The spring Georgia turkey hunting season begins March 22 and 60,000 hunters will be out in the woodlands listening and looking for their spring gobbler. Some will be successful and others will go home empty-handed. Whether you score or not depends largely on your skill as a hunter and caller, and where you are hunting.
Last season, 60,936 hunters harvested 35,000 turkeys for a harvest rate of 58 percent. That translates to well over half of all turkey hunters taking home a tom. The overall harvest rate in 2012 was also 58 percent followed by 60 percent in in 2011, 72 percent in 2010, and 49 percent in 2009. That’s a five-year average of 59 percent. The statewide total harvest has also fluctuated in the last five years to a low of 26,516 toms in 2011 to the 35,000 killed in 2013. The average harvest for the last five years is 31,178.
The jake harvest — one-year-old males — has ranged from 6.7 to 13.8 percent. In 2013, there were an estimated 3,300 jakes or 9.4 percent of the harvest. Jakes are the future mature gobblers that most hunters are after. A high jake harvest means fewer trophy toms for the future.
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The numbers of turkey hunters have also been increasing. In 2009, 56,118 took to the woods followed by a dip in the numbers down to 47,275 the next year and it has steadily increased since then to the most recent estimate of 60,936 in the spring of 2013.
Georgia Wildlife Resources Division biologist Kevin Lowery reports that, “Hunter participation has increased over the last couple of seasons. This is probably a reaction to the better reproduction we have had prior to the last couple of summers and turkeys being generally more available lately.”
Though the turkey harvest and hunter numbers are up, the forecast is not as rosy.
“The 2014 season is going to be fair,” Lowery said. “We had poor reproduction in 2012 with a statewide 1.26 poults per hen. This past summer was a little better at 1.37 poults per hen. So with poor reproduction coupled with good harvests in 2012 and 2013 means the supply of gobblers may be limited. The Coastal Plain is the best area of the state, with stable reproduction in 2012 and increasing reproduction in 2013. The Piedmont and Ridge and Valley will probably see the most notable reduction gobblers.”
The poults per hen ratio is estimated by biologists to determine how well the hens are reproducing, which has a direct bearing on the number of turkeys in the woods for hunters to hunt. Poults are the new birds on the block, which also are the future adult turkeys that will be hunted. The higher the ratio, the more gobbling there is in the woods for future years.
Lowery adds, “The population varies year to year and region to region. We have been on an increase since 2008 with several years of good reproduction. Hopefully, the 2012 and 2013 dips in productivity will not be a lasting trend.”
Lowery notes that when surveyed, more than 70 percent of hunters rate their season good to excellent.
“Habitat is always changing,” Lowery observes. “The biggest problems are fragmentation from development and millions of acres of Conservation Reserve Program pines that are in need of thinning. Poor habitat quality, habitat loss, extreme weather, and predation are seen as threats to healthy turkey populations.”
Turkeys are not evenly distributed across the state as some areas have more than others. Where you hunt has a direct bearing on your success rate so it’s to your advantage to find the best places to hunt. We have broken up the great state of Georgia into five geographical regions to simplify your search.
RIDGE AND VALLEY
The northwest portion of the state has long steep parallel ridges with deep valleys in between. The terrain is similar to the mountains with steep hardwood slopes and valleys. In 2013, 1,696 hunters were successful bagging 2,638 birds. They averaged 13.12 days of hunting for each successful hunter.
Some of the best wildlife management areas are Berry College and Paulding Forest. Berry College, located near Rome, has 15,585 acres of woods and is a consistent turkey producer. In 2012 the hunter success rate was 22 percent.
Paulding Forest near Dallas had a hunter success rate of 11 percent in 2012 on its 25,707 acres.
BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS
This geographical section stretches across the north and northeast portion of the state and is primarily Appalachian Mountain terrain with elevations up to 4,000 feet. Excellent turkey hunting can be found throughout the mountains particularly in some of the more remote areas that require a long hike. In 2013, 628 birds were killed in this region. There were 440 successful hunters who averaged 19.86 days to score.
The area has abundant public lands in the Chattahoochee National Forest, in addition to the numerous WMAs. Lake Russell and Dawson Forest WMAs are noted for having respectable harvests. Both experienced a hunter success rate of 9 percent in 2012. The WMAs have 17,300 and 25,052 acres respectively.
Kris Laney of Chatsworth knows how good the turkey hunting can be in the north Georgia mountains. He had been after a particular gobbler for several weeks last season that he said was giving him fits. The wise old tom would hang up out of range and Laney was not able to coax him in close enough for a shot. He decided to team up with his friend Joey Bartenfield who set up 30 yards behind him to call. That was the magical strategy and worked for Laney as he finally was able to see and kill the elusive tom, which weighed 18 pounds, had a 10-inch beard and 1-inch spurs.
