2016-17 WMA forecast

Deer and big bucks are the No. 1 goal for most Mississippi hunters, and they can be found on public Wildlife Management Areas, where state wildlife officials manage the herd and the habitat and hunters have championed the quality management ethos.

With hunting seasons cranking up, regional biologists provide glimpse at the best public hunting areas. Now all you have to do is schedule your vacation time.

Easing slowly through a thicket alongside a natural slough, I spotted a deer crossing heavy with fresh buck rubs and scrapes, sending my adrenalin into high gear with anticipation …

… When a strange feeling came over me.

Have you ever felt like someone or something was watching you?

All of a sudden I heard a loud noise that sounded like bucks locking up and fighting. It didn’t take me long to find out what was going on as I cocked the hammer of my muzzleloader and peered into the thicket producing the racket.

I was ready for a monster buck to come crashing out.

But, in the blink of an eye, a massive coal-black boar hog came charging toward me with tusks popping. He was mean, and he meant business.

As he charged toward me, I centered the crosshairs behind his shoulder and pulled the trigger.

The muzzleloader roared, and my bullet struck pay dirt.

The boar reared straight up and fell over backwards. I’d been looking for a trophy buck but killed a 350-pound hog instead.

Though it wasn’t a trophy buck, it was indeed a trophy to me, and a byproduct of my Mahannah WMA deer hunt.

“Hogs are still everywhere and we’re trapping them and doing everything we can to control them but there is still plenty of opportunity for harvesting hogs,” MDWFP biologist Jamie Holt said. “There’s so much land in the delta that it’s hard to control the pigs. From a wildlife standpoint, they’re very destructive and they destroy crops, including agriculture fields and wildlife habitat that’s normally reserved for the ducks, turkey and other bird species. If people come to hunt hogs they can take as many as they can by using the current legal season weapons.”

If you’re looking for some exciting wild hog hunting and succulent hog sausage, in addition to excellent deer hunting, then look no further than the Mississippi Delta for exciting hog and deer hunting action. You’ll have plenty of fun and might just bring home some bacon too.

Statewide, if you’re looking to harvest a trophy buck, or to just kill a deer, squirrel, rabbit or a few ducks, try Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). Use this guide to help choose locations. In it, regional biologists provide a glimpse for where to go for the biggest deer, most waterfowl and squirrels and rabbits in each region. Before you venture out into any of our WMAs remember to read the regulations to make sure you’re following the law.

South Delta

WMAs: Mahannah, Twin Oaks, Sunflower, Lake George, Howard Miller, Shipland.


While Mahannah has long been known as the crown jewel of Mississippi’s wildlife management areas, the South Delta is also full of other WMAs that area home to trophy bucks and abundant wildlife and game populations. An average 3½-year-old buck harvested here would be a monster buck in most other areas of the state and it’s still pretty decent here.

“Mahannah is always good for harvesting good bucks and offers excellent opportunities to harvest antlerless deer as well,” said Hold, the MDWFP’s regional Biologist. “In fact last year hunters harvested 61 bucks and of those taken 28 were 3½ years or older. Eighty five does were also taken.”

Those numbers are down slightly from the previous year’s harvest, but that may have something to do with the winter flooding of the Mississippi Rive, which caused an early closure to the 2015-16 season.

“Part of the slowdown on all of the Delta’s WMA harvest last year was because of the high water,” Holt said. “Protecting the deer when floods come in is part of our job and as a result the deer hunting season was shut down in January last year. The only hunting done in the areas of flooding was waterfowl hunting.”

Holt said deer usually know when to leave and where to go to escape the high water, and they’re usually quick to move back to their home ranges as the water recedes.

“Part of the reason for the success of the bucks reaching maturity on Mahannah is a result of higher antler restrictions,” Holt said. “The bucks must have a 16- inch inside spread or a 20-inch main beam before it’s legal to harvest. That lets many of the buck’s reach maturity that would otherwise be killed at a younger age.”

With 60,000 acres of bottomland hardwood timber in the Delta National Forest, Sunflower WMA is one of the best bets to harvest a deer or trophy buck in the state.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a monster buck killed out of Sunflower,” Holt said. “Most of the area is a walk-in although successful hunters can retrieve an animal with an ATV. It’s going to take a little hard work but I have no doubt that there are some big monsters roaming those woods in Sunflower now.”

