Targeting Your Florida Gobbler

Targeting Your Florida Gobbler

The Sunshine State features millions of acres of public hunting lands and two species of wild turkeys. So finding a gobbler should be easy, especially this year. (February 2008).

Photo by John Trout, JR.

Do you think you'll have to look hard to find a gobbler this spring? You may be disappointed! The 2008 Florida turkey season promises to be one of the best on record, as biologists are seeing turkeys in good numbers statewide.

Whether you're hunting on private land or on one of the state's wildlife management areas, you stand a good chance of bringing home a gobbler from any part of the state.

Larry Perrin is the state turkey biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Although no statewide assessment of turkey stocks is done in Florida, he feels that prospects for the 2008 spring season are good.

"During the spring of 2006, for the most part, the state had an above-average hatch," Perrin said. "We saw birds being hatched early, with late hatches all the way through the summer. We had a dry spring for the most part, although it was a little wetter in the south. I heard reports of people not seeing quite the number of birds there that were seen in the central and northern parts of the state."

LOOKING AHEAD
The spring of 2007 also portended good turkey hunting over the next couple of years.

"A real dry spring like the one we had in 2007 is typically pretty good for nesting," Perrin said. "Although we don't do any official surveys, nesting should have been pretty good. I was actually concerned about it being too dry in some places.

"Normally a dry spring is good because you don't have to worry about flooding nests," he continued. "And some data indicates that hens that get rained on can be more easily found by predators. So when you have a dry spring like we had, it tends to result in better production. But it was so dry that in some cases, it may not have been as beneficial as we would have liked."But as far as he knows, the dry spring we had last year led to good nesting success for 2007.

"We had a lot of people tell us they saw a lot of hens with poults, and it seemed like it was a long nesting season," Perrin added. "We heard reports of hens with poults as early as the first part of March, and then I heard of hens with poults in the late summer too. So overall, I'd say we did pretty well."

Of course, just as the hatch and survival rate in 2006 are impacting the 2008 season, what happened from a nesting standpoint in 2007 won't have a real impact on turkey hunting until the spring of 2009.

"This spring, the male birds that hatched during 2007 will be jakes," Perrin said. "While they're legal birds, they're not as vocal, and a lot of hunters tend to pass them up.

"So that by itself doesn't mean that there will be a bumper harvest in 2008. But it looks like 2009 will be a good year."

THE BURNING QUESTION
In recent years, wildfires have been a concern with regard to turkeys in the Sunshine State. However, Perrin doesn't think much direct mortality resulted from the fires of the spring and early summer of 2007.

"We had some bad fires up in northeast Florida, and when fires get extensive, that can cause some detriment to all wildlife," he explained. "So there are probably some issues in those areas. But turkeys are fairly mobile, and they can normally get into swamps and wet areas and survive. So there probably wasn't a lot of direct mortality. If there was any direct impact, I think they'll recover from it fairly quickly."

In many cases, fires of the type we saw in the spring of 2007 can improve turkey habitat for the next couple of years.

"So there are tradeoffs," Perrin continued. "Overall, it's not anything we're real concerned about but there could have been some negative impacts at the local level."

One area that's open only for waterfowl now but is going to be open for turkeys in 2009 is Guana River WMA.Do you think you'll have to look hard to find a gobbler this spring? You may be disappointed! The 2008 Florida turkey season promises to be one of the best on record, as biologists are seeing turkeys in good numbers statewide.

Whether you're hunting on private land or on one of the state's wildlife management areas, you stand a good chance of bringing home a gobbler from any part of the state.

Larry Perrin is the state turkey biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Although no statewide assessment of turkey stocks is done in Florida, he feels that prospects for the 2008 spring season are good.

"During the spring of 2006, for the most part, the state had an above-average hatch," Perrin said. "We saw birds being hatched early, with late hatches all the way through the summer. We had a dry spring for the most part, although it was a little wetter in the south. I heard reports of people not seeing quite the number of birds there that were seen in the central and northern parts of the state."

