Hunters hitting Mississippi's system of wildlife management areas will, for the first time, be able to use crossbows this year, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has announced.

"Biologically, we didn't have any reason not to allow it, and it gives the hunters another option," said regional WMA supervisor Brad Holder, who manages WMAs in the north and northwest portions of the state. "We love to increase the opportunities for our hunters wherever and whenever we can."

And the bottom line is that whatever a hunter's weapon of choice, the WMAs came out of the last hunting season in great shape, with enough rainfall continuing across the state to maintain the habitat through the summer.

"We got a fair amount of rain earlier in the year," said MDWFP biologist Justin Hughes, who works in the northwestern portion of the state. "We're getting showers spread out just about right."

In fact, there are some areas in which the wet ground is a potential problem.

"We need it to hold off so we can do some work," Hughes said.

However, he said there is plenty of time for food plots to be planted.

About the only area that started to dry up during the early summer is a portion of the Delta, but biologist Jackie Fleeman said the habitat was still in good condition moving into the fall.

"There's nothing dying or anything," he said.

And Holder said even that was being rectified by regular evening showers.

"We had a little dry spell (during the early summer), but up in this part of the world we have received some timely rain," he said.

For deer hunters, these public pieces of property provide great opportunities to put food on the table - especially since MDWFP officials want you to kill does.

"We've got a surplus of deer," Holder said. "The hardest thing in the world is to get people to kill an adequate number of deer, and that starts with killing an adequate number of does."

So the big picture for the upcoming hunting seasons is looking bright, and the opportunities for success are out there, but Mississippi Sportsman spent time last month with MDWFP biologists to provide a look at how that translates to each specific WMA.

Here's what they had to say:


Northwest/North Central Region

WMAs: Choctaw, Chickasaw, John W. Starr, Upper Sardis, O'Keefe, Chalhoun County, Malmaisson, Sardis Waterfowl, Yockanookany

MDWFP biologist Chad Masley was awaiting word from the U.S. Forest Service in late July about a possible major change on Choctaw WMA.

"In the past, the month of January has been primitive weapons," Masley said. "But it could be managed just as the statewide season."

That would open up opportunities for hunters on this area that Masley said is very popular.

"It probably gets the most pressure of the WMAs I supervise," he said.

The property is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, so the MDWFP really has no say in habitat work. While the two agencies cooperate in deer management, Masley said the majority of his agency's habitat work is in the openings throughout the forest.

Select openings should be planted for food plots in the coming month or so, "unless something dramatic happens."

And the chances of success are pretty high for deer hunters. The agency's harvest report shows Choctaw received 3,644 man-days for 139 deer taken from the property. Ninety of those deer were bucks.

"They harvest some quality bucks and numbers of deer," Masley said.

Of course, the hardwoods on the area harbor squirrels, and Masley said there are a number of bushytails taken from the area.

Just to the north is Chickasaw WMA, another Forest Service property that has been on the upswing in terms of habitat.

"Over about the last three years it's improved," MDWFP biologist Josh Nunlee said. "The Forest Service has been doing some thinning and prescribed burning, and that's really helped."

Indeed, it has grown to be one of the most-popular WMAs in the state for deer hunters. Agency records show Chickasaw attracted 6,431 man-days last season, and that popularity likely is driven by the large dog-hunting area.

"Dog hunting is allowed on half of the property," Nunley said.

The other half is reserved for still hunting, and Nunley said that both portions hold some quality deer.

"There are some pretty good deer killed off that WMA," he said.

The property is split about evenly between pines and a mix of pines and hardwoods, and that has led to some issues with habitat. While Forest Service burns over the past three years have helped, there still aren't a lot of deer killed for its size - only 82 last year.

But Nunley said the advantage is that hunters don't have to apply for draw hunts.

"It's open hunting, so that's one good thing about Chickasaw: People can go hunt when they get ready," he said.

The hardwood component of the property does provide pretty good hunting.

"There are some pretty good hardwoods there, and where there are hardwoods there are squirrels," Nunley said.

Rabbit hunting, on the other hand, is pretty poor.

"It's getting better with the burning, but it's not great," Nunley said.

John W. Starr is an area on which hunters can find success pretty much no matter what they're after.

"You've got everything at John W. Starr," Masley said. "You can squirrel hunt, you can deer hunt, you can rabbit hunt."

Despite that assessment, the Mississippi State University property drew only 1,479 man-days from deer hunters last season, and 45 deer were killed.

But Masley said Starr produces nice bucks.

"It has the potential for some quality deer," he said. "There's a lot of pine timber, but there's a fair amount of hardwood."

The hunting is wide open, but Masley pointed out that hunters must secure a special MSU permit, and they are more restricted in the number of deer they can kill compared to most other WMAs.

"You can kill two does and two bucks for the season," he said. "You're issued tags with your permit that you use to harvest deer."

Of course, the hardwoods would certainly be the best bet for squirrel hunters.

"It's fair, but hunters would probably be better going to Choctaw," Masley said.

One challenge for hunters is locating hardwoods, which aren't distributed with any consistency but instead are found in blocks on the three separate pieces of land that make up the WMA.

"You may have to beat the bushes to find some mast crop," Masley said.

It takes some work to locate these mast-producing areas, but the biologist said there is a shortcut.

"The best would be to pull up an aerial map (on the Internet) of the area," he said. "You can see the different soil types on the maps."

Moving to Upper Sardis WMA, Holder said there are some real habitat challenges there.

"It's not the greatest habitat in the world," he said. "It's predominantly closed canopy, and the lack of openings doesn't help, either."

That said, there are some clear cuts, and that provides some opportunities.

"Basically, wherever you have clear cuts there is early successional vegetation, and they tend to provide the bulk of forage for deer and other wildlife," Holder said.

In terms of timber, the ridge tops are generally home to pines, while hardwoods are found in the drains and along the ridge sides.

"There are great hardwoods in there, and that provides mast for a couple of months out of the year," Holder said.

He said that, once the acorns are gone, deer hunters are best advised to target those transitional areas near any cover.

"Areas close to those clearcuts and any place that has been disturbed, whether it be by weather or human effort, is a great place to focus," Holder said. "You've got cover close to food."