Small Game

“There’s not really a bad place to squirrel hunt in the South Delta region, except maybe Lake George which doesn’t have many good food sources yet,” Holt said. “There’s great hunting on Mahannah, Twin Oaks, Sunflower and Shipland.”

Twin Oaks WMA is also a great place to harvest ducks, squirrels and small game, especially raccoons.

“I’ve seen more raccoons this year than I’ve ever seen in my life on Twin Oaks and in many of the WMAs in this region,” Holt said. “Twin Oaks is crawling with coons right now. We’ve seen groups of 3 and 4 raccoons all over the WMA this year so it should be a good year for the coon hunters and that’s something we haven’t seen a lot of in recent years.”


“Howard Miller WMA had its best year last year when it had the highest harvest in its history,” Holt said. “One contributing factor to the good seasons at Mahannah and Howard Miller may have been scaling back our hunting days from four to three draw hunts per week.”

Farmers typically plant rice, soybeans and corn and they also leave strips of the crops primarily for cover for the hunters and food for waterfowl as well.

“We were able to keep the ducks on this area because we had the feed and water, and that’s often the difference when it comes to harvesting lots of ducks,” Holt said. “You’ll find a variety of ducks here with a lot of shovelers, mallards, pintails, widgeon, ring necks and some canvasbacks.”

Holt also recommends Mahannah for ducks.

“Scouting is the key to consistently harvesting ducks and you need to get back into the timber and woods and check the secluded sloughs and water holes to find the ducks,” he said.

While Mahannah is strictly managed as a moist soil unit they also supplement the native grasses with sorghum and natural seed banks, while getting warm season grasses and natural seed producers going. They also plant cover crops including millet if the grass is not there.

“For the most part we get a variety of natural grasses which helps produce a good variety of invertebrate’s structure which are invaluable to the waterfowl during the cold weather,” Holt said.

North Delta

WMAs: Charlie Capps, Malmaison, Indianola, Muscadine Farms, Stoneville, Leroy Percy and O’Keefe


“Sky Lake and Great River Road are my two draw only hunts and probably the best areas to harvest a quality buck in the North Delta Region,” said regional biologist Caleb Hinton, who said Thanksgiving through December is peak. “I noticed last year that rutting activity in most of this region started between Thanksgiving and the first week of December and increased through mid-December.

“In our core areas the rut was pretty defined and a lot of bucks were seen chasing does or harvested during that time. Sky Lake is the exception and is a little further south and the rut seemed to run a little later there.”

Last year was Great River Road’s first year open to hunters, and several good bucks were taken. WMA personnel are excited to see what happens this year on the WMA’s 2,000 acres of prime deer habitat.

“I’d put Great River Road as my number one draw area and there were several nice bucks killed up there last year,” said Hinton. “The area behind the Mississippi River levee is great hunting and is a unique hunting area.”

As a limited draw only, with low hunting pressure, conditions are ripe for growing trophy bucks at Great River Road. Ten bucks were harvested on the area last year that averaged inside spreads of 17 inches with main beams averaging 21¾ inches, which is very good anywhere in the state.

“The area inside the levee is all bottomland hardwoods and it’s a completely different habitat there,” Hinton said. “And hunting is limited to bow and muzzleloader only, which gives the deer even better chances of surviving and reaching maturity.”

Hinton ranks two of his WMAs together, with a positive outlook.

“Both Malmaison and O’Keefe have great potential; both give you an excellent opportunity to kill a buck any time you’re in the woods,” Hinton said. “Malmaison would be my top choice to kill a deer as it seems to have a little better habitat to suit anybody. There’s parts that are easily accessible for both youth and handicapped hunters, and there’s some areas that are landlocked with difficult access and the only way to get to it is by boat.”

Malmaison actually has two parts and is the only WMA located both in the Delta bottomland and hills. Malmaison also has approximately 10,000 acres to hunt and that makes it easier to spread out and hunt the way you prefer.

