March is here, and later this month the 2010 turkey season opens statewide in Louisiana. In most of the state the birds have been gobbling, and many hunters already have their spots staked out.
The condition of the turkey population depends on where you are in the state, said Jimmy Stafford, wild turkey and resident small game program leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
“We have the state divided into different eco-regions,” Stafford explained. “We have the Northwestern Loblolly/Shortleaf/Hardwood Region, the North Mississippi Delta Region, the Western Longleaf Region, the South Mississippi/Atchafalaya Delta Region, and the Southeastern Loblolly Region.”
Each one of those is different and the turkey population in each area has its own characteristics.
NORTHWESTERN LOBLOLLY/SHORTLEAF/HARDWOOD REGION
This area is primarily piney woods, and is part of the Coastal Plains habitat. It includes Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, DeSoto, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Red River, Union, and Webster parishes.
This region has had a couple years of very low poult production.
“This is one of our key areas, and it’s probably the second best region in terms of the number of turkeys we kill,” Stafford said. “But it’s suffered from a couple of bad hatches.”
This area also has had some land-use changes over the past few years.
“The prospect here is so-so for the upcoming year because of the two years of poor production,” Stafford said.
Stafford suggests Jackson Bienville Wildlife Management Area as a best bet. This area is located in Bienville, Jackson and Lincoln parishes, 12 miles south of Ruston in north central Louisiana. Numerous roads enter the area with the major access being U. S. Highway 167 and State Route 147. An extensive system of gravel roads is available for use by the public. Limited ATV use is allowed on marked trails, gravel roads and woods roads.
Jackson Bienville covers about 32,185 acres. The terrain is primarily gently rolling hills bordering the Dugdemona River and five intermittent streams. The area is intensively managed for timber, so the habitat is highly diverse due to a varied timber harvest schedule, the interspersion of hardwood areas, and more than 40 miles of utility rights-of-ways. Forest cover is predominantly pine, except in the bottomland regions where water, willow, overcup, and cow oaks, sweet and black gums or beech dominate. Understory vegetation, which is dense, consists of a variety of shrubs, vines, and annuals. Species comprising the understory are French mulberry, hackberry, dogwood, honeysuckle, grape, muscadine, maple, sweetleaf, wax myrtle, blue beech, beggarweed, and greenbriar.
NORTH MISSISSIPPI DELTA REGION
This area includes Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas and West Carroll parishes. Most of the habitat is open farmland, Stafford said.
“Because this area is so fertile, and most of it makes good farmland, the majority of it has been cleared,” he noted. “There are still a few isolated blocked of forested land that are scattered, and where those isolated blocks occur, there’s still some pretty good habitat.”
Those blocks of forestland usually are associated with river floodplains.
“The past couple of years, those areas have flooded during the spring,” Stafford said. “So that area has had very poor turkey production the past couple of years. I’ve yet to determine what the production was like in 2010. It appears to have been better than the last couple of years.”
One positive trend in this area, Stafford said, is an increase in Wetland Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Program acreage.
“At some point, that will be come good turkey habitat,” he said. “So of all the regions, this one probably has a little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
In this region, Stafford recommended the Big Lake WMA, which is located in Franklin, Madison, and Tensas Parishes, 12 miles east of Gilbert. Major access routes to the area are State Routes 4 and 610. The area has many all-weather gravel roads and numerous ATV trails.
The WMA covers approximately 19,000 acres. Flat and generally poorly drained, the terrain varies from 55 to 65 feet above sea level. Seasonal flooding occurs depending on water levels in the Tensas River basin, but periodic flooding may occur any time after periods of localized heavy rainfall.
Most of the forested parts of the area consist of a relatively closed over-story canopy with a fairly dense under story. Major timber species include Nuttall oak, overcup oak, willow oak, American elm, sweetgum, bitter pecan, green ash, hackberry and honey locust. Under-story species are rattan, grapevine, dewberry, blackberry, deciduous holly, swamp dogwood, and elderberry.
WESTERN LONGLEAF REGION
This area is south of Alexandria on the western side of the state and was historically covered in longleaf pine. It includes Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Grant, Jefferson Davis Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon and Winn parishes.
“It has a lot of national forest land and a couple of military bases,” Stafford said. “It’s had a strong turkey population the last few years, and is probably our best region. Early indications are that this area had a pretty decent turkey hatch, and the last two years it’s had good hatches. So this is probably our best region to look at for turkeys.”
The region has a good bit of older timber, and land managers do a lot of prescribed burning, Stafford noted.
“This region just has all the things that turkeys need,” he said. “There’s a good bit of upland ground that isn’t subject to major flooding.”
The two public areas Stafford recommended in this area are Fort Polk and Peason Ridge WMAs.
“Both are military bases, so they’re both subject to closings for military training,” he cautioned.
Fort Polk WMA is located 10 miles southeast of Leesville in Vernon Parish and just east of U.S. 171. It is one mile south of SR 28 and a mile north of SR 10. The area contains many all-weather roads, which make it easily accessible f
The terrain is primarily rolling hills interspersed with flats. There are several fairly large stream bottoms, in addition to numerous small creeks and greenheads. Approximately 70 percent of the area is dominated by longleaf pine. Blackjack, sandjack, red and post oaks are scattered throughout. The under story is sparse and includes wax myrtle, dogwood, huckleberry, yaupon, and French mulberry.
