Written by Jessi Cole
Velvet seasons are as exciting as they are rare. A chance at a buck in full velvet is oftentimes a once in a lifetime shot for hunters. Only a handful of states offer the opportunity, so when the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks announced that September of 2022 would host the inaugural three-day velvet season for the state, hunters all over the country, and especially the south, were thrilled.
The three-day, archery only event limits hunters to a bag limit of 1 buck. From September 16-18th, you’ll probably only find hunters camped out in the woods, only going home to sleep or eat lunch. The department chose three days that reach the sweet spot of peak antler growth and full velvet.
How did the Mississippi Velvet Season Start?
We caught up with Taylor Sledge, the Mississippi hunter behind the new deer season. The idea came to him naturally--out of an obsession with a big buck that slipped through his fingers.
Last year, Sledge had patterned the giant all through September, but come October, the deer had vanished. In fact, he never saw it again and never heard of anyone on neighboring properties seeing him either. After hunting hard for a month with no sightings, he ended up taking a smaller buck.
The buck Sledge was after and lost that inspired the Mississippi velvet season.
Sledge said, “If the season had opened a few days earlier, I could have taken this buck and not the buck that was probably a year or so younger.”
The loss of a target buck is enough to depress any hunter, but for Sledge, it gave him the idea to get balls rolling in the right direction for a Mississippi velvet season.
It made perfect sense, he thought. Mississippi has “an enormous amount of habitat and an over-the-top population. Why wouldn’t we have a velvet season like Kentucky and Tennessee?”
Sledge's target buck after shedding its velvet.
According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, only 372 bucks were tagged during their 2021 velvet season, a number accounting for less than 1% of all deer killed that year. The population impact of the velvet season is minimal, but the excitement and revenue generated from the possibility of tagging a buck still in velvet is high.
Sledge continues, “We would have a lot of people driving in from out of state to kill a deer here. If you can create an economic value for an animal, what you can do is continue to increase the quality of life of that animal. I’m a huge believer in that type of conservation effort. A velvet season would create a new type of revenue. The money could go directly to the long-term cause of conservation in the state of Mississippi.”
Sledge began talking to Michael Watson, MS’s Secretary of State in the beginning of 2021. He said, “Michael Watson is a seasoned outdoorsman and he guided me through how that process might work and helped align me with like-minded legislators who might also be interested. He really was there for me as a leader and how this could help Mississippi and help conservation.”
Thus, the bill for the Mississippi velvet season was written by folks directly involved with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Almost a year later, the bill was introduced and signed into law on April 15, 2022.
Sledge says, “I’m not a legislator, I’m not a lobbyist, I’m just a guy. I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad who grew up hunting and fishing with his dad. Deer hunting is part of the lives we are living, a steeped long-standing tradition of our family.”
Sledge has three sons of his own, and he plans on involving them in all the preparation and patterning that comes with the inaugural velvet season. He says teaching his sons is his new priority in life as he works to pass down the passion for deer hunting onto the next generation.
Taylor Sledge poses with his three young sons.
Mississippi Velvet Season Rules:
- Each year the hunt will be 3-5 days in September. 2021 season dates will be September 16-18.
- Archery equipment and crossbows only
- Private land only for the first year, certain WMA’s will be opened after year one.
- Hunters must obtain a special permit ($10 for residents, $50 for nonresidents)
- One buck limit; no does; harvested bucks must be reported and submitted for CWD sampling
- The buck harvested counts towards the annual antlered deer limit
- The buck does not have to be in velvet, though it does need to meet minimum antler size requirements