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Tips for Tunica
If you want to score a deer on this rugged wildlife management area,
listen to this area expert.

ANDY CRAWFORD

Hunters going to Tunica Hills best be in shape because there are only two directions they can walk — up and down.
Hunters going to Tunica Hills best be in shape because there are only two directions they can walk — up and down.

Where are only two directions a hunter can walk on Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area.

Up and down.

The terrain is typified by steep ravines, deep bottoms and towering ridges. All the characteristic topography is strewn with oak trees that litter the ground with more acorns than 1,000 deer could eat.

Therefore, hunting the 5,358-acre tract of land in West Feliciana Parish can be a grueling affair. Hunters often hit the woods full of energy, only to leave worn out and satisfied to hunt elsewhere.

Factor in early season rattlesnake encounters and the fact that the only guns allowed for use in deer hunting are muzzleloaders during a two-week-long season in late November, and the result is a beautiful piece of land that is all but devoid of the hunting pressure for which most public lands are known.

That’s why Darryl Krumholt loves Tunica Hills WMA.

“There’s a core of bowhunters up here, but other than the muzzleloader season you don’t see that many other hunters,” the Central resident said.

But there’s another reason why Krumholt spends so much time battling the harsh terrain — Tunica Hills is loaded with deer, including a number of racked bucks.

The 43-year-old bricklayer has proved this during the past eight or nine years by taking 17 Tunica Hills deer with his bow. His kills include only five bucks, but one of the deer — arrowed earlier this season — was a big 10-point that green-scored 127 1/8 Pope & Young.

“I killed five one year. Four were does,” Krumholt said. “Last year (the 2000-01 season), I got 12 shots.”

He only arrowed three of the deer, but there aren’t many public-land bowhunters who can brag of a dozen shots in a season.

Krumholt probably could have added more bucks to his name, but he has little patience to allow does to walk.

“It’s hard enough hunting as it is. If a legal deer steps out, I shoot it,” he said. “What you do is you go a long time without seeing a deer, and then here come the deer. Then I shoot the first one that comes out, and there’s a buck behind it.”

Oak trees are so prolific that deer munch on acorns throughout the season. A key to Krumholt’s success is keying on those oak flats that are being targeted by deer.
Oak trees are so prolific that deer munch on acorns throughout the season. A key to Krumholt’s success is keying on those oak flats that are being targeted by deer.

Although Krumholt and others who regularly hunt on the management area kill deer in the early season, mid December marks the beginning of the prime hunting period.

“That’s when it gets hot. Most of the deer I’ve killed down here, I’ve had to have my jumpsuit on,” Krumholt explained.

The reasons he sees more deer in late December and January are probably two-fold.

The first is centered around food and cover. When the season first opens, deer can be found feeding on persimmons, honey locusts and crabapples.

“If you can find one of those trees, you have a real good chance of killing a deer, or at least seeing something,” Krumholt said.

That food source quickly runs out, though, and within a couple of weeks of the season’s beginning the deer move into the thickets of the deeper bottoms where they find plenty of food. That’s when the entire acreage is often carpeted with acorns.

“Once the beans, persimmons and crabapples are gone, they’re in those bottoms and they don’t have to come out,” he said. “Everywhere you walk, there’s acorns in the bottoms.”

Some hunters follow the deer into these hollows, but Krumholt said there are problems associated with that strategy.

To start with, the wind always blows in Tunica Hills. The proximity to the Mississippi River and the difference between the air temperatures in the bottoms and on the tops of the ridges causes an almost-constant draft. These air currents are pretty consistent on top of the ridges, but they are anything but in the bowls created by steep ridges.

“The wind swirls in those bottoms, and there’s a better chance they smell you. That’s just a chance you’ve got to be willing to take when hunting the bottoms,” Krumholt said. “If you stay on top (of the ridges), you’ll be better off.”

Even when hunters aren’t winded when hunting the bottoms, the thickets in which the deer live make getting shots extremely difficult.

Cutting shooting lanes is prohibited on wildlife management areas, so Krumholt simply prefers to set up a little higher on the ridges.

“Somebody a long time ago, when I first started hunting up here, told me that you have a better chance staying on top of these ridges and waiting for the deer to come to you,” he explained.

The second reason that deer move better during the late portion of the season is that the rut kicks in.

What Krumholt does this time of year is walk the ridges, looking for signs that deer are crossing.

“I try to figure out areas where they’re crossing from bottom to bottom,” he explained.

Of particular interest are areas where thick cover extends up from a bottom to the top of a ridge and then down the other side of the ridge.

“I can just look at that and tell deer will use that to cross. It gives them a lot of cover,” he said.

Darryl Krumholt uses his mid-day breaks to keep up with which oak trees are attracting deer. Tunica Hills is covered with oak trees, but later in the season the mast is limited. That’s when knowing which trees are still dropping acorns can produce deer kills.
Darryl Krumholt uses his mid-day breaks to keep up with which oak trees are attracting deer. Tunica Hills is covered with oak trees, but later in the season the mast is limited. That’s when knowing which trees are still dropping acorns can produce deer kills.