Unfortunately, the deer population isn't that great, which might seem strange given the number of hardwoods on the area.

"There are not as many (deer) as one would think," Holder said. "Generally speaking, because the habitat is not that great, you don't see as many deer as you would if the habitat was better.

"It's just a function of habitat at this point."

That said, Holder said the bucks on the property are really benefiting from the antler criteria calling for at least a 12-inch inside spread or a 15-inch main beam.

"It's gotten better since we've instituted the antler criteria," he said. "That's helped to recruit bucks into older age structure, and the bucks that are being harvested are in older age classes."

But Upper Sardis still isn't overwhelmed with deer: 122 were killed off the property last season, with most of those being does.

Squirrels, on the other hand, abound.

"Because there's such a large quantity of hardwoods, there's a fair amount of squirrels on the area," Holder said.

Rabbit hunting is best in the portion of Upper Sardis owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"There are some old fields in the northern part of the area that people focus their efforts on," Holder said, adding there also are some clearcuts that provide decent rabbit hunting.

O'Keefe WMA presents much the same challenge as Upper Sardis in terms of habitat, but Holder said there are some differences.

"It's closed canopy, but it's better (than Upper Sardis) for a couple of reasons," he said.

First, it's located in the one of the most-productive soil types found in the state. That puts lots of nutrition into the plants, and translates to an overall better ability to support deer.

And then there's reason No. 2.

"There's a lot of agriculture around the property, and that provides great forage throughout the year," Holder said.

Thirdly, there's a huge population of hardwoods that supplement the planted groceries.

"The forest provides acorns three to six months out of the year," he said.

The area drew 1,713 man days, and produced 63 deer last year.

However, MDWFP plans call for more improvements in the form of thinning of the timber on the west side of the property.

"That's going to, one, increase the sunlight hitting the ground and generate understory development and, two, leave the trees that remain more productive," Holder said.

The logging needed to accomplish these two objectives could mean the woods might not be quite as peaceful as is normal for early season hunters on the property, he said.

"It would be prudent for hunters to expect logging to be occurring concurrent with archery season on into November," Holder said.

However, even if loggers are working in a portion of O'Keefe, Holder said this is a fantastic area to get a shot at a really nice buck.

"You've got a better chance of killing a better-quality buck because the Delta soil region is so fertile," he said.

Of course, the hardwoods also provide great habitat for squirrels.

"Because we got so many hardwoods and we've had some good mast crops, we've been able to sustain a lot of squirrels on the area," Holder explained.

There is a good bit of hunting pressure for the tree rats, but that "doesn't seem to be a problem," he said.

Biologists on the area also manage flooded timber, moist-soil timber and flooded ag fields for waterfowl.

"We have three greentree units, and one of those will be flooded each year," Holder said.

Success can be good, but he said it's all dependent upon the weather.

"Generally, later in the year we have more ducks filter onto the WMA," Holder said.

There were 151 ducks killed last year, with 63 of those being mallards.

And there is no draw requirement, so hunters can simply show up and hunt.

The best rabbit hunting is generally confined to the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Program tracts scattered around the WMA.

"They kill a decent number of rabbits each year," Holder said.

Calhoun County might not look like much in term of habitat, but there are some quality deer on the tract.

"It's primarily one giant pine plantation, but it produces some nice deer occasionally," Holder said.

The habitat makes it a bit difficult for still hunters, but he said still hunters don't represent the largest of the WMA's constituency.

"It's a big draw for our dog hunters because we offer extended opportunities to dog hunters," Holder said. "We try our best to provide opportunities to all our user groups when possible, and we just felt (Calhoun County WMA) was a good fit for dog hunters."

And that open dog-hunting opportunity attracted 2, 093 man days last season with hunters flushing out and killing 91 deer - 40 of which were bucks.

There really isn't much other quality hunting that goes on there, Holder said.

Malmaison WMA straddles the Delta and upper thick loess soil regions, and holds primarily bottomland and upland hardwoods.

But that doesn't mean it's closed canopy.

"We're looking at pretty decent ground-story vegetation," he said.

There are a couple of pine plantations on the WMA, but Holder said work to thin and improve that habitat is under way.

The bottom line?

"It's decent habitat, and it's improving," Holder explained.

For deer hunters, there is no shortage of animals.

"There's a big population of deer on Malmaison," he said.

And the management plan is really starting to produce results here.

"Our progressive antler criteria has produced older-age bucks and so that, coupled with the fertile habitat, means we're seeing a little bit better antler expression," Holder said.

Translation: There can be some really fine deer killed here.

"We've got a lot of ingredients helping us produce better-quality deer on Malmaison," Holder said.

This quality and the fact that there are no draw-hunt restrictions means there can be a lot of hunters in the woods - but Holder said that's not generally a big deal.

"It's gets quite a bit of pressure, but it's a fairly large area," he said. "There are still days you can go out there and you're the only one out there."

More than 1,900 man days last season produced 86 deer, with the large majority of those being does.

Of course, squirrels are generally in good shape in the hardwood stands, but rabbits are on the decrease.

"There are a few diehard rabbit hunters, who generally hunt some of the old fields around the WMA, but rabbits are kind of diminishing because the habitat is getting to a point that it's not optimal (for that species)," Holder explained.

However, he said that should begin turning around when planned habitat work begins opening up the canopy a bit more and allowing thickets to grow.

There also is a greentree reservoir, which is open to all comers, and provides really good opportunities - when the ducks show up.

"We have pretty good numbers of ducks come through at times of the season," Holder said.

Last year, duck hunters took home 1,840 birds during 1,621 man days of hunting. Thirty-seven percent of those were mallards.

But, again, weather is everything.

"Generally speaking, Mississippi has a bigger influx of ducks when the weather gets harsher," Holder said.

Sardis Waterfowl WMA is a bit of a misnomer - since there is actually no waterfowl hunting allowed. There are ducks on the property, but the tract is used to provide a refuge from hunting pressure.

"Many moons ago, (Sardis Lake) was set up strictly as a waterfowl refuge, and it's still there today," Holder said.

However, there is a healthy population of deer because all activity is strictly regulated.

