Getting Your Magnolia Gobbler

Getting Your Magnolia Gobbler

The Mississippi spring turkey season is fast approaching. Do you have your hunts planned out? If not, this information may help finalize your season. (March 2008).

Photo by Steve Gulledge.

If you know what to listen for, you can hear it by mid-February. By the first day of March it'll have reached a fever pitch; almost anyone who pauses for a moment can usually detect it.

"It" is the collective quickening of pulses among Mississippi's turkey hunters as they anticipate the arrival of the spring wild turkey season. The onset of this fever is manifested in a number of different ways: pickups parked on back roads at dawn, turkey hunters driving their families crazy as they tune up their favorite turkey calls, lies being swapped about the gobblers heard when two or more turkey hunters run into one another.

If you're suffering from this malady but haven't nailed down your plans for dropping the hammer on a Mississippi gobbler, it's not too late. If you'd like to find out what to expect this season, the wildlife biologists of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are good sources for a region by region forecast. Also, it never hurts to talk with some veteran turkey hunters across the state to get their perspective as well.

Of course, sometimes it pays to glance over your shoulder to see where you have been. Talking to turkey hunters after the 2007 season ended revealed that results were highly variable: Some hunters were disappointed in their season, more than one said it was a "strange season," and yet others had a great year.

WILD TURKEYS
IN MISSISSIPPI

Who better to ask about the outlook for the upcoming season than the turkey program coordinator Dave Godwin of the MDWFP? Besides being a wildlife biologist, Godwin is an avid hunter as well as an accomplished turkey call maker.

Godwin pointed to the 2007 wild turkey report (aptly titled "Spittin' & Drummin'"). This annual is a comprehensive summary of the MDWFP Wild Turkey Program. A big part of the report is the summary of data collected the previous spring by volunteers who participate in the Spring Gobbler Hunting Survey. Participants in the survey record information regarding gobbling activity, turkey observations, harvest information and time spent hunting. Those data provide the MDWFP with a substantial database that's used to monitor turkey numbers and to make management decisions. Currently, only data from private land is shown in the report.

The results are presented for the entire state and then broken down by the five MDWFP turkey regions. A hunter or wildlife manger can pick up a copy of the report and quickly determine what week of the spring season the most gobbles were heard on a statewide basis or in any of the turkey regions, and can also determine which region had the highest harvest rate. In other words it is when to go and where to go -- invaluable information for any turkey hunter.

The MDWFP biologists also use another important source of information to manage the turkey program, the Annual Wild Turkey Brood Survey. That project is conducted by MDWFP personnel during June, July, and August each year and gives an indication about the turkey hatch. Observers tally the number of hens, poults, and gobblers they see by county. Hens without poults typically do not flock with the ones that have young during the brood rearing season. Thus hens observed without poults are considered unsuccessful while hens with at least one poult are considered successful nesters.

FORECAST FOR 2008
On a statewide basis Godwin feels that 2008 will be a pretty good season and similar to 2007. Early indications were that most regions in 2007 were had a good hatch. However, in terms of gobbling turkeys it is the 2006 turkey hatch that has the biggest impact on this year's hunting season.

Male poults born in 2006 are now 2-year-old gobblers.

Region 1
What a difference just a couple of years can make in terms of turkey numbers. Really good hatches in this region from 1999 through 2002 had made this area a real hotspot for turkey hunters through 2005. Three consecutive years of poor hatches starting in 2003, however, have taken their toll on turkey numbers and consequently turkey hunting in many of these counties.

The good news is that things are looking up for Region 1. The average number of poults per hen is up from the previous three years. While n average of 1.8 poults per hen doesn't quite meet the 2-poults-per-hen minimum for Godwin to qualify it as a good hatch, it is significantly better than the 2005 average of 1.06 poults.

Based on conversations with turkey hunters in this region and MDWFP Biologist Brad Holder, apparently some sections of Region 1 are doing much better than others. According to Holder some of the best counties have been Marshall, Panola, Lafayette, Union, and Pontotoc. He also suggested that hunters not rule out Yalobusha, Grenada and Calhoun counties.

Wild Turkey Region 1 is blessed with lots of public hunting opportunities -- among them nine wildlife management areas, as well as national forests and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands.

In the northeast are Divide Section, John Bell Williams, and Canal Section WMAs on Corps land along the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Combined, they have more than 44,000 acres that are worth checking out.

Covering 42,000 acres, Upper Sardis WMA, on the Holly Springs National Forest, is a perennial favorite. Hunters should also check out a part of the Holly Springs NF located in Yalobusha County, west of Coffeeville. While not part of a WMA, it does offer several thousand acres of public hunting with good habitat and good turkey densities.

A short drive away are Malmaison WMA, in Grenada County, and Calhoun County WMA. And Corps lands around Enid and Grenada reservoirs can be productive as well.

Finally, Chickasaw WMA, its 28,000 acres within the Tombigbee National Forest east of Houlka, has also been a favorite. Unfortunately, harvest levels dropped significantly in 2007 and it remains to be seen if that tract will bounce back this year.

