Choosing a Wildlife Management Area to hunt during Mississippi’s archery season can be as simple or as complex as your desired result, from chasing a trophy, putting meat on the table or just enjoying deer encounters.

Naturally, every hunter enters the woods dreaming of a new Pope & Young record buck, but the odds are not in his or her favor. But remember: “Never say never.” It could happen. 

By dialing back your goals, your chances improve dramatically on public lands. If securing some meat for the freezer is your goal ­— and that is a laudable endeavor — you stand a good chance of succeeding.

If seeing some deer while enjoying time in the woods is the pinnacle of your early season outing, you will not be disappointed. Our WMAs certainly can meet that demand. Deer are plentiful.

Taking a deer is the primary goal of most hunters, and to be successful during archery season — Oct. 1-Nov. 16 in most zones and Oct. 15-Nov. 16 in the southeast — biologist William McKinley, the deer program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, offers sage advice. 

“If it’s dry, hunt water (sources); if it’s normal, hunt food sources,” he said. “Every WMA has both to some extent.

“Being a deer biologist as well as a deer hunter, I can say the single most-important aspect of early season deer hunting anywhere is knowing where the deer are and what they’re eating. The only way to know this with any modicum of certainty is to scout likely areas, find deer sign and find a location for a stand or blind. Then, hunt at every opportunity. The investment in time will pay off in venison.”

Public hunting land abounds in Mississippi. Aside from parts of the west, few states have the abundance of public land per capita as does Mississippi. Admittedly, some areas are better that others, but all things considered, state residents have a treasure trove of deer hunting that is vastly underutilized. 

It is impossible to give the reader the specific GPS location of the best tree on the hottest trail in each WMA, but we can help the novice archery hunter, and even the veteran, locate an area where the chances of success are good by providing the following list of our Top 10 Archery WMAs. They are not listed in any specific order, and remember that the hunting processes for these apply to all public lands.

Shipland WMA

Located in Issaquena County nears Mayersville, Shipland is one of two WMAs in the Mississippi batture lands — the land between the Mississippi River and the main-river levee. Batture lands are highly prized by deer hunters.

The area is classified as bottomland hardwood, but the habitat varies across Shipland, ranging from a small sand fields comprised of grassland and stunted trees, to a forest of oaks, pecan, and sugarberry trees, to low, wet areas of willow trees and buttonbush.

Hanging a stand in the hardwoods where the field edge can be seen is a good idea, as deer like to travel the borders.

In the past 10 years, several types of logging operations have been conducted to improve the habitat for wildlife. WMA personnel also plant winter and summer food plots and maintain permanent openings to provide additional food for wildlife.

Deer hunting is the most-popular form of hunting at Shipland, followed closely by squirrel and waterfowl. Deer seasons are restricted to archery and primitive weapon, with harvest limited to antlerless deer and bucks that meet the antler criteria for the area. 

Nanih Waiya WMA

A wide-open area near the headwaters of the Pearl River near Philadelphia, Nanih Waiya necessitates preseason scouting. Wind storms over the years have dropped some huge hickory and oak trees, resulting in the emergence of briar, cane and brush: perfect deer habitat. Numerous trails dissect the WMA, so finding an active one is not a problem. Hang a stand close enough to the trail for an accurate shot and make yourself comfortable.

Hogs are present at Nanih Waiya, but as with every sounder across the state, they may or may not be seen on the day you are hunting. For the time invested, this is a top-notch area for bowhunters.

Canemount WMA

Mississippi’s premier draw WMA for deer, only two hunters will share an area the size of most deer camps if they are fortunate enough to be selected for hunts at this Claiborne County site south between Port Gibson and Alcorn State University. 

This is an area where hunters could encounter a buck that could rival anything from the best private camps in Mississippi. The three-day experience is worth every penny of the fee required to apply for the draw. Having hunted Area 3 at Canemount, I can attest that there are so many beautiful locations, deciding on one place to hang a stand is difficult.

Hogs and black bear have been seen on the area, so caution should be used in target identification. Rental cabins are near the area headquarters, or hunters can commute from Port Gibson.

Charles Ray Nix WMA

 McIvor Creek and its tributaries divide this 4,088-acre Panola County tract near Sardis. It’s an easy-to-scout WMA, with an ATV trail around much of the property. There are no permit restrictions for archery, but there are for later primitive weapons seasons. This WMA boasts a dove field, so there is an added incentive to dove hunt in September, then scout for archery hunting spots on the same visit. 

There is some soft mast such as persimmons and dogwoods in the fringes, and a wide variety of acorn producing oaks as well.

