Let’s Hunt Fuzzy Horns in September

A little over a week from now, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation will host its 35th Annual Wildlife Extravaganza in Pearl, MS. Now, I’ve been to plenty of baseball coaches conventions and clinics over the years, but I’ll ashamedly admit that this will be my first wildlife convention. And if I’m being honest, if it weren’t for one of my business partners setting this up, I’d probably be fishing, or working in the yard instead. It’s not that I don’t want to go, I do, I’ve just never done it. That said, the Pinstripes to Camo Podcast will have a booth at the extravaganza, and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to it.

In the meantime, with the heat making fishing almost unbearable, and back-to-back weekends of hosting travel baseball tournaments (that’s a whole different story), I have been unable to get much time in the outdoors lately. Usually, July isn’t incredibly busy and I’m able to get some fishing and camping done. That just hasn’t been the case this year. Here’s to hoping that August provides a much needed mental vacation on the water.

So, what to talk about when not much is going on? Recently, Mississippi passed a bill establishing a velvet buck season in September. The season will only last for one weekend in September (Sept. 16-18) and will only be open to private lands. Hunters will be allowed to kill one buck and no antlerless deer. This buck will also count toward your yearly total. Hunters will have to report any harvest by 10:00pm the day of the harvest. You can do this on the MDWFP App or at the MDWFP website. Now, here’s the kicker: per MDWFP’s website, “All harvested bucks must be submitted for CWD sampling to a MDWFP CWD drop-off freezer, or to an MDWFP participating taxidermist within 5 days of harvest.”

That last sentence is what I am confused about. So far, I haven’t been able to find a good source that provides a reason for this. And how many hunters will willingly participate in this program? For the last couple of years, we’ve had CWD drop off locations around the state. There have been 51 drop off locations scattered across the state, usually nothing more than a deep freezer. However, it hasn’t been mandatory to check your harvest for CWD unless you’ve killed deer within the state’s CWD zones. So my question is, “Why now?” I understand the need for collecting data, but why are we doing this only for the velvet season?

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 50 times, CWD has been in Mississippi longer than since 2018. We didn’t just stumble onto the first deer that had it. It’s likely something that we’ve dealt with for the last decade, we just didn’t know it. And quite frankly, we haven’t really handled it that well since we found out for sure that it’s here. We’ve taken sort of a one foot in, one foot out approach. Sticking a bunch of deep freezers around the state and encouraging people to go out of their way to drop off a deer isn’t really earth shattering. Speaking of going out of their way, there are quite a few holes in the state in regard to deep freezer drop-off locations.

Let’s just say that Billy kills a deer in south central Smith County. The nearest drop-off location is either in Jefferson Davis County, Scott County, or eastern Jones County. With gas prices at $4.50 per gallon, I’m willing to bet that the average person isn’t adding unnecessary miles to their vehicle…especially to put their fresh new velvet trophy in a deep freezer under the care of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Let’s also take into consideration that the average temperature in September ain’t exactly cold. What you’ve just done is turned a usually honest hunter into a dishonest hunter.

What about hunters that don’t exactly self-report their kills on the day of? Given the unnecessary task of transporting a healthy deer to a CWD drop-off location, hunters might be less likely to actually report their kill, choosing to wait until the October archery season instead. That brings up another question: what is the difference in forcing these regulations in September, but not two weeks later when the annual archery season opens? Before someone sends me hate mail, I’m not advocating having to check in deer during archery season. I’m genuinely curious as to what the difference is between then and the rest of the season.

All of that aside, while I’m looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the velvet season, I’m also a little on the fence about it. I have no doubt that it will give hunters the opportunity to kill the coveted velvet buck. That’s also what gives me pause. Patterning big bucks in the summer months isn’t all that hard to do with a feeder and a camera. As long as you keep the feeder full, they’ll keep coming to it almost like clockwork. How fair is this? What kind of reward do you get from this? We can all give the old, “I’m hunting to fill the freezer” line, but if you’re participating in the velvet season that ain’t the case. You’re hunting fuzzy horns. Maybe what the MDWFP, in all of its wisdom, should do is outlaw any type of bait. To me, that would go a lot further than a CWD drop-off requirement.

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