"It's probably got the densest population (of deer) of any of (the state's northwestern) WMAs," Holder said.

The only opportunity for hunting on this piece of property comes in three draw-only youth hunts.

The first two youth deer hunts take place on the first two weekends of November, but youth who target does during their draw can be eligible for the final draw hunt.

"For those youngsters who harvest does, they are put into a special drawing for our last hunt, which is in December to give them a better shot at hunting during the run," Holder said. "So these draw hunts give the youth a good opportunity to see and shoot deer, but also helps us keep the population in check with the habitat."

Yockanookany is almost completely hardwood bottomlands, with its namesake river running right through the middle of the 3,000 acres.

Deer hunting is a draw situation, but Masley pointed out that the draw system is much different here than other WMAs.

"If you get drawn for the archery hunt, you can hunt the whole archery season," he said.

So instead of being limited to a few days, draw winners can pick and choose the best days during the archery season.

The primitive-weapons draw entitles hunters to a seven-day window - still more generous than many of the draw hunts on other areas.

There are some deer, as well as a healthy hog population, on the property, and managers want hunters to kill hogs.

"We encourage anyone who sees hogs to shoot them," Masley said.

As with any hardwood bottomlands, squirrels generally abound - and there are even waterfowling opportunities because of the many oxbows and sloughs.

However, there's one problem that can bring all these hunts to a close - the river easily floods.

"The problem is that rainfall can make or break the season," Masley said. "If we get a lot of rainfall, you're not able to access it."

That said, Masley said those willing to put in the effort can hunt the high ridges and up their odds of success.

But the uncertainties combine with location to result in few people willing to put in that kind of effort. Last season, the area drew only 253 man days and produced only 10 deer.

"It's kind of out there in the middle of nowhere," Masley said. "But people who find out about it generally come back."

And there's even more potential this year with the addition of dove fields - no matter what happens with the river.

"We've got about seven acres of browntop millet planted," Masley said. "The dove-hunting fields are the only thing you can access when there's flooding."


Northeast Region

WMAs: Tuscumbia, Divide Section, Canal Section, John Bell Williams, Black Priarie, Hell Creek, Trim Cane

Habitat work on one of Tuscumbia WMA's managed waterfowl units had just wrapped up in late July, and Nunley said it should reap huge rewards.

"The habitat just kind of grew up over time, and it kind of turned into a slash that was pretty much unhuntable," he explained.

When hunters show up this year, however, they'll find several areas knocked out of that one managed area to allow hunting.

"On one unit, access has been a problem for us to do work because it stays so wet through the year," Nunley said.

Last season, the two units together - before the recently completed work - accounted for 683 man days and the death of 218 mallards, 68 woodies and 124 "other" ducks.

"It's one of the best (WMAs) in the state, really," Nunley said.

Hunting is restricted to a preseason draw, however.

Tuscumbia also provides some archery-only deer, and there are animals on the property. Eighteen deer were killed last year on the WMA.

But those hunters had to work.

"The only problem with Tuscumbia is access - it's all slash and wet," Nunley said. "There are deer there because of the limited access, and it's pretty good actually.

"It's just kind of rough walking. It's just got a lot of water."

That also means very little of the area is suitable for small-game hunting.

Divide Section was originally set up as a mitigation project during construction of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, so native upland forest was replaced with a lot of spoil material.

"When they dug the waterway, they took a lot of sediment out and put in these disposal areas," MDWFP's Hughes said.

Those areas are thickly covered with early successional vegetation, and provide a lot of cover for wildlife. However, the very makeup makes deer hunting a challenge.

"Most of the wooded areas are like hunting old fields," Hughes said. "You're hunting the edges of disposal areas that have grown up in early successional stages."

So a lot of the area is unhuntable for deer, and that shows in the numbers: Only 36 deer were killed on Divide Section last season.

As with most WMAs in the state, legal bucks must sport antlers boasting at least 12-inch inside spreads or 15-inch main beams, but Hughes said there aren't many that blow that standard away.

"You're not going to kill any monsters off of it," he said. "A 15-inch 8-point would be a real good deer. It has potential; it's just getting (the deer) there."

But the disposal areas that make deer hunting so difficult have proved to be great for rabbit hunters.

"The majority of it is good rabbit habitat," Hughes said. "We did some habitat work up there with native grasses to try and bring that back into the equation."

Surveys indicate there are some decent populations of quail, with two to three bird calls per survey station heard. However, there aren't a lot of quail killed on the area.

"The people just aren't hunting them," he said.

Of course, a lack of mature hardwoods means low squirrel populations.

Two of the WMAs in this region - Canal Section and John Bell Williams - share a common boundary, so MDWFP's Hughes said they are managed as one piece of property.

"It's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins," Hughes said.

There is a bit of difference in the habitat, however: Canal Section is pretty much all mitigation land from the digging of the Tenn-Tom Waterway with some bottomland hardwoods scattered throughout the spoil dump sites, while John Bell Williams is about evenly split between bottomland hardwoods and upland pines.

Hughes said deer is the most sought-after species on both pieces of property, and that hogs provide an added bonus to those hunters.

"They hunt deer and hogs at the same time," he said. "You can actually come out killing both species."

Most of the 4,725 man days logged on the two WMAs last year was focused on Canal Section, simply because it's so much larger - 20,000 acres compared to John Bell Williams' 3,000 acres.

That might sound like a lot of pressure, but Hughes said because the WMAs hug the Tenn-Tom Waterway for many miles there is plenty of room.

"The way the areas are designed, I don't think it's a lot of pressure," he said. "You've got over 30,000 acres stretched out over a 60-mile stretch.

"You can go in and hunt an area, and you may or may not see anybody."

The best approach for those looking to break away from the crowd is to access the property by boat.

"If you walk in, you're likely to see someone," Hughes said. "If you've got a boat, you can get in where nobody else hunts and get away from the pressured areas."

Hughes admitted, however, that success currently isn't guaranteed.

"There are opportunities there, but I'm not saying you're going to see a lot of deer," he explained.

The numbers bear that out, with 59 bucks and 49 does being harvested last year.

That said, Hughes believes the management scheme calling for at least a 12-inch inside spread or a 15-inch main beam should begin reaping benefits soon.

