Deer represents a significant food source, he says. “Deer meat has replaced the backyard pigpen or two or three-acre cattle pasture for many Mississippians. An average size doe deer will yield about 30 pounds of red meat; with more than 350,000 harvested each year, that’s over 10 million pounds of venison — a significant amount of food being provided to hunters courtesy of Mother Nature.

“This also supports jobs such as meat processors; in fact, processing of venison now equals or exceeds that of beef or pork for many processors. One facility I know processes 14,000 deer per year.”

Venison is an important source of donated food to charitable institutions, soup kitchens, etc., McKinley says. “They get tons of meat each year from hunters. Through a grant to Mississippi Wildlife Federation, hunters can leave deer at drop-off points for processing and distribution to the state’s needy. Non-hunting families also benefit from gifts of deer meat from hunter friends. All this helps create a positive image of hunting.”

Deer constitute a large portion of the business for taxidermists, he notes, with an average mount running $400 or so. “I know one taxidermist who does 500 or more deer mounts a year.”

And beyond all that, McKinley says, “You can’t assign a dollar value to tradition — to time spent in the outdoors with children, grandchildren, or other family members and friends, the fellowship that is part of hunting, fishing, and other forms of outdoors recreation.”

There are a number of steps involved in managing deer, he says:

· Keep the deer herd in balance with the habitat. This includes harvest of antlerless deer. “There are some who think you shouldn’t shoot a doe,” McKinley says. “That was the case in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, but it’s not true today, when we’re dealing with rapidly growing deer herds that are exceeding carrying capacity. The only way to minimize reproduction and control the numbers is to take out females.”

· A balanced age structure for bucks. “A healthy herd has bucks of varying ages to limit breeding stress on younger bucks. You end up with better breeding and a healthier herd that’s easier to control.”

· Manage your habitat, such as timberland. “This involves controlled burning and other management techniques to promote vegetation that will provide cover and food for turkey, rabbits, and other wildlife,” McKinley says.

· Food plots are important, but he says “the key is to provide something that will be long term – not just a half-acre of ryegrass, wheat or oats. Food plots are important to draw in deer to facilitate harvest and take out the numbers needed to manage populations.”

· Enclosures can be effective management tool, if used correctly, McKinley says. “They’re most effective if they’re used to keep deer out. But this requires intensive management. Some of the best-managed wildlife habitat I’ve seen has been inside enclosures; conversely, some of the worst-managed habitat I’ve seen has been inside enclosures. When you put up a fence, it changes the game.”

· Keep data on the deer herd. “If you’re managing your deer, you should be managing data on that herd,” McKinley says. “We offer a free program for properties of 1,000 acres or more. In the DMAP —Deer Management Assistance Program — we take the data collected by landowners and generate a site-specific report that tells how many deer you should be harvesting. We currently have about 2.1 million acres enrolled in this program in Mississippi.”

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries offers technical guidance to private landowners and leaseholders, McKinley notes. “We go to their property, walk around with them, show them things they may never have seen, and give them an idea of how many deer they have on their land.”

He suggests: “Get professional help if you’re truly interested in managing your deer herd. We have a staff of wildlife biologists who can assist with deer and other wildlife management.”

And McKinley says, however damaging deer may be in many areas of Mississippi, “Wild pigs are now Public Enemy No. 1; they are doing tremendous amounts of damage to crops and property, as well as to habitat for other wildlife. We encourage hunters to take them by any means necessary. You will help protect and conserve other wildlife by doing so.”