Brad Madden sat high in a climbing tree stand overlooking an open bottom frequented by grass-browsing does that were beginning to be chased by bucks at the onset of the rut. He had seen a few does earlier in the afternoon, but nothing with antlers.
Suddenly, a doe busted into the open with a buck in hot pursuit.
Tic-pow! Madden’s rifle crumpled the 9-point buck instantly.
“He chased that doe back and forth a few times before stopping suddenly,” Madden said. “I saw he had a split G-2 on the right side, so I knew he was (a shooter), so I pulled the trigger with only minutes of shooting time left.”
The 185-pound buck sported a wide rack that another hunter had seen and passed up earlier, on the first day of a Canemount Wildlife Management Area hunt. Madden took the trophy buck with only minutes of shooting light left in his 3-day hunt.
Not every Wildlife Management Area in Mississippi is a trophy draw unit, but most have good deer populations and provide excellent opportunities to harvest a deer or quality buck — or to enjoy outstanding small game or waterfowl hunting. Enjoy this tour.
Mississippi’s WMA regions
Mississippi’s WMA system is managed in six regions — Southwest, Southeast, East Central, Delta, Northwest and Northeast — and offers outstanding hunting for several species across the state. Mississippi Sportsman spoke to biologists with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks who manage WMAs in each region to help hunters find the best hunting. If you take the time to scout, plan and get your boots on the ground, you have an opportunity to be successful on one of the many public land opportunities in the state.
A mix of Loess Bluffs on the western edge, the region has a varied topography that provides excellent opportunities. Good mast production has helped boost deer and squirrel opportunities, and its location near the Mississippi River brings some waterfowl. Josh Moree is the MDWFP’s regional WMA biologist.
The sandy soil of this coastal region prevents its deer from growing the massive racks of other areas, but the deer population is plentiful, especially on the WMAs. Small game species thrive on some of the state’s largest public tracts. Cody Haynes is the MDWFP’s regional WMA biologist.
Some of the heaviest hunted WMAs are in this region, and the mix of hardwood, pines and agricultural lands combines to make it productive for many species. Chad Masley is the WDMFP’s regional WMA biologist.
Though frequently flooded and home to the state’s only verified case of chronic wasting disease, the Mississippi Delta is a hunter’s paradise. From Loess Bluffs and rich agriculture to beautiful river bottoms, the region has the best duck and dove hunting, as well as big trophy bucks. Roger Tanksley is MDWFP’s regional WMA biologist.
A mix of agriculture, Loess Bluffs and river bottoms, this region is rapidly growing in popularity and production of the three D’s: deer, ducks and doves. Brad Holder is the MDWFP’s regional WMA biologist.
Over the past two decades, public hunting opportunities have been greatly enhanced, much of it related to lands surrounding the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Nathan Blount is the MDWFP’s regional WMA biologist.
Sandy Creek WMA
Sandy Creek WMA, which covers 19,125 acres in Adams and Franklin counties, is the region’s top squirrel-hunting area, with Tallahala, 27,442 acres in Scott, Newton, Smith and Jasper counties, close behind, according to biologist Josh Moree. “Sandy Creek has large areas of hardwood bottoms and plenty of squirrel habitat. Tallahala has a lot of hardwood bottoms with good squirrel habitat. There’s plenty of squirrel dog hunters in this area and they have a lot of room to move around and hunt.”
“Pascagoula River WMA (37,415 acres) has the best all-around squirrel hunting,” biologist Cody Haynes said. “Hunters harvest both fox squirrels and grey squirrels. Leaf River, Mason Creek and Chickasawhay WMAs all have good squirrel populations and offer excellent opportunities to harvest squirrels also.”
“Yockanookany WMA (2,735 acres on the Yockanookany River in Attala County) is the best squirrel hunting in this region,” said biologist Chad Masley. “There’s plenty of mast-producing trees and habitat for the squirrels, and we have a lot of hunters taking advantage of that, too. Choctaw WMA is probably No. 2 for harvesting squirrels.”
“Sunflower WMA is also going to be the top squirrel hunting area in this region,” biologist Roger Tanksley said. “Hunters harvest both phases of the fox squirrels — red and black — and they kill grey squirrels too. Another big factor is that hunters can hunt the squirrels any day of the week, unlike on Mahannah and Twin Oaks.”
“Upper Sardis and Malmaison WMAs are the top destinations for squirrel hunting in the Northwest,” biologist Brad Holder said. “There are squirrels at Charles Ray Nix WMA, but it’s not on the same level as Upper Sardis and Malmaison.”
“Canal Section and John Bell Williams are your best bets to harvest squirrels,” said biologist Nathan Blount. “There’s a lot of bottomland hardwoods and lots of squirrels. Last year, John Bell Williams had the best harvest ratio with 1.68 kills per man-day of hunting.”
