2017 Turkey Forecast: Boss gobblers can grab the senses and the soul, with thunderous gobbles that can be heard for miles before going silent and causing frustration. The thrill is what makes hunters sit for hours with nothing more than hope to stay occupied.
Turkeys also provoke with fresh tracks and random gobbles, forcing hunters to respond with an enthusiasm that borders on insanity. Since failure happens more than not; turkey hunters must first and foremost be optimists.
Of course, no sound in nature speaks to the soul of a turkey hunter like the booming gobble of a longbeard, which is an irresistible challenge that must be answered. There is something very mysterious, if not magical, about its power of attraction.
Being able to communicate, in its own tongue, with such a marvelous wild creature is why many find turkey hunting to be so addictive. The ultimate challenge is to lure an old boss gobbler into shotgun range, the secret of which lies in the understanding how he rules his roost. The older and more experienced the gobbler, the harder it is to end the hunt with him slung over a shoulder. Of course, before the hammer can be dropped, hunters must first identify hunting areas that offer up the best opportunities for success.
Except for youth, jakes are off limits to Magnolia State turkey hunters. Because of this regulation, turkey hunting success in Mississippi hinges on the number of 2-year-old birds available for harvest during the spring season. Younger gobblers tend to gobble more than their older counterparts, and are much more susceptible to being harvested than a seasoned gobbler that has strutted a few times around the woodlot.
“For the most part, the abundance or lack of 2-year-old gobblers in the population is what makes or breaks our season,” said Adam Butler, Wild Turkey Program coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
Based on the brood data from last year, Adams indicates that the 2017 season should be similar to the 2016 season across most of the state. However, a couple areas of the state can expect to see big increases in harvest this season.
“Specifically, most of northeast Mississippi seems to be packed with birds right now, with a lot of jakes being reported last spring,” Butler noted. “The hatch data from two years ago also suggests that north Mississippi will be the place to be in 2017, as the poult per hen ratio for the north region led the state and was well above any other hatch that region has seen in the last 15 years.”
According to Butler, turkey hunters in southeast and southwest Mississippi can expect similar numbers of longbeards in 2017 as in 2016. Unfortunately east-central Mississippi, along with the Delta, is likely to have another subpar year in the turkey woods. Of course, there is outstanding hunting in every region of the state, but turkey populations are very property specific. Quite often, one property with a prolific flock of birds can be completely surrounded by properties with few turkeys. In these scenarios, quality turkey habitat is the determining factor.
And while it won’t have any impact until the 2018 season, Butler indicated that the numbers from this past summer’s brood survey are looking really good. Based on data, the 2016 hatch was one of the best hatches since the early 2000s. Brood numbers were sky-high in central and southwest Mississippi, and those from the southeastern portion of the state weren’t too far behind.
When it comes to identifying the top public land turkey hunting locations, biologists at MDWFP tend to shy away from highlighting specific WMAs, not wanting to place undue hunting pressure on particular WMAs, but hunters that study the data in the Annual Mississippi Wild Turkey Report, also known as Spittin’ and Drummin’, can identify the better wild turkey WMAs in the state. By getting better acquainted with these specific WMAs, hunters can also more than likely find some very good public land turkey hunting opportunities.
In the absence of a turkey tagging system, the Spring Gobbler Hunting Survey is another invaluable resource for Mississippi turkey hunters. It is a survey where hunters statewide collect turkey data on what they see, hear and harvest during hunts. The MDWFP staff uses this information, combined with data collected from the annual summer brood surveys to monitor the state’s wild turkey population. Hunters choosing to participate in the program are rewarded with individual reports summarizing their data and comparing that information to state and regional averages.
The Mississippi Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, along with the Mississippi Foundation for Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, have also partnered to provide a shotgun to randomly selected survey participants over the past eight seasons. Mississippi turkey hunters can find out more information or enroll in the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey by visiting www.mdwfp.com/turkey.
While biologists might be hesitant to point out a particular WMA, they do hint that northeast Mississippi should be one of the more productive areas of the state for longbeards this season. Upper Sardis WMA contains 42,000 acres within the expansive Holly Springs National Forest in Lafayette County. The terrain is mostly mixed shortleaf pine and upland hardwoods. This WMA is always near the top for public land turkey harvests. However, turkey hunting on this WMA for the first couple of weeks of the season is by permit only. Fortunately, those who miss the draw, can hunt the remaining 112,887 acres of the Holly Springs NF.
For south Mississippi public land turkey hunters, Sandy Creek WMA, with its 16,407 acres near Natchez in Adams and Franklin counties and surrounded by the Homochitto National Forest, is another top pick. Like Upper Sardis WMA, hunting during the first two weeks of the season on this WMA is also limited to permit hunters through a draw process. Once again, though, hunters can head out on the national forest with standard licenses.
Although Louisiana doesn’t provide the turkey hunting opportunities found in the Magnolia State, there are still ample opportunities across much of the Bayou State. And 2017, looks to be a banner year for longbeards.
“The higher number of juvenile gobblers in the population last spring should carry over into this season as adults,” said Cody Cedotal, Wild Turkey Program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Surprisingly, jakes account for only 15 percent of the annual gobbler harvest in Louisiana. Combine the low jake harvest with poult production having been up the past couple of years in four of the state’s five habitat regions and there should be a passel of gobblers in the woods this season.
Production over the past couple of years was the most pronounced in the Atchafalaya/Lower Mississippi Delta region. As expected, northwest Louisiana and the western longleaf pine region also had very good production. The north-central region has consistently produced good turkey numbers for the past several years. However, the north-central region is unique in that it consists of mostly private land, which receives less hunting pressure. On a possible negative note, a pair of major flooding events last year in northwest and southeast Louisiana may have taken a toll on birds in those affected areas. The full impact on the turkey populations in those areas has yet to be determined. The biologists hope that the negative impact will be minimal since the water drained off fairly rapidly.
For the most part, Louisiana’s public hunting lands are geared more toward deer and waterfowl hunting and simply doesn’t include a lot of great turkey habitat. However, ongoing efforts by the state, with the help of the National Wild Turkey Federation, to expand the availability of turkey hunting on both public and private ground is beginning to pay off.
Due to its size (600,000 acres spread across six ranger districts) and the fact that it is the only national forest in the state located in the piney hills and hardwood bottoms of northern Louisiana, the Kisatchie National Forest is Cedotal’s top pick for public land turkey hunting. In particular, Calcasieu Ranger District near Alexandria and Caney Ranger District near Homer should offer the good turkey hunting opportunities. Easy access to much of Kisatchie National Forest is available via I-49 between Shreveport and Lafayette.
Of course, there are more good turkey hunting locations across both Mississippi and Louisiana. Hunters just have to get out to scout and find birds. But be careful about calling, as the sooner that birds receive calling pressure, the sooner they will go quiet, making the whole season harder on everyone.