Over the last few years I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to hunt some great properties. The place we hunt and fish now is owned by my wife’s cousin’s family, along with another family, and is nestled along the Big Black River just south of Vicksburg. The 1000 acre property consists of flats along the river and hills to the north with deep valleys. There is a large lake on the property that holds some of the largest blue gills you’ve ever seen, along with some pretty nice sized alligators! The deer hunting is phenomenal and it has more turkeys than you could ever kill. With a three bedroom house on the property, it’s paradise for a guy like me. My hunting grounds, however, have not always been this nice.
For years I would hear stories of gigantic bucks being killed across our state and would get incredibly jealous. To me, it seemed like the only people that were killing big, mature bucks in Mississippi were people that had plenty of money. One could say that it is still that way to some degree, and I wouldn’t be able to completely argue with them. I know plenty of landowners that have made it their life’s work to grow big deer, and they’ve spent way more money on the project than the average Mississippi deer hunter is willing to spend. However, our state has done a fantastic job in the last decade of managing our deer herd and increasing the odds of killing mature deer on public property.
There are numerous public land opportunities for Mississippi hunters to kill deer and kill big deer. Before I get into some of those places, it’s important to remember that our main goal as hunters shouldn’t be to kill something to put on the wall. I’m as guilty as anybody for wanting to kill the biggest deer in the woods anytime I go hunting, but I’ve also learned that putting meat on the table has to be the first priority. I’ve tried to teach my kids that feeding the family has to come before harvesting a trophy. Luckily for our family, my daughter has done a good job of filling the freezer and allowing me the opportunity to be a little pickier.
There are thousands of acres of public hunting land in Mississippi. Some are obviously better than others, but all afford a hunter the opportunity to harvest a deer. There are numerous Wildlife Management Areas and National Wildlife Refuges that allow deer hunting as well, for a small yearly fee. Some of these places provide a hunter the opportunity to harvest meat, and to also kill a deer that you’d be proud to hang above your mantle. Some years ago I put my jealousy aside and began trying to figure out how I could kill two birds with one stone. I wanted to find somewhere that I would have a chance to fill my freezer, potentially kill the buck of a lifetime, and not break the bank doing it. Upon looking more into it, I found that some of the WMA’s and NWR’s in Mississippi were responsible for some of the largest bucks killed in our state.
A good friend of mine, Ben Tharp, was the first person to introduce me to hunting an NWR. Ben is from Woodville, and it’s basically a sportsman’s paradise, especially if you own some land in the area. However, Ben was a lot like me and relied on having to hunt a friend’s place or public land. His dad, Terry, is probably the best deer hunter that I’ve ever met, and these two guys have built some nice trophy rooms consisting of a lot of public land bucks. Of the little knowledge I have about the woods, much of it I learned from Ben and his dad. Possibly the most important thing I’ve learned about hunting and fishing with these two is you better learn quickly, or they are going to let you hear about it.
The first trip I ever made with Ben and Terry to an NWR they had a spot picked out for me to hunt where they’d seen plenty of sign. We got up early in the morning and arrived well before daylight to head into the woods. Ben pointed in a direction toward the woods and said something to the effect of “walk about 100 yards down this trail, hang a right at a dead tree, walk 40 more yards along the hill, and you’ll come to another oak tree. Hang your stand there.” He lost me at “100 yards down the trail” and I spent the next 30 minutes shining my flashlight all over the woods. Soon I saw a light coming toward me, and it was Mr. Terry. He asked me what in the heck I was doing, and I told him that Ben sent me to hunt this area. Mr. Terry looked at me like I was crazy and said that Ben sent him to the same spot. He took me to a tree to hang my stand and spent the entire walk cussing his son. I text Ben and told him that his dad was going to kill him for sending us both to the same spot. Ben couldn’t figure out what happened and swore that he sent us to different locations. Either way, Mr. Terry was pretty ticked and somebody was to blame. It turns out that in my frantic search for the tree I was supposed to climb that somehow I’d crossed a creek, walked up a hill, ended up 300 yards away from where I was supposed to be, and invaded Mr. Terry’s hunting spot for the morning. That happened 10 years ago and Mr. Terry still refers to me as “Whichaway” because I don’t know which-a-way I’m going.
Public land can be incredibly fun to hunt because you never know what you’re going to run into. It took me a little time to figure out how to hunt on public land, and I still don’t know near as much about it as many other hunters do, but I always learn something new when I go. Since that first debacle with Ben and Terry, I’ve been able to harvest some deer on public land, even my first public land buck years ago. It’s pretty cool to be able to kill a deer on public land when you know the deer are being pressured by other hunters. I enjoy the challenge and it gives me a sense of fulfillment when I’m successful. If you are like I was and think that big deer can only be killed on private land by wealthy landowners, do yourself a favor and head out to some Mississippi public land. Work at it, stay optimistic, and you won’t be disappointed.