By Ben Smith:
If you haven’t noticed, the price of pretty much everything has shot through the roof over the last few years. The cost of groceries, clothing, and medicine have all increased dramatically. And gas prices? Gas is so high that Louisiana Senator John Kennedy even joked that, “it would be cheaper to buy cocaine and just run everywhere.” As funny as that sounds, he ain’t exactly wrong. Americans are hurting right now financially and there seems to be no end in sight.
With prices of everyday items soaring to ridiculous levels, the trickle down effects the hunting and fishing industry. The prices of hunting and fishing gear have risen along with everything else, pretty much to the point where I’m worried that we are turning hunting and fishing into a wealthy man’s sport. Buying property for the purpose of hunting is a luxury reserved for very few today. Being able to afford a lease on a large tract of land is also out of the question for most. Deer camp memberships have also gone way up over the last few years. I’m blown away whenever I see the prices of some of these camps. I venture to say that no middle class Mississippian with a family can comfortably afford these things.
From there, it trickles down even more. The price of firearms, archery equipment, and deer stands have all gone up. And ammunition, if you can find it, has doubled over the last five years. Here locally, the price of corn has increased more than $4 per fifty pound sack over the last three years. Food plot mixes? Same thing. So how does the average Mississippian enjoy the outdoors the way it was meant to be?
For starters, you don’t need the latest technology and equipment to kill deer. The other day I saw one of those old bows from the 90’s that paired with those heavy aluminum arrows. I cracked a joke about how archaic it was, but you know what? Somebody used to kill deer with that bow. Most likely someone that’s a far better hunter than I am. And if you’re on a tight budget right now, that’s what you’re going to have to be, a better hunter. That sounds harsh, but it’s a stark reality. The good news is that it’s attainable.
Let’s begin with where you can hunt. First, Mississippi is home to around two million acres of public land hunting opportunities. You’ve got to just ask yourself, “What do I hope to get out of this?” If the answer is the opportunity to kill a deer, then public land hunting can be for you. Of course, it doesn’t come without obvious drawbacks. Yes, there will be other people around. Yes, the deer will sometimes be pressured by dogs. But remember, you just need an opportunity. That’s where turning yourself into a better hunter than others comes into play.
Mississippi affords hunters the chance to hunt in over 50 Wildlife Management Areas across the state for the hunter on a budget with a cost of only $15 per year. That’s over 665,000 acres at your disposal for what a #1 combo large sized at Chik-fil-A will cost you (I’m a big fan). If I didn’t already know that and someone told me that, the first question I’d have is what is the hunter success rate? Let’s take a look at one close to home. The Leaf River WMA is 41,000 acres of thick brush, sandy soil, and piney woods. Doesn’t sound like a destination spot for deer, but if you’re a hunter looking for an opportunity to put meat on the table, this might be your spot. In 2021, hunters killed 110 deer including 64 bucks at Leaf River WMA. The most appealing part of that is that 93% of the bucks killed were 3.5 years old or better. Sixteen percent of the bucks killed were 5.5 years old putting those deer at peak maturity, a true trophy in my eyes. Obviously, the bucks killed in this region are not going to rival the ones killed in the delta region in antler size and body weight. If that’s what you’re going for, Mississippi has opportunities for that, too.
There are several National Wildlife Refuges located in Mississippi that’s available for hunters. Most of these are located in areas that are well known for big bucks. For $25 you can purchase a permit to hunt the famed Morgans Brake, Matthews Brake, St. Catherine Creek, Panther Swamp, and several more. You’ll have thousands of acres of hunting land at your fingertips, and you’ll need every single acre due to the popularity of these places. Hunters come from all over the South to hunt these properties for their reputation of big bucks falling. However, public land hunting doesn’t get much better in Mississippi for an archery hunter looking to put a big rack on the wall.
To conclude, it costs way too much to hunt these days, and that isn’t changing anytime soon. But if you’re willing to share and put in some work, you can still have a successful deer season while on a budget. Just make sure if you decide to hunt public land in Mississippi that you check all rules and regulations before you go. It would be a shame to hunt public land in order to save money and get popped with a ticket in the process. And as always, be mindful of other hunters in the woods and think safety first.