LOOKING AHEAD
The spring of 2007 also portended good turkey hunting over the next couple of years.

"A real dry spring like the one we had in 2007 is typically pretty good for nesting," Perrin said. "Although we don't do any official surveys, nesting should have been pretty good. I was actually concerned about it being too dry in some places.

"Normally a dry spring is good because you don't have to worry about flooding nests," he continued. "And some data indicates that hens that get rained on can be more easily found by predators. So when you have a dry spring like we had, it tends to result in better production. But it was so dry that in some cases, it may not have been as beneficial as we would have liked."But as far as he knows, the dry spring we had last year led to good nesting success for 2007.

"We had a lot of people tell us they saw a lot of hens with poults, and it seemed like it was a long nesting season," Perrin added. "We heard reports of hens with poults as early as the first part of March, and then I heard of hens with poults in the late summer too. So overall, I'd say we did pretty well."

Of course, just as the hatch and survival rate in 2006 are impacting the 2008 season, what happened from a nesting standpoint in 2007 won't have a real impact on turkey hunting until the spring of 2009.

"This spring, the male birds that hatch

ed during 2007 will be jakes," Perrin said. "While they're legal birds, they're not as vocal, and a lot of hunters tend to pass them up.

"So that by itself doesn't mean that there will be a bumper harvest in 2008. But it looks like 2009 will be a good year."

THE BURNING QUESTION
In recent years, wildfires have been a concern with regard to turkeys in the Sunshine State. However, Perrin doesn't think much direct mortality resulted from the fires of the spring and early summer of 2007.

"We had some bad fires up in northeast Florida, and when fires get extensive, that can cause some detriment to all wildlife," he explained. "So there are probably some issues in those areas. But turkeys are fairly mobile, and they can normally get into swamps and wet areas and survive. So there probably wasn't a lot of direct mortality. If there was any direct impact, I think they'll recover from it fairly quickly."

In many cases, fires of the type we saw in the spring of 2007 can improve turkey habitat for the next couple of years.

"So there are tradeoffs," Perrin continued. "Overall, it's not anything we're real concerned about but there could have been some negative impacts at the local level."

One area that's open only for waterfowl now but is going to be open for turkeys in 2009 is Guana River WMA.Do you think you'll have to look hard to find a gobbler this spring? You may be disappointed! The 2008 Florida turkey season promises to be one of the best on record, as biologists are seeing turkeys in good numbers statewide.

Whether you're hunting on private land or on one of the state's wildlife management areas, you stand a good chance of bringing home a gobbler from any part of the state.

Larry Perrin is the state turkey biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Although no statewide assessment of turkey stocks is done in Florida, he feels that prospects for the 2008 spring season are good.

"During the spring of 2006, for the most part, the state had an above-average hatch," Perrin said. "We saw birds being hatched early, with late hatches all the way through the summer. We had a dry spring for the most part, although it was a little wetter in the south. I heard reports of people not seeing quite the number of birds there that were seen in the central and northern parts of the state."

LOOKING AHEAD
The spring of 2007 also portended good turkey hunting over the next couple of years.

"A real dry spring like the one we had in 2007 is typically pretty good for nesting," Perrin said. "Although we don't do any official surveys, nesting should have been pretty good. I was actually concerned about it being too dry in some places.

"Normally a dry spring is good because you don't have to worry about flooding nests," he continued. "And some data indicates that hens that get rained on can be more easily found by predators. So when you have a dry spring like we had, it tends to result in better production. But it was so dry that in some cases, it may not have been as beneficial as we would have liked."But as far as he knows, the dry spring we had last year led to good nesting success for 2007.

"We had a lot of people tell us they saw a lot of hens with poults, and it seemed like it was a long nesting season," Perrin added. "We heard reports of hens with poults as early as the first part of March, and then I heard of hens with poults in the late summer too. So overall, I'd say we did pretty well."

