As Mississippi braces for one of the worst winter floods in its history, deer season has become a casualty with two coastal-river wildlife management areas already closed and mores lands expected to close later this week.
Chad Dacus, wildlife bureau director for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, confirmed Monday night via text that high water had forced the suspension of hunting at Pascagoula WMA in Southeast Mississippi’s George and Jackson counties, and Ward Bayou WMA in Jackson County.
“The gates at Deep Slough Road at Pascagoula WMA and the main road at Ward Bayou WMA are both closed, and will remain closed for a week and a half or more,” Dacus wrote. “Hunting season is currently closed in the George County portion of Pascagoula (WMA), and according to the river forecast will be closed at least until next weekend. The Jackson County portion could be closed a week or more, too.”
Dacus said the seasons on the coastal WMAs should resume when the water recedes. Because the extended primitive weapon, archery and youth seasons are open through Feb. 15, plenty of hunting is expected after the closures.
However, that will not likely be the case in the Delta area, where Mississippi River stages at different gauges dictate closures.
As reported Monday by Mississippi Sportsman, rapidly rising flood waters — which are expected to reach a crest of 54 feet at Vicksburg by mid-January — will trigger closures beginning as early as New Year’s Eve in Northwest Mississippi and by New Year’s Day near Vicksburg.
Dacus said regulations dictate that the Mississippi River must recede “to 2 feet below flood stage certain gauges” before the season can resume. That appears unlikely before the close of the regular gun season on Jan. 20 or before the extended seasons end on Jan. 31.
“It’s bad enough for the hunters to lose their opportunity, but for us in the Delta, it’s compounded by the fact that we lose that important financial boost we depend on from hunting — and then, of course, we still have to deal with flood waters,” said Ken Thompson, a clerk at a Washington County convenience store-deli-gas station.
As reported last night, the Delta closures, with gauge information, are below. A map showing the approximate closure areas is found at the bottom of this story.
• Memphis, Ten., gauge at 34 feet — Areas closed will be those parts of Desoto, Tunica and Coahoma counties west of U.S. Highway 61 and north of U.S. Highway 49.
Monday’s level was 25.1 feet and is forecast to reach 34 feet by Jan. 1, with a crest of 43.5 on Jan. 9. Flood stage is 34 feet, which means the river would have to receded to 32 feet for hunting to resume.
• Helena, Ark., gauge at 41 feet — Areas closed will be Coahoma, Bolivar and Washington counties south of U.S. Highway 49, west of U.S. Highway 61 to the intersection of Highway 61 and Mississippi Highway 444, west of Mississippi Highway 1, and north of Highway 82.
Monday’s level was 32.8 feet and is forecast to reach 41 feet by Jan. 2, with a crest of 52.5 on Jan. 11. Flood stage is 44 feet, which means the river would have to receded to 42 feet for hunting to resume.
• Greenville gauge at 48 feet — Areas closed are Washington and Issaquena Counties south of U.S. Highway 82, west of Mississippi Highway 1 and north of Mississippi Highway 14.
Monday’s level was 42.4 feet and is forecast to reach 48 feet on Jan. 2, with a crest of 60 feet on Jan. 14. Flood stage is 48 feet, which means the river would have to receded to 46 feet for hunting to resume.
• Vicksburg gauge at 43 feet — Areas closed will be Issaquena, Sharkey and Warren counties south of Mississippi Highway 14, west of U.S. Highway 61 and north of the Big Black River.
Monday’s level was 36.6 feet and is forecast to reach 43 feet on Jan. 3, with a crest of 54 feet on Jan. 16. Flood stage is 43 feet, which means the river would have to receded to 41 feet for hunting to resume.
Louisiana offiicals also announced closures on the west side of the Mississippi River to go into effect at sunset today.