Black Prairie WMA

Many people would call this Lowndes County WMA near Brooksville a sleeper, but shouldn’t, since it sits in the middle of the black prairie belt that has produced many trophy bucks, including record-book deer.

Much of Black Prairie is open and does not lend itself to tree stands. For the bowhunter comfortable in a pop-up blind, it offers hundreds of acres of great set-up locations. This is not to say a few good trees for hanging a stand don’t exist, but why limit yourself. 

Hunting here is by permit only for all seasons aside from special youth hunts.

Cossar State Park

Located adjacent to Enid Lake, this 600-acre park is a golden opportunity for a new archer. This is the second season the park has been opened to hunting on a draw-permit basis. The success rate promises to be very high, with each hunter drawn having a dedicated portion of the park.

Overpopulation has resulted in the deer herd being smaller than the state average with regard to body weight, but the high number of deer means increased chances for harvest.

Draw opportunities are available from archery season opening through the Dec. 2 opening of the primitive weapon season. Buck antler restrictions have been waived, making it easier for youth or new hunters to concentrate on making a clean kill. 

Being at Enid, home of the world-record white crappie, the park offers the opportunity to combine world-class perch jerking with hunting. Cabins are available at the park, as are primitive and developed campgrounds.

Mahannah WMA

Its location in Issaquena County near the epicenter of Mississippi’s first chronic wasting disease discovery in January does not lessen the fantastic opportunity the Mahannah provides. Nearly 250 animals have been harvested in Issaquena County since the discovery of the fatal cervid disease, many from the WMA, with no additional positive results being found.

CWD-related regulations have not been announced for the 2018-19 season, but don’t be surprised to find a representative of the MDWFP at the checkout, taking brain-stem samples for random testing.

As far as choosing the best stand location, hunters will be wise to study topo and aerial maps to locate natural funnels created by water and dense undergrowth. Deer will bed in the densest thickets that offer multiple escape routes. 

Mahannah offers hunters an excellent opportunity to take a wild hog, and sign is evident all across the WMA. Bear are also common on the WMA and are definitely off limits, and hunters are urged to be sure of their targets, especially when drawing on a hog, before hitting the release.

“There are places where acorns can be heavy, and honey locust are dropping all along dense undergrowth,” said hunter Steve McFarland of Brandon. “You may hear hogs but never see them, but other days they will parade by in droves. Deer are the same way; you may see 20 doe and yearlings before you see a shooter buck.”

Earlier this year, the MDWFP announced plans to purchase some of the surrounding property, which will allow it to expand future hunting opportunities at what is one of the state’s premier WMAs.

Lake George WMA

In Yazoo County between Holly Bluff and Satartia, this WMA is 8,383 acres dominated by regenerated bottomland hardwood forest, with less than 40 acres of mature timber. Extensive flooding is not a major problem.

“Deer habitat on the area is exceptional, since most of the area has been replanted in trees,” McKinley said. “This hardwood regeneration has created an early successional habitat that has allowed the growth of massive amounts of browse.” 

Due to high-quality habitat, the deer herd on Lake George is in very good condition. Buck quality is above average for WMAs, although the antlerless harvest could be more intense and is encouraged. Bucks are not eligible for harvest unless they meet the antler criteria specific to Lake George: an inside spread of at least 15 inches or one main beam length of at least 18 inches (youth can take any antlered bucks). This rule has been in place for several years, so some higher-quality deer should be available for harvest. 

Hunter success is generally high, and hunting opportunities are practically unrestricted. Deer hunting tends to be difficult, because of low visibility. Hunting pressure, in general, is relatively low, which tends to slightly increase the quality of the experience.

Scott County’s Big 3

Bienville, Caney Creek and Tallahala WMAs all have a part in Scott County, but Smith County and Jasper also gets in on the resource. The still hunting area of Smith County, part of the Caney Creek WMA, is comprised of beautiful bottomland along the Strong River drainage. There is a lot of land and a lot of deer.

“There are very few times I hunt the area that I don’t see deer,” said avid bowhunter Brad Earls of Morton. “The area is close to home for me, and that has allowed me to scout and learn the area. I primarily hunt the open woods once the acorns start to fall. Look for fresh deer sign; deer are creatures of habit in early season, so where you see them today, you will likely see them tomorrow.”

Earls walks the creeks and riverbanks and looks for heavy use crossings, then places a climbing stand nearby where he can see the approach to the crossing. Deer like acorns with low tannin content. Sawtooths and white oaks are the favored picks over red oaks or pin oaks.

“I’d say 90 percent of archers’ shots will be on does, but bucks will drift through as well,” Earls said. “I’ve hunted the public land since 1990, and I’ve had no complaints. Some days, I’ll hear or see other people, but a lot of the time I have my place in the woods all to myself.”