Of course, just as the hatch and survival rate in 2006 are impacting the 2008 season, what happened from a nesting standpoint in 2007 won't have a real impact on turkey hunting until the spring of 2009.

"This spring, the male birds that hatched during 2007 will be jakes," Perrin said. "While they're legal birds, they're not as vocal, and a lot of hunters tend to pass them up.

"So that by itself doesn't mean that there will be a bumper harvest in 2008. But it looks like 2009 will be a good year."

THE BURNING QUESTION
In recent years, wildfires have been a concern with regard to turkeys in the Sunshine State. However, Perrin doesn't think much direct mortality resulted from the fires of the spring and early summer of 2007.

"We had some bad fires up in northeast Florida, and when fires get extensive, that can cause some detriment to all wildlife," he explained. "So there are probably some issues in those areas. But turkeys are fairly mobile, and they can normally get into swamps and wet areas and survive. So there probably wasn't a lot of direct mortality. If there was any direct impact, I think they'll recover from it fairly quickly."

In many cases, fires of the type we saw in the spring of 2007 can improve turkey habitat for the next couple of years.

"So there are tradeoffs," Perrin continued. "Overall, it's not anything we're real concerned about but there could have been some negative impacts at the local level."

One area that's open only for waterfowl now but is going to be open for turkeys in 2009 is Guana River WMA.

"We moved turkeys to that area in 2002," Perrin said, "and we've been monitoring them. We've just put in a proposal for three 3-day hunts there, which still will have to get approval."

Also, several other new areas will be coming on line in the spring of 2009, particularly in the Northeast Region.

"About five or six areas that will be coming on line for turkey hunting in 2009," Perrin confirmed.

PRIVATE LAND
So where can you go for your gobbler this year? Just about anywhere!

"Based on last year's harvest, private lands are doing well across the state," Perrin said. "It would be hard for me to target any particular area. The popularity of turkey hunting has stimulated a lot of management for turkeys specifically. Most private lands are under lease or are hunted by the landowners, and they're doing a lot of management specifically for turkeys."

Because turkeys are generalists, they adapt to a variety of habitats statewide. Some of the areas Perrin sees as particularly good for turkeys are the south-central Florida counties where there's still a lot of cattle ranching associated with good native habitat.

"You see some cattle ranches that still have oak hammocks in them," he said. "Some of those ranch lands in Osceola and Okeechobee counties, as well as Glades and DeSoto counties tend to have some real good turkey populations. Hardee County is another one. The cows tend to keep that habitat open."

In the northern part of the state, there are also lands that produce a lot of turkeys, Perrin added.

"Out in the Panhandle, some of the better counties would be Calhoun and Okaloosa counties," he said. "And of course, Gadsden, Leon and Jefferson counties right around Tallahassee are all good.

"When you get into those counties, you get more into a forested community, with a lot of planted pines that shade out the understory.

"I think prescribed burning is a pretty useful tool to help create openings that are good for turkeys in these areas," Perrin continued. "And there are a lot of rivers and floodplain habitat that's pretty valuable for them."

As you work farther east and get into the northern peninsula, Marion County and the Ocala National Forest provide good places to look for turkeys. "Other good counties are Flagler, Volusia, and Levy counties," Perrin said. "All those counties are good areas for turkeys."

PUBLIC AREAS
Besides all the turkeys on private land, there also are a number of public areas with good populations.

"A lot of whether or not an area is good has to do with the habitat," the biologist noted. "It's always a juggling act when you deal with public lands. With areas that have quota permits, the harvest is more controlled, and that tends to benefit the turkey population. And then, some of our management areas are just more conducive to turkeys.

"Quite often, our management areas are owned by another state agency," he added, "and from a wildlife perspective, their management may be directed a little differently than what we might do.

"All those things are part of what ultimately determines how good an area is for turkey hunting."

