Bayou State Turkeys: Hunts Of Distinction

The LDWF's spring lottery hunts offer kids -- and adults -- prime opportunities for bagging legitimately laudable longbeards. (March 2008).

Photo by Chris Berzas.

Bayou State gobbler hunters always deem their spring season to be special. For these wild-turkey purists, nothing's better than hearing the thunderous gobbles of a winged monarch on an early-spring morning.

Little wonder, then, that the eastern wild turkey of Louisiana brought high adventure into the hearts and minds of youth and adults alike in the course of some particularly "distinguished" hunts in the spring of 2007: lottery hunts at several state-managed wildlife management areas.

On Saturday, April 7, 2007, five youngsters braved windy conditions and temperatures in the 40s to participate in a youth lottery hunt at Thistlethwaite WMA north of Washington. Two of those youngsters actually scored on mature longbeards, both of which could be classified as true limbhangers.

Turkey Creek's Garrett Guillory, 13, was the first to come out of the hardwoods with his tom. Joining him on the hunt were guide Scott Pitre of Opelousas and Guillory's father, Neal.

Eyes sparkling, Guillory wore a smile as Pitre told the story of the youngster's hunt. Tom Woods, a technician with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries had previously scouted the bird's location at Thistlethwaite.

"We were situated on the edge of the woods at 6:45 a.m.," said Pitre. "Two birds were gobbling on the roost, and one was located across the road from us."

Nearing flydown time, Pitre engaged in some light calling, and the bird responded by walking on the road about 25 minutes later.

"At about 100 yards away, the gobbler saw the decoy, and he responded by walking slowly toward us in full strut," said the guide. "At first, the bird (strutted) about five steps forward, then ambled backwards seven steps." It finally reached the decoy, and Guillory was able to take a shot.

The bird weighed in at 19 1/2 pounds and sported a 10-inch beard. Its spurs were 1 1/8 inches long and curved at the end. Pitre was able to video the young Guillory killing the turkey, his first.

In another section of Thistlethwaite WMA, Nick Vidrine, another youth hunter, scored on a limbhanger gobbler weighing in at 20 pounds and sporting a beard of 10 1/2 inches. Its spurs also were curved at the end, and their lengths measured an inch each.

Both of these young hunters were fortunate; as most turkey hunters will readily tell you, birds usually don't gobble well or work easily when it's cold and cloudy, as it was that day.

Other youngsters participating in the lottery hunt included Camille Smith of Opelousas, Steven Powell of Denham Springs and Nathan Boe of Baton Rouge. All the hunters were happy with their endeavors, even though only two of the five killed longbeards.

Just north of Washington, Thistlethwaite WMA is Acadiana's premier hardwoods area, abounding with white-tailed deer, squirrels and waterfowl. Wild turkeys were stocked here in the 1970s and '80s, but many of these monarchs have struggled to flourish, hindered by the dense understory and immense sea of palmettos on the forest floor.

Throughout the Bayou State, spring youth lottery hunts for turkey were indeed very successful last season. Some 20 gobblers were taken by 93 youth hunting efforts, or 4.7 efforts per harvest during one- and two-day hunts at 10 select WMAs.

Perhaps the most celebrated youth lottery hunts occurred on the Sherburne Complex, which consists of Sherburne WMA and the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge. These lands combine to form more than 44,000 acres for youth and adult lottery hunters afield for wild gobblers.

The two-day youth lottery hunts on the Sherburne Complex in March 2007 resulted in eight gobblers out of 17 youth hunting efforts for 2.1 efforts per harvested bird.At the Sherburne Complex and other select WMAs, guides from local chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation were on hand to assist the boys and girls to score their first wild turkeys. In celebration of the special occasion, the youngsters were treated to seminars, lunches and assorted goodies.

When considering the youth lottery weekend, a five-day lottery hunt for hunters of all ages and four days of hunting by general permit, the Sherburne Complex delivered a total of 92 gobblers to participating youth and adult hunters in 2007.

"It was really a great season here," said Tony Vidrine, a biologist manager for the LDWF office in Opelousas. "I was very happy, especially with the success of the youth hunts. Hopefully this experience will add to the future of hunting, because we're having a (difficult) time recruiting younger participants into the sport."

As far as turkey hunting is concerned, all of Louisiana's lottery hunts proved to be first-quality turkey hunts. World-renowned turkey caller and hunter Preston Pittman of Mississippi, who has hunted the Sherburne Complex in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin, remarked nationally of the quality of this hunt available to the participating public hunters.

Applicants for Louisiana's 2008 lottery turkey hunts were scheduled for selection in January and February. Consult the 2008 and 2009 Louisiana spring turkey-hunting pamphlet for deadlines for youth and adult lottery application dates on specific WMAs statewide. Locations and regulations are explained in the pamphlet. Applications and dates can also be found online at wfl.louisiana.gov

Pitre, a 42-year-old shipping manager for Targil Seasoning and Butcher Supplies, merits his reputation as a statewide turkey sleuth. In 2007, he guided two youths to successful turkey kills at Sherburne and Thistlethwaite WMAs -- and managed to take his own limit of two gobblers at the Sherburne Complex, those birds weighing 19 and 17 pounds and sporting 9- and 10 1/2-inch beards, respectively.

According to Pitre, three factors are crucial for ensuring a successful lottery turkey hunt.

"Scouting, scouting and more scouting," the guide and hunter advised. "I would tell hunters to try and locate as many birds as possible before you hunt them. I will have at least three to four birds located before opening day.

"Handheld GPS devices today make it much easier than ever before -- especially in areas as vast as the

Atchafalaya Basin. I will try to locate as many vocal gobblers as I can before the season opens."

According to Pitre, woodsmanship is essential as well. Knowing the lay of the land and the behavior of the gobblers goes a long way toward finding success during the season.

Pitre prefers soft, sweet calling -- slight yelps, clucks and purrs -- early in the morning, but depending on the results, he'll certainly turn up the volume. "At midmorning I will definitely start cuttin' and runnin' on a box call," said the hunter. "Usually the result is a dead bird."

Pitre emphasized the opportunities that abound in special youth and adult lottery hunts. "These are quality hunts," he stated, "and I hope the general public can really appreciate what these hunts offer, especially to our youth. Winning is everything in turkey hunting."

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