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Refuges, state park benefit from hunter harvest, provide opportunities

NATCHEZ — It was Mike Jardell’s first trip to Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge, but a bit of good fortune now has him hooked.

“I’m addicted,” the Jennings, La., native said Friday.

A seven-point buck that weighed in at 195 pounds is responsible for his addiction.

“I was in my stand near some thistle, and he came walking through, and unfortunately I saw him,” Jardell said.

One pull of the trigger later, Jardell was celebrating the largest deer he had ever killed, and it was the size, not the rack, that had him excited.

“I’m a meat hunter,” he said. “I’ve killed an eight-point before, but this is by far the biggest.”

Jardell’s story is one of many successful ones that have come out of Bayou Cocodrie and St. Catherine Creek national wildlife refuges this season.

Bayou Cocodrie’s three-day draw-hunt season started Friday, and refuge forester John Simpson said the refuge had a great turnout of approximately 300 hunters this weekend.

“Deer hunting is one of our main resources for maintaining a healthy herd,” Simpson said. “Overpopulation can be detrimental to the habitat.”

The refuge has a need for hunters and there are plenty of people willing to come out and help it fulfill the need.

Kenneth Davis and his wife, Amy, from Vidalia made it out to the refuge Friday morning with their son Jess, 17, to try to get the Vidalia High School student his first buck.

It was the second year the family had hunted at the refuge.

“It’s well managed, and we can come out here and have a good time,” Kenneth said. “And it’s so close. It’s like five minutes from the house.”

The hunters at Bayou Cocodrie saw some success this weekend, including Tom Walters from Denham Springs, La., who killed a 14-point at the refuge.

Archery season will remain open at Bayou Cocodrie until Jan. 31. Primitive weapon season is Jan. 4-9. Three youth lottery hunts will be Dec. 15, Dec. 21 and Dec. 28.

But Bayou Cocodrie is not the only refuge in the Miss-Lou that is providing hunting opportunities.

St. Catherine Creek refuge is also producing some big kills this season.

“(Hunting season) is going really well,” biologist Nick Wirwa said. “We’ve seen quite a few deer shot off the refuge so far and some nice bucks. There’s a pretty good number. It’s probably better this year than the past few anyway.”

Wirwa said the Mississippi River flood is one reason the refuge is producing bigger deer.

“Some years when the river levels come up, it cuts into hunting season, but that allows more deer to make it to the next year,” he said. “We’ve seen through years of data collection that the deer make it to be much older and larger than a lot of other places that don’t get that flooding. That’s the reason we have bigger deer.”

St. Catherine Creek’s size makes it an attractive hunting option as well.

“We have 25,000 acres and a majority of that is huntable, so it’s a large area that hunters can spread out and get away from people.”

Archery season will continue until Jan. 31 at St. Catherine Creek. The muzzleloader season started Nov. 17 and will run through Jan. 6.

Natchez State Park also provides hunting opportunities in the area, and although numbers are down so far this year from a record number in 2011, the park is still producing deer.

Park Manager Roddy Powell said he expected the number to come down, but there are other factors involved as well.

“Deer movement has been very scarce,” he said. “We have a large acorn crop, and there’s so much food available they don’t have to move very far for food.”

Twenty-seven deer have been harvested so far at the park, including 12 bucks.

“The largest was a bow kill that was a nine-point,” Powell said. “But in our youth hunts we’ve had kids that have killed 8-points.”

Powell said he likes to see children out hunting, and the state park provides them with plenty of opportunities.

“This year we have 10 youth hunting weekends,” he said. “That’s the most we’ve ever had. We like to try to get kids involved and started at an early age to get them interested.”

The archery draw season runs through the end of January, and muzzleloader season begins Dec. 15.

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