The whitetail breakdown
Mississippi hunters have plenty of public-land options
Canemount WMA is permit-only and, as a 3,500-acre tract in the deer-rich Loess Bluffs of Claiborne County near the Mississippi River, it is a prized draw. The hills have very fertile topsoil, with a lot of mast-producing oaks. This WMA has a long history of trophy deer management, and the property’s previous owner worked with MDWFP biologists through the Deer Management Assistance Program for many years to facilitate quality deer management. That’s paying off for public land hunters now.
“Copiah County WMA is a 7,000-acre WMA about an hour drive south of Jackson, so it gets a lot of pressure,” Josh Moree said. “But there’s a good chance to harvest a decent deer here if you put in the time.”
“The Bienville National Forest Complex has three WMAs — Bienville, Tallahala, and Caney Creek — and all allow deer hunting with dogs, as well as still hunting,” Moree said. Combined these three WMAs encompass over 82,000 acres of prime south public hunting lands.
Biologist Cody Haynes said that Leaf River WMA, which covers 41,500 acres in Perry County near McLain, “gives hunters in this region the best opportunity to harvest a quality buck. We’ve gone back to the 12-inch spread and 15-inch antler criteria there that should give them a little more time to grow. The others have 10 and 12 minimum restrictions. Buck harvests were good last year and should be even better this season if the weather cooperates.”
Chickasawhay WMA has had its overall deer harvest numbers reduced due to doe-harvest restrictions, but the buck-harvest numbers remained pretty constant with prior year’s harvests. Opportunities to harvest a buck look good this year on Chickasawhay, which covers 29.049 acres in Jones County.
Black Prairie WMA, which covers 6,000 acres in Lowndes County near Brooksville, is “the best WMA in the East Central Region to harvest a quality buck,” biologist Chad Masley said, adding that 1,600 acres are in agriculture. “We’ve started our camera surveys, and they’re showing some quality bucks there.”
“John Starr WMA (8,244 acres in Oktibbeha and Winston County) is probably your next bet at harvesting a quality buck in this region.
“Choctaw WMA (21,705 acres, in Choctaw and Winston counties near Ackerman) doesn’t have the harvest rates as in the past but is still a great area. Salvage cuts (are) improving the habitat as well and should lead to better opportunities for hunters.”
“Trim Cane WMA has 875 acres but good quality deer, and (it) provides excellent opportunities to harvest a good buck for youth and handicap hunts,” Masley said. “Deer hunting is limited to handicapped and youth hunters, which limits the pressure. We have one hunt a week and each Saturday we draw for two youth hunters and two handicap hunters.”
Changes are in store at two very popular deer WMAs, including Mahannah WMA, made up of 12,695 acres in Warren and Issaquena counties. The MDWFP has done away with a requirement that hunters get drawn to kill a doe to earn their way into the December bucks-only hunt. “On Mahannah, we’ll have archery hunts in October, primitive weapons hunts in November and rifle hunts in December, which will translate to more hunting opportunities for everyone,” Roger Tanksley said.
Twin Oaks WMA, which covers 5,847 acres near Rolling Fork, will change to have archery in October and primitive weapons hunts in November and December. Tanksley said one change that is good for hunters while reducing pressure on deer is that there will be two two-day draw hunts each week, each with two scouting days a week and one off-limits day each week.
“Sunflower WMA (62,000 acres) is huge, and hunters can hunt every day of the week wherever they want. Hunters have a good opportunity to harvest a Boone and Crockett deer here also,” Tanksley said. “If you put in the time and scout, you should be able to find an area to hunt away from people and have a good possibility of harvesting a quality buck, too.”
“Based on harvest data, nicer bucks are harvested more frequently on Malmaison and Charles Ray Nix WMAs,” regional biologist Brad Holder said. “Better habitat quality within and around these WMAs and special regulations such as larger spread and main beam length antler criteria help produce older bucks. These two WMAs and Cossar State Park WMA probably provide the best chance at harvesting a doe or buck.”
Calhoun County, Upper Sardis and Graham Lake Waterfowl WMAs follow less-restrictive antler criteria — 10-inch minimum spread or 13-inch minimum main beam — for legal bucks.
Charles Ray Nix and Cossar State Park WMAs offer draw hunts for deer.
“Divide Section WMA is the best bet for harvesting a deer for meat, as the doe-harvest pressure is not that bad,” biologist Nathan Blount said, describing a 1,537-acre WMA in Tishomingo and
Prentiss counties. “And some of our best bucks taken in the region have been harvested here as well.”
Chickasaw WMA, which covers 26,815 acres in Chickasaw County, has the best buck harvest per man-day in the region, and there’s plenty of room to spread out and find deer.
“For archers, Hell Creek WMA (2,344 acres near New Albany) and Tuscumbia WMA (2,693 acres near Corinth) are the best in this region,” Blount said. “Check the WMA regulations for exact hunting dates and opportunities before hunting.”
The best of the gamebirds
Quail, doves often forgotten
Two Southwest Region WMAs, Marion County and Copiah County, earned the only recommendations from biologists statewide as quail destinations. Biologist Josh Moree said both have decent populations of wild birds and are very popular with hunters. Woodcocks, which are very popular now, have also been reported
While there are many public dove fields across the state’s WMAs, only two drew mention from a regional biologist, both youth-oriented.
