The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks in August began surveying the state’s deer hunters — especially those who chase whitetails in the South Delta — about how they thought the 2019-20 season should be impacted by the devastating 10-month flood.
The proposed options ranged from no change in the season’s format or bag limit to a complete closure for the fall and winter. On Aug. 21, the MDWFP announced a shortened season with a reduced season bag limit of two bucks — one of which can be of any antler size — and two antlerless deer per hunter. It will open Oct. 15 and end Jan. 5, with the archery and gun seasons coinciding with the other zones during that period.
South Delta deer zone
Basically, the MDWFP established a new South Delta deer management zone with its own seasons and limits.
“Thankfully, sound reasoning was used, and they didn’t totally close the season,” said Jeff Terry, an avid hunter, farmer and landowner from the hard-hit Eagle Lake community. “That would have been devastating for our deer, adding to the devastation that hit our deer herd during this flood.
“Take away opportunity, and you take away the impetus for many hunters to plant food plots or provide supplemental feeding for the deer, and that would come at a time when deer need both. The natural habitat has been depleted, and there’s no way it could rebound during the winter.”
Terry didn’t even mention the impact a closure would have on the economy of the already economically stressed region, nor did he discuss the need for hunters to continue providing deer carcasses for the MDWFP to test for CWD (chronic wasting disease).
CWD, a 100% fatal disease that affects cervids like deer, was first found in Mississippi in the South Delta region in 2018. The MDWFP didn’t overlook that aspect, and others.
Changes were needed
In an interview with the Clarion Ledger’s Brian Broom, MDWFP chief of staff Russ Walsh said the agency looked at many issues involving the stressed herd in the South Delta.
“We did not recommend closing the season completely, but we knew we needed to change the dates and bag limits,” he said, adding that the approved framework allowed hunting opportunity, included major holidays, and will allow the department to continue to test hunter-harvested deer for chronic wasting disease.
“It was a way to shorten the season, reduce stress on deer and change the bag limit,” Walsh said. “A lot of factors went into it, and that’s where we landed.”
The survey results were interesting and varied by hunting groups.
“If you look at the survey, those who did not hunt the South Delta, they said they wanted the season closed,” Walsh said. “Among private land hunters (in the South Delta), the majority of them said they wanted some semblance of a season. Public-land hunters who took the survey, the majority said they wanted the season closed.”
Terry said he was, “okay with the seasons and limits.” Other hunters whose primary hunting range is in the impacted area agreed.
“At least I have the opportunity to hunt,” said Bill Thompson of Vicksburg, who hunts a small area of Sharkey County near the Issaquena County line. “It gives us, the landowners and lease holders, the chance to go and observe our herd and make decisions within their limits on whether or not to harvest deer, and if so, what is best for our surviving animals.
“We had already decided we were going to plant food plots, even increasing the total number and acres. But, I know there are some smaller clubs and landowners who would not have planted or put out food if they didn’t have the opportunity to hunt,” he said. “This works especially well for us, because our membership limit was only two bucks as it was, and while we were taking a lot of doe deer, this gives us a chance to assess our antlerless deer without overkill. I absolutely feel we need to take some deer off our damaged habitat, despite any die-off caused by the flood. The habitat must heal for the long-term good of the deer herd.”
Phil Bryant WMA opening delayed
Due to the MDWFP’s inability to access and improve its new Phil Bryant Wildlife Management Area during the flood, the agency has delayed the opening of the 17,000-acre WMA in the South Delta for the time being.
Russ Walsh, MDWFP’s chief of staff, said that due to the timing and duration of the flood, no access improvements have been made, parking areas have not been established, gates and signage are not in place, and structures that present liability have not been removed.
“We likely will not open it until Dec. 1,” Walsh said. “There’s just so much to do over there. We haven’t been able to do anything because of the water. We haven’t made (opening day) official because we may be able to open it sooner.”