails all day, and you’re subject to killing a deer at any time of the day,” Foy said. “During dry years, we’ll hunt the trails to the water holes and river. On the Big Black River, we’ll hunt the trails going up and down the sandbars when they’re using them heavily.”
Go early, stay later
Echoing Chatham’s philosophy, Foy believes time spent on the ground, in the habitat, is critical to success.
“You’ve got to spend time in the woods and find where the deer travel and what they’re eating — without them knowing you’re there,” Foy said. “After you find a good stand location, then you need to get a comfortable stand and stay with them as long as you can. Patience and will power are keys to harvesting deer and bucks in particular.
“If you’ll just stay five more minutes, it will surprise you what may happen or what you may see in that short time. We have a lot of protein in our crops, in the briars and kudzu, and we had the numbers of deer, so you just had to be in areas where they were or were traveling to. The main thing is to get in a good area, get comfortable and stay in the woods, because you can’t kill them at the house.”
Find sanctuary areas
When it comes to harvesting bucks, especially quality bucks, Foy prefers to stay out of the areas they frequent.
“Deer can pattern you, and all it takes is one time for a mature buck and you won’t see him there again,” Foy said. “I have some places that I only hunt two to three times a year to keep our scent out and keep it quiet. We want it to be a sanctuary for the deer. We’ll let the hunting pressure from the other areas around us drive the deer down onto us. Then, we’ll slip in undetected and usually harvest some quality bucks as the season moves on.”
Foy also has stands overlooking large cutovers, agricultural fields and green fields, and he places his hunters in stands before daylight and takes them out after dark to keep the activity to a minimum.
“There’s no doubt that a deer is a lot smarter than we are,” Foy said. “We know when somebody has been in our bedroom or in our house, and that’s just the way it is with wise, old bucks. They know when somebody has been through their home area.”
By easing in quietly and covering large areas from an elevated stand, the chances of seeing a good buck rises exponentially. I hunted just such a place on a hunt with Foy, who dropped me off near an elevated shooting house overlooking a field about a quarter-mile long. I harvested the heaviest buck and doe of my life; the doe weighed 150 pounds, and the 8-point buck pushed the scales to 240 pounds. He appeared about 275 yards from me and never knew I was there when I squeezed off a shot from my Browning .270. The buck of my lifetime, dropped instantly, and the large doe shortly thereafter.
Foy had previously spotted the buck from a distance and was confident that he’d show up sooner or later. The doe I harvested provided tender, succulent venison, and it served as a part of his quality deer management program.
Rely on cameras
While scouting is a key component in any successful deer hunter’s repertoire, nothing has tipped the odds in the hunter’s favor more than the modern trail camera. Without a doubt, cameras are responsible for more big-buck sightings and eventual kills than anything hunters have done to improve their odds of success.
“I use the cameras extensively all over my property, before, during and after the season,” Foy said. “I can see what I have on the property without disturbing the animals and habitat. When a new buck moves in, it doesn’t take me long to find out with the camera. And if we have a particular buck on camera, we can follow his movements and pattern him as he moves across the property.”
Once a buck comes into Foy’s land, it’s on his radar, and he makes plans for its demise, calculating when and where to position hunters for the best chances to harvest the buck. Foy is successful more often than not when it comes to patterning and hunting a wise, old buck.
Trail cameras also play a big part in Foy’s quality deer management, as he often follows a buck from birth through old age. After a buck reaches his full potential, he removes him from the herd if possible.
“I had one particular buck on my property near the Big Black River that I’d watched for about eight years,” Foy said. The buck was a good 8-point, but that’s all he was ever going to be. We made plans to hunt him, and my son, Seth Foy, harvested him this past January. I’d probably never have known the age of the deer if I hadn’t been watching him on camera for several years.
“We had a few other bucks that had many more points and mass, but he kept them run out during the rut, and we never got a shot at them.”
In going with his philosophy of keeping human interaction in the woods to a minimum during the season, Foy only checks the cameras every 30 days or so, or when he’s taking hunters to and from their stands. Strategically placed trail cameras and feeders are sometimes utilized and monitored for herd counts, as well as buck sightings. The cameras are also checked when the feeders are filled every month or so.
Great month to hunt
November is harvest time in the Mississippi outdoors, and deer hunters are limited only by their own desires or preferences. During the early season, hunters may choose their passion. Whether it is bowhunting, hunting with a primitive weapon, rifle or shotgun, there’s something there for you.
If you’re looking to harvest succulent venison for the table or searching for that trophy buck, the early gun season hunts in November might be just the ticket.