Velvet season offers special opportunity this weekend

Published 12:47 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

JACKSON — Hunters can grab a bow or crossbow and finally take to the woods in pursuit of a white-tail buck this weekend. Mississippi’s velvet season is open from Sept. 15 to Sept. 17 and is limited to archery equipment, legal bucks and private lands only. 

The velvet season is a chance to harvest a deer in velvet for much of the state. Deer Program Coordinator William McKinley said it is a great opportunity for a unique trophy buck. 

Bucks are typically still in bachelor groups and will be easier to pattern this time of year before they split up. Dry conditions will play a role in hunting this weekend. McKinley gave a tip for anyone deer hunting this weekend to use the habitat conditions to their advantage. . 

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“A water hole or pond will be hot spots. Water holes are just being hammered right now,” McKinley said. “They have to go to water more frequently because there isn’t as much water in the vegetation. A buck would typically only go to water once every three days but everything is so dry right now.” 

Hunters have no need to be concerned about antler growth. McKinley said the antlers are done growing a month before bucks shed velvet. Bucks are going through a process called mineralization or the hardening of those antlers right now. 

McKinley said the early season does take some planning beforehand. Trash bags and ice should be kept ready to help preserve both meat and velvet. 

“You need ice on hand for antlers and the body because it will decompose quickly. Hunters need to be prepared and have to think a little bit more before going to their stand,” McKinley said. Wrap the antlers with a garbage bag well so you don’t rub off any on the drag out. Have ice so you can get it on the antlers quickly and get the deer dressed and iced down as well. There is more prep and planning involved but it is a unique chance to harvest a beautiful buck.” 

Bucks harvested this weekend must be submitted for Chronic Wasting Disease sampling. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is fighting the 100 percent always fatal disease in deer which is caused by an infectious prion. A special permit is needed to hunt deer this weekend. 

Velvet season permits are $10 for residents and $100 for non residents. Hunters are required to report their harvest through the GameCheck system online or the MDWFP Phone App by 10 p.m. the day of harvest. Only one buck can be harvested this weekend and will count towards the season bag limit. 

Chronic Wasting Disease Samples can be dropped off at freezer locations by removing the neck tissue and leaving the lymph nodes intact if you want to mount your buck. Participating taxidermists will help submit the CWD samples. 

Velvet season is not just an opportunity to get a trophy buck, it is also a chance to fight against Chronic Wasting Disease through surveillance. MDWFP reports 369 bucks were harvested in 2022’s velvet season and 282 of those were submitted for CWD testing. 

“Our goal is to get a good random sampling of bucks across the state,” McKinley said. “CWD is more prevalent in bucks and especially older bucks.” 

A CWD drop off freezer at the MSU Extension Service Office in Hazlehurst or McComb are the closest locations to Brookhaven. Billy Boyd, Allen Morgan and Brent Opdyke are the participating taxidermists in Lincoln County. Local hunters can find their contact information on the MDWFP website

Velvet season helped generate revenue last year. Money generated from license sales funds 90 percent of the MDWFP budget. MDWFP sold $80,000 of non-resident deer permits last year while resident velvet permits generated $37,000 in revenue. 

Habitat dictates harvest

Drought conditions are expected to continue this year. Deer have already gone through a stressful summer due to the heat, McKinley said. The second stress period at the end of winter should be on the forefront of hunters minds this year. 

Habitat quality is degrading due to the drought conditions and mast crops for acorns is expected to be down in central and south Mississippi. Fall food plots could be a crucial tool in helping feed the deer herd but those are dependent on rainfall. 

McKinley said he recommends hunters harvest more deer this year. He expects the season to be similar to the 2010-11 season. Conditions in 2010 were dry late in the summer until a tropical depression settled in with rain by November causing fall food plots to be the place to hunt as deer search for food. Hunters taking a buck during velvet season would help the health of the deer herd. 

MDWFP reported the 2010-11 deer season had a harvest rate of one deer per 61 acres which increased from the 2009-10 season despite dry conditions pushing food planting dates into November. If you read the 2010-11 deer program report you will find a column written by the “deer guys,” reminding people they need to harvest more deer if there is not enough food on the landscape. 

According to the report, for every 100 pounds of weight a deer needs to eat 6 pounds of food a day. MSU Deer Lab addresses the question of harvest strategy on its podcast Deer University. Hunters need to think about the habitat quality going into the hunting season and what will be there in the spring. Deer need a lot of nutrition for antler growth and gestation and the habitat has a certain carrying capacity and the deer herd is pretty high. 

“Harvest more deer. It is one of the biggest things I always recommend it to manage the deer herd so they can stay healthy in a bad environment year. The herd will suffer this year if we don’t bring numbers down,” McKinley said. “We have had one of the most stressful summers and this is the year to get the herd under control. Hunters should get the herd down so the resources are better used by fewer deer. Our carrying capacity changes year to year based on the habitat to keep them healthy. We have to manage for the harder years. We need to be thinking about the health of deer going into late winter and spring.”