JACKSON, Mississippi — When it comes to public hunting land, Mississippians have a lot to choose from. National forests, state wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands offer free or low-cost hunting opportunities within a short driving distance for many.
Successful deer hunting on these lands means homework and footwork.
"Typically, in a deer camp, you're going to rely on people who have hunted there before," said Chad Dacus, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' Wildlife bureau director.
Other members, food plots and permanent stands all make getting started in a deer club relatively easy. But on public land, it's DIY.
"The first thing I would recommend them doing is getting on a computer and looking at a map," Dacus said.
Satellite views of land provide detailed information on access points, roads, terrain and growth. That can help narrow the search for the perfect spot.
Once a hunter has chosen an area to hunt, it's time to see what's really there.
"Get familiar with the woods," Dacus said. "Look for (a) sign. Walk around."
Ryan Windham, of Flowood, has hunted public land most of his life and said location is what it's all about for quality deer.
"I learned a long time ago that if you want to kill big trophy deer, then you've got to go where the big deer are," Windham said. "I've hunted some public land where the trophy buck to scrub buck ratio has been far-sided on the scrub buck side."
Areas such as the Delta are well known for producing trophy bucks, but calls to land managers or researching Magnolia Records' registry of trophy bucks can help identify other areas that have a history of big deer.
"Secondly, I would suggest going off the beaten path — far, far away from other hunters," Windham said. "Those old, smart 4- to 5-year-old deer aren't going to be 150 yards from the parking lot."
Walking a mile from his vehicle isn't out of the question for Windham. And because of that, he urges hunters to carry a GPS and know how to use it.
"Some of these areas in Mississippi are big enough that without one you'll be lost, I can assure you," Windham said. "Been there and done it."
Another tip from Windham is to hunt with friends. In the event of an emergency or for dragging a deer, help won't be far away.
Shelton Whittington, Delta National Forest wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, said hunters need to be aware of regulations that apply to specific areas.
"Open Forest Service land may likely have different rules and regulations than lands managed (such) as a state (wildlife management area)," Whittington said. "Refuges managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have specific rules, limits or seasons that are different from the other agencies.
"One thing that people will really need to watch is rules on what weapons are legal. It will not always be the same on public (land) as it is on private."
Weapons regulations can also vary from one public land to another, as can seasons, bag limits and safety requirements.
His last bit of advice is basic, but it can go a long way toward a more enjoyable and successful outing.
"Remember to always be courteous of other hunters," Whittington said.
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com