“Malmaison has a 15- (spread) 18-inch (main beam) buck harvest restriction while O’Keefe has 16- and 20-inch restrictions,” said Hinton. “The stricter regulations help protect our 21/2-year-old deer so that they can mature at least another year.”

Small Game

According to Hinton, in addition to having a great deer population, Malmaison and O’Keefe both offer plenty of raccoons, with very little hunting pressure.

“O’Keefe has a pretty good squirrel population due to the bottomland hardwoods and mast production,” Hinton said. “Malmaison also has a good mixture of pines and hardwoods with a good amount of squirrels, but not quite as much hunting pressure. On the delta side of the area you have the typical hardwood timber. Most of the squirrels are grey squirrels with a few red fox squirrels.”

For rabbits, Hinton said Sky Lake is the top destination for rabbit hunting in the region due to its abundance of CRP.


“The two best WMAs for waterfowl are Muscadine Farms and Malmaison,” Hinton said. “Muscadine is a draw unit only and it is made up of 92 catfish ponds.

We manage it for moist soil vegetation and it has easy access. We also have standby hunting and last year there were only two or three times when hunters were turned away.”

Malmaison has some green tree reservoirs, and the area called McIntyre Scatters is famous around the country.

Indianola WMA is another good bet for waterfowl. It is comprised of flooded catfish ponds supplemented by managed moist soil production, and planted with strips of corn and millet left for food and cover for the ducks.

Northeast Region

WMAs: Charles Ray Nix, Upper Sardis, Sardis Waterfowl, Graham Lake, Hell Creek, Tuscumbia, Calhoun, Chickasaw, John Bell Williams, Canal Section, Divide Section.


The Charles Ray Nix WMA is the best bet for killing a deer and for taking a quality buck in this region according to regional biologist Brad Holt.

“(Last year) was our best year on Charles Ray Nix since it opened, in terms of hunter success per man-days in the field,” Holt said. “We had fewer people hunting there but much more success in harvesting deer. This WMA is a draw hunt only and we manage it specifically for quail and small game, but the things that make the habitat good for quail and small game also make it good for deer.”

The record harvest included over 100 deer on the 4,000-acre WMA, which has a 15- and 18-inch antler minimum restriction, allowing bucks to grow and mature.

“Charles Ray Nix is fairly open land with 200- to 300-acre size old fields down to 4- to 5-acre fields, and looks a good bit like CRP land,” Holt said. “There’s 1,200 acres of open hardwoods with lots of cover and browse across the WMA. That’s why we can hold deer and why people have such good success.

“We’re trying to maximize the potential of the deer on the WMA and it seems to be working now. We’ve had several 8-pointers killed and a 10-point and 12-point, with a couple (scoring) in the 130s to 140s. And we’ve also grown the quail population and increased our rabbit production as a result of the intensive habitat and wildlife management plan and implementation.”

For hunters looking for a quality buck, Holt said the Canal Section WMA is a good place to look.

“The east side near the Tombigbee Waterway would probably be a good place,” he said. “With 25,000 acres of habitat to hunt, the deer density isn’t as great but we have potential to kill big bucks. And, with the 12- and 15-inch antler criteria it gives them a chance to grow longer and bigger.”

Canal Section is comprised of mostly bottomland hardwoods and the MDWFP conducts prescribed burns that promote more browse growth, which, along with the good cover, which should result in better quality bucks.

Hold said that two massive MWAs, Chickasaw with 28,000 acres and Upper Sardis with 43,000 acres, offer the next best bets to kill a deer.

“Chickasaw has a still hunt area and a dog hunting area which gives hunters options,” he said. “Upper Sardis doesn’t allow deer hunting with dogs but there are plenty of places to find a deer to hunt in the upland hardwoods.”

Both of these areas receive a lot of hunting pressure but if you will put in the time to scout and find the deer away from the crowds you just might harvest a trophy buck. The Tallahatchie River Bottom is at the extreme north side of Upper Sardis and it’s filled with prime deer habitat along the river bottom.

The Divide Section WMA has 15,000 acres and is located in extreme Northeast Mississippi, and has potential to produce quality bucks. Holt said it produced a couple that scored in the high 130s last season. The WMA has a lot of big fields like Charles Ray Nix and it has some bottomland and upland hardwoods across the unit giving it plenty of food, cover and browse.

