Trophy bucks and high-quality deer herds are not the result of random chance, but of planned management of habitat and harvests.
"The white-tailed deer is likely the most economically and ecologically important animal in Mississippi," said Bronson Strickland, wildlife management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
"White-tailed deer have an economic impact of more than $860 million annually, so the more people know about how to manage this wildlife resource, the more economic and recreational opportunities Mississippians will have," Strickland said.
To educate landowners, hunters and foresters on the theory and application of deer management in the southeastern United States, a white-tailed deer management workshop was held on July 30. Program sponsors were the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and MSU’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
"We started with the basics, like the history and status of white-tailed deer in Mississippi, and progressed to more complicated concepts, like deer harvest strategies and forest management techniques," Strickland said.
Many Mississippians have false notions about deer management, Strickland said.
One major misconception is that the effects of deer management will be apparent immediately.
"It usually takes three to five years to really see a difference in the deer herd and habitat," he said. "Good deer management requires time."
Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and abandonment of the management plan.
"Probably one of the biggest hurdles we face is people’s expectations of what a quality, healthy deer herd is," Strickland said. "Often, landowners have a distorted view of deer management from hunting shows and outdoor magazines where they see all these trophy bucks. "
"Trophy bucks are the exception, not the rule. We try to provide hunters and deer managers with more realistic expectations so they don’t get disappointed with their management program," Strickland said.
Carolyn Ellis came from Hinds County so she and her siblings could develop a plan for their property.
"I am not a hunter nor are any of my siblings, but we see the value of allowing hunting on our property as a source of income, and we want to incorporate that into an overall management plan," she said. "We need to know how many deer can or should be harvested and what contributes to the overall health of the deer population."
Bob Griffin, a certified wildlife biologist and adjunct professor at MSU, said getting a professional evaluation and plan is the first step landowners should take when developing a management program.
"Whether it’s managing deer, thinning timber, or buying and selling land for recreation or investment, professional input is invaluable," Griffin said. "There’s a lot of free information available at the state and federal levels that can help people make the most of their property."
Each situation is different and should be evaluated on its own.
"There’s no such thing as cookie-cutter management," Griffin said. "Every landowner has different goals. From a biological standpoint, our biggest challenge is that most people want to have too many deer on their property," he said.
This thought was echoed throughout the day by presenters as they emphasized the importance of harvesting the appropriate number of deer.
"Over the past few decades, increased deer densities have changed the makeup of our forests and even decimated some habitats to the point that many native plants have become scarce," Griffin said. "Reduced food quality and quantity coupled with too many deer on a place diminishes the health and quality of the herd."
As Mississippians realize the financial benefits of land and deer management, they are more interested in applying research-based practices to their properties.
Guy Ray, who owns Pleasant Lake Plantation in Greenwood, said he intends to use information from the workshop for the next phase of his land management program.
"I recently implemented a forestry management plan that included select cutting and clear cutting," he said. "With evidence of increased browse, I want to understand what needs to be done to strategically manage the anticipated population explosion."
This year’s workshop attracted participants from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri. At least two deer management workshops are offered every summer to give landowners time to develop a plan before hunting season begins.