“One farmer I know lost a 300-acre soybean field three times in a season — and that’s expensive. In some areas, deer numbers are getting to the point that homeowners are finding it almost impossible to have gardens. A lot of people depend on their gardens for a lot of their food, and deer can make a big dent in that food source.

“You may hear that dear won’t eat this, or won’t eat that, but the truth is, they’ll eat anything that’s fertilized. You put enough fertilizer on it and they’ll eat it. One of the few measures that has proven effective in protecting home gardens is a two-stage electric fence — one fence inside another.”

From October 2009 to January 3010, McKinley says, State Farm Insurance reported 14,738 deer/vehicle collisions, and “I’d guess that’s probably one-fourth the actual number, because a lot go unreported.”

Good deer management also is beneficial to other wildlife, he notes.

“A lot of birds and small mammals are threatened by not having enough cover because deer have eaten mid-story and under-story plants — weeds, forbs, little saplings are gone.

“Many sensitive native plants have been virtually eliminated by deer; strawberry bush, which once was common in the Mississippi hill, has been virtually eradicated; deer love it, it’s like ice cream to them. Mulberries are also vanishing; I seldom see a small mulberry tree. If we don’t keep deer under control, a lot of these valuable native plants are going to be lost.”

So, McKinley asks, if the deer population is basically skyrocketing, and hunters are harvesting over half a million each year, why should we be concerned about managing them?

“One very good reason,” McKinley says, “is money. Deer hunting generates a lot of money. It also is a source of food and supports a lot of jobs. Hunting is a strongly-rooted tradition in Mississippi.

“The beauty of hunting is that it’s both a rich man’s and a poor man’s sport. On one end of the spectrum, there are hunting clubs with high dollar buy-ins and on the other end, there are individual hunters who go out with just a box of ammo and a hunting license. Deer camps range from primitive to luxurious. There are over 1 million acres of public land for hunting in the state, with either free access or only a $15 fee for access to more than 500,000 acres of wildlife management areas.

“Hunters buy a tremendous amount of stuff, from guns and ammo to camouflage to deer stands to food for camping.

“Real estate agents in my central Mississippi territory tell me that recreational land is going for anywhere from $2,200 to $5,500 per acre and before the downturn in the economy, they had some property that sold for as much as $6,500 to $7,000. A significant chunk of that is for deer hunting.

“There are people from other states wanting to buy this land; I know of one deal for 500 acres that sold for $10,000 per acre, simply due to the high quality of the deer on the property.”

Hunting leases can also be a good source of revenue, McKinley says. “I don’t know of any leases for less than $10 an acre, and $50 or more is not that uncommon.”