The region offers some special opportunities for youngsters.

“Graham Lake WMA has a youth rifle hunt which provides them with a good opportunity to harvest a deer,” Holt said. “We also offer some excellent opportunities for youth on Sardis Waterfowl on both deer and turkey and it’s a great opportunity for them to harvest a deer. It’s a draw hunt and there’s a good probability a youth will get a shot at a deer if they put in the time and locate the deer.”


“Tuscumbia is the flagship WMA as far as waterfowl hunting in this region,” Holt said. “Tuscumbia is also a draw hunt only unit for waterfowl, and its Unit 2 is intensely managed for waterfowl hunts.”

The Canal Section WMA also has ducks due to its proximity to the Tombigbee River and it’s the second best duck hunting area with prime habitat and natural resources. According to Holt, both Tuscumbia and Canal Section produce mallards, gadwalls, teal and wood ducks on both areas as well.

“There’s also a lot of diving ducks like bluebills, scaup, redheads, canvasbacks, in the Canal Section due to the deeper water,” Holt said.

Small Game

“We have pretty good squirrel and small game hunting across the region except for Sardis Waterfowl and Graham Lake,” said Holt. “There’s good hunting and lots of room on Upper Sardis and Chickasaw, too. You’ll find primarily grey squirrels with a few fox squirrels occasionally across the region.”

Central Region

WMAs: Pearl River, Bienville, Caney Creek, Tallahalla, Trim Cane, Choctaw, Yockanookany, John Starr, Black Prairie, Nanih Waiya, Okatibbee.


The Central Region is home to some of the finest deer hunting in the south. Whether you want to still hunt for deer or chase them with a pack of hounds, you’ll find ample opportunity to harvest a buck or doe.

According to region biologist Amy Blaylock, the best bests for deer are at the Choctaw and John Starr WMAs: “These two areas follow the statewide antler criteria of a 10-inch spread or 13-inch main beams and offer excellent opportunities to harvest bucks and does.”

With 24,314 acres on Choctaw and 8,244 on John Starr there’s plenty of room for hunters to spread out and get off to themselves, especially during the week. There were 89 deer harvested on Choctaw last year and 30 of those were bucks, with at least five that were 4½ years of age or older. That means some of the bucks are reaching maturity and there may be a few trophies roaming the woods. John Starr had 49 deer harvested with 27 bucks.

In the southern part of the region, Blaylock said the WMAs within the Bienville National Forest are excellent choices.

“The Bienville, Caney Creek and Tallahalla WMAs offer some of the best deer hunting opportunities in the state, ” she said. “And they’re all located within a short drive of most people living in Central Mississippi.”

Last year Bienville had a total deer harvest of 144 deer with 56 bucks and 58 does taken, an indication that hunters in the area are buying into quality deer management.

“We moved the antler restrictions back to a 12-inch minimum spread or a 15-inch main beam because local and area hunters had seen the benefits of letting the bucks grow,” said Blaylock.

Bienville, Caney Creek and Tallahalla all offer excellent dog hunting opportunities with plenty of acreage to run deer.

At Yockanookany WMA, timber cuttings a year ago are producing more deer sightings. The Pearl River WMA adjacent to Barnett Reservoir is best known for waterfowl, but it also offers excellent youth and handicapped deer hunting.

“We provide shoot houses for both youth and handicap hunters and some of those are on food plots and some are in the woods which are a mixture of bottomland hardwoods and upland pines,” Blaylock said.

Small Game

Nanih Waiya WMA offers excellent rabbit, squirrel and waterfowl opportunities along the Pearl River. The area is mostly bottomland hardwoods and squirrels the river bottom as well as swamp rabbits.

Okatibbee WMA has good squirrel and rabbit hunting.


Okatibbee WMA is located around Okatibbee Lake just north of Meridian and it is home to deer, squirrel, rabbits and alligators, and when the weather cooperates, the waterfowl hunting may be the hottest ticket on the WMA. During the early teal season the lake sometimes fills up with teal and the action is hot and heavy. Later on during the cold weather the area holds a lot of ducks in the creeks, sloughs, beaver ponds and potholes scattered through the WMA and woods adjacent to Okatibbee Creek.