The signs of hot travel corridors sometimes come as well-worn trails, but they also can be in the form of fresh scrapes or hookings.

“If you find a line of busted trees (hookings), you know a deer’s coming through there,” he said.

The hunter then sets up either on top of the ridge where the deer is crossing or just off the top of the ridge.

If the hunting pressure is minimal, Krumholt often stays right on or near the main ATV trails.

“I just hang around those roads on the nearby ridges,” he said.

If there are a lot of people moving about his favorite areas, Krumholt moves farther away from the human traffic.

“When there are a bunch of people, I stay on the ridges, but I get way off the roads,” he explained.

Oftentimes, scrapes or hooking lines will run directly up or down the crown of a ridge, but when they cross a ridge the most productive areas for late-season crossings are where the ridge peters off into the bottom.

“When they’re chasing those does, they’re looking for the easiest routes. They don’t run the middle of the ridges, they run the tops or down at the end of the ridges,” Krumholt said.

Careful stand positioning can provide coverage of the crown of the ridge near the bottom so deer can be ambushed.

Another proven tactic is to find oak trees that are still attracting attention from deer.

“They pretty much feed on acorns all year long,” he said.

So Krumholt spends a lot of time scouting the woods, looking at oak trees he knows have dropped a lot of mast. As the deer continue to feed, the areas in which they concentrate to find more mast become smaller and smaller. That makes it easier to pattern deer.

“When I see deer mess, I know they’re hitting that tree hard,” he said. “I can come back and kill a deer under that tree.”

Rattling and using buck-attracting scent can be effective this time of year, although Krumholt said he has only been successful once in killing a deer using a drag rag.

“I killed one of the 7-points like that. He ran about 100 yards down the road where I came from, nose to the ground until he got to where I dropped the rag,” he explained.

During the late season, when the rut is under way, bucks will run the ridges. Therefore, Krumholt sets up near these highways in order to ambush passing deer.
During the late season, when the rut is under way, bucks will run the ridges. Therefore, Krumholt sets up near these highways in order to ambush passing deer.

He missed the buck twice, once because of a limb in the way, but the third shot put the deer down.

“It hasn’t worked any other time, but it’s only got to work once,” Krumholt chuckled.

While rattling isn’t a technique this hunter employs, Krumholt said he has discussed it with others who find it effective.

It’s also worthwhile to keep in mind that Tunica’s bucks often move during the middle of the day.

A group of bowhunters learned this the hard way years ago, according to one story.

Scott Guillardo, area manager at the time, stopped to talk to the four or five hunters eating lunch at the parking area adjacent to the north trail.

“‘Y’all should be in the woods right now. The deer are moving right now,” Guillardo told them.

The hunters chuckled and explained that they had been in their stands all morning.

About that time, a doe popped out on the road and eased across about 100 yards from the gathered hunters.

That evoked laughter from the group of hunters — until a big buck stepped out a few minutes later, looked at the group of dismayed men and followed the doe down into another bottom.

The key to success on Tunica is not being shown specific areas to hunt, Krumholt said.

“You can kill deer anywhere on this place,” he explained.

What has worked for Krumholt is to take a relatively small portion of the management area and learn it like the back of his hand.

“It takes years to learn it, but once you do you sort of know where to hunt,” he said.

The area Krumholt hunts is not measured in miles but in hundreds of yards, but because of the terrain that means he’s got plenty of space to cover.

That’s the strategy Krumholt recommends.

“Find an area that has a lot of deer sign and learn it,” he said. “If you learn that area, you’ll kill deer in that area.”

By learning an area, Krumholt doesn’t mean remembering how to get to stand sites — he means memorizing where the major trails are, which acorn trees are most popular, where potential bedding areas are, etc. That’s what makes the difference between being lucky and consistently seeing deer.

After building up this mental database, a hunter can use mid-season scouting to help narrow down how deer are using the terrain and find likely ambush points.

Once Krumholt settles on a site, he finds a tree that’s not too hard to get to.

“I want to be able to get to my stand site without making much racket or spreading my scent around,” he said.

The tree should offer plenty of shooting opportunities, but also provide height and cover.

“I won’t get over 30 feet high, but I get as high as I possibly can. That way, you’re in those limbs, kind of hidden,” he explained. “That’s more important than anything because if the deer doesn’t see you (and you don’t get a shot) you can go back in there again.”

Although he regularly uses a climbing stand, Krumholt actually prefers a lock-on because he can use it on any tree.

“I don’t have to worry about the size or getting over limbs,” he said.

A simple take-down stick ladder is strapped to the tree for easy access.

Finally, it’s just a matter of being on your stand when a deer walks past.

That’s when Tunica Hills hunters are faced with the ultimate decision — is the deer worth shooting.

“When you shoot a deer, he usually runs off into the bottom,” Krumholt said. “That’s when the real work starts.

“Getting it out can be impossible by yourself.”

That’s why this veteran hunter prefers to hunt with a partner.

“That way, if you shoot a deer you can go get help,” he said.

Even then, there are places Krumholt hunts that he won’t shoot a small deer.

“It’s easier to get a small deer out, but it’s still a lot of work. At least a big deer is worth it,” he said.