The Finale

Wyatt Abernathy of Florence recently took his first deer, a 9-point. Wyatt harvested the Holmes County buck with his bow at 15 yards.

Mississippi’s late primitive weapons season

If you haven’t gotten your buck by the end of the regular gun seasons this year, Don’t Give Up! Mississippi’s late primitive weapons seasons finale offers some of the best hunting of the year if not the Best. Of course there could be a slight problem if you don’t hunt with a primitive weapon, muzzle-loading rifle or bow, but that can be remedied with a quick trip to the nearest sporting goods store. Today’s modern primitive weapons (sorta contradictory, ain’t it?) are so user-friendly that any reputable sporting goods dealer can have you set up and ready to hunt in one afternoon.

The Magnolia State offers some of the finest late season hunting in the South, particularly in the southern tier of the state, where the rut comes late. But no matter where you are or where you hunt, the wise, heavy-racked bucks that survived the early seasons may be ready to venture from their hiding places. And you can catch them searching for the few remaining does in estrus, or out simply filling their bellies after a long, arduous rutting season. Either way, it’s for sure you gotta be there when your trophy buck makes his move.

Come to think of it, there’s really no good reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of the late season. You can always tape the playoffs or Super Bowl for later viewing. And it’s for sure the weather will have cooled considerably from what it was when the first archery season opened the previous October. Cooler weather means you can hunt in comfort, and by January, you can actually wear some of the cold-weather duds you bought specifically for that purpose.

To me, the late season can’t be beat, at least where I hunt in south Mississippi. I no longer get sweaty going to or climbing up to my stand, and that in itself makes for more enjoyable hunting, if nothing else. Further, the rut is still on in January in most parts of Deer Management Zone 1, and into February of Zone 2. As long as there are does still in estrus, the bucks will be on the move. Even though the temps may be chilly, the rut equates to some hot huntin’!

Hunt the Thickets

By the time the late primitive seasons do roll around, Mississippi’s bucks have been poked with arrows, had hot lead slung at them, and have been chased by hounds so much that they know Rover by his first name. They’ve been run down by trucks on the highway, shocked by electric fencing, and chased away from Farmer Brown’s turnip patch, so it’s no small wonder that by the time the late season opens up, the only place you’ll find any self-respecting trophy buck will be deep in the thickets.

And I do mean THICKETS. It’s amazing where a deer can hide –– places a snake couldn’t go. For instance, a few years back my son Daniel located tons of buck sign in a privet hedge thicket. Honestly, it was so dense that I never would have attempted to scout it out. In fact, the kid had to do some crawling himself to get around, but eventually he located a maze of trails with several small scrapes in the thicket. When he found an enormous, hot scrape, that’s where he hung his stand.

Once he’d hung the climbing stand on the side of a tree, the boy quietly eased out, using a pair of pruning shears to cut an exit trail –– not so large that it would look like a highway right-of-way to the deer, but just large enough so that he could enter and exit without spreading people scent on every bush. Pretty smart kid, huh? Then again, he did have a good… ugh… oh, nevermind.

After letting the area settle down a day or two, Daniel returned to his stand and called in a dandy 11-point buck using my friend Preston Pittman’s grunt tube at about 9 a.m. A single shot from Daniel’s .45 caliber muzzleloader that frosty January morning dropped the buck after a brief and exciting trail job.

Daniel had to get back to school, so he convinced me to hunt the scrape. Since his was the largest buck I’d seen taken on the property in some 30 years, he didn’t have to ask more than once. I was anxious to see if a buck of similar dimensions was using the same scrape. Obviously, the big 11-pointer Daniel killed wasn’t the only one using that scrape.

A few days later, after letting the area calm down once again, I managed to grunt in a six-point cull buck, which I promptly dispatched with a double lung shot, also on a morning hunt.

Actually, he wasn’t a “cull” buck at all. In truth, I should have let the buck walk, but I really did think he was an 8-point until the moment I trailed him up. I guess I’m just getting old. And, while I’m being brutally honest, the broadhead really only sliced through one lung. But gimme a break, folks, I AM getting old.

Speaking of needing a break, my old friend and longtime bow-hunting partner, Earl Sellers, of Purvis, faced quite a dilemma near the end of the 2005-06 late primitive weapons season. And, being a true friend, I feel compelled to pass his story along, if for no other reason than the fact he would do the same to me. Or worse!

Earl, you see, had a problem. Well, Earl has a bunch of problems, but this was one that most any deer hunter would love to have. The problem was that he really couldn’t decide whether to shoot an exceptionally nice buck with his muzzleloader or continue to try and get the record-class deer with a bow. As a die-hard bowhunter, Earl prefers to get his venison with a bow. However, this particular deer was driving the boy crazy (and trust me, he didn’t have far to drive). The buck would feed or chase does in plain view of Earl, but stayed carefully out of Earl’s bow range.

Watching the buck caused Earl to have second thoughts about his hunting tactics. He’d not seen a buck like that in south Mississippi, and the ol’ boy was beginning to backslide a little. This deer was big, REAL BIG, and he didn’t just come in the plot on one occasion, but often. Each time he did, he stayed just out of bow range as if he had radar. Each passing day that Earl sat and watched the big buck, the more his willpower dwindled. If only he could bring himself to take his muzzleloader instead of his bow, the monster buck would be dead meat, no doubt.

