Three tips from three Mississippi deer experts can trigger a great start to your season.
Fall in Mississippi is a time of activating triggers. Fat doves leave their northern climes, triggered by cooler weather, a shorter photoperiod and centuries-old genetic imprinting. Whitetail does start to wean their offspring and release certain pheromones that interest bucks, who experience a rise in testosterone that causes them to shed their velvet. This, in turn, triggers groups of bachelor bucks that have been together for months to start breaking apart and thinking about procreation.
It is the first appearance of the bright, crimson leaves of the black gum, or perhaps the bright yellow of a sweet gum, even the reddening of the withering poison ivy that beckons hunters to start checking stands, clearing trails, sighting-in rifles and practicing with archery equipment. Autumn has so many triggers that make our primeval need to hunt and gather kick into high gear.
One thing shared by all hunters is eternal optimism. Anchored in anticipation, that optimism fuels an eager endeavor to eliminate all the failures from seasons past. Learning from past mistakes, hunters seek to gain every edge they can. Reading articles such as this one, hunters hope to find a panacea, a kernel of knowledge that make them better at their craft, a sliver of information that will enabling the ultimate pulling of the trigger.
Get in the woods
Joshua Hawkins of Brandon is a natural-born, deer-killing machine. When he was discharged after a career in the U.S. Navy, the master chief petty officer was quizzed about his plans for civilian life. He said bluntly that he was going on a killing spree: deer, turkeys, crappie and catfish. He has done his best to live up to that pledge.
“Much of my deer hunting is on public lands,” Hawkins said. “Mississippi has fantastic public-land opportunities, thousands of acres of prime deer country for the hunter willing to get their boots dirty and commit to the long haul.”
Hawkins said hunters need to remove every variable before the season begins. Hunting starts with understanding the prey and how it reacts and interacts with people on a daily basis. It may sound a little like a Yogi-ism, but deer don’t really notice people until they do.
“Public land is under constant management, so people are walking, driving, marking timber, hunting other species and scouting for the upcoming deer season,” Hawkins said. “Most of the non-hunting humans are not too concerned about noise and scent, so the deer see and smell, and we become associated with those smells. When a deer comes across a scent in the woods, it will process the smell and either ignore it or take some evasive action. But unlike elk, antelope or other western game, they will not leave for another mountain range.”
A deer’s sense of smell is well-documented; no need to establish that. Mitigating or tricking that sense is a challenge. The scent-blocking market is filled with claims and counter claims. And to a degree, all the products have some effectiveness at covering human odor, when used according to directions.
“You can start out with scent-free clothing and the best intentions,” Hawkins said. “But a stop at a café or gas station will contaminate shoes and clothes pretty quickly. I have a dedicated plastic tub with limbs, twigs, leaves, leaf litter and earth stored in the bottom. In that, I keep my boots, coveralls, hats, mask, gloves and fanny pack and other fabric items. I also keep a spray bottle of scent neutralizer to spray inside my boots before putting them on. The action of walking causes foot odor to exit the top of the boots. From experience, I have discovered more deer crossing my path with little alarm since scent control has been a priority.”
Study your subject
For too many people, deer-hunting has digressed to sitting in a shooting house on a food plot and shooting deer as they feed. Of course, deer are harvested by this means every year, but deer soon learn the food plot is a dangerous place, and the bigger and older deer will become nocturnal, choosing to visit the site after shooting hours. More uncommon are the hunters who practice woodsmanship, learning what deer do and how they interact with their environment. Mark Golden of Taylorsville has seen many changes in deer-hunting techniques.
“Deer are creatures of their environment and genetics,” Golden said. “There are seasonal foods, such as persimmons, acorns, grasses and forbs that are better at some times of the year and unpalatable at others. Thus, a hunter must understand what food crops are available in a given woodlot and place a stand accordingly.”
Where to place your stand
On private or leased land, decades of hunters have established this pattern, and stands have been placed accordingly. Travel routes from known bedding areas to known food sources are well established, and the deer respond with regularity. No food plot is involved.
“Wind, or more accurately, air currents come into play during woods hunting,” Golden said. “A bottle of unscented talcum powder works for judging wind direction, but I prefer a few stands of cotton. The cotton fibers will hang on the current longer, and if the air is moving first one way and then another, it is easier to discern.”
Once the direction of air movement has been determined, place your blind or stand so deer will approach with the wind, or at least where wind will not blow your scent into the feeding area.
“One tip I have to offer is patience — or restraint,” Golden said. “Every hunter I know who has hunted for any amount of time has killed a deer that suffered from ‘ground shrinkage.’ Never shoot the first anterless deer you see. Wait until another come along for comparison. More often than not, buck fawns will forage ahead of their mothers or separate themselves for the family group.”
