Gun season for deer opens Saturday, and the prospect of hunters encountering plenty of deer looks excellent. The recent drought, deer numbers and expected cooler weather are ingredients in a recipe for success.
"It ought to be good with the drought we had," Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Wildlife Bureau Assistant Director Chris McDonald said. "This is the one year, compared to others, that you can really find deer concentrated because of all the drought stress we had.
"This would really be a year to key in on food sources."
According to Steve Dicke, Mississippi State University professor of forestry, acorn production in Mississippi was dealt a one-two punch this year. White oaks, which pollinate and grow acorns to maturity in one year, experienced a wet spring which negatively impacted pollination. Red oaks, which take two years to grow mature acorns, struggled to produce viable acorns in much of Mississippi due to stress from the drought. The lack of rain also affected the already lean white oak acorn crop.
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"It takes a lot to screw up both of them, but we've got it this year," Dicke said.
Additionally, the drought negatively affected browse sources, but McDonald noted that recent rains have put some of that food source into recovery. The remnants of Hurricane Patricia also turned dusty food plots into green fields almost overnight. Even so, the below-average acorn crop is expected to force deer to move more in their search for food and concentrate them near available sources.
The deer population is also sound.
"We have a thriving population, as a whole, statewide," McDonald said. "Statewide numbers look good."
The exception is the Southeast Zone, which McDonald said does not have habitat as suitable for deer as the remainder of the state.
And hunters may see more older deer.
"It was the spring of 2012," former MDWFP Deer Program leader Lann Wilf told The Clarion-Ledger in an earlier interview. "That was when spring sprung in January.
"The deer were in phenomenal shape. It looked like fawns fell out of the sweet gum trees. They were everywhere."
That year of high fawn recruitment combined with lower deer harvests over the last few years could mean more mature bucks in hunters' sights.
Archers and primitive weapons hunters have endured higher than average temperatures this season, but it appears gun hunters will get a break this weekend. Weather forecasts indicate low temperatures in the 30s in central Mississippi and below freezing in the northern portion of the state. That could get the deer on their feet.
"I think it's going to have a positive impact upon deer movement," Brandon hunter Jere Jefcoat said. "I think all of us over the years believe that cold weather would jump-start deer movement."
McDonald also thinks the cooler temperatures could result in more deer activity.
"I'd say for Mississippi deer, 35 to 55 degrees is optimum," McDonald said. "Deer just prefer cooler weather.
"It's just the nature of the animal."