"Those bucks have time to get some age on them," he said. "The deer I've seen (on the property) in velvet lately have been some pretty nice bucks."

And handicapped hunters already have increased chances of success, since there is a reserved area complete with 10 shooting houses to provide opportunities for those who are wheelchair bound or have heart and lung conditions.

"It's probably one of the best places to hunt, but there aren't a lot of people taking advantage of that," Hughes said. "I guess people don't know about it."

Squirrel hunters can find really good success in the hardwood areas.

"We've seen an increase in the number of squirrel hunters over the last few years," Hughes said.

Many of those chasing squirrels are using dogs, a tactic which the two pieces of property seem built to handle.

"It's real easy walking," he explained. "Those guys get in there and walk a good ways and work their dogs."

The southern end of Canal Section and right along the Tenn-Tom is where rabbits abound.

"The majority of the southern end (of the property) has been reforested, so a lot of that is in the early successional stages," Hughes said.

Black Prairie provides a great dove-hunting option, with fields generally planted with sunflower ready for hunters and birds alike. However, managers are trying something different because of nearby agricultural operations.

"There are a lot of doves, but the problem we've had is we spend a lot of time and money and it looks good, and then your neighbor starts harvesting corn," Masley said. "It's hard to compete with that corn."

So this year, the fields will be planted in browntop millet in hopes that doves will be drawn to the grain.

However, it's important to note that Black Prairie also is one of the WMAs on which field trials are conducted. Basically, November and December are taken up with field trials, during which the area is closed to all other activity.

"People from all over the Unites States come to run dogs on Black Prairie," Masley said.

There also are youth deer hunts held in October, and this area is known for its big bucks.

"For deer outside the Delta, that Black Prairie area and the Black Prairie soil region, there's the potential for a quality buck," Masley said. "You have some big body weights with does there, too."

When there aren't any field trails or youth hunting, quality rabbit hunting can be found on the WMA.

"You've really got to look at the dates to see when you can hunt it," Masley said.

Hell Creek is another WMA that is predominantly reserved for field trials.

"It's totally shut down during field trials," Nunley said.

However, outside of those events there are some quality quail draw hunts.

"It's a real good opportunity," Nunley said. "That's probably our best area in the state for quail."

The healthy population of birds is illustrated by the annual quail call survey, which revealed about four birds per stop for biologists.

"The good thing about that area is it's pretty much managed for quail, so 80 percent of the habitat is a grassland ecosystem," Nunley said.

Of course, the thick grasses also benefit rabbits.

"We have real good success rates for rabbit hunters," Nunley said.

Trim Cane is primarily a waterfowl opportunity, and it's pretty much ready to go for the season.

"Everything is planted in the managed-soil areas," Masley said.

There are seven impoundments, and Masley said they offer decent opportunities for success.

The area produced 172 ducks during 250 man days for a success rate of almost a bird a hunt.

"You get a variety of ducks: mallard, gadwall, teal and woodies," Masley said.

The rest of the area provides a lot of early successional habitat - which translates into rabbit-packed thickets.

In fact, the rabbit hunting is so promising that this area is managed through draw hunts.

"It's just a great opportunity for rabbit hunters," he said.

And, finally, there are food plots and shooting houses set up for handicapped hunters looking to shoot deer.

"Every shooting house overlooks a food plot," Masley said.

Hunters drawn for these hunts, along with any partner, are guided to the houses and picked up at the end of the hunts by WMA staffers.

While the numbers don't reflect much of a success rate (only four deer were killed by 14 hunters last season), Masley said those who aren't dead set on killing a buck have pretty good chances of success.

"Pretty much if you're happy shooting a doe, the opportunity is going to be there," he explained.

Of the four deer killed during last season's draw hunt, only one was a doe.

The only caveat for these hunts is that "handicapped" is defined as being confined to a wheelchair: No other handicapped-classified hunters qualify for the drawing.


East Central Region

WMAs: Bienville, Caney Creek, Okatibbee, Nanih Waiya, Tallahala

Bienville, Caney Creek and Tallahala are part of the Bienville National Forest, with habitat managed by the U.S. Forest Service. That said, biologist Scott Baker said there is work under way that is improving the habitat.

"The Forest Service is actually managing timber and doing some things with managed burning to improve wildlife habitat," Baker said. "There are more habitat improvement plans in the works."

But that doesn't mean there is huge variety in timber stands.

"They're managing (the forests) for longer pine stands, 70 years plus," Baker said. "So it seems like most of it is older age class trees."

That's particularly true of Bienville, with Caney Creek and Tallahala holding a larger component of hardwoods.

"Caney Creek and Tallahala have some larger drainages and bottoms, so there are more hardwoods there," Baker said.

However, because of the timber-management goals of the three areas, the canopy is primarily closed, but all three areas actually carry good populations of deer.

And the buck population is starting to respond to the antler criteria that restricts harvest to bucks with 12-inch spreads or at least one 15-inch main beam.

"For several years now, we have had antler restrictions on the areas, and we're seeing the benefits of that," Baker said. "We're seeing more deer making it to the 3½-year-old age class."

Of the three areas, Tallahala garnered the most deer-hunting pressure last season with 2,848 man days, but it wasn't the most productive. The area produced 80 bucks and 62 does, while Caney Creek's slightly lower 2,825 man days yielded 69 bucks and a like number of does.

Bienville brought up the rear in terms of man days with 2,755, but actually was the most-productive with 91 bucks and 71 does.

In terms of squirrel hunting, Baker said Tallahala and Caney Creek are the best choices of the three-WMA complex.

"There's just more hardwoods on those areas than on Bienville," he explained.

That said, the effects of Hurricane Katrina are still being felt, with downed trees producing a lot of undergrowth and making walking pretty difficult at times.

"Some of those blown-down trees have started to decay, so walking is getting easier," Baker said.

There also is a bit of waterfowling to be had, all of it in the drainages snaking through the areas.

Wood ducks are the primary species, and Baker said that Caney Creek would be his choice for one reason.

"We have banded a lot of wood ducks there, and the hunter who's hunting wood ducks on Caney Creek stands a better chance of killing a banded wood duck than anywhere else in the state," he explained.