Region 2
Region 2 lies in the Mississippi Delta and biologists said that spring flooding in this region has a major impact on wild turkey reproduction. Still, breeding in 2005 was the best on record at 3.34 poults per hens. While the 2006 brood survey data showed a decline to 2.58 poults per hen, that was still the best in the state. Wildlife Biologist Jackie Fleeman of the MDWFP confirmed that the great hatch has been reflected in the success of turkey hunters in this region. Fleeman also expects 2008 to b

e another good year for Delta turkey hunters.

The best private turkey habitat in this region lies west of the main Mississippi River levee. The land east of the levee is heavily used for agriculture; consequently, the best turkey hunting land there is on public property. If you don't have access to the batture lands west of the levee, your best bet is to skip the WMAs with smaller acreage and head to Sharkey and Issaquena counties to the Delta National Forest.

The Delta NF is home to the 58,480-acre Sunflower WMA. Composed of bottomland hardwoods and wetlands, the tract is seasonally flooded. While the turkey hunting is good in this area it also easy to "get turned around" and disoriented in this seemingly endless hardwood bottom. Be sure to carry a compass or GPS device, and don't forget the mosquito repellent.

If you are looking for a turkey hunting opportunity for a youngster during the early Youth Season, look into Mahannah WMA. In the southern tip of Issaquena County, Mahannah is closed during the regular season, so this is the single opportunity to challenge its gobblers.

Nearby, Dahommey NWR in Bolivar County is also worth a look. The tract contains 9,100 acres, of which 1,050 are maintained in agricultural fields.

Region 3
Biologists and most turkey hunters alike are very optimistic about this section of the state. Most of the turkey hunters had a good supply of longbeards to work during the 2007 season. The possible exception is the very northern part of the region where some hunters did not fare as well as those in the middle and southern portions. The MDWFP statistics show that the 2006 hatch averaged just over 2 poults per hen, which should mean a good supply of 2-year-old gobblers this year.

Obviously, from the reports the counties in the southern 1/3 of the region are the places to start your search for a longbeard.

While you are likely to find good densities of turkeys on public lands in this area, you are also going to find heavy densities of hunters. The WMAs in the southern part of this region are Bienville, Tallahala, and Caney Creek. All three are located in portions of Jasper, Newton, Scott and Smith counties.

Be aware that hunting the first ten days of the season is by quota drawing on these three WMAs. After that they open to the general public.

Moving north through the region, there are also opportunities for good hunting on public lands. Okatibbee WMA with 6,883 acres and the 7,655-acre Nanih Waiya WMA are both worth investigating.

In the extreme northern tier favorites are Choctaw WMA and the 48,000 Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. While you are in the neighborhood check out John W. Starr WMA in Oktibbeha and Winston counties.

Region 4
According to Program Coordinator Dave Godwin, Region 4 is a really good turkey habitat region, and historically hunters have had good success here. The harvest, while down slightly in 2006, was still the best in the state. Many hunters in this region had a good season last year and are upbeat about 2008. However, Godwin feels there will be fewer 2-year-old gobblers this year as a result of a poor hatch in 2006.

At the north end of this region lies Yazoo County, home of Panther Swamp NWR's 38,500 acres hardwood bottomland. Like nearby Delta NF, it's subject to seasonal flooding. Turkey hunting is by quota drawing only on Panther Swamp and is limited to April 1 to May 1.

Perhaps your best bet for encountering a longbeard in this region is in the rolling hills of the Homochitto NF, home to both Sandy Creek and Caston Creek WMAs.

Just to the north of the Homochitto is Copiah County WMA, which can also be productive.

Region 5Region 5 took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina a couple of years back and consequently turkey habitat suffered a severe blow. Habitat restoration in the form of timber salvage operations and forest regeneration are underway on both private and public lands.

Turkey hunting north of the coastal counties was pretty good in 2007 for many hunters. Dave Godwin believes that turkey-hunting pressure in much of this region was down in 2006 following Katrina and there probably was a significant carry-over of gobblers into 2007. In the heavily damaged areas, hunters reported hearing turkeys, but had trouble getting to the birds or calling the turkeys in. There was just too much downed timber. The fair to good hatch in 2006 in this region should also add some 2-year-old birds to the ones carried over into 2008.

Greene, Jones and Wayne counties should be better than those counties further south in the region.

The 123,000-acre Chickasawhay WMA has good numbers of turkeys. Turkey hunting is a way of life in this area, so expect lots of company in the woodlands.

Leaf River WMA is a favorite as well. The new manager here is LeDon Cooley and he has been busy planting 100 acres of food plots on the WMA. Cooley also mentioned that they have recently completed a new project to establish more than four miles of linear openings encompassing 22 acres. That acreage should make excellent brood habitat for wild turkeys. According to Cooley, the Mississippi Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation funded the project.

WANT TO HELP?
The MDWFP is looking for turkey hunters interested in helping collect data on Mississippi's wild turkey population. If you'd like to lend a hand, send your name and phone number to: Spring Gobbler Hunting Survey, 1505 Eastover Drive, Jackson, MS 39211.

WHERE TO GO
FOR INFORMATION

Prior to visiting WMAs and other public hunting land always check the current regulations. Many of the WMAs and NWRs require user permits and often have special regulations. The MDWFP Web site, www.mdwfp.com is a great resource for WMA regulations and maps. For general questions call (601) 432-2199.

For details on hunting national forests, visit www.fs.fed.us for national wildlife refuges, go to www.fws.gov

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