Weather, other factors have hunters happy

Sansing Meat Service was busy Thursday with hunters dropping off deer to be processed.
Staff Writer

A bountiful acorn crop and a colder-than-usual December have hunters and deer processors happy with a month still to go in deer season.

And it comes at a time of year when many hunting families are carrying on a tradition that spans generations.

“It’s up compared to the last couple of years. The harvest has slowly grown over the last 15 to 20 years, but it flattened out or dropped a little the last couple of years. It’s back up this year, it’s been more hectic,” said veteran processor Wally Sansing of Sansing Meats and Processing in Maben.

“Everybody I’ve talked to says they’ve been busy, that it’s been better than in the past, especially in the last couple of weeks, there have been a lot of good deer,” added Cpl. Mark McKleskey, a game warden with the state Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks. Prairie Land Meats, which has outlets in Lowndes County and Macon, had processed almost 3,000 deer going into the New Year’s weekend.

“It’s a record year for us. We took in 54 deer last (Friday) night alone. The weather has been perfect and the woods are dry enough that people can get in and hunt. The food plots look good, everything has been right,” explained Prairie Land owner Chris Herron.

While state wildlife officials say they won’t have any firm numbers until after the end of this month and again at the end of the season, preliminary harvest counts from around the state support the anecdotal evidence from area hunters and processors.

Overall, state experts estimate the state’s deer population at about 1.75 million with about 280,000 taken each year by hunters. Outsdoorsmen attribute the better hunting to several factors, including an abundant supply of one of deer’s favorite foods in the wild, changes in hunting rules, and cold weather.

“We’ve had a heck of an acorn crop this year,” stated Russ Walker, a long-time processor whose shop is on Highway 47 in Clay County. “And everyone can feed now. That makes a difference,” Walker added, referring to changes in hunting regulations that allow land owners to manage their property with deer food plots.

But perhaps the biggest difference from the previous two years is the weather. When it’s cold, the deer have to move more to search for food. This December has been much colder than the last two Decembers. And January is expected to continue the trend.

“The weather is a big difference,” McKleskey said. “They have to eat and move.” “The weather is making a big difference,” Sansing added.

“When it’s hot, they quit. When it’s cold, they move. It’s just natural,” Walker summed up.

The onset of cold weather and the land management changes are producing some other short- and long-term trends.

“The last couple of weeks, we’ve been seeing some bigger ones, some nice deer,” Sansing said. “Before that, before the weather started getting colder, we saw a mix, a lot of smaller ones.”

“The body weights have been going up for the last five years. But this year, we are seeing more horns,” Walker added.

One more thing may be contributing to more bucks and more deer overall right now.

According to the MDWFP, from mid-December to mid-January is prime breeding season in many parts of North Mississippi. That means more bucks looking for more does.

Experts say the feeding habits and improved land and deer management are leading to the increased weights.

Other factors also contribute to the ups and downs in horn sizes but as more land owners manage their properties and what can be taken, the number of trophy mounts will grow.

When the weather is right like this year, the week of Christmas and New Year’s often is the busiest of the hunting season for processors because families and friends are able to get together for what has long been a tradition, not just in the hunt-crazy Deep South but many parts of the country.

“I learned from my grandfather when I was like 6. My dad and I hunted all the time, everything. He raised bird dogs. I taught my son and my grandsons,” said longtime hunter Mike Barnes who had four generations together Sunday for a hunt that produced three bucks.

“This was the time of year when I was a kid, you just knew at Christmas you’d be hunting,” Barnes added. “Shoot, I can’t count the number of people I know just like it. And this year, the weather has been great. I can’t say that about the last couple of years. We did have some weekends in January last year that were cold, but it’s been right for three weeks now.”

“We see it a lot. We’ve been busy this week with folks with extended family and friends in town hunting. They’ve brought in deer and need them processed by the weekend so they can take the meat back to Texas, Tennessee, all over,” Sansing said. “I’ve been doing this all my life and for all my lie, I’ve known deer hunting, hunting in general, to be a family thing, a generational thing,” he continued.

One thing that has changed is the creature comforts.

Where many “old-timers” a generation ago might have sat on a board mounted precariously in a tree, bundled up against the winter chill, today’s hunters often hang out in heated deer stands that hold up to eight people.

Duck hunting, which is rebounding in popularity, offers the same comforts in duck blinds.

“There’s no limit to what you can spend. They pull up now in their trucks with a $300 Yeti cooler in the back to take the meat home. I can remember when an old cooler from the convenience store or Wal-Mart would do,” Sansing observed.