Trim Cane WMA offers excellent waterfowl hunting, but must have rain. Since there’s no permanent water source on the area, Mother Nature must provide the water. The MDWFP plants the waterfowl impoundments with brown top millet and sorghum to set the stage.

Southwest Region

WMAs: Canemount, Copiah County, Natchez State Park, Theodore Mars, Wolf River, Old River, Marion County and Sandy Creek.


Canemount is far and away the No. 1 draw hunting opportunity for deer among the state’s WMA system.

“Canemount is a draw hunt area and it’s your best chance to harvest a quality buck in the Southwest Region,” said regional biologist Josh Moree. “There’s very limited pressure on the place and each hunter drawn will have 500 to 600 acres to themselves. It’s a pretty good bargain and a unique hunting experience.”

Permits are $300, and if all of the permits are not purchased there is a second drawing.

“Canemount is managed strictly for deer and turkey hunting and we expect another good year this year,” said Moree said. “We have a youth hunt that’s really good and we keep the hunting pressure down. We’ve got six hunt units and we draw one youth per unit and they’re allowed to bring another hunting guest.”

Last year, hunters harvested 93 deer with 39 bucks and 54 does taken. Twenty-four of those bucks averaged 185 pounds and were 4½ years or older. The average spread was 16.2 inches with 20.2–inch main beams.

“We have a lot of historical data on Canemount as the area was managed for quality buck hunting prior to being purchased by the state,” Moree said. “We have everything needed to grow big bucks so that’s why we have the higher antler restrictions to allow those bucks to reach maturity. Last year there were several 200 pound deer harvested here including a 210-pound 8-point, a 205-pound 10-pt with 5-inch bases, a 218-pounder and several other good deer.

Copiah WMA is a very popular spot, with its proximity to Jackson, and hunters have a good chance to harvest a deer and even a nice buck, Moree said.

Caston Creek is a U. S. Forest Service WMA like Sandy Creek and it has special regulations for dog hunters. They must have dog permits to hunt on the WMA.

Marion County WMA offers good deer hunting, albeit with a shortened gun season, and like Copiah County has good youth hunting opportunities.

Old River WMA is normally a fair deer-hunting destination, but in 2016-17 it deserves more consideration. Carved in the Pearl River bottoms, the WMA’s deer season was closed due to flooding most of last year. The harvest was down, which should mean a big number of deer.

Small Game

“Sandy Creek WMA is one of the best squirrel hunting areas with good habitat,” said Moree. “It has a variety of oaks, swamp chestnuts, cherry barks with a mixture of pine and hardwoods included. The majority of the squirrels here are grey squirrels but there are a few fox squirrels as well.

“Wolf River WMA is popular for rabbit hunters and as pine clear cuts and thickets which offer excellent habitat for the rabbits. A lot of people squirrel hunt at Old River WMA.”


Old River WMA offers the region’s best, if not only, waterfowl opportunity. Wood ducks comprise the vast majority of ducks harvested. Hunters should know that the area is extremely popular with fishermen all year, and hunting season is no exception.

Southeast Region 

WMAs: Chickasawhay, Mason Creek, Leaf River, Little Biloxi, Red Creek, and Ward Bayou.


The Southeast Region offers something that no other region in the state has to offer — a February deer season.

In fact, most of the quality bucks killed in the coastal region are harvested from the end of January through the close of the season on Feb. 15. The rut in the Southeast is kicking in just when the rest of the state’s season is ending.

“A unique element to hunting the WMAs in the Southeast is that hunter’s experience more success with harvesting bucks later in the season,” said Nathan Blount, the MDWFP’s regional biologist. “In fact the buck harvest leaps around Jan. 15 through Feb. 15 and that’s the best time to go to the woods down here.”

The 41,000-acre Leaf River WMA is a good place to start. It’s full of deer with lots of bucks available.

“Last year we had some great hunting and lots of hunters killed bucks and saw lots of young bucks on the WMA, too,” said Nathan Blount, the MDWFP’s regional biologist. “The last couple of years hunters have harvested over 200 bucks each year and we expect great things again this year.”