Hunt all day
“Deer trigger on movement, then attempt to identify what they are seeing,” said Tommy Hemphill, a Rankin County resident and hunter. “They have a whole host of tricks to make you move a second time. The foot stomp, the head jerk and the 20-yard dash are what I have named a few of the more common moves. Don’t fall for the tricks and move ,unless you are sure you want to shoot that deer.”
The old “look-back” trick has saved many a doe’s life during the pre-rut and rut. A doe enters a food plot, then stops feeding, takes a defensive posture and stares intently into the woods. This gives the hunter the impression a buck may be waiting in the wings before making an appearance. Sometimes there is, and sometimes there’s not. It’s a free Lotto ticket; you may get lucky, and you may not.
Hemphill advises hunters to be totally confident with your equipment. Select a deer rifle; shoot it often until bringing it to the shoulder is second nature. Keep your eyes on the deer, but never, ever make eye contact. Use the same ammo you sighted-in with when hunting. Eliminate every possible variable before you go into the field.
The one thing every hunter stressed was this: hunt during the rut. Determine when the rut is occurring by studying the charts compiled by the MDWFP, then plan you days in the woods around then.
“The rut is the most active time of the year for deer, the bucks are looking for does and the does are making themselves available,” said biologist William McKinley of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “An active line of scrapes is a top choice for a stand location. Try to set up 30 to 50 yards away with a clear view of the scrape or scrapes, and then stick with it.”
Last, surround yourself with people who hunt; learn from their experiences. If you are a complete novice, don’t be afraid to invite yourself on a hunt with a friend — or at least ask a friend to go for a walk in the woods and teach you about deer signs and conditions. Volumes have been written about deer hunting, that’s a good place to start. The art of hunting is fading in our society, we owe those who follow to keep that art alive.
Except in flooded areas, state expects good deer season
The Mississippi deer herd, as a whole, is in good condition, and hunters can expect a good to better harvest this season. The bag limits have been adjusted for 2019-20, so there will be added opportunities for a hunter to place venison in the freezer. Also, with antler restrictions being relaxed on one buck of the three-buck season limit, this is a great time to introduce a new, adult hunter to the sport without worrying that they will harvest an illegal buck. The second and third bucks, however must meet area restrictions.
The anterless deer limits remain the same at five per season, except in the Southeast Zone, where the anterless limit is two per season.
“We urge hunters to remove anterless deer early in the season,” said biologist William McKinley of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Doing so will reserve valuable mast crops for remaining deer, as well as make the doe-to-buck ratio a little more favorable when the rut comes later in the fall.”
Most of Mississippi looking at a good to very good hard-mast crop, the south Delta being the exception. By mid-August, the backwater flooding was just receding, and the MDWFP was just getting into some public-land areas to perform a proper assessment of the habitat. Follow www.mdwfp.com for the latest updates. For useful information, pick up a copy of the Mississippi Outdoor Digest, 2019/2020, wherever licenses are sold.
“Feral hogs remain a problem in parts of all 82 counties,” McKinley said. “During the 2017-18 seasons, Mississippi hunters reported killing more hogs than deer. Looking at the current data the 2018-19 season could be a repeat. CWD and feral hogs are two paramount threats to the deer herd.”
Deer harvested in known CWD areas must be checked-in within that area. All other hunters are encouraged to submit harvested deer heads for testing. Collection points and instructions are being expanded. The more accurate the reported data, the better biologists can monitor the spread of the disease.
New .350 Legend deals recoil a blow
Recoil-sensitive hunters have had a limited choice of weapons for Mississippi’s primitive weapons seasons.
That has changed since Winchester has introduced the .350 Legend. The larger bores such as the .45-70 and .444 Marlin were real kickers in lightweight rifles. The .35 Whelen was a one of the latest changes, but anyone firing one in a H&R Handi-Rifle soon learns the meaning of recoil. Pistol cartridges such as the .44 mag and .357 mags have filled the need for light recoil, but at the price of limited range and anemic stopping power.
The .350 Legend is a straight-walled case — not a requirement in Mississippi but in some other states — shooting a 35-caliber bullet at killing ranges out to 250 yards, with very mild recoil. Available in AR platforms and bolt-action rifles, the makers of custom barrels for the Thompson-Center Encore and Contender rifles have started meeting the need for these new deer killers that will be easy on the shoulder.
Accuracy with standard, off-the-shelf ammo has been excellent, according to a spokesman for Match Grade Machine. The recoil is very mild, compared to most other .35 or larger cartridges, and accuracy to more than 250 yards is excellent.
Bullets range from 145 to 180 grains, with the option of 265 grains for subsonic shooters. Small-framed hunters will find the round the perfect solution to recoil.
Mississippi’s primitive weapons seasons are from Nov. 11-22, Dec. 2-15 and Jan. 23 –31 for all but the Southeast Zone. See the Outdoor Digest for details.