The rut may be over in some parts of the state, but from the I-20 corridor south, there’s a good bet bucks are still chasing does throughout January.
The state’s regular gun season extends through Jan. 17 statewide, and for that small segment of hunters who still run deer with dogs, the entire period is open to that practice. That’s a perfect time for the dogs, said one hunter who represents a big North Mississippi club, where the practice is restricted until after the rut.
“We don’t allow our members, by rule, to run dogs until Jan. 1, then I think just about all of us become dog hunters for the last few weekends,” said Wiley Thompson of Senatobia. “We learned that the bucks that survive the rut become extremely hard to kill after it ends. We started man-driving deer in January about 10 or 12 years ago and had success.
“We eventually networked and found a couple of guys from south Mississippi who had dogs (and) were looking for a place to hunt. We worked out an arrangement with them, and they came up, and it became a thing we do every year. We still have members who still-hunt in January on the weekdays and even on the weekends, but during the last decade, I’d bet 90 percent of our best bucks were killed in front of dogs.”
The idea, Thompson said, is that the bucks withdraw to their core range and buried up in thickets near food and become nocturnal after the rut.
“It was like they left the country, and we knew that wasn’t the case,” he said. “We had trail-cam photos showing they were still there, but were moving only at night. We have tight trophy restrictions, so we weren’t concerned about immature bucks being killed.
“Another asset was that we were able to reach our antlerless harvest quotas. We killed a lot of does in front of the dogs in January. We were able to get the numbers that our biologist was telling us we needed to get on our 5,000 acres. I think you need a tract that big to run dogs.”
In south Mississippi, where using dogs is more accepted and traditional, the opposite situation can be found.
“We quit running dogs in January and leave them in the pens from that point on,” said Corey Thames of Hattiesburg. “We’re just polar opposites from north Mississippi. We don’t see the pre-rut or the rut until the last part of the gun season in mid-January and then through the extended seasons and into mid-February. I killed a nice 9-point last year locked on a doe on Feb. 5. He was running her hard and was the fifth buck to pass my stand that morning. I’ve never heard so much grunting in the woods.
“It doesn’t get right down here until January, and several years ago, after Katrina, we decided that we wouldn’t run dogs any more after New Year’s Day. We started seeing more of the rutting behavior and we never changed the rule back.”
Thames said there are some clubs were dogs are used throughout January, “but those are generally the hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool dog men who really love hearing the dogs run. I’m all for them, because I love to hear them running a buck, too.”