Hayes Nance was scanning the area around his stand, looking for a deer or any sign of movement, when, without warning, the woods came alive, and a couple of yearlings burst out, followed close behind by their mothers. 

Nance was looking for a succulent doe to harvest, but he didn’t want to shoot a mother of deer so young. He decided instead to watch and enjoy the deer feeding and playing in the field, and things settled down. 

Eventually, the smaller deer and their mother left, ending the show, but opening up the opportunity for which Nance was waiting. 

A big, mature doe came in alone and immediately started browsing on grass and tender shoots. Nance waited and watched until he was convinced that she was alone. He readied his 7mm-08 rifle and centered the crosshairs on her vitals. Taking a deep breath and holding, he slowly squeezed the trigger. 

Ka-boom!

The gun roared, the bullet flew true for a quick and clean kill, and Nance had his first deer of the year. 

It’s a scene that has been and will be repeated thousands of time in November as Mississippi’s gun season for deer begins, offering many different opportunities with various firearms throughout the month. Archers, who got their start in October, and also still busy in the woods.

Yessiree, it’s November and harvest time in Mississippi.

Youth get first shot

Before the month is over, hundreds of thousands of hunters will head to the woods to harvest deer for the freezer, for the wall and to add to the memory bank. Whether the goal is to harvest a doe with a primitive weapon, take a youth hunting or harvest a buck with a gun, it’s possible in November. Just pick your favorite and get outdoors.

Youths ages 15 and under get the first shot, if you pardon, at gun season. The youth season opens Nov. 3 and gives kids two weeks before the regular gun season opens Nov. 17.

“We like to get out into the woods during the early youth hunt before everybody else gets into the woods,” said Joey Daugherty of Clarke County. “We’ll harvest a doe or two early if we haven’t spotted any good bucks.” 

Daugherty takes his son, Lane, and stepson, Nance, as often as possible during the early youth season, using it as an opportunity for the young guns to harvest any legal doe or buck. After the regular season starts, it gets difficult for young hunters to see a buck during daylight hours.

A few days after Nance had taken his doe, Lane Daugherty was in the deer stand with his mother, Lori Daugherty, looking for a big deer he’d missed last season. 

“He had missed a big, wide 9-point the year before on Christmas Day, and we saw the deer on camera that same night, so we knew he was alive,” Lori Daugherty said. “Lane really wanted another shot at him, so he wasn’t going to shoot a doe quite yet.”

It didn’t take long for Lane Daugherty to spot the buck; it came out late one afternoon during the first week of youth deer season. 

“Lane shot the buck and it had grown 12-points to go with a wide rack,” Lori Daugherty said. “He shot the deer with a Savage 6.5 Creedmoor with a 129-grain Hornady bullet about 15 minutes before dark.” 

The buck was good enough to win the weekly prize at Jay’s taxidermy in Quitman and made Lane’s season for sure. 

The Mississippi youth deer season gives young hunters a chance to harvest a deer before they are shell-shocked from hunting pressure and go nocturnal. If you’ve got a young hunter in your family, it is the perfect time to introduce them to deer hunting when the odds are stacked in their favor. 

Primitive for does only

Adults must wait two days longer than youngsters before getting a shot; beginning Nov. 5, they can only use primitive weapons and take antlerless deer only through Nov. 16. The early primitive weapons season is open in four of the state’s five deer zones, with the Southeast Zone the lone exception. It offers hunters a chance to get into the woods to help control the doe population while filling their freezers. 

Wayne Edwards and his son, Scott, are both avid hunters, and a great part of their diet is made up of venison, a healthy, affordable alternative to store-bought meat. The family usually takes advantage of the early season, primitive weapons doe hunt to fill their freezer. 

“We like to harvest three or four does and process them ourselves,” Wayne Edwards said. “We’ll use the meat year-round, so we like to get our does early so we can concentrate on the bucks when they start rutting. After those big bucks start chasing the does we switch gears and look for horns and good bucks.”

While many people still prefer shooting black powder when they hunt with primitive weapons, others prefer the newer centerfires that come in the .444, 45-70 and .35 Whelen calibers. All are deadly and capable of shooting deer at very long range and not nearly as messy. 

“I used to shoot the black powder but switched to the .35 Whelen after they came out with that,” Edwards said. “It’s deadly and can shoot a couple hundred yards with killing accuracy and knockdown power, too.”

The more modern single-shot rifles were cutting edge back in their heydays, and they’re still pretty accurate and impressive today. One shot is all you get, but one is enough if you make a good one. 

Nov. 17: The big day

While November affords opportunities for bowhunting, youth hunting, and primitive weapons hunts, the big day is opening day of the regular gun season, which traditionally occurs the Saturday before Thanksgiving and is cause to celebrate. Deer camps are full, bonfires are lit and cookouts are planned. Whether you like to hunt with dogs, shotguns or rifles, the opportunities are there. 

It’s the first day that archers who have seen bucks stay safely out of bow range, or primitive-weapon users who saw big bucks while doe hunting can reach out and touch the deer at longer distances.

That’s exactly what happened for Mark Giles of Meridian, one opening day. He had spotted a nice buck in trail-camera photos in the weeks leading up to the opening-day hunt, but he wasn’t able to get a shot close enough during bow season. Opening day found the excited hunter in his stand, hoping to catch a glimpse of the deer. 

“I hadn’t been in the stand long when he came near me,” Giles said. “He was a shooter in the area I was hunting, and I couldn’t pass him up.” 

Giles centered the crosshairs on the buck and squeezed his trigger until the 30-06 rifle roared. Another opening day buck was history. 

He was hunting from an elevated stand overlooking a swamp bottom with deer trails running near his stand. He caught the buck slipping back to bed a little too late.

Obviously, the buck didn’t know rifle season had opened. 

Hot spots

During the early season, most deer are in early season patterns and not yet too pressured by hunters and gunfire. Thus, any food sources are likely spots to find and harvest deer. Early season deer will feed on acorns, tender green fields, cutovers and any place that offers an easy food source. 

Many youth hunters take advantage of late-afternoon hunts over green fields to harvest both bucks and does. 

Wild persimmon trees, white oaks and water oaks offer deer succulent fruits, and you can bet they will take advantage of those early season treats, concentrating on the newly fallen persimmons and acorns. 

While many hunters prefer to set up next to the fruit trees and acorn flats, many back off and watch those areas, preferring stealth and long-range shooting to harvest their bucks. 

Still others, like Giles, concentrate on the trails leading from bedding areas to feeding areas. Time of day plays an important part in where you hunt, as the deer’s pattern usually dictate when they will move between the areas.

Whether you want to hunt with a bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun, there’s something for everyone during the early season deer hunt. All you have to do is get outdoors and into the woods to experience the best of what the Magnolia State has to offer.