According to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, the state’s whitetail deer herd is smaller than it was last year as hunters prepared to take the field. And, that is a good thing.
“Our deer population last year was high — extremely high; ridiculously high,” said Lann Wilf, leader of the MDWFP’s Deer Program.
Wilf said the whitetail deer numbers have decreased of late due to natural causes (hemorrhagic disease, especially in Southwest Mississippi) and new deer-management practices.
While the herd is smaller, the deer are larger. The average age of a buck shot in Mississippi last year was 3.25 years old. The bigger bucks taken have elevated Mississippi to one of the prime spots in the United States to take a trophy animal.
In the June/July issue of Outdoor Life, Mississippi made the top 10 for places to shoot a trophy whitetail, coming in at number seven. No other state in the Southeast made the top 10.
“Every year there are stories about which state has become the latest trophy whitetail destination, but frankly the equation has been wrong all along,” says Andrew McKean, editor of Outdoor Life. “If you only look at the total number of deer killed, it gives an unfair advantage to states with high numbers of hunters and deer. When you’re considering investing the time and money it can often take to go on a trophy hunt it’s important to consider all the factors to get the most accurate picture, which is what we’ve done.”
But, Wilf said due to Mississippi’s longer season and more liberal bag limit, the state would place higher, and he gives the credit to education.
“We have the most educated hunters in the nation, without a doubt,” Wilf said. “Our hunters and biologists have crafted a deer program that is second to none.”
And, a new study completed by Mississippi State University’s Deer Lab has further boosted optimism that this could be a record year for whitetail deer hunters.
Just this month, researchers with the Deer Lab released the results of a survey that found while deer in other parts of the country, particularly the North, have bigger bodies, they do not have bigger antlers. When it comes to trophy racks, environment and habitat trump geography and latitude.
Mississippi’s large agriculture base is key.
“Antler size is known to be highly correlated with body size,” said Dr. Steve Demarais, who is also a Dale H. Arner professor of wildlife ecology in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center. “However, our research further proves that agricultural areas with rich soil provide more food for deer, leading to deer with larger bodies, independent of their latitude.”
That means good soil and agricultural crops lead to larger deer with bigger antlers. Places with rich soil, such as the Mississippi Delta and the bread basket states, produce deer with big bodies and big antlers.
Dr. Bronson Strickland, associate Extension professor and researcher in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, said soybean crops contribute the most to deer size. White-tailed deer eat only the seed of grain crops like corn, but they eat all parts of soybean plants, which are grown on rich soil. This gives them the nutrients required to grow larger bodies.
Archery season opens next month (Oct. 1 in Delta and Hill zones; Oct. 15 in Southeast Zone). Youth gun season begins Nov. 9.
The bag limit on antlered buck deer is one buck per day, not to exceed three per license year. Legal bucks must meet the antler criteria within the appropriate deer management zone. For youth hunters (15 years of age and younger) hunting on private land and authorized state and federal lands, all of the three buck bag limit may be any antlered deer.
The bag limit on antlerless deer is one per day, not to exceed five per license year. Antlerless deer are defined as any female deer and any male deer without hardened antler above the hairline.
For more on Mississippi’s hunting season, bag limits, regulations and more, visit the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Park’s website at www.mdwfp.com.