The state of Mississippi, and its hunters, will enter a new era this deer season.
Instead of harvesting a four-pointer, a legal buck must feature an inside spread of 10 inches or a 12-inch beam.
The reason, according to Larry Castle of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks in Jackson, is an improved step toward deer management.
”One of the criticism I have heard is the state if trying to move toward trophy management,” Castle said. “This is not that. Trophy management is steps beyond this.
”This is good deer management. I believe trophy management is a personal decision to be made on private property if you have the acreage. But I believe we can offer good deer management and that is what we are after with this.”
Therefore, for the first time since 1995, hunters can no longer harvest a four-point buck.
Instead, Mississippi is joining forces with other southeast states with beam and spread restrictions on a statewide level.
”We no longer have the four-point rule,” Castle said. “The reasons for the change from points to antler restrictions statewide is simple. No. 1, a point restriction has been well proven to not being the best way to manage the deer herd.
”A four-point, typically a buck that’s a year-and-a-half old, has its first set of antlers. What the spread and beam restrictions will do is allow the very best, the supreme deer that dreams are made of, to reach maturity at three and four years old, which could be a trophy.”
By opting for beam and spread restrictions, state officials point to a more mature deer herd, one that’s estimated to be between 1.5 and 1.8 million.
”The spread or beam restrictions allows us to protect 97 percent of the year-and-a-half year old bucks,” Castle said. “This, as we all know, will allow the very best in that age class to stay in the age class.
”By reaching the age of two and three-and-a-half, allows us to keep the best. In timber management, if you go in and remove the best timber over three-or-four cuts, you have junk left.
”Taking out the best all the time leave you with very little. This allows us to leave the best through the first year-and-a-half.”
In Mississippi, deer hunting is broken down into three zones with the south end of the state falling in Zone Two. The central part is Zone One and the Delta is Zone Three.
Since the northern part of the state historically carries the larger bucks, Castle said the Delta region will go by a different beam and spread restrictions,
”We had the four-point rule in effect for 14 years,” Castle said. “We have been doing spread and beam length in our management areas for years and the acceptance from hunters has been good and very few negative comments. It has worked.
”It is now statewide except in Zone Three, which is the Delta region, where we have a 12-inch spread and 15-inch beam because the area has better soil.
”We had to bump it up to protect the year-and-a-half age deer.”
With an eye of improving deer management, Castle, one of the most respected biologists in the southeast, believes the new restrictions will also even out the buck-to-doe ration.
That, in the long run, will give Mississippi hunters a better chance to harvest deer in the 140 and larger class.
By doing that, more deer will have reached maturity.
”It will help with the buck-to-doe ration,” Castle said. “When you tighten the buck-to-doe ration, you shorten the breeding season.
”A big buck that was once a year-and-a-half, may reach seven years of age, Bucks will blow your mind if they can get to the right age class and this is will be one way to get them there. In Mississippi, our average deer is 2.3 years of age.
So how would a hunter determine if a buck is legal?
Estimating a 10-inch inside spread can be done by looking at the animals ears in the alert position. The distance between the tip from ear-to-ear measures approximately 14 inches.
If the outside of each antler beam is one inch inside the ear tip, the inside spread should be 10 inches.
”If you have a deer walking straight at you, typically the spread will be 12 inches,” Castle said. “From tip-to-tip, you will have 12 inches. That’s 10 inches on the inside right there.
”If a deer comes in and you have a profile, it’s easy, too. If the beam comes around in front of the eye, it’s good to go. If it’s on the bubble, let him walk.”
”My advice to the hunters that are skeptical is give it a chance. It will only take one year and you will see more two-and-a-half year old bucks. You will be impressed by the bucks you will see and you will be sold for life.”
Archery season in Zones One and Three open Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 through Nov. 20 in Zone Two.
Al Jones/The Sun Herald (MCT)