The creek bottoms contain willow oak, water oak, cow oak, beech, sweetgum, blackgum and magnolia. In the under story you find red bay, white bay, sweetleaf, ironweed, fetterbush, wild azalea, gallberry, deciduous holly and viburnums.
Approximately 110 acres are planted each year in wildlife foods, such as browntop millet, sunflower, sorghum, cowpea and winter wheat. The total area is more than 105,000 acres.
Peason Ridge WMA covers more than 33,000 acres and is 18 miles north of Leesville in Sabine, Natchitoches and Vernon parishes.
The terrain consists of gentle to high, rolling hills interspersed with creeks and greenheads. Longleaf pine is dominant on some of the hills, while a mixture of loblolly pine, longleaf pine, red oak, blackjack oak and post oak is found on other ridges. Some portions of the area support mixed pine stands of longleaf, loblolly and shortleaf. Groves of sandjack oak are also present. Large areas with little or no timber are common. The under story of these upland types is sparse and contains wax myrtle, yaupon, sweetgum, dogwood, huckleberry, and sumac.
The creek bottoms and greenheads have water oak, beech, magnolia, sweetgum, red maple and ash. Under-story species include dogwood, buttonbush, French mulberry, wild azalea, hazel alder, hawthorn, red bay, white bay, black gum, and viburnums.
THE SOUTH MISSISSIPPI/ATCHAFALAYA DELTA REGION
This area comprises the parishes of Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and West Baton Rouge. A great deal of this area lies inside the Atchafalaya Basin.
This region has suffered from flooding during the past couple of years, which has resulted in poor hatches.
“During that flooding, production was down,” Stafford admitted. “It can be a very productive area, and it has the huge Atchafalaya Basin in it that offers a pretty substantial chunk of hardwood bottomland forest. So the potential is there for a strong comeback if we can get production up.
“The reports I’ve seen have been so-so on production,” he said regarding 2010. “I won’t know the specifics until we get through looking at all the data.”
Stafford said Sherburne WMA is always strong. This 44,000-acre area is located in the Morganza Floodway system of the Atchafalaya Basin in the Pointe Coupee, St. Martin, and Iberville parishes, between the Atchafalaya River and the East Protection Guide Levee.
Access to the area is via SR 975, which connects with US 190 at Krotz Springs on the north, and Interstate 10 at Whiskey Bay on the south. Access to the interior is via a series of all-weather roads, ATV trails, and the Big and Little Alabama bayous.
The area is classified as bottomland hardwoods with a number of hardwood species. Mid story species include box elder, maple, red mulberry, and rough-leaf dogwood. Ground cover is sparse in many areas. In areas where habitat improvement has taken place, the ground cover is very dense and provides excellent habitat for turkeys. Common species found include rattan, greenbriar, rubus, trumpet creeper, Virginia creeper, poison ivy and milkweed.
THE SOUTHEASTERN LOBLOLLY REGION
In the Southeast Loblolly Region are the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana.
“This is an area that historically had the best turkey numbers in it,” Stafford said. “However, due to urbanization, the habitat base has significantly declined in recent years. The habitat here is managed significantly differently than it was 20 years ago, which probably peaked out the population in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s been on a decline since then.”
Of course, Hurricane Katrina had an impact on the habitat here, which also hurt the turkey population.
“And after Katrina, many people who lived in New Orleans decided they needed to live on higher ground,” Stafford explained. “Many of them moved to what we call the Florida parishes, which once was part of Florida.”
Despite the reduction in habitat the turkey hatch and production has remained at least fair for the past few years.
Tunica Hills WMA, with less than 6000 acres, is probably the best bet for turkeys. This area is composed of two separate tracts lying northwest of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish. The North Tract is 14.3 miles west on SR 66 from its intersection with SR 61. Turn north onto Farrar-Davis Road and the check station is another 3 miles.
The South Tract is 17.3 miles west on SR 66 from the SR 61 intersection. Turn south onto Old Tunica Trace and a one mile it bisects the WMA tract.
Terrain on these tracts is mostly rugged hills, bluffs and ravines. The area lies at the southern end of the Loess Blufflands Escarpment, which follows the east bank of the Mississippi River south from its confluence with the Ohio River. These bluffs offer a diverse habitat.
The forest on the area is upland hardwoods with some loblolly pine and eastern red cedar mixed in on the ridge tops and creek terraces. Hardwoods include American beech, American holly, flowering magnolia, cherrybark oak, water oak, cow oak, hickory, sweetgum, Osage orange, hackberry, elms, eastern hop hornbeam, ironwood, and maple. The under story varies from dense in logged areas to fairly open in uncut timber areas. Common under-story species are oak leaf hydrangea, two-winged silverbell, trifoliate orange, pawpaw, flowering dogwood, sweetleaf, spicebush, blackberry and switchcane.
SUMMING IT UP
This is only a sampling of the spring turkey hunting opportunities available in Louisiana. To find out more, and learn what the regulations are, consult the 2011 Louisiana Turkey Hunting Regulations pamphlet or go online to www.wlf.louisiana.gov for season dates and specific regulations.