Deer season gives way to small game

Published 1:20 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024

By Hunter Cloud
The Natchez Democrat
Wednesday, Jan. 31, was the final day of deer season in most of Mississippi which frees up
time for other outdoor activities. Small game hunting such as squirrels and rabbits are open until
Feb. 28 and habitat work for turkeys and deer can occupy hunters until the spring turkey season
and next deer season.
Habitat management is needed to improve wildlife populations and hunting quality in future
seasons. A tip for prioritizing habitat work and hunting in February is simple. Windy, rain soaking
and frigid weather conditions are not always conducive to good squirrel hunting which makes
them great candidates for habitat work days.
Small game hunts on good weather days allow hunters and managers to observe the property
and what work is needed over the next year. MDWFP Turkey Program Coordinator Adam Butler
said normal levels of small game hunting pressure in February should not have a negative
impact on turkeys.
Before you even start working it is best to have a plan for your property. Next, draw a map of
your property or use a map on your phone and break up the property into different sections.
One method to break up the property is based on shared habitat qualities.
It is recommended to take on the lowest hanging fruit first in terms of plant succession.
Clearings and openings should be first priority because of the cover they provide to turkeys and
fawns in early life history. Herbicide applications, mechanical disturbances such as disking and
burning can help set back the plant succession and maintain herbaceous plant cover. At a
minimum, 10 percent of a heavily forested property should have maintained openings.
Due to the intense summer heat, it is not a bad idea to take care of work in open fields first
during the cold weather months. Managers should save work for shaded forest areas for the
hottest part of the year especially in creek bottoms where it is a little cooler.
Management requires commitment because the fruits of labor may not be reaped in the first
year of work. Habitat management is an ongoing process as the natural world also changes.
All of this work is easier if you have a chainsaw, a tractor with a disk attachment and a backpack
sprayer. However, it can be done with hand tools and sweat equity. Depending on the property
it may be easier to get hand tools into areas which do not give good access to equipment.
A chopping ax can help you cut down trees, shrubs and privet hedges. Machetes and kaiser
blades can allow you to clear paths or thin out areas where one plant has created a
monoculture, such as goldenrod.

Bow rakes can help you remove the thatch left on the ground and create fire breaks for
prescribed burning. A garden hoe can help disk up areas and stimulate the natural seed bank
although it may be easier to use a shovel depending on your soil type.
Fire is a great tool when used appropriately and legally. Prescribed burns in February can help
enhance habitat for turkeys. Work done in February can bear fruit in time for turkeys to nest and
hatch broods this spring.
February should be a busy habitat work month for turkey hunters ahead of the hunting season
and the hatch of turkeys which follow. People may focus on trapping nest predators in February
but predator control only works well when paired with quality habitat for nesting and brood
Reading and listening are great tools in your management tool box. Mississippi State University
Extension Service and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks provide a variety
of publications for habitat management and understanding the biology and ecology of wildlife
species. Podcasts such as Wild Turkey Science, Fire University, Habitat University and Deer
University are great resources for habitat work.

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