Mississippi has a well-deserved reputation for having some of the best turkey hunting and some of the best turkey hunters in the nation. Whether you are a beginner or an obsessed turkey hunting addict, it’s time to get your yelper out and make plans for getting your Magnolia State gobbler. With a very generous spring season framework that begins March 12 and ends May 1 you have plenty of time to connect with a gobbling longbeard.
But, before looking at the best places to hunt in the Magnolia State, let’s see what else is going on that affects these birds and the folks that hunt them.
WILD TURKEY RESEARCH
Wild turkey restoration efforts are continuing in the north Delta area. According to Dave Godwin, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Turkey Program Coordinator, biologists captured and released 122 wild turkeys in Quitman and Coahoma counties in 2009. An additional 57 birds were released into the interior Delta in 2010.
The releases of the radio-tagged turkeys are part of an ongoing cooperative study, now in its second year, between MDWFP and Mississippi State University to determine the suitability of Delta habitats for wild turkeys and the effectiveness of such restoration efforts.
Dave Godwin and Turkey Program Biologist Adam Butler have responsibility for managing the state’s turkey flock. Along with others in the department, they are responsible for habitat management on state-owned wildlife management areas. While park-like conditions found under mature timber stands appeals to many hunters, large expanses of that habitat are not best for wildlife.The MDWFP has taken a more aggressive approach to improving habitat through Timber Stand Improvement, thinning and prescribed burning. While efforts to maintain some level of supplemental plantings are likely to continue, wildlife mangers realize their biggest bang for the buck comes from improving natural habitat.
The Spring Gobbler Hunting Survey was initiated in 1996 to collect long-term data about turkey activity and hunting. Survey participants record information about their turkey hunts during the spring season. Biologists use the information to track trends to better manage the state’s turkey population.
The MDWFP would like to increase participation in the survey by 30 percent. Not only do hunters get the satisfaction of knowing they are part of the conservation effort, but they also receive a complimentary copy of the annual Wild Turkey Report. It is a summary of the data collected. Additionally, surveyors have their names thrown in the pot for a drawing for a new shotgun.
Visit the MDWFP Turkey Program Web site at www.mdwfp.com. The follow the links through Wildlife & Hunting, and Turkey Program to sign up.
WILD TURKEY FORECAST
Now let’s get down the meat and potatoes — where are the top places in Mississippi to find gobblers this year.
First, the bad news; unfortunately, wild turkeys are not prolific reproducers. According to MDWFP 2010 Wild Turkey Status Report, harvest data indicates that the turkey population has been declining since 2005. The decline has been primarily due to successive years of poor hatches.
Godwin believes wet and cool weather during the nesting season is a major cause of the poor success rate of hens.
Godwin and Butler track the hatch each year using data collected in the statewide brood survey. Observations of hens and poults are recorded on a county basis from June through August. Once the data is compiled the biologists have a pretty good idea of what to expect in the next couple of years in the way of turkey numbers.
In 2009 the statewide average of poults per hen was 1.1, the lowest result since MDWFP record keeping began. Those results are important for the 2011 season, because gobblers hatched in 2009 will be the 2-year-old gobblers of 2011, which make up the bulk of the harvest.
Based on that number alone, Godwin believes that hunters will encounter fewer mature toms this season. Now for the good news; while the results of the 2010 brood survey were not finalized at the time of this writing, Godwin projected the hatch to be up by as much as 65 percent on a statewide basis. That should translate into hunters seeing lots of jakes this spring and more 2-year-old gobblers in 2012.
Even though turkey numbers in the state have been declining, there still are plenty of gobblers in most areas.
The 2009 hatch was not kind to most of this 21-county region in the north central and northeast part of the state. In fact, the region average of 0.94 poults per hen was the lowest in the state, except for the Delta.
Given that poor hatch, hunters in most of this region should expect to encounter fewer gobblers this year. There are some bright spots within the region, however. Alcorn, Calhoun, Monroe and Pontotoc counties had hatches that were considered to be average or good. Grenada, Lafayette, Union and Clay counties should have good turkey hunting also.
The number of turkeys harvested has been trending downward in this region. Past experience tells me that the number of turkey hunters usually declines with a declining turkey population. That may be the proverbial “silver lining,” especially for hunters pursuing gobblers on public land.
Upper Sardis WMA typically is one of the best public hunting areas and, at 42,000 acres, one of the largest in the region. Hunters harvested 54 gobblers on the area in 2009. Located in Lafayette County on the Holly Springs National Forest, the area offers an early youth hunt and then two weeks requiring a draw permit. The rest of the season is open to all hunters.
Malmaison WMA in Grenada County and Calhoun County WMA are similar in size, but have very different habitats. Malmaison is 9,700 acres of primarily bottomland hardwoods and Calhoun County has 10,700 acres of industrially owned and managed upland pine plantations. There also are some hardwoods found along drainages. Expect to find more turkeys on Malmaison and proportionally more hunters than Calhoun County. Both areas offer early youth hunts and Malmaison has a draw hunt for the first two weeks of the regular season.
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