Black Prairie in the Northeast Region and Mahannah WMA in the Delta will have special youth hunts this year. The Black Prairie Youth Dove Hunt will be Sept. 3; the Mahannah Youth Dove Hunt will be Sept. 8. Both are draw hunts limited to 50 youths. The application period was August.
Dove hunting for all ages will be allowed on specified days after the initial youth hunts are held through the first season segment. Check the local WMA regulations for dates and rules. For more information on dove fields at WMAs around the state check out the MDWFP’s online dove site at https://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/dove-program/.
The duck stops here
Pearl River WMA is about the only area in the region that has good waterfowl opportunities, and biologist Josh Moree said it is a youth-only waterfowl hunt, by permit only. This WMA has several managed waterfowl impoundments, as well as 1,000 acres of flooded hardwood, sloughs and moist-soil impoundments. The rest of the region’s WMAs have limited wood duck opportunities along creeks, sloughs and other places like that.
As you’d expect, the Delta offers the best duck hunting in Mississippi, and as a by-product, it also offers the best public-land duck hunting. Said biologist Roger Tanksley: “Howard Miller WMA (Issaquena County) is the top waterfowl WMA in the region and the state, with 2,500 acres of crops — about 400 acres of rice and 1,100 acres of beans — and moist-soil vegetation, so we usually have plenty of ducks. The harvest went up here last year when we cut the hunting back to three days a week.
“I’d say that William C. Deviney WMA would be No. 2 in the region. (It was) previously known as Indianola WMA and is a pre-draw area only with no standby.”
Another excellent WMA for draw hunts is Muscadine Farms, a converted catfish farm with many old, converted ponds.
The best opportunity to hunt every day with no draw hunting is Sunflower WMA. With 6,500 acres of slough and slough-control areas that can catch water and back it up to hold ducks, as well as greentree reservoirs, there’s just a lot of natural places to hunt.
Because of its proximity to the coastal marshes and the many river systems, the region has some good duck hunting, biologist Cody Haynes said. The massive Pascagoula River WMA has a lot of backwater sloughs and is probably the best shot for waterfowl hunters. Ward Bayou WMA, south of Pascagoula River WMA, also has good duck hunting opportunities. Mason Creek and Old River WMAs also have a lot of backwater areas that attract ducks.
“Malmaison and Upper Sardis WMAs are the top destinations for waterfowl hunting in the Northwest WMA Region,” biologist Brad Holder said. “Wetland habitat on both attracts waterfowl each winter.”
Trim Cane WMA is primarily managed for waterfowl and has the best opportunity to harvest ducks, according to biologist Chad Masley, who added that if there is water, it usually has a lot of ducks. Nanih Waiya WMA, which has 8,243 acres on the upper Pearl River in Neshoba and Winston counties and Okatibbee WMA, adjacent to Okatibbee Lake north of Meridian, can offer excellent waterfowl opportunities.
Biologist Nathan Blount said Tuscumbia WMA in Alcorn County near Corinth is the best waterfowl hunting opportunity in the region. Rainfall is a necessary component to put water in the duck holes, and if it falls, the area will have ducks. Unit 1 is open to waterfowl hunting, and there’s usually a mix of wood ducks and mallards, but a boat is needed to access most of it; there is a boat ramp. Unit 2 is draw-hunt only with nine impoundments, with nine hunters drawn for each impoundment, and each can bring up to three guests. About half the ducks harvested will be mallards. with some teal, gadwall and pintails mixed in too. Canal Section in Prentiss, Itawamba and Monroe Counties has open-water mallards, and Blount said more than 1,000 ducks were taken there last year.
Run, rabbit, run
In a region without any noted rabbit-heavy WMAs, Tallahala has enough acreage to turn loose a pack of beagles to find both hillbilly and canecutter rabbits.
Theodore Mars WMA in Pearl River County near Poplarville is the best bet for rabbits in this region, according to biologist Cody Haynes. “The habitat is good for rabbits, so the opportunity is there.”
Trim Cane WMA is among the best public rabbit-hunting areas in the state. Biologist Chad Masley said the habitat is managed for rabbits, and many hunters take advantage of the opportunities, which are draw-hunt only. Masley also recommended Choctaw WMA, where rabbit numbers quadrupled as the habitat got thicker. There are special dates for rabbit hunts, but the opportunities are good if you can get drawn.
Lake George WMA, which covers 8,383 acres in Yazoo County, is extremely popular with rabbit hunters. The high availability of habitat produces outstanding hunting. Hunter success on this area is generally high, and hunting opportunities are practically unrestricted.
According to biologist Chad Holder, Charles Ray Nix WMA provides the best rabbit hunting in the region, thanks to some old fields with excellent cover providing good rabbit habitat. Decent rabbit hunting can be found at Calhoun County and Upper Sardis.
Canal Section is the most-popular rabbit hunting WMA in the state, according to Blount, who said the southern portion of the WMA is the most popular. Hell Creek WMA is also a good bet for harvesting rabbits; it had the best harvest rate at 1.72 per man-day.