Best Bets For Bayou State Longbeards

With the 2009 spring turkey season upon us, it's time to break out the box calls and shotguns. When the sun comes up on opening day, will you know where to hunt? (March 2009)

New regulations require Louisiana hunters to tag their harvested turkey and report it to the LDWF within 72 hours. Photo by Ralph Hensley.

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.

ATCHAFALAYA DELTA REGION

The Atchafalaya Delta Region is in south-central Louisiana and encompasses the parishes of Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion and West Baton Rouge. Much of these lands lies within the interior of arguably America's greatest river basin swamp -- the Atchafalaya Basin.

"I think we can expect another good season in the basin in 2009," predicted Tony Vidrine, biologist manager with LDWF's Region VI. At press time, the area's poult counts were not provided. The area is huge and the nesting areas along the levee are thick, with high grass making for difficulties in obtaining valid estimates of poults in the Basin.

The Sherburne Complex consists of Sherburne WMA and the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, and these lands combine for more than 44,000 acres for youth and adult hunters afield for wild Eastern gobblers.

Last season, some 76 gobblers were taken by 911 hunting efforts in only 13 days afield, or 12 hunting efforts per bagged gobbler.

The spring hunts here consist of seven lottery hunting days (two youth days) and six non-lottery days for participating hunters. Private lands have a longer season in the area.

Hunters will be rewarded by finding turkeys roosting near hardwoods flats, sloughs and the edges of pipeline and power line right-of-ways. Hunters are successful intercepting gobblers from roost sites to feeding locations.

For more information regarding wild turkey hunting in Region VI, contact the LDWF office at (337) 948-0255, or consult the 2009 Louisiana Turkey Regulations Pamphlet.

NORTHWEST REGION

To the northwest lies a vast pine and hardwoods area encompassing the following parishes: Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, DeSoto, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Red River, Union and Webster.

These parishes hold turkeys in good numbers, and a popular public area is Jackson-Bienville WMA located in Jackson and Bienville parishes. Savage touts this area as one of the top areas for taking a public turkey.

Savage's records reveal that 30 gobblers were taken here by 590 hunting efforts, for approximately 20 hunting efforts per bird. These are not bad statistics for hunters looking for gobblers during a season of only 17 days in length.

This WMA is located 12 miles south of Ruston and encompasses 32,185 acres of rolling, pine-blanketed hills and hardwoods scattered in bottomland areas

Strategies here include scouting and finding longbeards roosting near streamside management zones and then working them as they move toward mating, bugging and scratching locations.

For maps or more information regarding Jackson-Bienville WMA, write or call the LDWF, 1401 Talton Street, Minden, LA 71055, (318) 371-3050.

NORTH MISSISSIPPI DELTA REGION

According to Savage, this area was certainly hit hard by the flooding of the Mississippi River into its basin in April 2008. Therefore, Savage considers the private lands in the area to have suffered from low poult hatch and survival chiefly because of the flooded area.

The North Mississippi Delta Region encompasses the northeastern parishes of Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas and West Carroll.

Just outside the flooded area, the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Franklin, Madison and Tensas parishes provides nearly 70,000 acres of public hunting for the Eastern wild turkey.

Hunters here can be very successful, especially along the Tensas River bottoms. This area is very popular, and hunters here will have difficulty getting away from the crowds to work willing birds.

For more information regarding turkey-hunting dates, maps and permits, contact the Tensas River NWR, 2312 Quebec Road, Tallulah, LA 71282, (318) 574-2664.

Regarding public lands in the northeast, Big Lake Wildlife Management Area is located in Franklin, Madison and Tensas parishes. Its 19,231 acres are located 12 miles east of Gilbert, and the habitat here consists chiefly of the bottomland hardwoods type with timber management an essential component.

On LDWF managed hunts at Big Lake WMA last season, some 42 gobblers were taken by 801 hunting efforts, for an effort-per-harvest ratio of 30 efforts per gobbler over a 17-day season.

For more information on maps, dates and regulations, contact the LDWF at its Ferriday office, P.O. Box 1640, Ferriday, LA 71334-1640, (318) 757-4571. More information is also available at the LDWF Web site: www.wlf.louisiana.gov.

Farther down the Mississippi River in Concordia Parish, where the Mississippi meets the Red River and the Atchafalaya River is born, both Three Rivers and Red R

iver WMAs usually hold good concentrations of Eastern swamp gobblers. This area may also have been affected by flooding along the Mississippi River, as much of its 70,000 acres are poorly drained bottomland hardwoods.

Savage rates this area as one of the best for 2008. In 2008, managed hunts here on both WMAs resulted in 78 gobblers taken by 814 hunting efforts, for 11.3 efforts per gobbler during a 16-day season.

Visit the LDWF Web site at www.wlf.louisiana.gov for more information, or contact the LDWF at its Ferriday office, P.O. Box 1640, Ferriday, LA 71334-1640, (318) 757-4571.

SOUTHEAST LOBLOLLY REGION

The Southeast Loblolly Region includes the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana in southeastern Louisiana.

Louisiana turkey hunting holds a rich history here as forests of mixed pine and hardwoods coexisting with cattle fields have combined over the years to provide rich wild turkey habitat.

Unfortunately, this area has boomed with human progress, and now urban sprawl has found its way to these parishes. Turkey habitat here has suffered.

As a result, the poult counts have ranged in the fair to good range in the past few years. Hunters here can expect a rougher go at finding longbeards in 2009.

Public lands include Ben's Creek and Sandy Hollow WMAs, where 16 days of turkey hunting are offered to the public. Tactics here include scouting along streamside management zones and adjacent controlled-burn areas for bird sign. Clear cuts, too, can be beneficial in finding birds by glassing them.

There you have it -- a brief prospectus of what to expect for turkey hunting in Louisiana in 2009. Please consult the 2009 Louisiana Turkey Hunting Regulations Pamphlet for schedules and rules on both private and public lands before opening day. Or go online to www.wlf.louisiana. gov for season dates and regulations on specific public areas.

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