The biologist said rabbit hunting was pretty limited on all three of the public lands.

"It wouldn't be a rabbit-hunting destination for me," he said. "None of those areas are known for their rabbits."

Okatibbee had been one of the state's No. 1 destinations for squirrel hunters until Hurricane Katrina flattened it.

"The hurricane hit it hard," MDWFP's Jeff Mangrum said.

The numerous hardwoods blown down were quickly replaced by thick understory, and that has changed the complexion of the hunting there.

"It went from primarily a squirrel-hunting area to a deer-hunting area," Mangrum said. "It's not that squirrels aren't there, but it's so rough getting to them because of the thickets and everything."

In terms of deer hunting, it is unique in that it is surrounded by human development - and that is one reason the area is limited to the type of weapons allowed.

"It's primitive weapons and shotguns with slugs only," Mangrum said.

Some might think there would be a lot of hunting pressure because of the nearby neighborhoods, but Baker said there aren't a lot of hunters taking advantage of it. There were 1,017 man days on the area, with only 36 deer being killed. Twenty-one of those deer were bucks, however.

The WMA has thickets, but that hasn't translated into much in the way of rabbits.

"You would think there would be some good rabbit hunting because we have thickets, but there really isn't much hunting there," Mangrum said.

Some limited waterfowl hunting is available on a lake in the middle of the property, but Mangrum said the corps normally draws that water body down in the winter for flood control, and that limits the amount of water for ducks. Also, duck hunting ends at noon each day.

On Nanih Waiyah, Mangrum said the habitat is composed largely of 12- to 15-year-old trees, which has begun to present some problems.

"A lot of that has started to canopy over," he said.

However, there still is a good deer population for those willing to limit themselves to primitive weapons.

"It's more of a quality-type hunt," Mangrum said. "There's not a whole lot of competition, so you've got the opportunity to get back into some areas without seeing a lot of people."

Agency data shows 1,314 man days were spent on the area for 44 deer. All but 13 of those animals were does, but Mangrum said that really doesn't tell the true story.

"You've got a good opportunity of seeing some deer when you go there," he said. "Harvest was down last year, but a lot of that was because of access - there was a lot of flooding last year."

That brings up the one make-or-break factor when considering Nanih Waiya.

"Access is highly dependent on the stage of the Pearl River," Mangrum said. "When that river is up, you have to take to a boat if you want to hunt."

And, although that requires more work, chances of success actually rise when using a boat during high-water periods.

"Hunters will take to the boats and get some good hunts in," Mangrum said. "They've got to work for it, but you can kill some deer like that."

So the biologist recommended looking at topo maps and spending some time on the property to figure out what areas are likely to be the last to go under.

"You've got to learn where the slightly elevated areas are," Mangrum said.

Although the timber is young and hard mast crops like acorns aren't abundant, Mangrum said there is some good squirrel hunting available on Nanih Waiya.

"What you're not going to find is 200- to 300-acre blocks of hardwoods that you can see 100 yards in," he said. "It's thicker, but there's a good bit of food supply in the mid story with soft mast."

He said the early squirrel season is really good, and late-season hunts with dogs can be a lot of fun. However, the later season is obviously more likely to be ruined by flooding.

Rabbit hunting is restricted to a 500-acre block of reforested land, and it's limited to those picked in a draw.

"There was so much pressure," Mangrum explained. "The rabbit hunters were running over each other, and the neighboring landowners were complaining."

Now, only a couple of groups at a time are allowed to loose their dogs on rabbits.

"We've got a quality rabbit-hunting opportunity," Mangrum said.

However, he noted the hunts are likely to become less and less productive as the planted trees continue to grow to eventually reduce the amount of understory.

"It's already starting to fade," Mangrum said.

There also are some ducks using the river and the numerous sloughs and beaver impoundments scattered around the area.

"It's mostly wood ducks, but you'll see mallards there, too," he said.


West Central/Delta Region

WMAs: Stoneville, Sky Lake, Leroy Percy, Shipland, Twin Oaks, Lake George, Sunflower, Mahannah, Muscadine Farms, Howard Miller, Pearl River

Stoneville is a small area, but biologist Jackie Fleeman said it's one that holds real promise for deer hunters wanting a shot at quality bucks.

"They kill some good deer on Stoneville," Fleeman said. "If they kill a buck, it's a good buck."

The only problem is it's small, and that really limits the amount of pressure it can take. Only 613 man days were logged there last season, with a mere 15 deer killed.

"There's not a whole lot to it," Fleeman acknowledged.

Also, anyone hunting on the property must purchase an extra $25 permit from Mississippi State University.

Just to the southeast is another small WMA named Sky Lake, which was opened for hunting only last year.

"The place is almost totally replanted trees," Fleeman said.

There are some big cypresses in an old lake bottom and some sloughs that branch off into the woods.

"Those are about the only places to hang a climber and climb a tree," he said.

Only six deer were killed last season, with five of those being bucks, and Fleeman said that's reflective of the opportunities there.

"It's got some deer on it, and it's got some good deer on it," he said. "But it's just really hard to hunt because it's mostly replanted."

Deer hunting is managed through draws, with winners being allowed three-day hunts with primitive guns and archery only.

Waterfowling also is through draw only, and the most-productive areas are some old ponds the original property owners constructed.

"We're going to look at trying to refurbish some of that stuff so we can get the water out of it and do more moist-soil management," Fleeman said.

However, only 24 ducks were killed on the area last year.

Rabbit hunting is a bright spot for Sky Lake.

"It should be good," Fleeman said. "Hunters did fairly well on rabbits last year."

But while rabbits should be plentiful, there are real challenges.

"There again, it's kind of tough hunting because it's replanted stuff," Fleeman said.

Leroy Percy WMA is very similar to Stoneville, but it's even smaller. That said, the mature timber provides deer-hunting opportunities.

"It's got deer on it," Fleeman said. "If you kill a buck, it's going to be a pretty decent buck."

Hunters spent only 356 man days on the property, but they killed 11 deer - just slightly fewer than Stoneville, which garnered almost twice as much pressure.

Deer hunters are limited to primitive firearms and archery, but there is no draw so it's open to hunting.

