With CWD positives now at 19 and impacted areas on the increase, the whitetail disease is beginning to affect Mississippi’s deer-hunting regulations and limits, at least under changes proposed recently by the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks for the 2019-20 season.
The changes include increased harvest opportunities for deer in all zones except for the Southeast Zone.
A key change is in buck limits on private lands in all but the Southeast Zone. The seasonal bag limit remains at three, but one of the three will not be required to meet any antler requirements.
Russ Walsh, executive director of the MDWFP’s Wildlife Bureau, tied the change directly to CWD.
“There’s multiple reasons,” he told The Clarion-Ledger. “We know young bucks are dispersers. That’s what they do. We know from our data and Tennessee’s that yearling bucks can be CWD-positive.”
According to Walsh, yearling bucks are largely protected by current restrictions and are underrepresented in the agency’s CWD testing.
“In order to get samples from yearling bucks and allow that opportunity, we would need to relax the antler criteria in the bag limit,” Walsh said.
Doe limits are also changing, both on private and some public lands, in most of the state. Regulations in the Southeast Zone will remain unchanged.
On private lands in all but the Southeast Zone, the antlerless limit will rise from three to five. Walsh said allowing more antlerless harvest should slow the spread of CWD.
Walsh said a proposal would reverse a regulation change made two years ago on public lands that prohibited antlerless (doe) harvest by any means other than archery. The proposal for the 2019-20 deer season would allow antlerless harvest in primitive weapons season on open public land and some WMAs. He said the proposed increase is the result of surveys during which the agency used spotlights to count deer at night, and that data indicated the populations can sustain a limited increase in doe harvest.
Two public land tracts in the heart of the Northern CWD Zone, Upper Sardis WMA and Holly Springs National Forest, will offer even more opportunity. There, it is proposed that antlerless deer can be taken during any open season, and that hunters be given the same one buck-of-choice proposed for public lands.
“That is in the wheelhouse of CWD, so we’re opening the opportunity fairly wide there,” Walsh told The Clarion-Ledger.
He said one final proposal would be to provide a bonus tag to hunters who harvest a CWD-positive deer and choose to relinquish the meat. The proposed changes were expected to receive final approval at the Commission’s May meeting after this magazine’s deadline.