Deer Forecast IDEAL WEATHER CONDITIONS, HEALTHY CROPS AND QUALITY DEER MANAGEMENT: THE PERFECT MIX FOR GREAT DEER HUNTING IN DIX

With hot predictions for this year hunters can look forward to longer seasons, mature bucks and more tags in many Southern states. Our state-by-state guide is the perfect primer for good public hunts, deer herd conditions and updated numbers from last season.

ALABAMA: The upcoming season looks better than last year's, and last year's was good. That's the word from Keith Guyse, assistant chief of the state's wildlife section. This year there has been plenty of rain, and the resulting woods mast and deer browse have been plentiful, which is good for fawn survival and buck rack growth. In 2003, a three-day muzzleloader season will be held prior to general firearms season in mid-November. Contact: Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (334-242-3469; www.dcnr.state.al.us/agfd).

ARKANSAS: The wildlife department is reducing deer harvest (from 185,000 to 130,000 over the last few years), believing liberal doe seasons resulted in overkill, primarily in the mountains. The state has gone from a three-doe season bag limit to a one-doe bag this year. With about 800,000 animals, Arkansas is still a great deer state, and the southern region is still known as the state's "whitetail factory." The White River National Wildlife Refuge in Desha, Monroe and Phillips counties, and the 8,173-acre Trusten Holder WMA in Desha and Arkansas counties are outstanding bets for deer hunting this fall. Recommended areas include the 1.2 million-acre Ozark National Forest, the 100,000-acre Buffalo National River and smaller WMAs like Gene Rush, Hobbs and Madison County. Contact: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (800-364-4263; www.agfc.com).

FLORIDA: Last year Florida increased the number of doe days during firearms season from three to seven. That's likely just the beginning of new trends in whitetail management, according to deer biologist John Morgan. Plentiful rainfall on the heels of drought and wildfires has improved deer habitat, and that should result in improved hunting. The best hunting is in the Northwest Region, where body and rack size are generally greater. Morgan is especially excited about a new 13,000-acre WMA just open for whitetails in the Northeast Region near the St. Johns River. Contact: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (850-488-4676; www.floridaconservation.org).

GEORGIA: Last year's Peach State buck harvest was down an eye-opening 22 percent. But over the long term, that likely bodes well for quality buck hunting, according to biologist Nick Nicholson. The buck regulation mandates that at least one of two bucks collected each fall have a minimum four points on one side. The other buck can be a smaller animal. Yet the deer take in Georgia is still high (437,000 deer taken by 545,000 hunters) because the season bag limit includes 10 antlerless deer in addition to two bucks. Normal rainfall this spring and summer have produced good habitat and will have deer in excellent condition this fall. Contact: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (770-918-6416; http://georgiawildlife.dnr.state.ga.us).

KENTUCKY: Senior wildlife biologist David Yancy expects an excellent fall hunting season, especially since hunters this year may collect up to four deer--one antlered and three antlerless, or all four antlerless--in 42 "Zone Two Counties" (roughly 35 percent of the state). As in each of the past several seasons, Kentucky deer hunters likely will bag another 10 or more Boone and Crockett Club trophy bucks.

Yancy recommends a number of prime public hunting areas, including: Pennyrile State Forest, Fort Knox and the Tradewater, Peabody, Paintsville Lake and Green River Lake WMAs. Contact: Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (800-858-1549; www.kdfwr.state.ky.us).

LOUISIANA: Abundant mast crops the last couple of years have made for large, healthy deer throughout much of the state, and the outlook for top hunting is bright. Weather is important for hunter success, however, and sportsmen are hoping for cool, moist conditions to keep bucks on the move.

Last year 200,000 resident hunters collected about 240,000 deer from an estimated population of 1 million.

Dave Moreland, in charge of deer management for Louisiana, recommends a number of public areas. For bowhunters, the Tensas River NWR looks good. Muzzleloaders should try the Lake Ophelia NWR. For modern gun deer, some of the best WMAs are Jackson Bienville, Red River, Three Rivers, Sherburne and Union. Contact: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (225-765-2346; www.wlf.state.la.us).