Of course, the hardwoods draw squirrel hunters generally aren't disappointed, Fleeman said.

"It's squirrel-hunted a fair amount," he said.

The Mississippi River level is the big question on Shipland WMA, the only MDWFP-owned hunting tract located in the batture.

"It's unique habitat," Fleeman said. "We've done timber harvests over the last 10 to 15 years, and in places it's pretty thick. But there's a lot of wide-open area, too."

What might be surprising to many about a piece of land that's located in the batture is that oaks aren't the predominant hardwood on the place.

"We're gradually getting more oaks, but basically we don't have a lot. It's mostly pecan," Fleeman said.

The problem is that the property becomes inundated with water when the Mississippi River reaches 30 feet at the Vicksburg gauge.

"At 30 feet, you're starting to get water out in the woods," Fleeman said. "At 40 feet, it gets over the (access) road.

"At 40 feet, you still have a little access on the east side on the levee, but you're getting limited where you can go."

But that doesn't mean there isn't some good deer hunting for those willing to launch a boat and make the effort.

"You can go out and find a high spot," Fleeman said.

Last year, only 18 deer were killed during 594 man days, but Fleeman pointed out that the river was high for much of the season.

Squirrel hunting can be pretty good because of the abundant pecans, but Fleeman said duck hunters can find ducks throughout the area when the water begins rising.

"There's a lake in the middle of the area, but when the water starts getting up, you get that lake plus the water spreading out," he said.

Access can be an issue.

"There's not a good boat ramp (on the WMA), but there is access to the river," Fleeman said.

Those accessing the WMA from the main river will often come across ducks around the islands and sandbars leading to the property.

Most of the ducks will be dabblers, but he said the main river sometimes holds divers.

Last year, hunters averaged 1½ ducks per day, which isn't bad for a public area.

Over on Twin Oaks, a much larger piece of property just to the east, the deer should really be in good shape.

"You've got a good chance of seeing bucks," Fleeman said.

Deer hunters are limited to draw hunts, with the exception of a late January bow hunt.

Draw winners are restricted to use of primitive and archery weapons, and they are encouraged to kill does.

"You have three days on a draw, and (Mississippi residents) can kill a buck and a doe a day," Fleeman said. "Those who kill an antlerless deer are put in a drawing to come back in mid December for a primitive-weapons hunt."

That final draw hunt is when the area really shines.

"It's set up to try to give folks a chance to hunt during the rut," Fleeman said.

Deer hunters really responded to the carrot of rut hunting by killing far more does than bucks last season. Of the 73 deer killed on the property last season, all but 14 were does.

While squirrel hunting is prohibited during the draw deer hunts, there are some real opportunities on Twin Oaks.

"Saturdays are small-game days, except on youth-hunt weekends," Fleeman said. "You also can small-game hunt about Thanksgiving, and January is wide open."

Lake George WMA is old agricultural property that has been replanted, and those trees are now nearing 20 years of age.

"It's some of the older replanted stuff we've got," Fleeman said. "Some of it's getting to be pretty sizable."

However, the regenerated forest is pretty thick, so deer hunters are limited.

"It's hard hunting," he said. "There's more trees you can climb, but it's hard to hunt."

Most of those venturing on the property hunt deer in the openings or from tripods.

The difficulty is reflected in last season's numbers: Only 17 deer were killed on 909 man days.

Waterfowl are about the only other species available, and they're not over-abundant.

"There are places that hold water after rains, but it's hit and miss," Fleeman said.

Sunflower's 90,000 acres is a different story - its mature hardwoods attract a lot of attention from deer, squirrel and waterfowlers.

Interestingly, despite the hardwood habitat, Fleeman said there isn't an overabundance of deer.

"It's a healthy herd; there's just not a lot of deer there," he said. "The herd is healthy because there aren't a lot of deer."

Deer hunters spent just shy of 5,000 man days scouring the property last season - and they took home 57 bucks and 47 does.

That might not sound like much for such a large area, but Fleeman said Sunflower's forests do promise big bucks.

"There are good deer on Sunflower," he said. "They don't kill a lot of bucks, but what they kill are pretty good bucks."

Waterfowlers find great success on the greentree areas. About half of the five greentree reservoirs are left dry each year, and those attract a lot of birds.

"There's also oodles and oodles of water that people can hunt outside the greentree areas," Fleeman said.

Hunting success is really good, with Sunflower ranking second in terms of ducks per man day with an average of 1.893 last season. That translated into 212 mallards, 797 woodies and 290 "other" ducks.

And duck hunting is wide open, with the only limitation being that hunters must stop shooting at noon each day.

As usual, hardwoods mean good hunting for bushytails.

"There are a lot of squirrels," Fleeman said.

The only real problem with the area is, well, it's huge and flat - and every tree looks the same.

"Bring a GPS and know how to use it, and bring a compass to back up the GPS," Fleeman recommended. "There are no ridges, and you will get lost.

"You can get back in there and walk to where you think your high spot is, and get turned around."

The difficulty is compounded because of the many sloughs crisscrossing the area.

"Most years there's water pretty much everywhere," Fleeman said. "I've spent a lot of time on Sunflower, and I've spent a lot of time finding people on Sunflower.

"You get out there and it all looks the same."

Mahannah WMA provides good draw-hunt options, with a total of 161 deer being whacked last season.

And the antler criteria are paying off.

"They're still killing a good many 2-year-old bucks that were close to being legal, but there are a whole lot of bucks getting another year older," Fleeman said. "And when they get another year older, you start seeing some good deer."

In fact, this piece of property produced a 5 1/2 -year-old buck scoring 169 6/8-inch for moderator Eddie Peterson.

"It's not common to kill deer anywhere that are 170 inches," he said. "I don't care where you are, it's an exceptional deer to kill - but that deer shows what can happen."

Fleeman said seeing deer isn't a given, and that's the way the management scheme is set up.

"At one time, when we first got the property, you would see lots of deer," he said. "We're trying to knock the deer down."

They are particularly focusing on does, providing more groceries for bucks. Combined with the antler restrictions, this has increased the number of bucks on the property significantly.

"They might not see six or seven deer, but they might see three or four bucks because we're not killing a lot of bucks," he said. "Folks are killing deer better than any deer they've killed in their lives."