One of the largest and most popular portions of the state, the piedmont section is in the middle of the state from Columbus to Macon to Augusta. It is typified by rolling terrain with hardwood draws and mixed pine and hardwood ridges. Much of the area is composed of grown-up farms and timber companies have turned many acres into rows of planted pine trees. The region is still fertile and good habitat for turkeys.
The Oconee National Forest and many WMAs offer fine hunting opportunities in this section.
There were 12,313 gobblers killed in this region in 2013. It took the successful hunter an average of 16.29 days to pull the trigger.
A productive WMA that limits hunters by quotas is the Clybel WMA near Mansfield. It hosts two, seven-day quota hunts for 25 hunters each.
Last season Steven Prather and Robert Tieman of Grayson were selected and teamed up on Clybel gobblers. After calling to a gobbler at dawn, it hung up and would not come in close enough for a shot. The pair finally gave up and drove to another spot. Stepping out of their truck, they called and immediately got several responses. With renewed excitement and anticipation, they scurried about 300 yards through the woods to get closer to the gobbling birds.
After setting up again, they spotted five gobblers running in single file toward them! At about 30 yards away, the lead bird stopped and searched for the phantom hen. Becoming suspicious, the toms started getting nervous and Robert knew that it was time to shoot. At the sound of the shot, the lead bird rolled and the hunter jumped up to recover his prize. When he arrived, he found not one, but two dead turkeys. With one shot, Tieman killed two toms. The gobblers both had 1 1/8-inch spurs and 12- and 10-inch beards. The pair of hunters experienced a mighty fine day of hunting in the Georgia woodlands on a public land hunt.
Clybel had a 21-percent hunter success rate in 2012 on its 6,400 acres. That was low compared to the 44-percent success rate at Di-Lane and 30 percent at Rum Creek. Di-Lane is 8,100 acres in Burke County and has quota hunts and a general hunt. Rum Creek has 6,015 acres around Lake Juliette. but is limited to two quota adult/child hunts.
Tuckahoe and Blanton Creek are also offer good turkey hunting in the piedmont.
UPPER COASTAL PLAIN
The Upper Coastal Plain is located in the southwest section of the state around Albany and Tifton. The region is relatively flat and has ample agricultural fields.
In 2013 there were 11,433 turkeys harvested in the upper coastal plain region. There were 7,539 successful hunters who averaged 15.72 days of hunting to bag their tom.
Georgia WRD biologist Brent Howze reports that, “A tri-county area encompassing Dougherty, Baker and Calhoun Counties would be our best area for turkey habitat. Decatur County would probably be next on the list.”
Howze continues, “We had lower than average reproduction on most of our areas for the past couple of years, according to poult surveys. Basically, there should still be birds out there, but many of them may be older birds that aren’t as easy to hunt.
“However, we have been seeing poults at Silver Lake WMA this year.”
He rates the best WMAs in this area as Chickasawhatchee and Silver Lake.
“Overall, the harvest was low compared to previous years on many of our WMAs, but Hannahatchee WMA had a great hunt,” Howze reports.
LOWER COASTAL PLAIN
The southeastern section of the state is the Lower Coastal Plain. It includes the coastal areas and is characterized by flat sandy terrain and plentiful palmettos and marshes.
“The turkey population has been consistent on the coast over the last three years. Hunters have found success not only in the early season, but throughout the entire turkey season,” says WRD biologist Will Ricks.
There were 7,036 toms killed in 2013 by 4,335 successful hunters. They averaged 17.68 days of hunting to bag their bird.
Ricks recommends the bottomland along the rivers in this region.
“It is hard to say a best county on the coast for turkeys, but the river systems offer excellent bottomland turkey habitat all up and down the coast. These river systems include the Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla, and Saint Marys rivers,” Ricks adds.
The turkey hunter success rate on coastal WMAs has been around 5 percent lately.
“Hunter harvest over the last three seasons has been between 4 and 6 percent on the WMA,” reports Ricks. “Last season the best WMA for turkey harvest was the Little Satilla. There was a 12.5 percent hunter success rate, which is excellent.”
Little Satilla WMA is located near Patterson and has 18,920 acres.
Other lower coastal plain WMAs to consider are Griffin Ridge and Sansavilla. Griffin Ridge has 5,600 acres near Ludowici and had a 21 percent hunter success rate in 2012. Sansavilla is near Brunswick and has 16,867 acres and boasted a 14 percent hunter success rate in 2012.
Georgia maintains a good turkey population and hunting opportunities abound. It’s to the hunter’s advantage to research and find the best places to go to have the optimum chance of scoring. There are public hunting WMAs from the mountains to the coast that offer huntable turkey populations so there is one near where you live. The overall outlook this season is not the best it has been and reproduction has not been stellar, but there is still good turkey hunting in this state.
One new item for this season, the legislature created an early youth and mobility-impaired season for the weekend prior to the normal opening weekend. If you know a youth or a mobility-impaired hunter, take them hunting and get a one-week jump on everyone else.
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