MISSISSIPPI: Two years of bumper acorn crops, plenty of rain for choice deer browse and a light deer season last year should result in a generous whitetail harvest this fall in Mississippi, according to Bill Lunceford with the state game department.

Mississippi did have an outbreak of EHD/blue tongue disease last year. It killed some deer, but not enough to affect the overall herd. Prime whitetail areas are along the fertile Mississippi River and the upper coastal plain. Lunceford says hunters should not overlook the state's southeast-corner coastal flatwoods area. Contact: Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries (601-432-2196; www.mdwfp.com).

NORTH CAROLINA: As much as 10 percent of the deer herd may have been lost to EHD/blue tongue disease in the piedmont and coastal plain regions. Hunters collected about 12 percent fewer deer in North Carolina last fall than in the previous season, and biologists are expecting a similar low harvest this autumn. Conditions have been excellent this summer, however, with plenty of rain and browse, and last fall's abundant acorn crop should result in plenty of healthy bucks. Good public deer hunting areas include Roanoke River, Butner-Falls, Croatan, Thurmond Chatham, South Mountains and the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. Contact: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (919-733-7291; www.ncwildlife.org).

SOUTH CAROLINA: The statewide deer population of 1 million has been relatively stable since the mid 1990s. The outlook for 2003 is excellent. Last year 149,000 hunters took 329,000 whitetails, a figure that should be realized again this season.

Deer project leader Charles Ruth says the best public opportunities are in areas of Sumter National Forest located in Abbeville, McCormick, Newberry and Union counties. Opportunities for hunting in the coastal plain are available on smaller WMAs. Contact: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (803-734-3886; www.dnr.state.sc.us).

TENNESSEE: Big Game Program Coordinator Mark Boersen expects another excellent deer harvest this fall. Fawn production was high last spring. This coupled with an abundant mast crop last autumn is likely to result in a near-record harvest. Last year 227,000 hunters collected 156,000 deer from a 1-million-animal herd.

Among the better public hunting areas, Boersen recommends Land Between the Lakes, Catoosa, President's Island and Oak Ridge. Contact: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (615-781-6500; www.state.tn.us/twra).

TEXAS: The forecast for the upcoming season is good, according to deer program coordinator Clayton Wolf. Ample rainfall provided good deer forage, setting the stage for above-average fawn recruitment and buck antler development. Fawn production in 1997 was outstanding, and those deer will be 6 1/2 years old this season.

Last year 545,000 hunters harvested 437,000 whitetails from a 3.9-million deer population. For top public hunting spots this season, check Chaparral and Kerr WMAs. Contact: Texas Parks and Wildlife (800-792-1112; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/hunt).

VIRGINIA: The state is trying to decrease the deer herd in the western region by increasing the number of days where does are legal game. State deer biologist Matt Knox reports a stable deer herd approaching 1 million; last season's harvest exceeded 214,000. With liberalized doe limits, odds are good that the harvest figure will increase. Knox recommends the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, especially along the West Virginia border counties. In the southwest, counties include Nelson, Bedford, Franklin, Patrick and Floyd. Contact: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (804-367-1000; www.dgif.state.va.us).

For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional

BEST PUBLIC HUNTING

Arkansas's new 9,000-acre Choctaw Island WMA near the Mississippi River has an abundant deer population of one animal per 10 acres (estimated at 1,600 deer). With a five-point minimum (on one side) rule, buck hunting there should be great. Further improving hunting, sportsmen must first harvest a doe on Choctaw before they take a minimum 5-point buck. Most hunting on Choctaw is by permit only; permits are secured in June. Bowhunting on the areas does not require drawn permits and is lawful through the state season ending December 31. Virginia's George Washington and Jefferson National Forests offer sportsmen a golden opportunity for wilderness hunting and a chance to collect a heavy-racked, off-the-beaten-track buck. This is picturesque, big-woods, Blue Ridge Mountain terrain. A number of buster bucks are taken every year, and animals sporting racks in the 140 to 150 point range are not uncommon. Key spots for trophy hunters are 15 wilderness areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service. They comprise well over 85,000 acres and range in size from 2,500 acres to 11,000 acres. Information and maps are available from the U.S. Forest Service (540-265-5100).