February 3, 2008

Prime Deer Hunting Time: South Mississippi Enjoys Longer Season

By Al Jones, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Feb. 3--Deer hunting in the northern portion of the state came to a close this past week with mixed reviews.

In the southern part of the state, hunting whitetail continues through Feb. 15 in the extended season -- also with mixed reviews.

Basically, mild temperatures early in the season and a mass acorn crop throughout the state hurt. Once the acorn crop was gone and temperatures started to plunge, the season came to an end in the North.

Hunters in the South still have time to harvest a buck thanks to an extended season.

Hearing concerns from the public, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks in Jackson adopted the extended season to allow hunters in South Mississippi a better opportunity to harvest bucks due to a later rut -- not weather patterns.

To some, it might be hard to believe a state the size of Mississippi can feature different ruts, but it does. In the northern part of the state, the rut takes place during the early part of December compared to late January in the South.

The reason deals directly with temperatures as well as the difference in nutrition between the north and south.

For instance, the conception dates, according to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, takes place in the Delta area from Dec. 6-13 and Dec. 20-25 in Holmes County. In Rankin County, the conception date runs from Dec. 29-31.

Further south, the date in Forrest County is Jan. 11-24 and Jan. 9-16 in Hancock County.

In Harrison, Stone and Jackson counties, the conception date starts around Jan. 24 and runs through February.

"Those dates are the average or a simulation of the conception date," Department of Wildlife deer coordinator Chad Dacus said. "Back up two weeks from that date and that's when the rut happens."

So why the difference between the Delta and the immediate Coast?

According to Dacus, it's the average protein levels in vegetation. In South Mississippi, for instance, protein levels range between 10 and 15 percent. In comparison, parts of the Delta have plants that feature protein levels in the low- to mid-20s.

"There are some plants that are near zero," Dacus said. "The big reason is habitat and nutrition levels between the north part of the state and the south part.

"The main thing is the adaptation deer have made in southern part. They do not have to breed early like due to winter conditions. In the extreme north, deer rut early so the fawn can survive the winter and we don't lose deer due to winter stress. There are some places, like Wisconsin, where deer breed six and eight months before winter hits.

"We don't have to worry about that. Fawn dates in south Mississippi are between July and September."

On average, a fawn remains in the womb for 200 days before birth. That number also plays a major role in determining the actual rut.

"One of the most common questions asked of biologists during the deer season is, "When is the peak rut in my area?," Larry Castle of the Department of Wildlife said. "We can normally reply to that question with a reasonable amount of accuracy. Our accuracy is dependent on knowledge of deer behavior coupled with information that we have gathered from deer in or near the area of question.

"The (Department of Wildlife) Technical Staff, with the assistance of a multitude of conservation officers have been conducting deer health checks at specific sites within Mississippi for more than twenty years. These health checks are conducted to collect biological data that are unavailable from hunter-harvested deer.

"Some of the data collected at these health checks have included the conception or breeding date of the mature does that we examine. From this information we have been able to calculate the mean or average breeding date from a multitude of deer populations.

"We have found breeding dates to vary significantly from one region of the state to another. For example, the average breeding date in extreme southeast Mississippi may be five weeks later than in some regions of the Mississippi Delta."

In terms of the rut in South Mississippi, Dacus said things are off and running. He said hunters, using only primitive weapons during the extended season, should see plenty of bucks, perhaps for the first time all season.

"Down in Southeast Mississippi, it's the last week of January and the first two weeks of February," Dacus said. "I've talked with hunters in George and Greene counties who tell me things are going crazy right now. I expect it to get better."


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

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