Blount said that over 50 percent — 125 to be exact — of the deer taken at Leaf River last season were bucks. While most of the mature bucks — ages 4½ years or above — averaged a mere 125 pounds, the area does produce good racks. Last year a hunter killed a 9-point that had a 15½-inch spread and 20-inch main beams, but weighed just 115 pounds.

Leaf River is comprised mostly of longleaf pines with occasional hardwood drainages scattered throughout, and a quarter of the WMA is open to dog hunting.

“There’s lots of browse from prescribed burning,” said Blount. “There are a lot of wide open areas where you can see for a long ways and spot deer movement easily. In addition this area has lots of long roads you can walk down and get away from the crowds.”

Chickasawhay WMA traditionally doesn’t get quite as much pressure as some of the other areas and that makes it a prime spot to harvest a deer. With over 30,000 acres of long leaf pine habitat intersected by a few creek drainages, it’s notable that hunters have plenty of room to hunt.

“Last year they killed about 60 deer with half of them being bucks,” Blount said. “The most impressive thing was that two-thirds of the harvest were deer 4½ years old or older.”

An average mature buck harvested in this area has a 12½-inch spread, 15-inch main beams and weighs 132 pounds. Last year one of best bucks taken on the area was an 8-point which had a 15-inch spread, 19-inch main beams and was harvested on Jan. 29.

The WMA is good for both tree stands and stalking.

“Thick hardwood streamside zones make great travel corridors for the deer and many hunters hunt the edges of these along the pines to catch the deer moving from the thickets,” Blount said. “If you get up in a climbing stand you’ll be able to see about 200 yards in some areas so you have several options there too.”

Blount’s choice for a quality buck may be surprising.

“Little Biloxi WMA is the best bet for quality bucks in this region,” he said. “And, each year there seems to be at least one really good deer and last year was no exception. We had a 180-pound 18-point killed here that had 5½-inch bases, 19-inch main beams and a 14½-inch spread. That buck was killed around Christmas and was a really good deer for South Mississippi.”

The area is still-hunting only and that also helps grow bigger deer by letting them live a little longer This region also has no special regulations but basically follows the statewide seasons and regulations.

Pascagoula and Ward Bayou WMAs have the highest body weight average for bucks in the region with 3½-year-old bucks averaging 147 pounds and 4½-year-old bucks averaging 160.


Pascagoula River and Ward Bayou WMAs are the best bets for waterfowl.

“Both had pretty good seasons last year,” Blount said. “This year we still have a lot of resident wood ducks and that’s the dominant duck harvested here.”

Pascagoula River has plenty of sloughs and backwater areas that hold ducks and there’s decent access to the river with the use of flat bottom boats. If you’re looking for variety then head further south to the marsh and you will likely find an assortment of ducks including some mallards, other marsh ducks and even some hooded mergansers.

Small Game

Blount didn’t hesitate with his pick for best squirrel hunting, pointing to the neighboring Pascagoula River and Ward Bayou WMAs and the 50,000 acres of total land mass combined, even though another WMA historically is more productive.

“We’re expecting a better squirrel season this year as we have seen a lot more young squirrels in the spring,” Blount said. “Leaf River had the best man-days to hunt and harvest squirrels in the region with .77 squirrels per man-day which is basically per hunting trip.”

Two coastal area WMAs produce excellent rabbit hunting.

“Last year Ward Bayou had a real good rabbit season in the areas where they had had prescribed burning and thinned long leaf pines,” said Blount. “The large acreage plus plenty of swamp rabbits make it a really good rabbit hunting destination. And, Little Biloxi is another area that offers decent rabbit hunting too.

Blount can even boast of good quail hunting, something you don’t see much of in Mississippi.

“Chickasawhay and Leaf River offer excellent quail hunting opportunities,” Blount said, adding that Chickasawhay had the highest harvest ratio per man-day in the state. Neither area gets much quail hunting pressure, another bonus.

About Michael O. Giles 406 Articles
Mike Giles of Meridian has been hunting and fishing Mississippi since 1965. He is an award-winning wildlife photographer, writer, seminar speaker and guide.

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