There also are 1,200 acres of managed water for waterfowl hunting.

"All of that's fields," Fleeman said. "We manage for moist soil, but in the moist soil, we try to plant stuff so people will have a place to hide."

This year, the planting is behind schedule because of rains, and Fleeman admitted there was other work to be done to ensure the habitat doesn't get out of hand.

"We need to disc because some of it's turning woody," he said.

But the managed waters still should bring in numbers of birds - a mix of mallards, teal, shovelers and gadwall.

And hunting success is very good, with hunters last season averaging 1.563 ducks per man day. Specifically, 415 mallards, 79 woodies, 460 teal and 954 "other" duck species were knocked down.

Duck hunting is by draw only, but Fleeman encouraged those missing out on the draws to show up for the daily pickup hunts.

"If everything has water on it, we have a minimum of 32 to 33 slots for people to hunt," Fleeman said. "Everybody that has been pre-drawn doesn't show up. So far, we've turned very, very, very few people away."

While there are squirrels in the big timber, Fleeman said it's not a major draw.

Rabbits can be found in the replanted areas, but it's not very conducive habitat for hunters.

"There aren't any opening out in that stuff, so it's hard to kill them," he said.

Muscadine Farms WMA is composed mainly of old catfish ponds, making it a waterfowling area.

However, duck hunting is restricted to draw hunts with no-shows being replaced by daily drawings.

Although slots are limited (there were only 253 man days logged last season), success rates are the third highest in the WMA system with an average of 1.806 ducks killed per man day.

Outside of that, there is a bit of rabbit hunting and a few quail, but Fleeman didn't talk it up.

Deer hunting is prohibited.

Howard Miller WMA is strictly a duck-hunting affair, with 2,400 acres of flooded soybean and rice fields and 400 to 500 acres of moist-soil area available by draw. Again, no-shows from the preseason draws are replaced with standby hunters.

And this WMA provides the best opportunities for success, with hunters last season averaging 2.137 ducks per man day.

Of the 2,282 ducks killed, there were only 174 mallards and a single wood duck. Another 1,079 teal and 1,028 other species of ducks were taken home.

Oustide the Delta sits Pearl River WMA on the northern end of Ross Barnett Reservoir, and it provides a mix of habitats.

"It's got everything from marshes to replanted pines to everything in between," Fleeman said.

Despite the varied habitat, the deer population is just "OK," according to Fleeman.

"It's not great," he said. "It's only had antler restrictions on it for two years, so it'll probably get better."

And, sure enough, harvest data backs up his assessment. Only 13 deer were taken last season.

However, Fleeman said there are youth opportunities, with a portion of the WMA being dedicated to these young hunters.

"It's kind of underutilized," he said. "I wish more people would take advantage of it: It's a pretty big area."

There are several food plots on this section of the WMA to help increase the odds of success.

"There's a fair opportunity of seeing deer," Fleeman said.

There's also some duck-hunting available along the reservoir, and hunters didn't fare too badly last season with an average 1.411 ducks per man day. However, there were only 141 man days logged, with 48 mallards, 19 woodies, 3 teal and 119 "other" ducks killed.


Southern region

WMAs: Copiah County, Sandy Creek, Caston Creek, Natchez State Park, Pascagoula River, Ward Bayou, Mason Creek, Chickasawhay, Wolf River, Leaf River, Little Biloxi, Theodore A. Mars Jr, Old River, Marion County, Red Creek

Deer hunting looks to be good on Copiah County WMA, area supervisor Josh Moree said.

"We've had a really high population," he said.

And managers have responded by opening up the season.

"It has one of the most-liberal seasons because of the high population," he said. "And it's either-sex all season."

Last year produced 150 deer, almost evenly split between bucks and does, and one of the WMA system's highest rates of success. In fact, it ranked twice as high as the average WMA.

The challenge for managers is to pound on the deer hard enough to pull herd numbers back in balance with the habitat.

"The habitat is not the best it can be, but the soil over there is just really good, so it grows a lot of deer," Moree said.

Antler criteria also is beginning to really produce results, with a good number of mature bucks turning up.

The overall impact of the high numbers and increasing quality is hunting pressure.

"It gets a lot more pressure, more man days than other areas in the region," Moree said.

In fact, only Sandy Creek attracted more hunting pressure in the Southern region last season.

Both squirrels and rabbits are available, with the former being most numerous in the bottoms and the latter being attracted to the managed wildlife openings.

"There is some native vegetation growing up in there," Moree said. "There are plenty of rabbits."

Sandy Creek WMA lies near Highway 61, and that contributes to the high number of hunters, who logged 3,854 man days last year.

"We get a lot of non-resident hunters," Moree said.

Fortunately, the WMA can handle the pressure.

"It's a larger area, so people are allowed to spread out more," he said.

The habitat is pine mixed with hardwoods, and the current management is a bit lacking.

"A lot of the timber stands are pretty dense," Moree said. "Not a lot of sunlight is hitting the ground."

That means there is some reduction in understory.

The WMA produced 97 deer last year, with almost twice as many bucks as does being harvested - evidence of the non-resident component of deer hunters.

"It's not as good as Copiah, but it's not bad," Moree said.

However, Sandy Creek really blossoms when it comes to squirrel hunting.

"We typically have a really high squirrel harvest there," he said. "It's probably one of the most-popular WMAs in that area."

Of course, the closed canopy reduces the availability of habitat for rabbits, and that's meant a slow-down in hunting.

"The rabbit hunting over the past 10 years, there's been very little actually," Moree said.

Dog hunters flock to Caston Creek WMA because of its sheer size and dog-friendly regulations.

"Three quarters or a little more are open to dog hunting," Moree said.

In fact, Caston Creek is one of the most-pressured WMAs in the state, with hunters spending 4,163 man days there last year. However, that hasn't equated to a lot of meat on the ground.

"Reported harvest is typically low for that area," Moree said. "We had 48 deer reported last year - that's a deer per 1,000 acres."

Squirrel hunting is fair.

"I don't think (the population) is nearly as high as Sandy Creek, but it's decent hunting," Moree said.

