You know the old axiom. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Well, Mississippi’s deer and turkey population isn’t broke. Not even a little bit. However, HB1028 passed the House with a mandate to report harvested game animals like deer and turkey. Sound like something that no one could be opposed to, right? What’s the harm? Well, the truth is that Mississippi has such a good thing going that no one even ought to think about messing it up.
Mississippi is consistently ranked with the best deer herd in the country. And that’s not by accident. We have developed over the last 30 years a culture of conservation with regards to hunting and wildlife in the state. Our deer herd is estimated at 2,000,000, and we harvest between 250,000-300,000 deer a year. We have a extremely liberal framework where a licensed hunter in Mississippi can kill 8 deer per year (3 antlered and 5 antlerless). I know few people who hunt who actually do that. There is also an allotment of 3 turkeys per licensed hunter per year, and that’s really hard to accomplish. We have densities approaching 45 deer per square mile in many areas of the state. Our average buck harvested is one of the oldest in the country (and it big time used to not be that way). Mississippi hunters don’t blast the first deer they see. Again, the culture has evolved where hunters individually and collectively make good herd decisions by (1) managing the antlerless herd and (3) not taking bucks till maturity. That’s not to mention the fact that tens of thousands of landowners beneficially manipulate habitat specifically for wildlife and spend tens of millions of dollars in the bargain.
People from other states are shocked at (1) the number of deer we have (2) how our harvests are set ups (no check ins or tagging) and (3) how well it all works. If you go to Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa or Illinois, you have to acquire tags in advance of being able to hunt, and often times even residents can’t acquire a tag to kill a deer. Then there are strict regulations in some states where you actually have to drive the deer into a check in station after you kill it. None of those states have more deer. None of those states have higher density. None of those states are more hunter friendly.
The opportunity for hunters to fill all eight “tags” is readily available throughout the Magnolia State. According to the Quality Deer Management Association’s Deer Density Map, Mississippi has more deer per square mile than any other state in the nation. Most of the Magnolia State (especially the lower Delta, much of southwest Mississippi, the Black Prairie and several areas in northwest Mississippi) has a deer density greater than 45 deer per square mile. Only southeast Mississippi, along with a few other pockets around the state, fall into the deer density category of having less than 15 deer per square mile. The majority of Mississippi falls somewhere between the two. However, the state’s extremely high deer population, estimated at nearly 2 million animals, is both a curse and a blessing. While the increased odds of seeing deer is favored by hunters, severe overpopulation in many areas is of great concern to biologists and managers statewide.
Additionally, if it’s data that MDWFP wants, there is the DMAP program where landowners voluntarily submit harvest data and deer jawbones representing 2.5 million acres. Additionally, hunters on public land have deer data gathered from wildlife harvested via our WMAs.
Why we would institute any framework to discourage hunters when everything is working so well is just beyond me. Hunters are not out there wishing that their Legislature would cook up a reporting framework. Couple that with the fact that the MDWFP Wildlife Officers are severely understaffed statewide with one or two officers usually per county responsible for enforcement for hundreds of square miles each. Do we have people who break the law? Yes. It is so widespread that it alters the landscape and affects the opportunities for other hunters? No.
If the MDWFP wanted to institute a voluntary tagging program, my sense is that there would actually be a decent compliance with it. Again, I’ve hunted all over, and Mississippi hunters are some of the most knowledgeable and conservation-minded anywhere. But to make not tagging a deer or turkey a crime . . . to make it mandatory . . . speaks to the fact that HB 1028 is a poorly crafted solution in the desperate search of a problem. The Mississippi Senate should kill this bill. Regardless, the Deer and Turkey Tagging Bill is our #msleg . . . . #billoftheday.