• Happy Trails

    One of the trail-camera photos that caused him to want to be in an afternoon stand in mid-January.

    How’d that happen?

    On one particular afternoon in mid-January, my son-in-law, Jody, had the itch to head over to his favorite deer-hunting area to try and get a crack at a couple of elusive, mature bucks  he had captured on trail camera. The weather was right, and the wind was blowing from a favorable direction, enabling him to get into a really thick area where these late-rut bucks seemed to be holed up.

    March 15 at 9:00am
    One of the author’s nephews with a fully mature buck taken after a long, quiet hike to the stand.

    Food for thought:

    By the time you are reading this, unless you live in the extreme southern part of Mississippi, the 2017-2018 deer season will already be “in the books,” as they say. 

    February 14 at 9:00am
    This buck has the classic body build of a mature deer 5½ years or older, in spite of its paltry antlers.

    Rate that buck

    Well, we once again find ourselves at the close of another year and headed straight into the clutches of what passes for winter here in the Deep South. 

    January 23 at 9:00am
    Jody Sistrunk shows off a nice, mature mainframe 8-pointer  taken during the 2015-2016 season.

    Map out the deer rut

    It is finally here! Just like when we were kids, the wait for Christmas seemed like an eternity. So it is for me, and, I am certain, all other serious diehard deer hunters. College basketball has “March Madness” and here in the Deep South, we deer hunters have our own version; let’s call it “December Madness.” This is the silly season when bucks throw caution to the wind as they pursue estrus does. 

    December 12, 2017 at 9:00am
    In this photo of the same mature buck, taken on Aug. 6, note the circumference of the bases and the overall general mass of the antlers, tell-tale signs of maturity.

    Try to educate your eyes

    In the world of Southeastern Conference football, they call the pregame education process “getting reps,” which over time builds experience and “muscle memory.” 

    November 22, 2017 at 9:00am
    This young buck would just qualify in Mississippi for harvest in the Delta deer zone with a 12-inch inside spread, but it would exceed the 10-inch minimum in the other four zones.

    It’s time to recalibrate

    Well, we survived another Deep South summer, although this one seemed to be more wet at times than hot. My hope is that, in spite of the heat and humidity, you have long since been visiting your hunting properties mowing, spraying, repairing and building stands, supplemental feeding, and working trail cameras. If not, you are late and already running behind, and it is time to get the lead out. 

    October 25, 2017 at 9:00am
    An interesting photo of a buck that appears to have been sheared by a dog groomer.

    Practical strategies for success

    In the last couple of installments of “Happy Trails” we have been peeling the onion back a few layers on the finer points of supplemental feeding. During the preseason period from late spring to early fall, consistent and properly done supplemental feeding accomplishes multiple things for your deer herd and potentially you as a deer hunter. First and foremost, the right type of supplemental feed during the right time period ensures that your resident bucks growing antlers have enough building blocks, and that does stay healthy as they provide milk for their summer offspring.

    September 20, 2017 at 9:00am
    This gravity feeder station is obviously set up in a great spot. The surrounding ground is cut to pieces with deer tracks.

    Supplemental feeding in better focus

    In last month’s installment we discussed minerals and supplemental feeding of deer in Mississippi. This is still a controversial subject depending on who you talk to. Proponents call it supplemental feeding, opponents call it deer baiting. It has been two years now since the MDWFP loosened the regulations regarding: Rule 2.4 — Supplemental Feeding of Wild Animals Outside of Wildlife Enclosures. Let’s drill down on this subject a little deeper and see what is legal and what is not, and how to properly use supplemental feeding to best affect. 

    August 20, 2017 at 9:00am
    Summertime protein feeding can pay big dividends down the road.

    Helping your deer herd

    I sit down to write this installment of Happy Trails after spending yesterday morning in the deer woods of southwest Mississippi, attending to tasks associated with supplemental feeder sites and salt/mineral stations. It was hot and humid and horse flies the size of nickels were buzzing around our heads, but other than that it was a fun and interesting time. It was an outing that was all about preparation for the upcoming hunting season. If you are not already thinking about and preparing for this coming fall and winter, you should be. 

    July 19, 2017 at 9:00am
    The author illustrates here the two jawbone views that you should photograph to ensure a reliable aging estimate.

    More jawbone talk

    In recent installments of Happy Trails we have kicked around various aspects of both the science and art of aging whitetails on and off “the hoof.” Most deer hunters want to become as proficient as possible at estimating deer age BEFORE pulling the trigger, but it is equally important to either confirm or revise your eyeball estimate after the kill. This is where the science of jawbone aging, over time, helps to instruct and improve your eyeball skills.

    June 12, 2017 at 9:00am
    A really good early season buck in velvet. The photo says one thing, but what would his jawbone say?

    Ground proving buck age

    We began a general discussion of this topic in the recent February, 2017 installment of Happy Trails. Let’s now go a little further and expand the discussion. Ground proving bucks means harvesting bucks that you believe meet your minimum goals, collecting their lower jaw bones for “tooth replacement/wear” age estimates, then comparing the earlier “live on-the-hoof” eyeball age estimate with the jawbone indicated age for confirmation or clarification. For a landowner, land or lease manager, or just an everyday deer hunter who wants to further hone his or her knowledge and skill, this can be a very eye-opening exercise.

    May 22, 2017 at 9:00am
    An older buck is seen here scent-checking an active communal scrape.

    Once again, we’re No. 1

    A year ago in the March, 2016 installment of Happy Trails I announced that the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) reported in their annual Whitetail Report that Mississippi had been deemed No. 1 in the entire country for mature buck harvest. I mean really, in the world of whitetail deer hunting, being No. 1 overall in such a category is a big, big deal. The initial honor that I reported on a year ago was based on harvest information from the 2014 season (technically the 2014/2015 deer season).

    April 18, 2017 at 9:00am
    Good “glass” is critical for crystal-clear views into thick brush when searching for bucks.

    Get the best sight picture

    The deer hunter flips up the collar of his fleece jacket to better protect his neck from the chilly, late-afternoon breeze, remaining alert, hoping that an unsuspecting doe will meander by before dark. Success would be two-pronged, as he needs venison for his freezer, and his camp needs a few more does harvested to reach the year’s quota.

    March 16, 2017 at 9:15am
    This photo from the author’s collection illustrates the perfect trail camera pose to allow a pretty accurate age estimate.

    Aging whitetail deer

    As you read this installment of Happy Trails, the 2016–2017 deer season is either late in the fourth quarter or time has already expired.

    February 15, 2017 at 2:35pm
    The author on a 1970’s deer hunt. Note the old style “truckers hat.”

    Late-season reflections

    As we go into 2017, most of us have had the good fortune of sitting quietly alone multiple times this season in the Deep South winter woods.

    January 18, 2017 at 9:00am
    A friend of the author shared with him this recent trail cam photo. He would only say that “it is somewhere in Mississippi.” Lucky man!

    On the rut track

    Well, it is now December here in the Deep South, and as far as patterning mature bucks this is the time when the rubber meets the road.

    As a trail camera user, you might have already had a few cameras out, starting in the pre-season “velvet period,” and captured pictures of some interesting bucks.

    December 15, 2016 at 9:00am