Prescribed burns by the U.S. Forest Service has resulted in some early successional habitat, but Moree said there isn't much demand here for rabbit hunting.

"We don't have many reported days of rabbit hunting, but the opportunity is definitely there," he said.

Natchez State Park is open only for draw deer hunts.

We have youth hunts, we have one handicapped season, we have one archery hunt and one muzzleloader hunt," Moree said.

However, the muzzleloader hunt requires true muzzleloaders - no centerfire primitive rifles (i.e., .444s or .44-70s) are allowed.

And hunters drawn for the hunts have a pretty good time.

"A lot of hunters see deer," Moree said.

During 954 man days last season, 55 deer were killed, providing really good return for the investment of time.

Moving into the southeastern region of the state, Pascagoula River WMA is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

"It got a lot of damage from the hurricane, and that created a lot of early successional habitat," Moree said.

The WMA, which snakes along its namesake river, also holds a lot of oaks, so there is potential.

"It's getting better," Moree said. "A lot of those canopies are starting to close in again."

The plentiful cover and mast combine to produce a healthy deer population.

"It's a good opportunity to see deer, and there are some good opportunities to kill some good deer," he said.

There are some still-hunt-only areas of the property, but most of the land is open for dog hunting.

"It gets a lot of use," Moree said.

In fact, only Leaf River, Upper Sardis and Chickasaw logged more man days last season. However, Pascagoula River doesn't put a lot of meat on the table for its hunters, with only 40 deer killed.

Squirrels were hurt when Hurricane Katrina blasted the area, but Moree said there is a growing number of the rodents.

"The squirrel hunting is picking back up," he said. "It's not back to pre-Katrina numbers, but it's steadily increasing."

There also is a lot of focus on Pascagoula River by rabbit hunters.

"We have more rabbit-hunting man days than a lot of areas have for deer hunting," Moree said.

For those heading there, Moree said much of the access is by boat. And he warned that the river can be a blessing for access, but also a curse.

"That is the problem - flooding," he said. "Last year we had a lot of rain, so access was difficult. There were several days when the area was closed last year."

Ward Bayou WMA is another mostly hardwood bottomland area, but the wet soil isn't very conducive to oak trees.

"There aren't many oaks at all," Moree said. "It's mostly tupelo swamp."

About the best bet for hunters is duck hunting.

"It gets a pretty good amount of waterfowl hunting," Moree said.

The vast majority of ducks killed - 208 of 216 last year - are wood ducks.

But that's about it: Only 10 deer were killed there.

"The harvest is low every year just because of access," Moree said.

That said, rabbits can be found in the upland area on the west side of the WMA.

"In the last 10 years or so, that area has been harvested, and we're managing it for longleaf pine," Moree said. "There's a lot of early successional habitat there."

Mason Creek WMA, on the other hand is all upland pine, and it's another dog-hunting mecca.

"It's a pretty good area," Moree said.

Last year produced 49 deer, but Moree has suspicions the actual harvest numbers could be higher.

"For the size of the area, the reported harvest isn't as high as I think it should be," he said.

Rabbit hunting isn't a big staple, but Moree said there is opportunity.

"The habitat is there, for sure," he said.

Northwest of Mason Creek sits Chickasawhay WMA, which is characterized by open stands of pines.

"It's very much Southwest Mississippi habitat," Moree said.

However, there is a good amount of early successional habitat thanks to Forest Service thinning and prescribed burning. However, thickets are lacking.

"For some reason there are not as many good thickets," Moree said. "I guess because of the burning."

That makes rabbit hunting a slow affair, but Moree said there is a decent opportunity for deer.

"For that area, we get a pretty good reported harvest each year," he said.

Wolf River WMA is squarely in the coastal plain - and that means subpar deer hunting.

"Bodyweights are typical for the area," Moree said, meaning they're pretty low.

But that doesn't slow down the hunters.

"It's a really popular deer-hunting area for that region," he said. "We have 70 to 80 deer reported killed every year, and there are a few nice deer that come off the property each year."

There also is a lot of attention paid to rabbits there because of the varied habitat.

"There's some pretty decent rabbit hunting there," Moree said.

Squirrel hunting is pretty much a bust because of the lack of hardwoods.

Leaf River WMA southeast of Marion was by far the most-popular deer-hunting area in the state, generating more than 9,000 man days the past two years.

"It's 40,000 acres, and there are typically 100 to 150 deer reported killed," Moree said. "That's way higher than most areas in the region.

Moree said its size and location are two factors, but there also is a lot of tradition surrounding Leaf River.

"That's one of the oldest management areas in the state," he said. "A lot of people grew up going there to hunt."

And it's all about deer hunting.

"For the size of the area, the rabbit-hunting success is not very high," Moree said. "Squirrel hunting is a little better than some of the areas in the region, but it's not that high.

"Deer hunting is king down there."

Little Biloxi WMA isn't one of the most-productive areas in the WMA system, producing only 21 deer.

"Habitat is not as good as, say, Leaf River," Moree said.

There is some decent rabbit hunting, but that's about it.

Theodore A Mars Jr. is a tiny tract of land - only 900 acres - that was first opened for hunting in 2007.

The only deer hunting available on this WMA is in the form of youth draw hunts, but there are some decent small-game opportunities.

"It gets a fair amount of rabbit hunting during the season," Moree said.

Old River WMA, on the other hand, is larger and composed mainly of hardwoods and tupelo-cypress swamps.

However, access is difficult, and it's prone to flooding.

That said, there are decent opportunities for deer hunting and waterfowl hunting.

Also, squirrels are recovering from the drubbing they took from Hurricane Katrina.

"Squirrel hunting is steadily picking up, but it's nowhere like it was before," Moree said.

Marion County is another upland/longleaf pine property, with just a few hardwoods scattered along streams and drainages. Deer hunting is most popular - and there were almost 100 deer taken last year, with that number almost evenly split between does and bucks.

"The habitat is fairly decent," Moree said. "There was some timber harvest before Katrina, and we're in the process of continuing that."

Rabbits are also available, although few people seem to pay much attention to them.

Deer hunting is fair at best on Red Creek WMA, which gets little pressure despite its 20,000-acre size.

The success hasn't been that great," Moree said.

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