In the North-Central Region, Perrin recommended hunters take a look at Andrews, Camp Blanding, Flying Eagle, and Goethe WMAs. "Those tend to be some of our better areas in that region," he said.

Part of what makes those areas special are the quota hunts, so that a limited number of hunters are allowed on them at any given time, relative to the turkey population.

Out in the Panhandle, Perrin pointed to Box R WMA."That's a fairly new WMA, that's only in its second year," he said. "It's not well known, and I think it has more potential than is being realized. It was owned by St. Joe Timberland Company, and is down near the town of Apalachicola.

"St. Joe allowed a lot of their executives to hunt there at one time, and then the state bought it."

Of course, Joe Budd WMA outside Quincy has always been a good area. Most of what makes both those tracts so good is management.

"We're maintaining wildlife openings through prescribed burning and planting," Perrin offered. "That's really beneficial on those areas."

In the South Region, Perrin liked Dinner Island Ranch WMA and Dupuis Wildlife and Environmental Area for turkeys.

"Another good area is Okaloacoochee Slough WMA," he tossed in. "Those three are all good areas."

Although it is fairly far south, Perrin also mentioned Corbett WMA as a possibility.

"Corbett is marginal overall," he admitted. "It's a large area of 60,000-plus acres, and it's fairly wet at certain times. So as a whole, it's not what you would consider good turkey habitat."

On the other hand, it's one of the few areas that the FWC actually does own, and that allows for management of the tract. At one time there were a lot of old tomato fields there. Through the years, they had become overgrown with Brazilian pepper, which is not good for turkeys at all. The FWC staff there has been working to restore the native habitat on those old fields.

"While Corbett will never be an excellent turkey area because the hydrology isn't going to allow it, it has really come on for turkeys," Perrin observed. "Its harvest has increased. They harvested 40 turkeys last spring, which is more than double their previous record.

"Our folks are doing a real good job, plus the National Wild Turkey Federation has put a lot of money into that area through their cost-share program. And it seems like it's really paying off."

In the Southwest Region, Chassahowitzka WMA is a good choice for a turkey outing.

"Of course, Green Swamp traditionally has a pretty high harvest," Perrin said. "But they also have a lot of hunting pressure. Hickory Hammock WMA is real good for turkeys, and Kicco WMA is also."

In the Northeast Region, Perrin suggested taking a look at Caravelle Ranch, Bull Creek, and Half Moon WMAs.

"Prairie Lakes Unit, part of Three Lakes WMA, also is always good," he assured.

One part of the state where Perrin doesn't recommend looking for turkeys is in those WMAs with the type of terrain found in the Everglades ecosystem: "Those areas just aren't good for turkeys," he said, "because they're way too wet."

HOLMES COUNTY
Unless you're a turkey hunter who has been living under a rock, you're probably aware that there have been turkey problems in Holmes County in the Panhandle. In 1998, the FWC closed Holmes County to turkey hunting because the area's birds had virtually disappeared.

Over the past few years, biologists have released 121 turkeys at eight different sites within the county.

"We've monitored the turkey population by doing an annual bait-station survey to see how well the population increased around the county," Perrin explained. "After the last couple of surveys, the counts were doing really well. So we put in a rule proposal to open up a limited spring turkey hunt."

Thus in 2006, for the first time in a number of years, Holmes County had a short three-day turkey season. And another such session followed in 2007.

"As we've been doing, this fall we're doing a survey to monitor the overall Holmes County population," Perrin said. "The population is continuing to expand and increase. So we've put in a proposal to expand the season. If everything goes according to plan, in the spring of 2009 we'll have a 16-day season in Holmes County."

Although no one is doing specific surveys of turkey harvest in the county, anecdotal information indicates that the harvest is good.

"One of the ironic things about Holmes County is that a lot of landowners still aren't participating in the hunt," Perrin pointed out. "These folks are still so tickled to have turkeys -- after not having them for so long -- that a lot of them are not allowing any hunting. They want to be sure they don't end up where they were before."

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