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Good hunting season requires safety, rules
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many Mississippians anticipate it all year long but often fail to consider the safety and legal issues that come along with deer hunting season.
Ben West, wildlife professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said tree stand safety is one of the most often overlooked areas of hunting safety.
"Many more people are injured each year falling out of tree stands than in firearm accidents," West said. "It's very important to give a good inspection first if you're using a tree stand that's been up for a while."
Always use a safety belt, which connects the hunter to the tree, when hunting from a tree stand.
"Always tell someone where you're going to be hunting. I have a friend who fell out of a tree stand just a few weeks ago -- he had a safety belt on, but he didn't have any way to get down," West said. "Luckily he had a cell phone in his pocket and was able to call for help. Otherwise, he could have been hanging there for hours before someone found him."
West encouraged hunters to remember what they learned in hunter safety courses. Basic firearm safety guidelines advise hunters to unload a firearm before crossing a fence, and to make sure the safety is on and the firearm is clean and functioning properly.
Hunters should remember it is illegal in Mississippi to hunt over bait, usually corn or some other grain that is put out to attract deer. This practice is punishable by a fine set by the legislature and appears in state statute.
"If you're a hunter, it's your responsibility to understand the laws and know how they pertain to your activities. Ignorance is not an excuse," West said. "Hunters can go to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Web site for up-to-date listings of legal issues."
That information is available online at http://www.mdwfp.com. Lt. Col. John Collins, assistant chief of law enforcement with the Department, said all hunters must have a hunting license, and those born after Jan. 1, 1972, also must pass a hunter safety course.
"Hunters have to adhere to the bag limit, which is three bucks and three does per year," Collins said. "They also must have permission to hunt on private land, but that permission does not have to be written."
Public hunting lands are readily available. Collins said the general public can hunt in wildlife management areas, refuges, national forests and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands.
Deer season in Mississippi lasts from Oct. 1 until Jan. 31, with specific types of hunting restricted to certain dates.
Archery season began Oct. 1 and ends Nov. 19; gun season with dogs opens Nov. 20 and ends Dec. 1; primitive weapons season, which includes hunting with bow-and-arrow and muzzleloading rifles, lasts from Dec. 2-15; on Dec. 16, gun season with no dogs opens and lasts through Dec. 23; on Dec. 24, dogs are allowed again for a gun season that lasts until Jan. 19; beginning Jan. 20, an archery and primitive weapons season begins and lasts until Jan. 31.
While out hunting, Collins added that it is legal to kill wild hogs at any time during hunting season with a weapon legal for that season.
"Wild hogs, or boar, are classified as predators and can be shot and killed any time another game bird or animal season is open. Landowners and agricultural lease holders may kill wild hogs anytime they are damaging property or crops on lands they own or farm. There is no bag limit," Collins said.
Deer are classified as game animals and are one of the most bountiful resources in the state, with 1.5 million to 1.75 million deer in Mississippi alone. William McKinley, deer program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said he believes the state's deer herd is slowly growing.
"We have had some outstanding fawn crops in the last three years, and I think this year is no exception," McKinley said. "At the same time, the number of hunters is decreasing. The result is that harvest rates are on an increase right now. So we have an increase in the percentage of successful hunters while actual numbers of licensed hunters are decreasing."
McKinley said his theory to describe the decline in hunters is that older hunters are dropping out and fewer youth are being recruited into the sport. He cited possible reasons for less youth involvement in the sport including lack of interest, hurried lifestyles and more time spent on computer games.
"Kids may even play hunting games on the computer. They get just as big a thrill, they think, as if they were actually outdoors hunting," McKinley said.
He said the Department has ongoing efforts to recruit more youth into the sport. One incentive is that the youth season has been extended to one week for deer, turkey and squirrel.
"I don't know of any other state that has this long a youth season. It used to be just two days -- the weekend before the opening of the regular gun season. Now, it's the entire week before, from Nov. 13 to 19," McKinley said.
During the 2002-2003 season, Mississippi hunters harvested 160,636 bucks and 165,724 does. The average licensed hunter took 2.12 deer that season for a 75.8 percent success rate. McKinley said there were 158,375 licensed hunters during that season. That number does not reflect unlicensed hunters, including those younger than 16 years and older than 65, and hunters using their own land, all of whom are not required to have a license.