But alas, Earl finally made up his mind on how he would hunt the final day of the season. He brushed aside his principles and came up with a plan that would put the magnificent buck on the ground, one way or another.

The Plan

His two sons, Jed and Cale, had bought the old man a pop-up hunting blind for Christmas, so Earl finally decided that would be the way to go. He’d take a chair, the pop-up blind and both his bow and his muzzleloader. I’m surprised he didn’t take the porta potty, but that’s another story for another day. Nonetheless, if the buck stayed out of bow range, he’d pop him with the muzzleloader. But if he came in close, Earl would try to nail him with an arrow, simple as that.

Well, it really wasn’t as simple as THAT! The problem was that the pop-up blind worked so well that several deer, all does and yearlings, fed almost up against it, within spittin’ distance, literally.

“Does were all over me,” Earl lamented. “I mean, right there!” He indicated that the deer were no more than an arm’s length away. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t do anything. I had to just sit there with my bow across my lap and my muzzleloader leaning in the corner.”

And, as if things couldn’t get any worse, out of the pine thicket waltzed that big, ol’ buck, this time well within bow range. Earl’s heart was about to jump out of his chest, but that was the only muscle moving because the does were still too close. If he spooked the does, he knew his buck would be gone.

So, he waited, and as darkness began to overtake the light, the does fed slightly away from the blind and toward the buck. As they slowly moved on, Earl reached for and eased his muzzleloader to his shoulder. He steadied the cross-hairs of his scope on the buck’s shoulder. He took a deep breath, let it half out and then he fired (a bad choice of words, you’ll see).

Instantly, the blind was ablaze, and suddenly Earl realized what the instructions for his pop-up blind really meant when they claimed it: “Goes up in a flash.” And while Earl fought smoke and flames, he had no idea if his trophy buck had gone down or not. Nor did he care –– at least for the moment. Smoke filled the pop-up, I’m sure as much from the muzzle blast as from the blind going up in flames, and Earl was doing all he could to put out the fire and get out of the blind at the same time.

Actually, it probably wasn’t as bad as all that. Earl said it mainly smoldered and put out a lot of smoke before he could exit the blind and beat it out. Nonetheless, there are a couple of lessons to be learned here. First, if you’re going to hunt with a bow, hunt with a bow. Or, if you’re going to hunt with a muzzleloader, leave the bow at home.

A second lesson would be that arrows can be shot safely through a mesh “shoot through” window on a pop-up blind. Muzzleloaders canNOT be safely fired through the same window without first unzipping and opening the window!

Be Prepared

As you might be able to tell, the late primitive weapons season not only can be very productive, but hilariously funny and quite enjoyable –– even if you don’t kill anything but time. You’ll have to adapt a bit from what you normally do during the early seasons, but there’s really nothing to it that doesn’t use common knowledge and common sense.

Naturally, especially if you’re cold natured, you’ll want to check weather reports. I do, but I pretty much am prepared for the worst at all times anyway. I carry a large duffel bag in my tool box. It contains extra socks, extra drawers, extra thermal underwear, you name it. You see, I am cold natured, yet I love to hunt in the cold, so I have to be prepared. Oh, and you won’t catch me without a good supply a chemical heat packs. They have saved the day for me on several occasions, and are directly responsible for more than a few of my better bucks, simply because they allowed me to stay a little longer in the stand and stay a little more still while there.

Another content of my duffel bag is rain gear, so I’m good to go in any kind of weather. I also carry a hunting tackle box just as I do a fishing tackle box when fishing. In it, I store extra batteries for my flashlight, cover scents and attracting scent, all sorts of things. And since I do all my hunting with a bow, you can bet there will be an extra release aid, extra broadhead blades –– anything and everything I could possibly need.

Other than my bow, to me the most important item I can take with me to my stand during any of the late deer seasons is my grunt tube. I have a little bleat can, too, but the grunt tube has been much more effective for both me and my boy late in the season, and like that well-known credit card ad, I won’t leave home without it. In fact, I have so much faith in my grunt tube, and so little faith in my own memory that I stash spares in my tool box, my bow case and the glove compartment, and if I leave my grunt call in the truck or at camp, I just as well should have left my bow.

If you’re not familiar with what a grunt call can do you for you, here’s what you do. Go to a sporting goods store and purchase one, preferably one that changes tones to simulate both buck and doe grunts. And, if the grunt tube does not have an audio cassette tape with it, purchase one separately. Learn how and when to use it, then look for some fast action the next time the late primitive weapons season opens up.

Until then, good hunting, have fun, be careful and take a kid with you every time you can.

Oh, by the way, once Earl got the fire put out and the smoke cleared away, he went to track the trophy buck that had caused all the commotion in the first place. He found no blood, no hair, no sign of an injured, dead or dying trophy deer. It was a bit disheartening, but as a bowhunter, the boy was kinda glad he might get to match wits again come October. If nothing else, Earl sure had a good time tellin’ me his story, and I had a good time telling it to you, even if I did embellish just a little. MWW

About the Author — Phil DiFatta is an avid outdoorsman and turkey hunter. He writes a weekly column for the Hattiesburg American, and contributes to several regional and national publications. E-mail story ideas or comments to