During turkey season’s opening morning, bottomland hollows can be “hallowed ground” in southwestern Louisiana’s piney woods.
First of all, a bird I once “put to bed” in a bottom gobbled fanatically right before and after he took to the roost. In my mind, I knew it was going to be a difficult next morning, since I figured he had plenty of hens in his harem.
I had heard before — and the truth was soon confirmed — that the more a longbeard gobbles on his way to the roost, the less he will gobble coming down the next day.
And sure enough, the next morning resounded with much barred owl hooting and enough crows crying to make you think that there was never a gobbler in the vicinity, or that somehow the birds had moved in the middle of the night.
All I heard that morning was a couple of jakes responding in the vicinity.
But I stayed put until about 9 a.m., making enough purrs, yelps and kee-kee runs to encourage even the two jakes to visit the area.
Unfortunately, I never heard the raucous gobbler fly down that morning.
I decided to search the area and pulled my purple mahogany box out of the vest. I walked far and wide and eventually witnessed a few field birds that I played with for quite a while.
Shackled by a lack of luck that morning, I decided to head back to the pickup and record a “scratch” on that particular opening day.
When I happened back upon the area where the gobbler had roosted the evening before, I decided to play a few raspy yelps on the box just before noon.
Immediately, the bottom echoed with a full gobble in response — and he was close!
I immediately found the nearest cover and placed a double-reed stack diaphragm in my mouth, letting fly some seductive purrs and clucks.
A gobble cut me off on the second cluck, and the bird was even closer.
My gun went to my shoulder pointing to the area where the bird had just gobbled.
Among the golden tops, I could see a bluish-white head bobbing along quickly and coming in my direction.
As I have witnessed on many such occasions, the big bird fanned out his wings in full strut upon reaching the area. I could hear his spittin’ and drummin’ reverberating in the bottom.
I purred a little more and the longbeard gobbled thunderously again.
Once he walked well into shotgun range, I emitted a whiney yelp, and his fan folded as his head and neck extended straight up.
I shot and folded the bird, and I was pretty exultant that I was going back to the camp with a gobbler in the back of the pickup. The tom weighed 22 pounds and sported a thick 11-inch beard. His spurs were plenty long enough and curved at just over 1 4/8 inches.
It turned out to be a great opening day for me, one that reinforced the tactic of staying in the woods and playing a good bird hard. After all — and as many avid turkey hunters will tell you — a midday encounter with a gobbling bird nearly always ends up with a gobbler in hand.
March is here, and later this month (March 28), the 2009 turkey-hunting season opens statewide in Louisiana.
According to biologist and state turkey study leader Larry Savage with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, as many as 25,000 Louisiana turkey hunters will take to the swamps, piney woods and hardwood forests in search of a few of the state’s resident population of Eastern wild turkeys.
“We’re looking at population estimates of 80,000 to 90,000 turkeys here in Louisiana,” Savage said. “We still don’t know quite the amount of birds taken here with the exception of what is killed on our wildlife management areas.
“New this year is the regulation that hunters have to immediately tag a gobbler and report their harvests,” Savage explained. “With this new data, we will have an opportunity to examine the statewide turkey harvests a lot more critically, which will aid us in future management strategies and prescriptions.”
As stated above by Savage, Louisiana turkey hunters regardless of age or license status must obtain turkey tags for the 2009 season from license point-of-sale vendors or offices of the LDWF. Turkey hunters must have these tags in their possession while hunting. This is a significant change from previous years where tagging was not required.
Not only will turkey hunters have to tag the birds they kill, but they will also have to report their harvests by phone or by Internet to the LDWF within 72 hours. Each Louisiana turkey hunter will be issued two tags to be placed on gobblers only. For more information regarding the statewide tagging system, visit the LDWF Web site at www.wlf.louisiana.gov.
Statewide, there are approximately 13 million acres where hunters can score on the Eastern wild turkey in Louisiana. Most of this land is private and not available to hunters seeking birds on public lands. Only about 2 million acres of this habitat are available to the public hunter.
As for turkey hunting areas, the best way to describe much of Louisiana is by habitat type, which usually corresponds to viable populations of Eastern turkeys depending on its suitability. These are: the Western Longleaf Region, the Atchafalaya Delta Region, the Northwest (loblolly/ shortleaf/hardwood) Region, the North Mississippi Delta Region and the Southeast Loblolly Region.
WESTERN LONGLEAF REGION
For the last couple of years, the advice for the serious Louisiana turkey hunter was to “Go West.” The parishes that encompass the Western Longleaf Pine Region include Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Grant, Jefferson Davis, Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon and Winn.
During the last two years in this region, turkey harvests have been considerably high. Poult counts taken in the summer of 2008 in the area were not available at press time.
According to Savage, the best public lands available here for hunters include Fort Polk Wildlife Management Area, located 10 miles southeast of Leesville in Vernon Parish. This is a military installation, so hunters have to seek access by military permit on a day-to-day basis. It is recommended strongly that hunters have more than one bird located in different areas on opening day to efficiently take advantage of the season here. Last spring, 16 gobblers were taken by 295 hunting efforts during a 31-day season here.
A real gem in the area, Kisatchie National Forest provides more than 600,000 acres in many parishes in this region, with parcels connecting to other areas. Turkey-hunting pursuits are high here, with hunters scoring well in these piney woods laced with hardwoods streamside management zones.
Unfortunately, there are no managed hunts in most of this expanse, and harvest numbers are hard to come by. The season here ranges from 17 to 24 days on these tracts, depending on the area and annual calendar adjustments.
Chad Bowen, a Louisiana regional director of the National Wild Turkey Federation, spends much time on various parcels of Kisatchie and praises this national forest for the turkey-hunting opportunities it provides every year.
“I would advise hunters to try and get away from the crowd here to get on a gobbler,” said Bowen. “When scouting, look for the right habitat — clear cuts, burns and stripped rows — and walk these areas. I killed a bird on one tract of Kisatchie by previously walking the whole perimeter of the area and finding feathers, dusting sites and tracts. The big gobbler I killed on the tract was located by finding one solitary track at a mudhole.”
Please consult the 2009 Spring Louisiana Turkey Hunting Pamphlet before heading out to Fort Polk WMA or Kisatchie NF for permits, rules, schedules and instructions.
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